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.]

Yazidi Camp outside of Erbil

#Advent15: A Hill, A Hope, and a Little Boy

In August of 2014, thousands of Yazidi people climbed a hill outside of Sinjar, Iraq. ISIS had come to their city, and had begun to systematically execute the men and boys and capture the women and girls.

They fled to the only place that would be safe. Up Mount Sinjar, a holy place thought to be the final resting place of Noah’s Ark. And, there they waited.

For rescue.

Or, to die.

No where to go. ISIS had blocked the only ways down the mountain.

And, the Yazidi waited.

Among those on Mount Sinjar in the hot August sun were thirteen families that I met in Erbil some three months later.

They told us of how the US and other nations dropped food to help sustain them. They told us how the Peshmerga finally broke through the blockade and they were able to flee. These thirteen families came south to Erbil.

They finally found a chicken coop that wasn’t being used. They moved in. UNHCR found them and brought doors. A neighbor provides water–it’s not clean, but it’s usable.

Yazidi Camp outside of Erbil

Yazidi Camp outside of Erbil

Eighty-five people live here. Thirty are children.

Among the thirty children, I saw Ali. A boy of about 3 or 4 years-old.

Ali

Ali

I couldn’t image the things that this young boy had already experienced in life. I couldn’t imagine being 4 years-old and hearing gun shots, people screaming, deafening silences in between the two. I couldn’t imagine seeing blood, and bullets, and guns, and destruction. I couldn’t imagine fleeing to a mountain, and wondering if I would live or die.

All this at four.

And, it was into a similar world that the Christ Child was born.

Romans were occupying the land. Not the friendliest of militaries. Herod was king. One of the most violent rulers in history. Known for his at will killing of innocents–just to prove he was in charge.

A young mother–14 or 15 or 16 years old–on a donkey being lead by a man–Joseph–as they traveled a forced 9-day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This young mother pregnant to the point of delivery.

Pregnant with the Messiah. Immanuel. God with us.

Forced to leave Bethlehem and flee to Egypt–Mary and Joseph’s own Mount Sinjar–with a young baby of only 12 or 14 or 18 months. Hundreds of miles. Across the desert. To wait for Herod to die.

If you want to know the face of Jesus as a four-year-old boy, look at the picture of Ali. So much pain. So much fear. So much hope.

Hope.

Confident and joyful expectation that God is good.

God is good…

…even in the midst of our hiding on Mount Sinjar…

…even in the moments of being forced to flee our homes…

…our lives…

…even in the middle of our wondering if we would ever make it back home–the dream of all refugees.

God is good.

For little Ali, the knowledge of a Messiah who knows–firsthand–what he is going through is non-existent. And, yet, on that day outside of a chicken coop near Erbil, I hope that Ali saw in me the Jesus that I saw in him.

Advent is our Mount Sinjar moment. We’re trapped between a promised Messiah and the reality of an Empire of Man that longs for destruction. We stand in the middle of time. Hoping for the Messiah. Longing for Immanuel. Yet, not knowing if Messiah will come.

We follow a young woman, and her almost husband, and a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

And, at the manger we stand. Awestruck.

As we come to realize that Messiah has arrived.

And, yet, Rome–the Empires of Men–still rules. Liberation isn’t quite what we expected.

Ali and his family and the others in that camp don’t know if they will ever make it back to Sinjar. They don’t know if they will have to remain–forever–in that chicken coop. But, they hope.

And, so do we.

For Messiah.

For Immanuel.

For God to be in the middle of it all.

 

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.

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.”

A mossy tree stump. Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington

Achilles’ Heel

Last night at youth, we talked about surrender. We talked about how God calls us to do things that require us to let go of our own ideas and surrender to His. How even Jesus in the Garden on the last night of his life had to surrender to the Father’s will. God calls us to live our lives in surrender to Him.

We were challenged to pray an “anything prayer.”

“God, I’ll do anything…”

But, it’s not just enough to pray that prayer. We must also be willing to surrender our lives to Him in order to do that “anything.”

As a secondary point to all this, we talked about the idea of vulnerability. How surrendering to God requires us to be vulnerable. God highlighted for me, through our Youth Director Melissa, a new definition of vulnerability:

“Freedom to be completely dependent solely on God.” — Melissa Nelms

A mossy tree stump. Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington

A mossy tree stump. Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington

Freedom…dependent….Like moss is dependent on trees and rocks.

As we broke into our small groups to discuss these topics, I began by asking the Junior High Boys that make up my group, “Tell me about this idea of vulnerability… What do you think of with when you hear that word?”

They began to talk about vulnerability in terms of Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star (“someone should have put a piece of cardboard over that hole”), and Superman’s “Achilles’ Heel” of Kryptonite.

Vulnerability to them was a bad thing. A negative.

Something that would get your heart broken. That would allow your archenemy to destroy you. Decrease your hit points. Something that would get your Death Star obliterated.

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians (5:1), tells us that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” For freedom you have been set free.

Complete surrender must be preceded by vulnerability.

Yet, we have to leave this cultural definition of vulnerability being a bad thing behind. We must embrace the beauty of vulnerability as a freedom to be completely dependent on God. We have to change our thinking so that we come to understand the beauty of a life lived in that place of complete surrender and vulnerability.

When we walk out this idea of vulnerability as a freedom to be dependent completely on God, we are faced with the challenge to allow God to use others in the process of redeeming parts of our story. Because our spiritual formation is best walked out in community, vulnerability means that others in our community will know our stories—all of it.

It also requires that we allow others the space and freedom to be vulnerable with us. That we allow them to speak. That we quiet ourselves and listen.

There are parts of our stories that need redemption. And, for some of these stories, that redemption can only come through the community of faith by which we are surrounded. But, this will require us to be vulnerable—free to depend on God for redemption of those stories.

Can I be vulnerable for a moment?

I’m not very good at this definition of vulnerability. I’m not always so quick to open up to allow others to share in the redemption of my stories. I’m learning what this looks like. I’m learning what it means. I’m learning how to be more open to the prompting of Holy Spirit to know when it’s time to be vulnerable and when it’s time to not be.

But, more importantly, I’m not very good at this idea of being vulnerable to God. I still want to control a whole lot of things. I still want to make my plans and ask Him to make them succeed. Yet, He calls us to yield to His plan—to be completely and solely dependent on Him.

Leaving there, he went, as he so often did, to Mount Olives. The disciples followed him. When they arrived at the place, he said, “Pray that you don’t give in to temptation.”

He pulled away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, remove this cup from me. But please, not what I want. What do you want?”

Luke 22:39-42 (The Message)

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.