Review: Here and Now

Gentle Reader,

Faith, in a Hellenistic, Western culture, is normally thought of as agreeing to creeds and catechisms. I do not mean to imply that orthodoxy is not important. It is. But let’s not favor orthodoxy, what we believe, to the extent that we neglect orthopraxy, how we act. When the religious leaders inquired about who their neighbor was, Jesus didn’t distribute a how-to manual for categorizing good and bad neighbors. He shared a story about what a neighbor “does.” He stops for an injured man, tends to his wounds, and he cares for his needs.

– p. 34

Here and Now: Thriving in the Kingdom of Heaven Today, by Robby Gallaty, is not an easy or quick read. It’s not that the book is difficult or overly academic; anyone can pick up this book at understand what Gallaty is saying. Here and Now is simply one of those books that you have to set aside for awhile, after reading a chapter or two, in order to process what you’re learning.

Consider:

[Jesus] referred to the kingdom as a present power that is ruling over one’s life, not in terms of a future place to wait for until after we die. A citizen of the kingdom follows the instructions of the king, a response that garners blessings, favor, and abundant life today.

– p. 93

There is a lot to unpack in those sentences, which Gallaty does well throughout the book. We who follow Christ are to be completely given over to the way of the kingdom. Our allegiance belongs to a country we cannot see, a country whose Rulers goes out of His way to break and transcends all ethnic, national, and socioeconomic boundaries. This allegiance does not guarantee health or wealth in this lifetime; Gallaty is careful to point out that those blessings, favor, and abundant life have nothing to do with a fat bank account, material possessions, or physical well-being, and everything to do with a life overflowing with the joy and purpose found in an intimate relationship with the King.

Gallaty begins by grounding the teaching on the Kingdom, so central to earthly ministry of Jesus, in the soil of first-century Judea. He discusses the importance of the Temple as the resting place of God’s presence, and why it was (and remains) so radical that the death and resurrection of Jesus made “the Temple…mobile as the people of God became the church. They were not restricted to a particular location any longer” (p. 44). The Kingdom of God was never meant to settle in a certain place, confined to a certain people. It is designed to spread and grow, encompassing the whole earth, and all peoples therein.

A “subject” has multiple roles as a kingdom citizen, not the least of which is representing the crown everywhere they go. Each person is an image bearer or witness to the monarchy, and with great privilege comes great responsibility.

Similarly, Jesus envisioned this citizenry when He pronounced the kingdom as come. The kingdom messaged seasoned His sermons. The Gospel writers went to great lengths to ensure their readers understood this truth.

– p. 79

Whether highly visible or hidden in our daily lives, we represent the Kingdom of God. We do not have the luxury of sliding through the hours, content in complacency and laziness. We do not get to turn off our minds and accept whatever our preferred news sources tell us about the world. We do not get to decide who is worthy of grace and love. We do not have permission to cast anyone as “other” when we know that they are made in God’s image, just as we are.

In short, our faith must mean something, right now, today.

Christians, at the moment of salvation, become citizens of Heaven while still holding passports on earth. That is precisely why Peter urges Christians “as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). Our identity influences our activity. A passport is required to travel out of the country you have citizenship in. The stamp on your passport upon entering a foreign country is a reminder that you don’t live there. As a visitor, you’re just passing through.

– p. 125

Here and Now will step on your toes. Stomp on them, in fact. But we could all do with a good, holy bruising from time to time. Go out and get this book. Take your time reading it. Allow the message to soak into your soul. You won’t regret growing in your understanding of and relationship with God, despite the pains.

I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY FAIR AND HONEST REVIEW.

Review: This Outside Life

Gentle Reader,

I believe God wants us to notice it all.

– p. 7

Misty mountains, rippling prairie grasses, towering trees and multiple lakes – these are all around me, and have been all my life. For years, I was dulled to their beauty. Though I knew from a young age that I preferred the quiet of country roads and barely-beaten paths to the noise of cities, nothing in my surroundings seemed unique or unusual.

Then I took a long walk one early autumn evening, in the time when the sun disappears and twilight spreads its mysterious cloak over the earth. I watched as a glorious and indescribable array of colors – gold, violet, fiery orange – danced across the sky, putting on a spectacular show for any who cared to notice. And notice, I did. It was as if God arranged that display specifically for me, to remind me of His goodness and constant presence.

Crickets began their song. Frogs joined in. The colors faded into the gray-blue of the thin place, when the veil between this world and the spiritual realm is at its thinnest. In that moment, I began to understand why God called His creation good.

In This Outside Life: Finding God in the Heart of Nature, Laurie Kehler calls the reader to connect with this goodness in order to foster a deeper, more intimate relationship with God:

Spending time in nature is healing. It can draw you closer to the creative heart of God. It can help anxiety. It can help ADHD. It can give you a new perspective. Spending time outside is good for your insides. It’s no wonder that Beethoven, Einstein and Steve Jobs all took long walks outside. It quieted their minds and fueled their creativity. In 1910, hiker and philosopher John Muir noted that we were a “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.” We need to reconnect with nature now more than ever. … I want you to step outside and find the heart of God in nature. … He’s there. He’s everywhere.

– p. 13-14

Having never known a day without anxiety, even stretching back to my earliest memories, I can attest to the truth of her statement. The worst days are made better when I take the time to get outside, whether that is going for a hike, wading in the always-cold river or digging my hands into the dirt of my garden. The fresh air and physical activity shift my focus from whatever is scaring me and onto the sound of birds singing, the scent of pine trees, the touch of grass on my skin. God lays His hand on my head and says, “Rest, child. Rest.”

Kehler not only makes this call, but issues another, to remember that we need to connect with others within the context of outside. To step outside of our homes, workplaces and traditional worship centers. To gather around the campfire, roast marshmallows and drink bad coffee:

Community and connection are the antidotes for anxiety, isolation, and depression. A caring community cultivates contentedness. This is reflected in the Hebrews passage where it states: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near” (10:24-25 NLT).

– p. 93

I read this and a fond memory rises to the surface. I am a young teen, baby cousin balanced on my knee, watching the crackling fire and listening as my dad and uncles tell ridiculous stories. The whole family is present. Grandma, her five sons, their wives, her fourteen grandchildren (two more would be added in years to come), plus a few friends who came along. None of us have had a decent shower because the campsite is as basic as can be. The boy cousins are all about this; we girls, less so. But despite the grime and grit, we are happy.

I think of another campfire, more recent. Church family gathered around. I sit, shivering despite the flames and several layers because warm is not really a thing I ever am these days, with a big dog at my feet, just waiting for a bit of s’more to drop. People drawn from various backgrounds and experiences, whose only commonality is Jesus. And He is more than enough.

This is the point that Kehler makes, time and again,

…the romance of stars and how they hint at a loving an imaginative Creator. I like to think of His hand scattering the confetti of brilliance across the carpet of sky. I like to ponder God’s immensity, artistry and care for the great and small things He has made.

– p. 116

Yes, great and small, the Lord God made them all.

Spending time in nature is meant to drive us not to worship the creation, but the Creator. It is a choice to slow down and refocus, reprioritize. The world and its break-neck pace will not give us permission to do so, and thus we must be intentional. Close the laptop, turn off the phone, lace up the boots and go. Have a spot of adventure, done with a dash of daring. And then sit, whether on a mountain peak or in the midst of a perfectly plotted rose garden, wrapped in silent awe and wonder.

For the King made all this. He is so very good.

Kehler’s words will stay with me for some time to come. Definitely recommend this one.

I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY FAIR AND HONEST REVIEW.
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Five Minute Friday: Repeat

Push (1)

Gentle Reader,

Look up the word “crabby” in the dictionary. See my picture. Send me chocolate.

Kate says: repeat.

Go.

I’m working on a second novel. (Yeah, I wrote a first novel. And never advertised it. Because I’m really bad at promoting things. But you can buy it if you want). “Working” may not be the right word, because I haven’t touched it since February. This year has been creatively difficult; there’s a nasty voice inside my head that likes to tell me how much I suck and that I shouldn’t even bother trying to write. It’s been quite loud for months. So the file has lain dormant in my laptop, a symbol of the struggle that I have been losing.

Today I decided I would get back to it. I would ignore the voice. I would push past all the doubt. Clicked on the Scrivener icon. Waited for the project to load. The first chapter appeared on the screen. I read it. Made a change here, a tweak there. Really, it was pretty good. I thought, Well that’s nice. I’ll keep going.

Something seemed off, though. Four chapters sat in the sidebar. I was sure there were more. There was a scene that I distinctly remembered but couldn’t find anywhere.

More clicking and searching led to the recovery of two more completed chapters and several that had been outlined. But the fifth chapter? It’s gone.

Gone.

Cue the urge to throw my laptop across the room.

I searched the backup files. Dug out my external hard drive and opened every existing file. It’s nowhere.

Whhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyy.

So I get to repeat. Get to go back and do the work again. Maybe that’s okay. Not ideal. Not progression. But okay. Write it once more, Perhaps new ideas will flow. There’s a chance I could have a whole book written here soon.

Even if not, at least I’m writing.

And at least it’s Autumn, whose weather always makes me want to snuggle under a blanket, hot beverage by my side, as I spin a story.

Stop.

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Review: Finding Holy in the Suburbs

Finding Holy in the Suburbs

Gentle Reader,

I got a letter in the mail today detailing the time and location of the next homeowner’s association meeting. My immediate response was annoyance. What a waste of time. People arguing about stupid things like so-and-so not moving his garbage can from the curb in a timely fashion. These folks have way too much time on their hands.

Tract houses fenced off from the rest of the world. Mini malls full of things that none of us really need. Tidy little parks, so pristine as to be almost unfriendly.

The suburbs.

The impulse for building the suburbs was to create an idyll: the best of the country with access to the city, the pleasure of a country manor, a place of safety, and strong, thriving communities. These are good hungers; to enjoy, to rest, to work well, to keep your family safe, to grow a cohesive community. But when these hungers a met through shiny suburban packages, they come out sideways as consumerism, individualism, busyness and exclusion.

– p. 14

Hard to argue with that as I type on my laptop while I sit on my bed inside my house that sits next to my pathway on my street.

Ashley Hales knows what it is to live in the numbing suburbs, so she doesn’t condemn her readers for our struggles. Everything in the suburbs is designed to cater to an individualistic mindset, thereby undermining community-building before it even starts. Strange to realize this truth, for we so often imagine that the cities are places of disconnection. Yet it is us, wandering the aisles of the nearby Target, almond milk mochas in hand, who struggle mightily with getting out of our own heads.

Hales goes on:

There is a better way for the suburbs.

– ibid.

Each of the ten chapters explores specific temptations that suburbanites must be aware of and provides creative ways to address and overcome them. Hales begins with the most obvious sin of the Western world – consumerism. We have such a hard time embracing life as it is because we have bought into the idea that “this” or “that” will fulfill all of our deepest longings. Therefore, contentment is continually out of reach and our bank accounts bleed – yet “this” and “that” is never enough. It never ends.

So we must:

…ask for hearts that are not content with the thing itself but hunger for the source of our desires. … May the dust of our idols catch in our throats and awake us to our deathly habits of consumption.

– p. 30-31

That is the point of Finding Holy in the Suburbs. Hales spends 174 pages consistently pointing the reader to her need for the Lord. That might seem like a lot of ink spilled in order to share a fairly simple point, but nowhere is this book repetitive. With careful methodology and a solid understanding of Scripture, Hales first confronts us with the problem, moves us to the crisis point of repentance, then ends with a call to partner with God to bring shalom to the placid-looking streets we travel.

“Your suburb is not your home. It is your place you are called to in exile as you wait for glory. … The call of shalom is to maintain…’faithful presence within’ the structures of our neighborhoods and culture, as we experience God’s presence even in exile.”

– p. 156

As we live within the paradoxical “already” and “not yet” Kingdom of God, strangers and aliens who look like everyone else, we are tasked with bringing the Gospel to those who have yet to taste and see that God is good. The only way we can effectively accomplish this mission is to choose to reject the seemingly-sweet, definitely seductive vision the suburbs places before our eyes each day. Our lives are not about countertops, playdates or neatly trimmed lawns. None of these things are bad, of course, and there is no need for us to flee into the desert, but they do not define us.

We are, instead, defined by belonging to God.

The suburbs shine brightly, beckoning all to chase the much-heralded “American Dream.” Up close, inside, the light is dim, like a barely-flickering low-wattage bulb. We have the light of God within us, brighter than the sun itself. Ashley Hales helps us to see that and to reorder our priorities. Be sure to read this one.

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I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY FAIR AND HONEST REVIEW.
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