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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.”

#Lent14 — What Was Once Is Not Any Longer

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

A reading from the Epistle to the Romans.

You know the story of how Adam landed us in this dilemma we’re in—first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death.  That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses.  So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses.  Even those who didn’t sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God.  But Adam, who got us into this, also point ahead to the One who will get us out of it.

Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin.  If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do!  There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift.  The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence.  If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?

Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us all into this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it.  But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life!  One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.

Romans 5:12-19 (MSG)

This is the Word of the Lord.

One man.  

One command.

One disobedience.

That’s all it took for all mankind to be tossed head-long into the “dead-end abyss of separation from God.”

BUT!

Sometimes, that’s the best word in the English language.  A simple word that takes everything that was said before and flips it onto it’s head.  A word that makes the crooked places straight and the missing things whole.  A word that says, what once was isn’t any longer.

BUT!

One Man.

One Death.

One Resurrection.

That’s all it took for mankind to be pulled out of the separation and placed into a “life-gift.”  Yet, not just life, but “wildly extravagant” life.  Life that is recreated through the “grand setting-everything-right.”

What was once is not any longer.

Broken?  Fixed.

Missing?  Found.

Crooked?  Straightened.

Those who were alone are now with family.

Those who were oppressed are now free.

Those who were sick are now healthy.

Those who were dead are now alive.

I love the story of John the Baptist in Matthew 11:2-14.  He sends his men to Jesus with the command to find out if Jesus is the Messiah.

“Are you the One?”  they asked Jesus.

Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what’s going on: The blind, see, the lame, walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.” (Matthew 11:4-6 (MSG))

What was once is not any longer.

Life is different.

The King has come!

And, when the King comes, so does His Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God.  Where what’s broken is fixed and what’s missing is found—Shalom.  Where things are put back into the original order in which God intended them to be.  Where life is given abundant and full.

The Kingdom has come, because the King has come!

What was once is not any longer.

Life has come and is coming.  There is a part of the Kingdom is that is still in a not yet.  People—even Kingdom people—still have broken things in their lives.  They still hurt.  Sickness still exists.  How do we reconcile the fullness of the Kingdom with the emptiness that we often find?  It’s such a frustrating thing to see Kingdom People suffer.

Even now, I think of people all over the world—people in the Kingdom—who are going through the battles of life.  Who still live in places of brokenness or illness.  Even this week, I have found myself in a place of screaming out for those people.  Wanting to change their circumstances, but can’t.

Yet, I still know.  Kingdom has come for them.  Yet, the fullness of the Kingdom remains to be.  And, that is where we all live.  Somewhere in between the two.  Somewhere between knowing that Shalom is God’s desire for us, and living fully in Shalom.  And, yet, even in that place of the in-between, we see enough of the Kingdom coming into lives and situations to know—and proclaim—that Kingdom has come.  And, with each step taken in the journey of life, Kingdom comes and grows.  Ever expanding.  Ever encompassing more and more of our life and situations.

What was once is not any longer.

Signal Hill Trail, Mount Magazine State Park, Arkansas

Signal Hill Trail, Mount Magazine State Park, Arkansas

#Advent13: The Kingdom Looks Like

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

A reading from the Psalms.

Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them. He remains faithful forever, executing justice for the exploited and giving food to the hungry.

The LORD frees prisoners.

The LORD opens the eyes of the blind.

The LORD raises up those who are oppressed.

The LORD loves the righteous.

The LORD protects foreigners and helps the fatherless and the widow, but He frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The LORD reigns forever; Zion, your God reigns for all generations. Hallelujah!

—Psalm 146:5-10 (HCSB)

The Word of God for the people of God.

Again, in today’s reading, we’re given a glimpse of the Kingdom. It shows us what it looks like when the King comes. It shows us shalom—nothing missing, nothing broken.

As I read the passages for yesterday in the prayer book that I use (Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro), I was reminded of Jesus’ response to the disciples of John The Baptist in Matthew 11. John’s disciples come and ask Jesus if He is the One for whom they had been waiting. Is He the King? Is He the Messiah?

Jesus replies, “Go back and tell John what’s going on: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side. Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves most blessed!” (Matthew 11:4-6, The Message)

The beauty of the Kingdom is that when the King comes things change.

As we look around at the situations in the world where brokenness and pain seem to reign, we pray “Your Kingdom Come.” Because, we have come to learn that the only thing that can set things right is the Kingdom coming. The only thing that can set the prisoners free, make the blind see, lift up the heads of the oppressed, protect the foreigner, orphan and widows is the Kingdom of God.

That is the message of Advent. Advent is a time where we proclaim to the world that a new King is coming—and with Him comes a new Kingdom!

As we walk to the manger, let us walk with our heads held high in hope. We walk in confidence and joy in the goodness of God. God, who is Creator, has not abandoned His creation. Instead, He has invaded it and in His invasion He re-creates it.

He brings newness.

He brings wholeness.

He fixes what is broken.

He finds what is missing.

And, as His representatives—Ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)—we are called to bring that Kingdom into every place we go. We are called to speak hope and joy and life to every person with whom we have contact. We are called to live differently.

As we walk the remainder of this Advent journey, let us walk with the knowledge that the gifts of Advent—Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love—are not contingent upon external circumstances. Rather, they stand in opposition to external circumstances. Even in the midst of the most messy of conditions, the Kingdom can still come. It can—and does—still emerge.

Our lives—when lived as citizens of this Kingdom—are to be bringers of the Kingdom. Our Psalm today gives us specific ways in which we can introduce the Kingdom to people.

Free the prisoners.

Open the eyes of the blind.

Raise the heads of the oppressed.

Love the righteous.

Protect the foreigners.

Be fathers (and mothers) to the orphans.

Care for the widows.

Proclaim to the world that a new King is coming—and has already come!

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326199: Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary RadicalsBy Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove & Enuma Okoro / ZondervanA tapestry of prayer, songs, and liturgy to help today’s diverse Christians pray and worship together! This rich collection makes liturgy “dance”—taking the best of the old and reinvigorating it with fresh energy for contemporary renewal. The music section features over 50 songs from various traditions including African spirituals, traditional hymns, and Taize chants. 512 pages, hardcover from Zondervan.

#Advent13: The Peace of Jerusalem

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

Rev. Neal Locke

Rev. Neal Locke

We are honored to once again have Rev. Neal Locke guest blogging for us. Neal and I met 15 years ago as students at Oral Roberts University. I am thankful that all these years later I can still call him my friend. (And, can say that we both successfully graduated.)

Neal, his wife, Amy, and three children, Grady, Abby, and Jonah live in El Paso, Texas, where Neal is the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church.

A reading from the Psalms.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.  Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”

For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”

For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,  I will seek your good.

— Psalm 122:6-9 (NRSV)

The Word of God for the people of God.

The etymology of the name Jerusalem is shrouded in the dim mysteries of the ancient past, and will likely never be fully uncovered or agreed upon by scholars. But regardless of its true origins, a Hebrew psalmist in the time of David (such as the author of Psalm 122) would have certainly recognized in the latter half of the name the root שלם (SLM), from which we get the Hebrew word shalom. Incidentally, this is also the root for سلام (salaam) – the Arabic word for peace. Whether the occurrence of these letters in the name is coincidental or not is irrelevant—in the craft of skilled poets, words become more than their origins or parts, so we find in Psalm 122 a prayer for Jerusalem that “peace may be within you.” And indeed it is.

When we think of cities, ancient or modern, the word “peaceful” is hardly the first thing that comes to mind. Cities are full of people and buildings, bustling with commerce and activity. Cities are noisy, busy, restless and chaotic. How could Jerusalem in the time of David have been any different? How could it possibly have been a place of peace? Honestly, I’m not sure it ever was. Few cities have been sacked, besieged, invaded, captured, recaptured, destroyed and rebuilt as many times as the city of Jerusalem. Today it is still claimed by and fought over by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. In Psalm 122:7, the reference to “walls” and “towers” are an indication that even then, Jerusalem was a city built for war, not for peace.

I believe that Psalm 122 is not an acknowledgment of Jerusalem’s past or present reality, but rather a cry of the heart, a desire for how things might be: “May they prosper who love you. May peace be within your walls; may security be within your towers.” The last two lines of Psalm 122 are also a call to move from prayer to personal action: “For the sake of my relatives and friends, I will say, peace be within you. For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.

Like Jerusalem, all cities (no matter how busy or chaotic) carry within them the roots of peace, including our own. This peace may not be embedded in the city’s name, but certainly peace is embedded in the hopes and aspirations of those who dwell within it. This peace begins when we pray for our city, pray for the people and buildings and institutions inside it. Equally important, peace begins when we rise from our prayers and begin to work alongside those people and institutions, always seeking the good of the city for the sake of the Lord our God.  

#Advent13: Swords, Plows, and Kingdoms

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

This is a vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days, the mountain of the LORD’s house will be the highest of all–the most important place on earth.  It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.  People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God.  There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”  For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem.  The LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes.  They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

— Isaiah 2:1-5 (NLT)

The Word of God for the people of God.

In the midst of a nation that is about to be attacked, then occupied, and finally exiled, we find a prophet.  Yet, this message isn’t a message of war.  It’s one of peace.  It’s one that speaks to something bigger than the reality of the situation.

And, it is this passage that we find us kicking off #Advent13.

The world is a much different place than 2800 years ago when Isaiah was penning these words, yet some realities remain.  Much of the world is in war, occupation, or exile.  Millions of people around the globe go to bed every night wondering if they will die during the night by gunshot, bomb, or some other senseless attack.

Yet, we hear the voice of Isaiah calling us to beat our swords and spears (or our guns and drones as they would be better recognized in modern times) to plowshares and pruning hooks.

We often read this passage and think that Isaiah is talking about some grandiose world-wide absence of war.  While that is a part of what he is prophesying, there is a much larger message to be heard.  It is a message of peace in the now.

It is the message of the Kingdom of God.

It is the message of shalom–nothing missing, nothing broken.

Shalom.  That word that we often just translate as “peace” means so much more than that.  Shalom is not the absence of conflict.  Shalom is the knowledge that even in the midst of our conflict (be it within us or external to us), God is working to ensure that that which is broken will be repair and that which is missing will be found.

And, in this passage, we hear Isaiah’s admonition to be bringers of Shalom.  To cease the warring (both within our own self and also within the world).

To cease the struggle.

To cease the battle.

To cease the “must win” attitudes.

To settle into the Kingdom reality of nothing missing and nothing broken.

It is in this place of shalom–Kingdom–that the Lord’s mountain–Kingdom–rises up and beckons for the nations (read people-groups) to come.

And, so we begin our walk to Christmas.  Knowing that in just a few short nights, the King will be born.  And, this promise of peace…

…this promise of shalom…

…this promise of nothing missing…

…this promise of nothing broken…

…this promise of Messiah…

…this promise of Immanuel–God WITH us…

…will come to be.

This promise will move from being words proclaimed by a prophet to words walked out by a King.

AND, by His followers.

See, here’s where we often miss Isaiah’s point.  We view this prophecy as an “end of the world” kind of thing.  We interpret it to be specific to a plot of land along the Mediterranean Sea.  And, in doing so, we miss the blessing.  We miss the beauty of the Kingdom.

While the Kingdom does indeed have an element of “not yet” to it, it also is a Kingdom of now.  A Kingdom lived into by all of the followers of the King.

So, as we walk to the manager, let’s not get so wrapped up in the “not yet” that we miss the beauty of the “now”.  Let’s not miss the beauty of the ability for us to beat swords and spears into plows and pruning hooks now.

And, as we walk, we proclaim that the KING is coming.  And, when the KING comes, so does the KINGDOM!

Walk with us to the mountain–KINGDOM–of the LORD!

A Drone in Central Asia.

A Drone in Central Asia.