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.
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Five Minute Friday: Question

Gentle Reader,

June in North Idaho is a strange month. Monday the temperature reached into the upper 80s. Today it’s been clouds and rain.

Kate says: question.

Go.

“You want to be a pastor?”

Want might be too strong a word. I identify strongly with the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, neither of whom were initially thrilled to receive the call. In fact, I just finished reading Ezekiel recently, and this verse had me laughing aloud:

The Spirit lifted me up and took me away. I left in bitterness and in an angry spirit, and the LORD’s hand was on me powerfully.

– 3:14 (CSB)

Commentators are split as to whether his anger and bitterness was in response to the sins of his people or in response to being commissioned to do a thankless job. I suspect it was probably a bit of both. When God, in His kindness, confronts us with our sin, we rightly feel a rush of emotion. When God, in His wisdom (and honestly, sometimes with His sense of humor), guides us toward the path He wants us to travel, we wrongly get mad and stubborn.

At least I have.

I don’t like getting up in front of people and talking. A lip sync battle, sure, because that’s funny. A part in a play, fine, because that’s not me; it’s a character. Just myself, Marie, behind a music stand, daring to declare that God has given me something to say…wow. That’s a lot.

But like I said, God has a sense of humor. I think He gets a kick out of using unexpected people in unexpected ways, because it brings Him glory and creates goodness in our lives.

Do I want to be a pastor? Truthfully, I’m not quite there in the wanting department. Still a lot of fear to overcome. The better question is this: Do I have to be a pastor? Yes, I really do. Absolutely no idea what that’s going to wind up looking like. All I know for right now is that I’m meant to keep showing up for our youth and I’m supposed to go to seminary. (Yeah, I just signed away at least four years of my life).

The real question, the one that circles ’round and ’round my mind, the one spoken in the quiet yet authoritative voice of the Holy Spirit: “Will you obey Me?”

Even though I don’t know where this path is going.

Even though it scares me to the point of tears.

Yes. I’ll obey. Not because I’m awesome, but because my God is. Because when I stand up there, longing for nothing more than to run away or to disappear, a greater longing overtakes me. I want these precious and wild young people to know just how deeply they are loved. I want them to understand the glorious Gospel that sets them free. I want them to meet Jesus. I want them to grow in relationship with Him. I want to see them grab hold of transcendent truth, to be enraptured with their Creator – and then to go out and set the world ablaze as they live in grace.

Stop.

Side note: Super weird to have people start referring to me as “Pastor Marie.” Pretty sure I’m not ever going to get used to that.

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Five Minute (Someday I’ll Do This On Time Again): Goal

 

Gentle Reader,

Spent my Thursday night with a friend at church, trying to sleep on just-this-side of uncomfortable hospital mattresses. We watched a silly television show, ate chocolate, partook of a face mask that made us look like swamp monsters, and chatted into the wee hours. Most importantly, we served three families who are looking to improve their lives. We had the honor of sitting with them during dinner, then cleaning the kitchen while they rested and prepared for the next day.

Loving like Jesus does is a beautiful thing.

Kate says: goal.

Go.

This might surprise you, but I’m not particularly goal-oriented when it comes to my writing.

Not in the traditional sense.

I used to want a multi-book contract. To see my name on the New York Times bestseller list. To write posts that go viral. To develop a big following on social media.

Now…none of that matters.

Of course I wouldn’t turn down a book contract. Of course I’d be delighted to see my name alongside major authors. Of course I’d feel honored if something I wrote spread far and wide. (As to the big following, it’s too scary). I’m just not chasing that stuff anymore. I may not know a lot, and I may have had to learn the things I do know the very hard way, but I can say with confidence that none of the above is fulfilling. None of the above meets the deepest need of my life.

That deepest need? To be loved. To be seen. To be accepted. To have purpose.

Only Jesus does that. Only He reaches down into my heart and draws the broken pieces together. Anything good this world has to offer, it’s just bonus. Extra. Nice and all, but not necessary.

I’m not a super-spiritual saint. Chances are good that as soon as I hit “publish,” I’ll be distracted by something false and shiny. But I know, in that place of knowing in the center of my being that cannot be shaken, that Jesus is the real treasure. Him – not what He provides, but Himself.

My goal, then, is to glorify Him in every word, whether they are read by the many or the few.

Stop.

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Five Minute (Monday): Well

Gentle Reader,

Did attend the chat last week, but neglected to go and see what the prompt was, thus this belated entry.

Completely unconnected thought: I have never dyed my hair. Well, I guess that’s technically not true; one summer, several years ago, I had some low lights put in that were about two shades darker than my natural color. Wild, I know. But yesterday, I found myself thinking, “I should go blonde.” Utterly random and it 99.9% won’t happen because I am lazy and/or a hippie when it comes to my hair – obviously, or I’d be straightening these locks every morning – but you never know. I might show up looking like a completely different person one of these days.

Kate says: well.

Go.

LORD, you have treated your servant well,
just as You promised.
Teach me good judgment and discernment,
for I rely on Your commands.

– Psalm 119:65-66 (CSB)

If you’re ever feeling down, turn to the psalms.

The whole range of human emotion is expressed in these poems. We are given permission, by their inclusion in holy writ, to be the fragile, frail people that we are. We are given space to cry out to God. To doubt, question, and wrestle. To express the desire to call down fire on someone’s head. (Don’t tell me you’ve never felt urge). The psalms are the sinner’s songbook, full of fear, passion, and rage.

And yet the stanzas are so much more. Time and again we watch as the author shifts from complaint to praise, from worry to wonder. The pen stills as the heart drops into a steadier rhythm. Despite the brokenness, despite the pain, despite the suffering, God is good. Like the true Father He is, He guides His children into places of peace and wholeness. When we are done fighting and fussing, He draws us into His lap and whispers words of love.

Yes, Lord. You treat Your servants well. We raise our hands in praise to You not because of the perfection of our existence, because it is not perfect, but because of the perfection of Your presence. You enable us to walk the path You have set before us, sometimes sure and swift, sometimes halting and hushed. This path, it leads straight to the heart of the better country, the place for which we are made and for which we ache.

Yes, Lord. Teach us good judgment. Teach us discernment. We rely on You.

Stop.

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