May 23, 2017

Our Dangerous God

Two and a half years years ago a friend of mine stepped forward in our Sunday morning service to share a message he had wrestled with for weeks. It was not a message he was excited to share, but knew that God was compelling him to do so. The word he shared that morning changed my life. God used this as a sledgehammer to shatter all that I thought was good and right in my life. This was the Master Potter taking the clay into his hand, squashing it, and starting over. The Potter is not finished with me yet–will he ever be before the resurrection?–and this word continues to be a tool he is using to shape me.

We often repeat the line that “Aslan is not a safe lion.” Of course he’s not. But how many of us actually want to encounter Aslan in all of his un-safeness? Aren’t we really more comfortable just reading about lions, then putting the book away where it can’t find us, claw us, scar us? We are much more at home with a safe God–one who can be contained in Seven Secrets or Five Principles. One who wants to do nice things for us all day long, like keep the rain away while we hang out the wash. Do any of us really–really–want to meet God, as he knows himself to be, face-to-face? Do we want to hug a God who is an all-consuming fire?

God, it seems, has very little interest in making things comfortable and nice for us. Instead, he is intent on our freedom. As Robert Capon puts it, “What would you do with freedom if you had it?”

Here is the word shared in October of 2007 by Joe Spann to a congregation in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Be forewarned: If you truly embrace this, your world will be unmade. I don’t say that lightly. Mine has been. Freedom is a very scary and dangerous thing.

“There seems to be a growing feeling that God is ok with making us uncomfortable.  In fact, I think He plans to. We worship a dangerous God and He is coming to threaten every area of your life.  God is a loving God, do not be mistaken about that.  His love, however, is unlike any human love; its chief concern is not to make you comfortable, but to make you free and to be free is dangerous and the act of making us free is dangerous.

“I am sensing specifically the danger of the nearness of God.  He is waiting in places you do not expect to approach you in ways that you think God shouldn’t and wouldn’t approach you. He is about to move in a way that will not allow Him to be a household idol on your mantel that you cherish and pass down to your children.  Your “here and now” will be changed by His presence.  If you want safety, then go back to your idols.  They get their name from you, they don’t change your name, they don’t move without your leave, and they will never threaten your comfort.  If you want safety, then go back to your idols but do not profess to worship the Creator of the Universe, because He will not be counted among your idols.

“He is about to become dangerous to your everyday trappings, dangerous to your comfort, dangerous to your retirement plan, dangerous to your schedule, dangerous to your social standing, dangerous to your secrets, and dangerous to your religion. The good news is, He is also dangerous to your limits, dangerous to your fear, dangerous to your addictions, dangerous to your sickness, dangerous to your unforgiveness, dangerous to the chains that bind you – chains that you have become way too comfortable with.

“The end result of this is that He wants to make you dangerous again; dangerous to your neighbors’ bondage, dangerous to the pain in the people around you, dangerous to the generations of abuse and pain in your family and the families you know, dangerous to the culture you are in every single day.  And He wants to make us dangerous again.  Dangerous to our neighborhoods, dangerous to our friends, dangerous to our culture, dangerous to the kingdom of darkness.

“God is about to overtake us, to leap from the shadows and subdue us, to wrestle us to the ground and change our names, and in the process to injure us forever.  We will never be the same.

“Now, I grieve.  I grieve because I am a rich young ruler and I am not so sure that I want this.  I want it from a distance, but to actually be in the Presence of the un-nameable God seems increasingly dangerous.  So many of us are rich young rulers.  We have our problems solved, our needs met.  If they aren’t met at any given moment, an alternative other than God is there to meet them.

“It will truly cost us everything to follow Him.  The fact that we have to ‘lose our lives to find them’ has been relegated to a cliché and sapped of its power for most of us.  God is about to move in a way that will no longer allow that to be a cliché for you.  That means that both the losing and the finding will be at a much deeper and more meaningful level.

“So what should be our response to this?

  • Brutal honesty – you may find yourself in situations in the future where you are not sure if it is God dealing with you or not because He has never dealt with you like this before.  The best response is an honest one.  Don’t pretend that you know exactly what to say to God – just be honest.  But be prepared to wrestle all-night if you must.
  • If you respond honestly, then God’s work in you will be completed.
  • Recognize that He is a dangerous God.  Look for the God-boxes that you have built and tear them down.
  • Commit today to never pray another superstitious or insincere prayer. Your pretense dishonors Him and He doesn’t want it from you anymore.
  • He wants you to have a dangerous relationship with Him.  Tell Him all the things you’ve always been afraid to say to God.  Meet Him where you are and reveal yourself to Him in ways that you never have.

“This seems severe, and I want so badly to say something to make it more palatable.  But I can’t.  He comes now, and He comes in force, and He comes to threaten us, His followers, in every way.”

Comments

  1. There are days when I fully agree with Tevye on Fiddler on the Roof “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

    And, because I have worked with starting churches since I graduated from seminary, I often also feel like Perchik and Tevye when Perchik said, “Money is the world’s curse.” And Tevye replied, “May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.”

  2. This article is all I have longed for and I would pray the desire spread like a forest fire to other brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank you for this. It refreshed me greatly.

  3. LightTheFires says:

    Amen.

  4. Duane Young says:

    What a great post “to continue the legacy!” Thanks Jeff. You have gotten the fever. Stay free! I hear more than an echo.

  5. Thank you, Jeff. I seem to remember IMonk saying that God is good…but He is not safe.
    Most of us are uncomfortable without the notion of a tame God that we can dust off regularly and set on our precious moments shelves.

    • Christiane says:

      There is this quote from C.S. Lewis:

      “”He’ll be coming and going” he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
      — C.S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

      • Christiane says:

        And this quote, too:

        “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver.”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
        — C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia)

        • Christiane says:

          Sorry, full quote here:

          ““Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy. “Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.”

  6. The fellow teaching our class Sunday morning asked for definitions of “total commitment”, what does it mean to “give God all”? When I offered “in a stagger” as an answer, however, he looked at me quizzically, so I asked him, in return, how long he had been saved. His answered spanned a few decades. I queried if he thought he had “figured it all out” and then suggested those two words simply embraced the act of continuing to get up after failure, check your direction, and listen again for His voice. Too often I “miss it” concerning those who are dearest to me. Too many times I find myself “sitting in the seat of the scornful” with the present state of the Church in general. His rod and His staff keep me in the path. I take the next step and give thanks for grace. Anything less is just a matter of religiosity……

  7. Good article. Significant and lasting spiritual growth almost exclusively happens when we go beyond the realm of self-reliance to the realm of God-reliance. This can never happen as long as we stay in our comfort zone. But, being out of our comfort zone does not necessarily mean we have to be uncomfortable as we delve deeper into the unknown. Rather, it is at this point that through our increased dependence on God, we can actually experience the fullness of His peace and comfort through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

  8. So true! After several years in the mission field, I think this is why we lose so many missionaries before their commitment is over. God’s calling to foreign mission is not glamorous nor comfortable, and here more than anywhere else is where everything gets stripped away. The notion that God isn’t here for you only to “keep the rain away while we hang out the wash” is completely shattered, and it grieves me that most people can’t handle it. I call it a “hard truth” in missions.

  9. This is why I always want to make the hymn, “There’s a Widness in His Mercy” into “There’s a Wildness in His Mercy”

  10. Great post! Thanks for sharing. I go to school on the east coast, but my home is in Tulsa. What church do you attend there? I’d really like to visit sometime when I’m home for the summer.

  11. oh this has bought me to tears
    i must get out my battered old set of the narnia chronicles
    and play some youtube clips from the narnia movies

    a timeless message
    that is suddenly very timely
    for me
    again

    darn it all . . .

  12. Catching up on my iMonk reading here… This one really got me thinking.

    I really agree with most of what’s been said in Jeff’s post. I would certainly be hard to argue against it, but it might be fair to argue that it doesn’t go quite far enough. One could caution against the extreme of making our discomfort the test for genuine obedience to, and sincere following of, Christ but the pagan, comfort seeking approach to following Jesus is so much more of a problem for us, especially for me, that it may be better to err on the other side. Still, the problem remains that the rich young ruler’s question, “What do I still lack?” (Matt. 19:20), as it applies to our lives is not answered by simply pointing out that God is “dangerous” and his way will be uncomfortable. He has also promised real and lasting peace and joy along the way (see John 15:11 in context), and who wouldn’t be comfortable with that? There are many ways to follow danger and discomfort. Any one of them would at least give us the assurance that we not following our own comfortable will and ways but still not offer one bit of confidence that we are truly following God’s calling of us. I’ve seen some Christians given to “living dangerously” who have only ended up being a danger to themselves and the faith of others. It’s right to expect suffering and discomfort in life only because that is the way life really works, not because God wills it for the sake of our “freedom”.

    I would suggest that, instead of considering God to be “dangerous” in the sense of being threatening (or discomforting), we consider him to be so in the sense of being unpredictable in his dealings with us. I don’t mean that God is capricious with us. He loves us after all. But our expectations of his ways with us will always be shortsighted. I think the “freedom” he calls us to involves a little bit of responsibility on our part to trust that he works for our good and to maintain open and receptive intentions in discerning his voice. It also means being persistent in our attempts to understand what God may want us to do and how he wants us to do it. Neither comfort or discomfort can be taken for granted. While it’s true that comfortable feelings are not a reliable indicator that all is well between us and God, they do not necessarily indicate a problem between us and him either. Neither is discomfort with something that God seems to be asking of us a reliable sign that we have it all figured out. It may be telling us that we need to be persistent in our discomfort, being honest about it in prayer, and let the Holy Spirit work in our hearts to get them to a place where the joy of doing God’s work in his way overwhelms our discomfort (cf. Matt. 13:44). Discomfort might come from not knowing how we are to do what God wants more than what it is he wants us to do, for example. A little persistence in asking God’s help with this may show us a way to do what he wants that will give us great joy and excitement. (But if not, do it the best way you know and trust God to keep working on your discomfort.) I don’t think God wants us to be satisfied with comfort or discomfort. I think his intent is for us to get beyond both to that fullness of joy that Jesus experienced in doing the Father’s will in the Father’s way (Heb. 12:2).

    Does what I say here make Joe’s message more palatable? I hope not. But maybe a little bit of the fear and worry needs to be taken out of it none the less.. As for Joe’s last sentence, “He comes now, and He comes in force, and He comes to threaten us, His followers, in every way.” I don’t find much support for this in scripture and find it very hard to reconcile it with what Jesus says in John 10:10. And, as for comfort, Paul tells us that it comes along with sharing in Christ’s sufferings (2 Cor. 1:5). Read in context, Paul calls God “the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort.” I think the whole question of our comfort or discomfort is set aside by the question of whether we want God’s comfort more than our own.

  13. Sarah Hovley says:

    Excellent! It is more of what He seems to be teaching me of late. What a comfort there is in His dangerous, measureless love!