Kingdom of God

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.”

A fishing boat in Kuşadası

Following Jesus: 153

“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.”

John 21:1-11 ESV

“I’m going fishing,” Peter said.

This was more than a statement about a weekend getaway. This was Peter-code for “I’m done.”

What do you do when your plans and dreams and hopes die?

This is the question that Peter and the others are confronted with. Even though Jesus had been raised. Even though hope was alive again. Even though he had already seen Jesus in the Upper Room. Peter goes fishing.

And, truth be told, I totally understand where he’s coming from. When things aren’t lining up the way that I think they should, I often want to escape into what I knew before. Like Peter, there are days where I feel out of my element. I know business. I don’t know cross-cultural living. I know Project Management. I don’t know how to handle getting only one-thing-per-day accomplished.

The disciples aren’t yet sure what to think about this whole death and resurrection thing. They don’t know how to process that. They just know that the ideas that they had about Jesus’ Kingdom weren’t lining up with their plans.

Jesus’ plan for His Kingdom wasn’t lining up with the disciples plan for His Kingdom.

And, so, Peter responds in the only way that makes sense to him. “I’m going fishing,” he said. The underlying message in this statement is “I don’t know what to do with this, so I’m going back to what I know–fishing

How do you respond when Jesus’ plans for His Kingdom doesn’t line up with your plan?

In my mind, the Kingdom should come rapidly. Immediate fixes to the world’s problems. Rapid results. Yet, Jesus doesn’t work that way. He healed the blind beggar, and probably passed five others along the way. He raised Lazarus, but probably walked past ten tombs to get to Lazarus’. I don’t understand that. I don’t understand the now but not yet of the Kingdom of Heaven. And, frankly, sometimes that bothers me.

My plans for His Kingdom doesn’t always line up with His plan for His Kingdom.

A fishing boat in Kuşadası

A fishing boat in Kuşadası

And, I just want to go “fishing”.

Thankfully, Jesus understood Peter’s fishing trip. And, Jesus understands our fishing trips.

Jesus’ response was to meet Peter where he was. Jesus shows up on the shore after a night of unsuccessful fishing (Peter must be really disappointed at this point), and asks what is probably the hardest question that Peter ever had to answer: “How’d the fishing go?”

This question is much harder than the three questions that follow later in this chapter. This is the moment where Peter must decide if he is a fisherman or a fisher of men. For Peter to admit that the nets were in fact empty is to admit defeat. It is to relinquish his pride.

It is to let go of his kingdom in hopes of embracing a new one.

And, to make matters worse, this isn’t the first time that Peter has been asked this question. Some years earlier, when Jesus first called Peter to follow him, this same story happens. In this moment, Peter has to know that this is not just another Galilean standing on the shore.

Peter answers, “It was the worse night of fishing in my life.” And, maybe under his breath he adds “except for that one time, a few years ago.”

This interaction is instructive for us. Jesus speaks to us in ways that we know to listen for him. He wants us to hear the message, and he isn’t going to hide the message. If we’re used to hearing Jesus in a certain way, He’s not going to suddenly change it up on us. Jesus speaks to us in ways that we will hear.

So, Peter follows Jesus’ suggestion. “Go deeper and try the other side.”

Just like before.

And, just like before, they catch more fish than they can handle. 153 to be exact.

When you relinquish your plan for His Kingdom, and embrace His Plan for His Kingdom, the fishing gets better. It still won’t all make sense, but it will be memorable.

John, now an old man, writes the story and remembers exactly the number of fish that were caught.

153.

 

Following Jesus: Fear and Forgiveness

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

— John 20:19-23 (CEB)

Easter night. By now, the Disciples have heard the stories of the women who had gone early that morning to the tomb a hundred times. The men who had seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem, and have told the others their stories.

“Jesus is risen,” was the resounding message.

Yet, fear was still the motivating factor for the disciples. They were locked in a room. Waiting for the Romans to come for them. Surely, they would be next.

There has to be a million questions running through the minds of the disciples at this point. Surely, this Jesus was more than just a man, but he was Messiah. And, Messiah meant the restoration of Israel. But, Rome is still in charge.

Jesus, they are not yet realizing, didn’t come to overthrow a political entity. It wasn’t about a land or even a particular type of people. Rather, Jesus had come to institute a new Kingdom. A Kingdom that wasn’t dependent on land or borders.

“Peace,” he proclaims to his followers. And, that is what he proclaims to us.

Peace. Not an absence of conflict, but rather a process where crooked is made straight, missing is found, and broken is repaired.

Fear had caused these followers to lock themselves into a room. Yet, Jesus comes in, proclaims peace, and then sends them out. Sends them out even though they were still afraid.

Fear is not sin. Fear is a natural human reaction when life is in danger. The problem arises when we decide to order our lives from the place of fear–when we decide that the right response is to lock ourselves in our rooms. However, Jesus doesn’t call us to lock ourselves in our rooms.

Or behind huge walls.

Or behind a giant military complex.

Or behind the doors of beautiful sanctuaries.

wpid-Photo-1-Şub-2013-0233.jpgNo, Jesus sends us out into the very world from which we try to insulate ourselves. He breathes on us the power of the Holy Spirit. A power that is to be used to forgive those who need forgiveness. To forgive even the Roman soldiers who hammered the nails. To forgive even the religious leaders who lodged false accusations.

The christian faith is not intended to be lived out on Sunday mornings in padded pews. Christian faith is lived out in the highways and the byways. It is lived out in the homeless shelters and the corporate offices. It is lived out in the “safety” of the west and the “risk” of the east.

To follow Jesus is to leave the locked room of safety behind. To follow Jesus is to go into every man’s world. It is to proclaim, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that our fear has been turned into forgiveness.

Syrians in Turkey

#Advent15: The Faces of Jesus

I’ve seen lots of faces.

Faces full of fear.

Faces full of joy.

Faces full of anxiety.

Faces full of grace.

Faces full of hopelessness.

Faces full of hope.

And, in many of these faces, I find myself looking into the eyes that belong to a different face.

The face of a baby.

The face of a King.

If you want to know what Jesus looks like, then I urge you to talk to a refugee.

Talk to one who has been forced to leave everything behind. To travel a great distance. To go hungry. To go without shelter, or a bed, or warmth.

It’s not hard to see Jesus, when you stand in the midst of a refugee encampment.

He’s all over the place.

In the face of the young child. Too young to know what’s happening, but old enough to know that life isn’t what it was just a few short weeks ago.

In the face of the old man. Weather-worn from years of farming or shepherding or bread making or bazaar trading. Old enough to know that the world is painful, yet longing to return to the comfort and peace of his own living room.

In the face of the young mother. Caught somewhere between joy and euphoria at the new baby in her arms and the fear of it dying for lack of proper nutrition.

In the face of the teenaged boy. Ready to take on the world, but afraid of what might lie ahead. Hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears.

In the face of those who serve these precious people. Hands and feet forsaking home and family. Leaving behind comfort. Leaving behind safety.

As Jesus was preparing to die, he told his disciples about the judgement (Matthew 25:31-46). Nations, he said, would be gathered together. Some would be sent to his right hand, and others to his left. Sheep and goats. To those the right, he would grant an inheritance of the Kingdom fulfilled. To those on the left, no inheritance.

The difference? How they treated the hungry and the poor and the destitute and the refugee and the immigrant and the thirsty and the naked.

Those who had met the needs, given the inheritance of the Kingdom.

Those who had not met the needs, cast away forever.

Both groups called Jesus Lord. But, only one group had taken the time to see his face.

And, the judgment isn’t against individuals. It’s against nations.

Jesus-followers should take pause when those who claim Jesus try to keep those in need at bay.

“When I was hungry,” Jesus said, “you fed me.”

Will you feed him?

Will you welcome him?

Will you look at the faces and see his face?

A Syrian Man

A Syrian Man

Erbil International Airport

#Advent15: Somewhere Between Here and There

We’re on the plane now. According to my watch, we’re probably about halfway.

It’s strange knowing that when the wheels of this plane touch the runway, I will have to redefine–again–the concept of safety. Yet, I also know that this is the right place at the right time with the right people.

Safety. This is a word that I have come to define and redefine a number of times in the course of the last four years. A word that I have spent many occasions discussing–arguing–with God about. That day on that plane was one of those occasions.

Vicar Andrew White says that the Kingdom life is a risky one. That it’s a life where we shouldn’t urge one another to take care, but rather to take risks.

Risk. Risks are a bit like faith. You step out into the unknown. Trusting that God knows what He’s doing in calling you out there. But, to take a risk means that your definition of safety can’t be one grounded in fear.

Fear. It’s real. It’s also not the opposite of faith. Faith and fear carry the same definition: a belief in something unknown. The difference is what you do with it. Faith is pressing forward in spite of that which is unknown. Fear is isolating yourself against that thing that is unknown.

Isolation. Hiding from that which is unknown. A citizen of the Kingdom who lives in isolation will NEVER bring about the purposes of the Kingdom. They will only ever seek out their own survival. They will only ever take care. They will never take risks.

The Kingdom life is a risky life.

I somehow think it’s appropriate that I’m on this trip during Advent. So many people longing for rescue and redemption and renewal. So many people yearning for something in which they can hope. And, the truth of it all is that there is hope. Yet, proclaiming hope means that the one proclaiming it must take risks.

Hope. Confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God. We proclaim hope not to the hopeful, but to the hopeless. And, they are hopeless because they are in the middle of the situations against which our definitions of safety often keep us isolated.

For us to proclaim hope means that we must step outside of our isolation. We cannot proclaim hope unless we abandon fear and step out in faith.

The United Nations tells us that 1 in 123 people on the earth today are living a refugees. They have fled home and gone to somewhere else–somewhere deemed to be “more safe.” In order to proclaim hope to these millions of people, we must step out of our “safety”–our isolation–and step into this risky Kingdom Life.

Advent means coming. God coming. Coming into the midst of war and famine and pain and hurt and struggle. God coming to be with us. To dwell. To tabernacle.

And, in His coming, He invites us to come along. To see what He sees. To hear what He hears.

Immanuel. God is with us. In the middle. He has come. He is coming. He will come again. Into our pain. Into our suffering. Into our hopelessness.

And, He calls to us to board the plane. To be somewhere between here and there. Leaving behind our isolation. Leaving behind our fear. Moving forward in faith.

The opposite of fear is Love–not faith. “Perfect love,” the beloved Apostle writes, “drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

Perfect love moves us out of isolation and into the middle of the hopelessness to proclaim hope.

Perfect love moves us out of fear and into faith.

Perfect love moves us out of our definitions of safety and into God’s definitions of safety.

“The name of the LORD,” the Proverbs tells us, “is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)

Safety. It can either be based in fear or in faith. If it drives you into isolation, then it’s based in fear and isn’t God’s definition of safety. If it drives you to take Kingdom risks, then it’s based in faith and is God’s definition of safety.

So, we take risks.

Not long after that line was written the wheels of the Airbus 321 touched the runway. I had arrived in a place that I never dreamt I would be. I didn’t know what the next week would bring. I didn’t know what I would encounter. I only knew that I was in the right place at the right time with the right people.

“Don’t take care,” the dear Vicar says, “Take risks.”

Erbil International Airport

Erbil International Airport

[All block quotes are taken directly from my journal entry from 3 December 2014.]

The Citadel of Erbil

#Advent15: A Car Bomb and a Coming King

One year ago today, I stood on holy ground.

I was in the city of Erbil in the Kurdistan Autonomous Region of Iraq. I had gone to Kurdistan to see first-hand the situation on the front-lines of the work among refugees that had fled from Mosul, Sinjar, Kirkuk, and other parts of Iraq and Syria.

In our orientation to the city, our host had taken us to a site where two weeks before a car bomb had gone off and a number of people had been killed. I stood in silence–fighting back tears–as we listened to one of the guards tell us about the car, and the bomb, and his friend who had died in the attack. I watched as he knelt down on the pavement and pointed to a small piece of metal. “There’s part of the bomb,” he said.

It was in that moment that I knew I was standing on holy ground. Ground where people had had their lives stolen from them.

I whispered a prayer.

The only prayer that I could find to pray in that moment.

Kyrie eleison. God, have mercy.

The Citadel of Erbil

The Citadel of Erbil

As we walked solemnly back to our car, along the foundations of the Citadel of Erbil, I took in the sights and sounds around me. Life still going on. People still shopping in the bazaar. Taking photographs beside the fountains.

It’s a bit like Advent.

We wait and hope for a better King.

A better Kingdom.

Redemption.

Restoration.

And, while we wait, life goes on around us. Millions not knowing that this King has already come. That this King has set in place His Kingdom. And, that–someday–the Kingdom will be full and beautiful and glorious and nothing will be missing and nothing will be broken.

War will cease. Devices used to bring destruction will be turned into tools to bring life. Lions and lambs will lie together in the cool grass.

And, yet, the message of Advent is that we’re still not in a fulfilled Kingdom. We long for it. We hope for it. We pray for it. We yearn for it.

And, we work towards it. What if the Prophet Isaiah wasn’t just dreaming when he said that swords would be beaten into plowshares? What if he meant for us to do the beating?

It is between these two things that we are stuck. The promise of a new Kingdom, and the birth of the new King. Somewhere, we find ourselves in the middle of it all.

How do we balance between the two? Between the yearning for fullness of the Kingdom and the pain of living in a world of not yet. A world of pain and struggle and illness and war and car bombs.

I left that crater in the road knowing that I had stood on holy ground. Sacred space. I had been face-to-face with mortality and fear and death. But, I got to walk away.

I don’t understand why some of us get to walk away and why others don’t. I don’t understand why some of us get to go on with our trading in the bazaar and taking photos at the fountains. I don’t understand.

But, I know that Advent is here. The hoping. The waiting. The longing. The King is coming.

As I sat in the hotel that evening, I searched for words to put to my feelings and thoughts. I looked for something to say. But, was left with nothing but “Come, Lord Jesus,” and that old Leonard Cohen chorus, “Hallelujah.”

And, it is with those words that John ends his Revelation. The Beast of the Empire has been defeated. The King of Kings and His new Kingdom are fully realized. And, John writes:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! — Revelation 22:20 (ESV)

Together with John and with the guard in Erbil and with the families and friends of those killed that day and with all the saints and angels we proclaim: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

#Advent15: Spoila

I realized this morning that I haven’t posted anything for Advent this year. I had good intentions of posting each day as we did in the past, and had even written the first week’s worth of posts. But, somehow the words just didn’t seem to fit this season.

Advent is a time of waiting. Of longing for something bigger and better. Of yearning for a new King to establish a new Kingdom.

For hundreds of years, the people of Israel would pray and yearn and long and hope and wait for this new King. As time went on, the hope grew, but the understanding of this King shifted. By the time that Christ came, Israel was expecting an overthrow of Rome. A restoration of David’s Throne. Return to the glory days.

On Saturday, 21 November, I stood in ancient Ephesus in modern-day Turkey. It was such an honor to have Pastor Mark Foster from Acts 2 UMC there with me, and to show him some of the cultural heritage of that remarkable country. I tried to explain things as I saw them. Tried to give him a sense of the land. A place where Christianity had once thrived. A city that had been home to Paul, Luke, Apollos, Priscilla, Aquila, Timothy, and, of course, John the Beloved.

Spoila

Spoila on the staircase at the Terrace Houses in Ancient Ephesus

As we came down the stairs out of the Terrace Houses (a must see if you’re ever in the area), I noticed something. Archeologists call it spoila. It’s the usage of older materials to build new things. There, on the staircase, was an amazing example of spoila. A piece of marble that looked like it had come from the top of an ancient structure placed in among the stairs. Old materials. New uses.

As I pointed this out to Pastor Mark, all of the many verses that God had given us over our previous trips to Turkey came rushing back. And, with them, so many of the prophecies regarding this new Kingdom for which we long.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. — Isaiah 58:12 (NIV)

They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. — Isaiah 61:4 (NIV)

And, a lot of things made more sense. I had often thought that the whole rebuilding of ancient ruins was to build the old thing again. But, on that staircase at the Terrace Houses in that ancient city, I came to understand spoila.

Taking the old…

…the torn down…

…the damaged goods…

…the mess…

…the pain…

…the junk of life…

…and building something new and beautiful from the pieces.

And, with that understanding came one of those “the Kingdom is like” lessons.

When the remains of what was once glorious are used to create a new–more glorious–thing. That is the Kingdom of Heaven.

And, that’s the message of Revelation 21. A new heaven. A new earth. Built from the spoila of the old. Built from the chaos of the fall. Made into this perfect ordered order that only the true King can do.

I’m back in the States now. Grappling with two mass shootings in the last few days. Grappling with a refugee crisis with which some are hesitant to deal. Grappling with friends that are trying to understand how to make ends meet. Grappling with grief.

And, as I try to understand all of this, I keep finding myself on that staircase in Ephesus. Examining the spoila. Trying to see in the midst of it all where the Kingdom might be coming. Where will the Messiah make His appearance. Where will the ancient ruins be rebuilt into a new and beautiful thing.

And, while I know that all these issues and struggles and pains and griefs and hurts won’t be fully restored today, I know that little-by-little the pieces are being collected, and turned into something that will someday be beautiful.

Because, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom. And, with the Kingdom comes a time where all things are made new.

Until then, we wait.

And, we work.

Because, as citizens of the Kingdom, we are called to be the ones to pick up the spoila and partner with the King to co-create the new Heaven and the new Earth.

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.

Bringing Heaven to Earth

Book Review: Bringing Heaven to Earth by Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment

Bringing Heaven to Earth

Bringing Heaven to Earth

One of the largest theological shifts that I have undergone is how I view heaven. For many years, I viewed heaven as place that comes after “now”. It’s somewhere off in the future. When I die, or when Jesus blows His trumpet, I’ll leave this place (which isn’t good) and will find myself in heaven.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve begun to shift in my thinking of heaven. Leaving behind the idea that it’s just a “after now” place. I’ve become more and more cognizant that when Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven, He isn’t referring to something in the distant future. Rather, He is talking about here and now and there and not yet.

I’ve been waiting for a volume that would help me solidify this theological shift, and that would provide me with a resource to recommend to people who are in a similar place. After reading the forthcoming (due out on 5 May 2015) volume from Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment called Bringing Heaven to Earth, I believe that I have found that resource.

Ross and Storment present a strong and beautiful argument for the idea that heaven is here and now. Using the foundation of Scripture and supported by the tradition of the church, they show that while heaven is a fulfilled reality when “God calls us home” it is also a reality to be lived out between now and then.

Jesus came to give us new life—now. Our live is to be wrapped up in living with God—now. We yearn and long for a time when all is perfect and complete, yet we can’t just sit and wait for it. We are called to bring it into the reality of life now.

God’s great plan isn’t to burn up the creation that He called “very good.” Rather, His plan is redeem and restore and recreate it. His plan is to return it to the state of “very good.” And, He calls us—you and me—to live lives that help to restore and redeem and renew.

Ross and Storment say it this way:

The ultimate Christian hope is not to fly off as disembodied beings to another place. Our hope is that God is going to redeem and restore the world, and you and me along with it.

We live to introduce the world to a new way—a new Kingdom. We live our lives in a way that people see that we’re not a part of the systems of the world. Rather, we have a new—renewed—identity, and a new citizenship. Our citizenship, as the Apostle Paul says, is not of this world. It is beyond. And, while God’s Kingdom is not complete—the world still needs an immense amount of redeeming—it is coming.

Slowly by slowly.

Step by step.

Person by person.

And, it’s not an elite Kingdom to which only a few are invited. No! It is open to all. And, with each accepted invitation to the Kingdom, it grows. A little bit more of the world is redeemed.

With every orphan who finds a home—the Kingdom comes.

With every rundown house that is rebuilt—the Kingdom comes.

With every hungry mouth that is fed—the Kingdom comes.

With every beautiful painting painted—the Kingdom comes.

With every saint who passes on and realizes the fullness of being with God—the Kingdom comes.

And where the Kingdom is, we find heaven. For “heaven,” Ross and Storment tell us, “is where things are as God intends.”

Jesus singled out every category of person that had been shunned by the elite of society, including the religious leaders and experts in the Law. In doing so, Jesus there open the doors of God’s Kingdom as wide as possible. Everyone, everywhere, is invited into God’s Kingdom.

And, with each accepted invitation is accepted, a little more Heaven comes to Earth.

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FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment’s book Bringing Heaven to Earth from Blogging for Books for this review.

426703: Bringing Heaven to Earth: You Don"t Have to Wait for  Eternity to Live the Good News Bringing Heaven to Earth: You Don’t Have to Wait for Eternity to Live the Good News
By Josh Ross & Jonathan Storment / WaterBrook PressMuch has been written about our future eternal home. But what if Jesus is more interested in bringing heaven to earth rather than the other way around? Offering a corrective to the church’s emphasis on the afterlife, Ross and Storment call us to work for God’s kingdom by overcoming injustice, poverty, lack of opportunity, and more. 224 pages, softcover from Waterbrook.
The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis

Book Review: The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis

The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis

The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis

In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis plots a course for the church as it navigates the changing culture brought on by urbanization and globalization. As these forces have grown in strength, the church has been faced with challenges of evangelization in these new paradigms. Pope Francis lays out a fresh plan for the work of the people to bring the Gospel to the whole world.

Pope Francis urges his readers—and the church at large—to walk out their faith in divine love. Allowing the love of God to guide and direct them to transform the world around them. He urges all of us to live as if heaven is both a now and a not yet place.

We are reminded in this volume that “missions” is a task assigned to all believers. No one is exempt from the Great Commission. We all have a part to play in bringing the gospel to every corner of the world. Everyone who calls themselves “Christian” has been commissioned by Christ to “go” and “make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) No one has been excluded from the going or the making.

Pope Francis also gives us a new way to think about evangelization. He begins Chapter Four by defining “to evangelize.” He defines it as making “the Kingdom of God present in our world.” He goes on to discuss practical ways how we are to be bringing the Kingdom into each corner of the world wherein we live and work. Later in Chapter Four, he reminds us that the Kingdom is “already present and growing in our midst” and that it “engages us at every level of our being.”

The Joy of the Gospel is a great read for persons of any faith tradition. All will benefit from the truths presented by Pope Francis. This volume will provide fresh ways of viewing the task of the Great Commission to which all Christ-Followers are called.

Page 128 of The Joy of the Gospel

Page 128 of The Joy of the Gospel

You can read the first chapter of The Joy of the Gospel by clicking here.

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FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis from Blogging for Books for this review.

419537: The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudium The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii GaudiumBy Pope Francis / ImageThis special edition of Pope Francis’s popular message of hope explores themes that are important for believers in the twenty-first century. Examining the many obstacles to faith and what can be done to overcome those hurdles, he emphasizes the importance of service to God and all his creation. Profound in its insight, The Joy of the Gospel is a call to action to live a life motivated by divine love and, in turn, to experience heaven on earth. Foreword by Robert Barron; Afterword by James Martin, SJ.