Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Heart of Revelation~

Heart of Revelation

Revelation is probably the most abused book out of all the canonical Scriptures. 

Have you ever tuned into an evangelical radio station? If you stay on one long enough, you will hear somebody preaching from Revelation, and it probably will scare you to death. They'll have you worried about microchips and plagues, falling asteroids and a one world order. (If you've heard this before, you're probably in a cold sweat right now, just thinking about it.) 

The impassioned preacher will be drawing all his horror stories from the visions seen by John the Beloved when the elder Apostle was exiled to Patmos. John was given a glimpse of both apocalypse and renewal, in visions which encompassed total devastation and then God's healing presence amid a redeemed world. The record of this experience was sent out to the newborn churches, and somehow I think they treated John's words differently than we do today. 

Typical evangelical preaching on Revelation leaves you hoping to die before the End Times arrive. The focus is on the torment (I’m not sure if everyone alive will be tormented, or just the unconverted- I’ve heard it spun both ways) and not the triumph. The early church certainly understood evil, and corrupted governments, and deadly persecution, yet when they read Revelation they saw a victorious Lamb; a conquering Christ. This unforgettable and imponderable letter from John taught them how to live, how to worship, what to work for, and what to hope for. 

J. Scott Duvall wrote this book to help us receive the words of Revelation in a Christ-centered, soul-strengthening way. Instead of sucking us into the kraken infested whirlpool of prophecy predictions, he pares his thoughts down to ten essential themes. 

God- who is this Person, maker of Time, Space and Matter, who holds the ends of history in his hands? 
Worship- how would we live if we recognized and responded to God's worth?
The People of God- when life is scary, we can give each other shelter in His name. 
The Holy Spirit- our Advocate, Helper, Comforter, the One who came to bear with us. 
Our enemy- that force which hates the ways of God, yet only exists because God created it. 
The Mission- how do we carry God's news and enflesh Christ's life, from now until the final day?
Jesus Christ- he walked the earth with his glory hidden in human skin, yet when he returns He'll be revealed as the King. 
Judgement- the act that sets everything right.
New Creation- everything as if was intended to be, aligned and alive in Christ. 
Perseverance- clinging to the purpose behind all of life.  

If Revelation has been used wrongly in your life and left you terrified and troubled, then maybe it's time to read this book. It will remind you that John's testimony was recorded to strengthen our hearts, fanning the flame of God's love so that the church can warm the world. 

I thank Baker Books for providing my review copy. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

When Anything Goes....

When Anything Goes: Being Christian in a Post-Christian World

 Don't let the title scare you away. This isn't (another) screed against the slipping morals of modern America. Instead, "When Anything Goes" is Leslie Williams' response to a world that's clamoring with opinions and crying out for meaning. 

As a believer with a keen intellect and a disarming sense of humor, Leslie is an excellent guide on the tour of God-and-humanity interactions. She's distilled her convictions from decades of personal experience and informed her conclusions by years of study. 

When she speaks about Christianity, she speaks to a human being first, a soul-hungry creature that's made for more (and made of more) than immediately meets the eye.

We're all "beggars for love, with our hands outstretched." We have illusions of control. We are not in control. We will someday die. Leslie tells it like it is, but she doesn't stop there. She calls us out of hiding, out of covering our dirty tracks, and into greater Life. We can be overwhelmed by the magnificence of forgiveness. We have a home in the heart of God, with the door held open by Christ.We are treasures in God's sight.

I got the sense as I read "When Anything Goes" that Leslie has a very practical Christianity, one worked out right here in the world where all the ends don't tie up and all the numbers don't seem to add. Some people have never encountered a faith that could survive outside a sanctuary. This book reminds us that Christianity, like its Christ, works with whatever material it is given. Nothing is too poor or too profane for God to use or transform.

Ultimately, my best endorsement is to say that this book is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity." C.S and Leslie both know how to talk of heavenly things to their earthly neighbor. And that kind of conversation is one we need more of. 

I thank the author and Abingdon Publishers for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations~

The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations: Walking Alongside People Who Believe Differently

This is going to be one of the best books I read this year. I just know it. 

A year or so ago, I encountered Hugh Halter and his concept of "whimsical holiness" through his book "Flesh: Learning to Be Human Like Jesus." Hugh provided a fresh, Gospel-driven direction for our Christian living and witnessing. It was such a simple, beautiful notion: The Gospel, presented rightly, draws and woos. It doesn't repel. So, we can speak plain truth about Jesus while keeping our current friends, and maybe we'll even make some new friends. 

Now, Mary Schaller and John Crilly have come out with this incredible little volume "The Nine Arts of Spiritual Conversations." If you've ever wanted to share your faith, ever wanted to give somebody something that matters so much to you, then this is the book you've been waiting for. I wish it could be packaged as a double feature with "Flesh," because it explores all the questions that Hugh's book raised. 

Mary and Crilly know that the Gospel is truly good news, and they both want to spread that good news. We all know the word for this activity. It's evangelism. We also know that evangelism is a wonderful thing that's been used in a bad way. We've all been burned by an ill-timed and insensitive application of the Gospel. Sometimes we were the ones playing with fire, sometimes someone else was juggling flames in our vicinity. Either way, it hurts. 

Mary and Crilly have a vision- to replace "ready, aim, fire" evangelism with humane and honest engagement. Simple, essential, revolutionary. We'd match God's truth to the situation in front of us; we'd dispense God's love to this particular human being; and we'd recognizing that this person has an individual story that's a part of the ongoing Gospel story. 

Crilly and Mary do a fabulous job showing that converting a soul is God's work, and that calling out to a soul is our work. We can be the ones who notice and listen and welcome somebody in. God will do the inner transformation, he will impart his Spirit. 

"The Nine Arts of Spiritual Conversations" is a pleasure to read. First because the ideas presented are so vital, and second because it's packed full of good quotes. I really enjoy books where the authors quote widely, because it's like sitting in on a conversation between multiple thinkers. 

So. Don't let the simple cover and title of this book fool you. It's an undiscovered gem. If you're ready to hit the street and the office and the dinner table with the message of Jesus, then bring this book with you.

Thank you to Tyndale Momentum for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Life in Community~

Life in Community: Joining Together to Display the Gospel

Two pillars mark out the landscape of life. One of them is marked "Loneliness," and the other one reads "Belonging." We're all journeying along in the space between. We're human beings made for belonging, but we're alone in our own skin, separated by secrets and struggles. 

It's our community that brings us together, proving that we have a place, and that we can contribute. It's our community that cares about us, calling us to live with courage, comforting us in painful times, confronting us when we hide from the truth. 

Dustin Willis' new book "Life In Community" is a primer on this vital subject. Dustin believes in Gospel-fired community, which is what you get when diverse individuals decide to welcome each other the way God-in-Christ has welcomed them. 

Chapter by chapter, Dustin outlines what this kind of community could look like, how good it could be, and how it's worth the all effort it takes to build it. He makes it clear that community isn't a lofty idea or a shining ideal, instead it's a solid and tangible manifestation of God's grace right here on our ordinary streets. 

Most important, Dustin draws our vision back to Christ, over and over, showing him to be both the model and the source of our communities. I really appreciated this balance, because Jesus is both our Divine Savior and our perfect example. His ultimate work on our behalf powers the "go and do likewise" works that we do in imitation of him. 

I thank Moody Press Newsroom for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest opinion. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

This is Your Brain on Sports~

This Is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of Underdogs, the Value of Rivalry, and What We Can Learn from the T-Shirt Cannon 

Our intention is selecting "This is Your Brain on Sports" was to read, review, and pass on to a 13 year old nephew who is an active participant in youth sports. However, some of the content in the chapters "Acting on Impulse" and "Why Athletes Don't Need an Empty Bed Before Competition" lead me to believe that this book would be best left to parental discretion, when it comes to young readers.

For adults, this book did cover some of the psychology dealing with the modern day theory of no one wins, no one loses, everyone gets a trophy for participating. This book examines how some get way more involved with their favorite teams than is humanly healthy, and how this leads to bad behavior at times. I found the chapter on how the brain drives the athlete to the finish line fairly interesting, The book is a quick read on a rainy afternoon. Turn off the TV and pick it up.

Thank you to the publisher and "Blogging for Books" for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Brazen~ by Leeana Tankersley

Brazen: The Courage to Find the You That's Been Hiding

"Brazen needs to be rescued from the clutches of hussy and delivered into the hands of holy, because it's a word worth using, a word worth living." ~ Leeana Tankersley 

This book is like the best of songs- pieces of it will get caught in your head, looping over and over in your memory, and its refrain will call you onward into good things. 

Leeana knows what it's like to not be in a good place. She understands what it's like when your heart and mind and body are struggling and you're afraid that you'll never be well again, that you won't be able to make anything work, and that it all doesn't matter. 

Out of her Hard time- yep, Hard deserves a capital H- she emerged, slowly learning the value of her own soul. Think about it. What do we have to offer God, our family, and our friends? The answer is: Only our Essential Self. 

A soul will never tip a measuring scale, not by one ounce, yet Jesus said you couldn't pay for it with the whole world. A soul cannot be seen, not one glimpse, but it's the source of every choice you make. We desperately need to nourish these souls, to cultivate the inner life and know the sacred space where a woman meets her Maker. That is Leeana's message. She calls it brazen living: Being yourself- God made and God approved- without that corrosive shame that dogs and destroys. 

Each chapter is a meditation on one aspect of the larger theme. The titles will give you an idea. "Make Peace with Self Possession." "Disobey Your Fear." "You Are That Girl." "Curate Your Life." "Keep Casting Your Nets." "Fall in Love." "Unlearn." "Welcome it All." 

"We are both complete and becoming," says Leeana. We need to rest- brazen, shameless rest- in the knowledge that we are enough, we are complete.  And then we need to act- with brazen bravery- to engage the world and share our healing souls. We need to give our words and art and love- brazenly- to the world. 

This book is an invitation and a gentle push. 

I thank Revell Reads for my review copy, provided in exchange for an honest opinion. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Honestly~ by Daniel Fusco

Honestly: Getting Real about Jesus and Our Messy Lives

Jesus makes dead people alive. That's what Daniel Fusco wants you to know. That in the shout-it-from-a-mountain-top message that energizes every other thought is this book. 

"Honestly" is one of those books where vital truths are spoken in everyday words, as if God really is right here amid the baseball and jazz music and Italian food of Daniel's life, and amid the whatever and wherever of your life. 

Daniel weaves back and forth, looking at Scripture and looking at life, exploring what it's like to be human, to know the love of God, and to walk like Jesus through this messy world. 

People always talk about "being a good Christian," and we really ought to quit that, because none of us are and it doesn't matter anyway. What matters is that we have a good Christ. And we do. 
We have a Jesus who will walk with us through a hard thing, when all we want to do is get over it or go around it. We have a Jesus who doesn't turn away from any ugliness that we can expose, instead he reaches out and touches us. 

That's the truth. It's also the truth that terrible things happen. And burdens are too heavy to be carried alone. And people suffer in very real ways, even when they look fine from the outside. Any book titled "Honestly" has to address both sides of our existence-that  this world is cracked right up the center and we're all feeling it, and yet we are safe in Jesus, and loved better than we could ever imagine. 
This book earns its title. 

I thank Navpress and Tyndale for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.