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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.
Life With A Capital L

Book Review: Life with a Capital L by Matt Heard

At some point in each of our lives, we search for a way to live life to its fullest. For many, this search takes them to the heights of successful business careers, or sports contracts. For some, it takes them to the nursery of their children, or the classroom in the middle school. Yet, for many, the surface of a rich and full life is only ever barely scratched.

Sure, physical needs are met. There’s a roof that covers the family. There’s a car that saves us from walking to work. There’s food on the table. There’s shoes on the feet. But, those things are but a small part of life lived to the fullest.

In his new book, Life With A Capital L, Matt Heard, presents us with an alternative to a life of superficial fulfillment. He takes us to the words of Jesus:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. — John 10:10 (NIV).

Heard reminds us that Jesus’ words in John 10 aren’t meant to be taken in a way that would lead us into an understanding that full life equates to lots of stuff. Nor is a full life one of a super-spirituality that’s not of any earthly use. Rather, Jesus’ intention for us is to life our lives as spiritual beings who fully embrace our humanity.

Jesus is not about making us superspiritual but fully human. He’s not only interested in our spirituality but our humanity as well. For some of us, this helps explain why we aren’t interested in cultivating a spiritual journey that’s irrelevant to the rest of our lives. For others of us–haunted by the guilt of failed spiritual disciplines–we’re intrigued.

Jesus comes that we might live full of life. That we will enjoy our lives, and also live them as representatives of a new Kingdom–embracing both the humanity and the spirituality of life. Throughout the book, Heard provides us with examples of people who have learned the beauty of this embrace. People who have learned to walk with Jesus in the everydayness of life.

Heard also presents us with ten experiences that come from the fullness of life. Practical things that happen when we fully embrace both the humanity and the spirituality of life. Freedom. Worship. Beauty. Brokenness.

In the last couple of chapters, Heard talks to us about two subjects that need to be talked about more in our spiritual settings: Brokenness and Heaven. Life is hard. It’s messy. People hurt us. We hurt people. We are all broken in some way or another. Yet, Jesus comes to mend this brokenness. Not to airlift us out of it all, but to walk through it with us. To walk through it as one who understands it. I found two statements in the chapter on Brokenness to be some of the most beautiful in the book:

In the echo of explosions along our journey, it’s temptin to forget that LIfe with a Capital L actually unfolds in the midst of the land of the shadow of death. It’s a place where broken hopes and shattered dreams happen more often than we could ever be comfortable with.

And…

Nothing will be left on the editing room floor of my journey. He’ll ultimately redeem it all, wresting beauty from the ashes for my good and his glory.

…Wrestling beauty from the ashes.  Thank God, that is the truth of a life lived to fullness. Salvation doesn’t fix all of the hurt and pain and brokenness upfront. It’s a process.

Like the Kingdom.

Life is lived out one step at a time.

Slowly by slowly.

Until that blessed day when all is redeemed and all is made new and all is filled to the fullness.

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FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of Matt Heard’s book Life With a Capital L from Blogging for Books for this review.

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424464: Life with a Capital L: Embracing Your God-Given Humanity Life with a Capital L: Embracing Your God-Given HumanityBy Matt Heard / Multnomah Books

What is it that you long for? Dream about? Hunger after? We all desire more than just the endurance of our daily routines. But often we feel limited and stuck – like we’re merely existing instead of living. That’s not the way it was meant to be. God intends the humanity in each of us to be deeply experienced, lavishly enjoyed, and exuberantly celebrated. In fact this is what the gospel is all about.

In Life with a Capital L Matt Heard escorts us on a journey of discovery: that Jesus didn’t come to save us from our humanity – Christ instead yearns to restore it to what God originally intended. He then explores ten key areas where everyday life can become extraordinary Life. Life with a Capital L is the Life you are longing for. Now.

Book Review: Joy To The World by Scott Hahn

In Joy To The World, the newest book from author Scott Hahn, we are introduced to each of the major characters in the Christmas story. Scott provides contexts to the story of Jesus’ birth that brings new life to a timeless story.

I was especially touched by the approach that Scott takes with the family aspects of the Christmas story. He points out that in Matthew’s narrative the “history of salvation” is traced “not by way of epic battles and conquests–and certainly not by way of influential ideas–but by the way of family.” The idea of the Kingdom of God being a family entity has been one of the most important ideas in my own Spiritual Formation over the past couple of years. I have come (am coming) to understand the importance of seeing one another as brother and sister and understanding our place as Sons and Daughters of God.

And that’s how Christmas changed everything. By establishing the conditions for our adoption as children of God–by bringing about a certain identification between man and God in Jesus Christ. — Scott Hahn in Joy To The World

Additional to the Holy Family, Scott looks at the Shepherds and the Magi. Shepherds weren’t normally the recipients of good news in ancient Palestine. And the Magi weren’t even Jews. Yet, both of these groups recieve the message of the good news before anyone else. God proclaiming to the “least of these” that salvation has come to the planet. These unlikely groups are given the news that the Kingdom of God is at hand, even before John the Baptist has a chance to proclaim it!

We’re also presented with the horrors of King Herod. We learn a bit of his background. We learn how he was ruthless, and dictatorial, and paranoid. We learn how his paranoria leads to the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.

As we prepare to move into the Advent season, and all the joy and hope and life it brings, we must come to understand that these were real events and real people and real stories. Scott takes us to the places. He introduces us to the people. He brings the story to life.

And, we being our march to the manager. That rough hewn place in a cave in Bethlehem. It’s where Scott begins his book. With a story from Bethlehem. In the modern day. Yet, with names and faces and children born into the most dire of circumstances. Surrounded by walls and wars and a young girl who delights in rocking these babies whose parents are displaced or imprisoned or dead.

And it is into situations just like that where we see Messiah. We see a young girl swaddling a newborn baby. We see shepherds worshipping in awe and reverance. We see Magi from the east bringing gifts. We see an adopted father who sees himself as more than just an adopted father. We see salvation.

Surely Jesus’ name, given by heaven, tells us something about His purpose. He came to “save His people”–more specifically, to save them “from their sins.” To do this is a pur act of merciful love, becuase sins are by definition offenses against Almighty God. Yet it is God Himself who has taken flesh for the sake of our salvation. He came, moreover, not just to save the wayward members of His chosen people but to save even the gravest sinners of Babylon and Egypt. — Scott Hahn in Joy To The World

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FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of Scott Hahn’s book Joy To The World from Blogging For Books for this review.

Book Review: Be The Message

Be the Message

In Be The Message, authors Kerry and Chris Shook, challenge the reader to live their life as a walking presentation of the gospel. They challenge us to live beyond ourselves and to listen for God to show us ways in which we can meet needs that are often right in front of us and overlooked.

Hearing God’s Voice is one of the most difficult elements of the Christian life to explain. Everyone hears differently. There’s not a clear formula that works for everyone all of the time. Yet, Kerry and Chris provide some ideas that can serve as basic principles to hearing God. Clear space. Stop doing stuff and allow God to speak. Read and meditate on Scripture. Listen for those things–the authors call them “Holy Disturbances”–that cause you frustration, discomfort, scream injustice.
We often miss God’s voice because our lives are so noisy. Hearing His whisper requires diminishing the racket that screams through our daily lives, and creating a space and time when we push back against the confusion and find sacred silence. — Kerry and Chris Shook in Be The Message

The authors illustrate their points through numerous stories and examples from their own lives as well as the life of their church–Woodlands Church in Houston, Texas. Many of these stories center around a “Holy Disturbance” and their acting upon what God had to say about that disturbance.

Oftentimes in our lives, we come across things that make us mad. Things that cause a “righteous indignation” to rise up in us. An injustice that causes pain for someone. Something that clearly is not the way that God intended for life to be lived. Yet, we tend to look at things through calloused eyes. Maybe they’re poor becuase they choose to be. Perhaps they don’t have food becuase the dad drinks too much. It’s their fault.

Yet, the example of Jesus and the message of God don’t allow us space to make those judgements. They force us to act on the behalf of the poor and the needy and the widow and the orphan.

The poor and the powerless are mentioned nearly three thousand times in Scripture. It’s simply not possible to read our Bibles for five minutes without coming face-to-face with God’s fierce love for the poor and His intense passion for justice. — Kerry and Chris Shook in Be The Message

Justice is a word that we often misunderstand. We often think that justice means that someone gets what’s coming to them. We confuse justice with judgement. God calls us to be people who bring justice. He calls us to be people who look not at what someone has done, but rather looks at people through the eyes of a loving and forgiving and compassionate God.

And that’s the message. The message that God came in the person of Jesus. That He looked on us not as people who need judgement, but rather people who need justice. He provided that justice in the person of Jesus. And, because of that, our lives have been transformed. And that story of transformation is a message that the hurting world needs to see.

Regardless of the circumstances of your past, you get to choose today what your life message to the world will be. Regardless of the sins and mistakes of your past, because of God’s grace, the rest of your story has yet to be written. — Kerry and Chris Shook in Be The Message

God’s desire for the rest of our story is that it involve other people. Our stories aren’t intended to be monologues. Rather, they are intended to be a beautiful tapestry that includes all of the mess and ugliness and pain and suffering of a broken world around us. A broken world that needs us to Be The Message.

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073818: Be the Message: Taking Your Faith Beyond Words to a Life of Action Be the Message: Taking Your Faith Beyond Words to a Life of Action
By Kerry & Chris Shook / WaterBrook PressTake your faith beyond words to a life of action! Exploring the Bible story of the rich young ruler, the Shooks observe that he had the right theology—but when Jesus called him to action, the wealthy man couldn’t accept the cost. Discover what might be holding you back from being God’s message to the world. 240 pages, hardcover from Waterbrook.