The Very Good Gospel

Book Review: The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper

The Very Good Gospel

The Very Good Gospel

Read this book.

Seriously.

In her new book, The Very Good Gospel, Lisa Sharon Harper (Twitter, Website) presents us with a fresh approach to the Gospel. She takes us back to the beginning—to the creation poems in Genesis—and paints us a picture of a world as God intended it to be. She shows us how relationships were created to be in harmony, and when they are God declares it to be VERY GOOD.

Enter the snake. The apple. The deception. The “I will make a better god than you, God.” And, relationships are no longer in harmony. Death and destruction and suffering and pain and hurt enters the picture.

The remainder of the Scriptures, Harper points out, are all about bringing these relationships back into the order of God’s original intent. Salvation isn’t just about getting a ticket to heaven, but is about restoring the relationships of creation back to their proper place. Redeeming the brokenness, and from it recreating something new and beautiful.

This is one of the most important books of our day. We need to recapture the depth and beauty of God’s original intentions and design for His creation—that which He declared in no uncertain terms to be VERY GOOD.

Harper helps us to understand the old axiom, “If it’s not good news to the poor then it’s not Gospel.” She paints for us a picture of life as Jesus intended. A life of serving one another without expectation for return. A life of living for the other and not for the self.

Every person who claims to follow Jesus should take time to read this volume. They need to let the truths in it sink deep into their marrow. They need to let it effect the way that they live and move and have their being.

Here’s a short promo video that explores some of the themes in the book.

 

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Blogging for Books book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Life is Better at the Beach

Book Review: Life is Better at the Beach by Christina Vinson

Life is Better at the Beach

Life is Better at the Beach

I chose to review this new volume from Christina Vinson and Thomas Nelson Publishers for two reasons. First, my mother is a huge fan of the beach. She truly believes—as the title of the book suggests—that life is better at the beach. Second, we live at the beach.

This is a beautifully done volume. Superb photos, easy to read fonts, and the beach. The author takes us on a vacation of sorts. She connects life at the beach with lessons drawn from scripture. The book is a series of short devotional-type articles centered around particular “Beach Rules”. These rules range from “Wake up Smiling” to “Nap Often” and “Make Memories”.

I read this volume while our family was on vacation. While we weren’t at the beach, it is easy to see how this would be a great companion to a porch overlooking the crashing waves. The devotionals are easy-to-read, yet are full of deep wisdom. The photos are appealing to the eyes.

Take this volume with you on your next vacation!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Book Review: Jesus Called by Ray Johnston

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back is the latest volume from author Ray Johnston. In this book, Johnston outlines for us the state of the American church, and prophetically urges us to think  and act differently as modern-day followers of Jesus. He begins with one of the better overviews of the various worldviews that are impacting the church today. He also presents us with the counter-cultural view that Jesus taught.

The primary argument that Johnston makes in the book is that Christians are willing to follow Jesus up until the point of it changing their worldviews. He says:

One of the main problems undermining American Christianity is this: people become Christians, join the church, put Christian bumper stickers on their cars–but stop short of letting Jesus make a fundamental change in their foundational beliefs, their worldviews. Their lives don’t reflect the values taught and lived by the Jesus they claim to follow. — Ray Johnston in Jesus Called (page 58).

This is an important point. Until we are willing to relinquish our worldview and embrace the Kingdom Worldview that Jesus taught, we will never be able to follow Jesus with “all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.”

The remainder of the book is a call for the American Christian to release those things that have become a part of our faith that are more American than Christian. Johnston calls us to examine the church, and realign it with the call of Jesus to “Follow Him.” He does a great job at presenting the reality that Jesus’ call to us is not an easy one to follow. That there is great sacrifice required from us.

Finally, he presents us with ways to walk out the call of Christ. He gives us practical ways to reject the cultural demands around us, and accept the counter-cultural life to which Jesus calls us. Near the end of the book, Johnston talks about sharing our faith with others. Good news is never meant to be kept to oneself. It is intended to be shared.

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). He didn’t say, “You will be my prosecuting attorney.” “You will be my defender.” “You will be my slick salesperson.” He simply said, “You get to be a witness of really great news.” – Ray Johnston in Jesus Called (page 313)


 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Waiting Here For You

Book Review: Waiting Here For You by Louie Giglio

Waiting Here For You

Waiting Here For You by Louie Giglio

Well, it’s a bit past Advent, but moving halfway around the world will tend to make one a bit behind. Nevertheless, Louie Gigilio’s devotional Waiting Here For You: An Advent Journey of Hope is a great little volume to walk you through the season of Advent. The book is a collection of Scriptures, devotional thoughts, poetry, and prayers that guide the reader through the season of waiting. Woven throughout the book are beautiful black and white photographs that spark prayer and contemplation.

I added this volume to my normal daily reading and contemplation throughout the season of Advent. Unfortunately, preparations for and relocation to Turkey caused a much longer than anticipated delay in the publication of this review. Yet, it seems a bit appropriate. The season of Advent is one in which we wait for the coming Messiah. We wait for the fulfillment of promises. We wait with Hope—confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God. And, in this previous Advent season, we found ourselves in that place of waiting.

This devotional helped me walk through the wait. It guided prayers and meditation on the coming fulfillment of the promise. The promise of a Messiah. The promise of the peace that can only be found from responding to the call of Jesus to “Follow.”

Throughout the book, Giglio weaves a story. A story of transitions. A story of gains and losses. And, for us that was what Advent was this year. A time to say goodbye to life as we had known it, and a hello to a new normal. Transitions.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: The Heaven Promise by Scot McKnight

The Heaven Promise is the latest volume from author and professor Scot McKnight. In this volume, McKnight takes a long and deep look at the Bible's teachings on Heaven. He takes us on a in-depth, but approachable, study of the Scriptures–especially Revelation 22–to help us understand the heaven that is both now and not yet.

McKnight presents his thesis in a well-organized and extremely readable method. He builds precept upon precept to walk us through the Scriptures to create a solid foundation upon which to build a belief system. He also provides a look at some of the historical beliefs that the church has had surrounding Heaven.

Heaven, McKnight argues, is indeed a place of beauty and rejoicing that comes after death, but to leave it at only that is to shortchange the reality of heaven. Heaven is both/and. It is both a place of glorious resurrection after death, and a place of abundance in the present life. We should view our present life from the beauty of an empty tomb.

McKnight ends his volume by addressing common questions surrounding Heaven. He looks at ten commons questions that range from “Is God Fair?” to “Will There be Pets in Heaven?” These chapters are great helps to the overall volume and help the reader to better connect between the heaven in the here and now (God's Kingdom coming to earth), and the heaven that is to come.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher though the Blogging for Books book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Book Review: 52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol by Bob Welch

52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol

52 Little Lessons from a Christmas Carol is the brilliant new volume by author Bob Welch (@bob_welch and on the web). Welch takes the classic Dickens story and draws 52 simple (albeit profound) lessons from it. He draws the reader deeper into the character of Scrooge and helps us to understand the heart-change that the old curmudgeon is undergoing in his meetings with the spirits. Welch uses Scripture throughout the lessons to help us further see the beauty of the Dickens’ story and the imbedded redemptive analogies.

This is a highly enjoyable read. Welch’s writing style is quite approachable, and his lessons are based in Scripture. The 52 lessons follow Dickens’ story chronologically, and Welch does a great job in helping the reader to see deep and thought-provoking truths buried within Scrooge’s journey. Welch also presents insights into Dickens himself. You find how deeply spiritual Dickens was, and how his intention was to spur the British people into action to aid the poor and needy of the land.

This is a great and easy read. I found myself working through the book in just a couple of hours as I flew home from a recent speaking engagement. It would also be a good weekly devotional that would help the reader to “keep Christmas all year long.”

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thresholds by Sherre Hirsch

Book Review: Thresholds by Sherre Hirsch

Thresholds by Sherre Hirsch

Thresholds by Sherre Hirsch

Thresholds is the new book from author and Rabbi Sherre Hirsch. Rabbi Hirsch discusses the importance of traversing through the thresholds of life, and how we can do so in a healthy manner. She examines the struggle of discerning which thresholds to cross and which to steer away from as well as helps us sort through the emotional impacts of grief, loss, and uncertainty. She offers a number of examples through the use of personal stories as well as case studies. These help the reader to understand more clearly the concepts that she is presenting.

Hirsch is both a Rabbi and a Psychologist, and in this volume both come through. There is a good amount of example from Bible stories, as well as case studies from her psychological practice. Yet, it is important to remember that Hirsch is a Jewish Rabbi and not a Christian Pastor. Thus, the volume is written from a Judaic world-view. Meaning that the elements of Hope and Resurrection and Abundant Life are absent from the discussion. Those are elements that are critical to the Christian Faith and that shape how we view death, grief, stress, and discernment.

I would recommend this book as a resource to help Pastors and Counselors sort through helping people cross the thresholds of life, yet would caution that they understand from the beginning that the elements of hope, resurrection, and abundant life are absent from the volume.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Blogging for Books  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

7 Women by Eric Metaxas

Book Review: 7 Women by Eric Metaxas

7 Women by Eric Metaxas

7 Women by Eric Metaxas

In his new book, 7 Women, Eric Metaxas provides the reader with short biographical sketches of seven significant women in history. Each story is a compelling and inspiring look at the life of one of these amazing women: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, Corrie Ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Theresa. Metaxas gives a well-researched look at the historical elements of these women, and highlights some of the ways in which they exhibited and furthered the Kingdom of Heaven.

Metaxas is a brilliant biographer. He has a beautiful ability to blend the facts of a person’s life with applicable Biblical truths that aid the reader in understanding the worldview that sat in the heart of the person. His telling of the stories of Joan of Arc and Saint Maria were especially well done. Blending the beauty of two amazing women with the beauty of the Kingdom of God.

In the introduction to the book, Metaxas makes a few general points regarding the treatment of women and the feminism movement. These points are summarized in this statement:

Whether we like it or not, men and women are inextricably intertwined. Because the Bible says that we are made in God’s image—“male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27)—the fortunes of one are so linked to the fortunes of the other that there is no way to lift one without lifting the other and no way to degrade one without degrading the other. — Eric Metaxas in 7 Women (pg. xviii)

And, so, this volume becomes an important addition to anyone’s collection of biographies. The seven women highlighted in this book helped to change the course of history, and furthered the Kingdom of Heaven.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Encountering Truth by Pope Francis

Encountering Truth by Pope FrancisIt’s easy to forget that long before Pope Francis was the Pope, he was a Parish Priest. As a Parish Priest, he delivered messages on a daily basis. Yet, as Pope, we only know about he big messages he delivers: Easter, Christmas, World Youth Day, etc.

The new volume from Pope Francis, Encountering Truth, is a collection of 186 homilies delivered by Pope Francis at the morning Mass held in the chapel at Saint Martha’s in the Vatican. These homilies draw from the daily Scriptures, and are a wealth of wisdom from the Holy Father.

Each homily was transcribed by Radio Vatican and are presented as summations with direct quotes.

These messages run the gamut of Christian life. He discusses topics that range from love, to forgiveness, to prayer, and to work. They are messages that give hope and life for the day ahead (remember these are homilies from morning mass). And, they are messages that disciple and encourage and strengthen and spur us to walking out the life of Christ in the day-to-day.

For instance, in Number 28, Pope Francis delivers a message about how just societies do not exploit workers, and ensures that all have access to work. “Work gives us dignity,” the Pope says. He continues, “Not to pay what is right, not to give work, because I am looking only at the bottom line, at the company bottom line; I’m looking only at what I can gain. That goes against God!”

This volume is an excellent read. It can be read straight through as a normal book. It can be used for day-to-day devotions (one homily each morning or evening). It can also be a great resource or commentary on specific passages. (Although, it does lack an index of Scripture References.)

The real beauty of this volume is that it gives a great insight into the heart of Pope Francis. It strips away the media bias, and just goes to his words. What does the text say to him. What is God saying to him in his meditation on the Scriptures. As you read through this volume, you feel the heart and soul of Pope Francis, and he shifts from a larger-than-life leader of the Catholic Church to a Parish Priest.

There is a great responsibility for us, the baptized: to proclaim Christ, to carry the Church forward, this fruitful maternity of the Church. Being Christian does not mean making a career in an office, to become a Christian lawyer or doctor. No. Being Christian is a gift that moves us forward with the power of the Spirit in the proclamation of Jesus Christ.

— Pope Francis, Homily dated 17 April 2013.

If you’d like to read the first chapter, you can do so by clicking here.


903018: Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Every Day Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Every Day
By Pope Francis / ImageEncountering Truth is a collection of highlights from homilies given by Pope Francis in the little Vatican chapel of Saint Martha from March 2013 to May 2014. Along with summaries by Radio Vaticana (who recorded and transcribed the homilies) and commentary by Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, these reflections provide moments of inspiration, simplicity, and a glimpse into the papal world very few ever get to experience.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

Book Review: Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

What if I told you that the world is not in a hopeless state?

What if I told you that there are many similarities between the state of the world today and the state of the world at the beginning of church history?

What if I told you we’re not living in post-Christian times, but rather we are living in neo-pagan times?

What if I told you that in the early days of the Church there were seven major revolutions in thinking and action that took place? And, we are moving into a period of history where the Church must again revolutionize the world?

In their new book, Seven Revolutions, Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea give us a window into the early days of the Church. They examine the history of the Roman Empire, and the writings of the Church Fathers and highlight seven areas where the Church—through active example—changed the very course of history.

Our Christian faith should change the world around us. That’s what it means to walk out the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now. It means that those things that are not as they should be are brought—through our example—back into the order of creation. Where there is brokenness and hurt and pain and suffering, we are to actively bring wholeness and health and healing and life. We are to speak into every area of society and be bringers of the Kingdom into them.

The authors find that the early church brought revolution into the way the Empire thought about the person, the home, work, religion, community, death, and the state. They show us ways in which the early church was counter-cultural even though being so was to bring persecution and death. The early church stood firm in the face of injustice and unrighteousness, and worked to affect change in these arenas.

For instance, in regards to the revolution of community, the authors conclude:

In affirming selfless giving and affirming the poor as worthy of charity (love), the Church rejected the ancient world’s assumption that poverty was the fault of the poor. The Church corrected that world view, providing new perspectives: that there is no hierarchy of humanity; that some people are not more worthy of respect than others, and that a person’s prosperity (or lack thereof) is not a demonstration of their worth.

The authors make a case for calling the culture of modern-day west (led by the United States) neo-pagan instead of post-christian. They illustrate (carefully and with distinction) that the United States isn’t Rome, but has characteristics that are similar to those of the Roman Empire in the early days of Christianity. From that foundation, they build a case for how the Church could again bring about revolution—a shifting from the Empire of Man to the Kingdom of Heaven. They look to the traditions of the Church—the writings of the Church Fathers and the actions of the early Christians—to define terms:

Therefore, when we speak of traditional Christian values, this is what we mean. We mean the protection of human life, which includes support for marriage and the family (as opposed to the apparent conviction of many of our celebrities that marriage is optional); and we mean the protection of human dignity and freedom, which includes ensuring the safety of those most vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and destitution. And these values, which were built over the centuries via divine revelation and historic Christian consensus, must not be marginalized. Freedom of religion is more than freedom of worship. It is also the freedom of religious expression—the freedom to speak and live the faith.

The Church should not co-opt to the ways of the Empire. We are called to stand in contrast to the Empire. We are called, as were the Old Testament Prophets, to call out those things that are not in-line with the Kingdom of Heaven. We are called to highlight those things that don’t look like God’s perfect creation. And, we are called to disciple everyone into the ways of the Kingdom.

Jesus Christ came and offered an alternative to empire. We call it the Kingdom of God, but that phrase in Greek could just as well be translated “empire of God.” Jesus brought us God’s empire and preached it as the Good News—over against the Roman Empire (or any other empire).

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FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea’s book Seven Revolutions from Blogging for Books for this review.