Too Many to Jail


Let me start by saying Too Many to Jail by Mark Bradley is available until April 5 for just $.99 on Kindle – and you need to order it now by clicking here.  The book tells the story of the Christian church in Iran – a country where you’d expect the church to be dieing – but to the contrary, Iran is the country with the fastest growing church in the world, growing at a rate of nearly 20% every year!

In the book Bradley provides several chapters that give a brief overview of the history of Iran since the Islamic Revolution, with an eye towards explaining both Christian persecution during that time and the growth of the church.  He goes into detail regarding five house churches, and the book really is a study of the growth of the house church movement in Iran.

Rather that provide you with any further details about the book, though, I’d like to share what the book has forced me to think about – and reminded me of.  Overall, it has led me to reflect on my own witness for Jesus (0r lack thereof) – I’ve had to ask myself, “Why is it there are so many people in Iran who are willing to go to jail, be tortured, or even die for sharing the Gospel and I’m afraid to talk to people here in America?”  The boldness of these believers is both inspiring and convicting.

The book also addresses why people are so open to Christianity (and, honestly, why do I assume they aren’t open to it here?)  The biggest reason?  It’s really simple: the primacy of Jesus Christ.  Bradley writes, “Ask an Iranian why they are attracted to Christianity and the answer is often very simple: Jesus Christ” (p. 104).  It makes me wonder, why don’t people in America say that?  Is it because we’ve done a lousy job of showing them Jesus?  Several times in the book Bradley wrote about how in the house churches Christians told others (evangelized them) simply what God had done in their own lives – it is the story of testimony.  Yet here in the American church we struggle to get people to even see the movement of God in their lives, yet alone tell others about it!  There’s also an emphasis in the book on the practice of church discipline in the Iranian church: “[The church] is particularly string in two areas: sexual relations and gossip” (p. 131).  The process?  People who fall in these areas are first warned and asked to live pure lives, but if they continue they are asked to leave the church.  It’s that simple.  And do you notice the two that have been picked?  Wow!

The other reason the church is growing?  Christians aren’t afraid to share Jesus with people!  Even in the presence of persecution, Christians share the good news:

“The policy for Christians who do not actively threaten the status quo of the Shia state is discrimination, which often leads to the ordeal of emigration…It is true that many hard-line Muslims in Iran interpret the Sharia law as demanding death for male apostates and life imprisonment for females.  Hence, in more colorful publication,s the impression can be given that a Muslim in Iran who becomes a Christian spends every waking moment in fear of being murdered or dragged of to a kangaroo court to be sentenced to death.  However, even Iranian officials can be uncomfortable with this image and there is no record of any Christian facing that sort of treatment in Iran – as long as they are quietist and not active at all…The issue is that many Christians are not quietist” (p. 165-6, emphasis mine).

Read that again – if Christians in Iran would be willing to put up with some discrimination (political, economic, etc), they could live their lives without fear of torture or murder.  But even know that they do not remain quiet but insist on sharing the good news of Jesus with non-believers! Bradley also writes, “One man closely involved with house churches made this striking comment, ‘The people are so open that you can get away with anything in evangelism if you go about it the right way.’  In other words people want to hear about Jesus, and if approached in the appropriate way they will make a commitment” (p. 147, emphasis mine).  Why aren’t the Christians afraid to suffer persecution for the sake of Jesus?  Apparently they actually believe what he said, and they believe it enough to risk it all – but they’ve also found that when they share Jesus with others people actually respond by also taking on the risk of following Jesus.

When was the last time you heard anyone in America talk like that?

Overall I’m giving this book 5/5 stars – if you’re willing to confront your own fears about sharing Jesus with others.   If you’d like to check out an excerpt before spending the $.99 for the book (see link at top of page) you can find one if you click here.

For the record, I did receive a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

 

 

Advertisements

Citizen by Rob Peabody


Citizen was a refreshing look at what it means to walk as a follower of Jesus.  Peabody directly confronts the me-centered religion that many modern Americans substitute for authentic Christianity.  Having moved from Texas as a pastor in a mega-church, Peabody ended up in London reaching the lost in a post-Christian culture.

While there were many quotes in the book that gave challenged me, perhaps this is the one that spoke most to me:

Back to our earlier statement: citizens of the Kingdom should be the most risk-taking people on the planet.  Why, you ask?  Because we have absolutely nothing to lose.  Citizen, this is your reality: you died with Jesus and were buried with Him.  You were united with Him in His death, and therefore you have already died, and there is no fear of death for people who have already died.  Death has already been dealt with.  What is the worst that can now happen to you? (p. 98-99)

The book challenges us as followers of Jesus to re-examine what it means to live as members of the Kingdom of God, as citizens from one world who live in this one.  And it’s not an easy challenge to ignore.  Peabody doesn’t simply remind us of what scripture calls us to, he models for us what it means to live that way and shares his experiences with us.  While reading the book I found myself not only challenged to live differently but also longing to meet the challenge; it wasn’t just an intellectual challenge but one that tugged at my heart and I found myself changing how I view my own interactions with people now.

One thing I particularly appreciated about the book was the amount of time Peabody spent reminding me of my identity in Christ and his focus on the community of believers, and his application of these truths to my own life; Peabody makes clear that living as a citizen of heaven is the right (and responsibility) of every believer – not just those in professional ministry.  Over the past year, in particular, I’ve been focused on trying to understand and experience what it is to live in community with other believers – both from my own church and from other churches.  Peabody’s words paralleled, in many ways, what I have been learning this year on these two topics.  Read Peabody’s words, again:

The gospel in no way supports a ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ distinction.  In fact, the gospel message is exactly the opposite.  Jesus died, and the veil separating the ‘Holy of Holies’ from the common area in the Temple was torn…The gospel is a proclamation that no longer is there a divide between ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’.  Jesus infiltrates all your life and desires to penetrate every sphere in which you are active.  Therefore, Christianity is not simply a set of beliefs to adhere to in order to save your individual soul and escape the world at death or the rapture, but is actually a new way of seeing (and experiencing) everything in the world.

Are we artists, baristas, teachers, electricians, engineers, students, or factory workers who also just happen to be citizens of the Kingdom?  Or are we, first of all, citizens of the Kingdom who happen to serve vocationally in these ways?

Our baseline for living has been changed to a Kingdom baseline.  The gospel and the Father’s Kingdom are now the foundations for the citizen, and all of our other loyalties are to be viewed through this lens.  When this lens is used, we can clearly see that a job as a banker can be just as glorifying to God and just as Kingdom-focused as the life of a missionary out witnessing every day.  For the citizen, it is about who you are and how you live, not about your title or job description.

If that touches your soul, challenges your heart, and draws you in so that you find yourself wanting more, wanting to say, “That’s how I want to live!”, then I would strongly recommend you purchase Citizen and start reading it.  I’m giving this book 5/5 stars.

For the record, I did receive a free copy of the book from the publisher in return for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.  For more information on the book, or the ministry of which Peabody is associated, visit http://www.citizenthebook.com/

Highway to Hell by Matt Roper


Highway to Hell is the story of two men who literally turn their lives upside down to reach and rescue girls caught up in child prostitution in Brazil. An inspirational and moving account, the author holds few punches in describing the horrors of what it is to live as a young girl along the BR-116 highway in Brazil. The book describes the trauma experienced by girls sold into sexual slavery as young as 9 years old, girls whose parents literally rejoiced in their birth because of the income stream they represented.

More than anything, through, the book exposes the depths of human wickedness whe the heart has no hope for a brighter future. And that is where my struggle with the book lies. For all the horrors and atrocities shared by the author, and for all the good work he is doing to combat child prostitution in Brazil (including giving up his job and moving to Brazil from London to open a rescue home and even obtaining legal custody of one of the girls), there is rarely a mention of an eternal hope anywhere in the book. While there are 4 or 5 references to “God” and “prayer” in the book, there is no identification of who that God is.

Don’t get me wrong – the book provided great inspiration to do something to combat evil, and even though I’m not sure if Matt is a follower of Jesus or not be appears to be doing more for “the least of these” than most Christians I know, and I don’t want to diminish that. What I do need to recognize is that for all the horrors these girls have endured, they will be nothing compared to what is to come without the gospel, and that’s where the book falls short: it provides an answer for this life, but it never addresses the one to come.

Overall I’ll give the book 3.5 stars. For the record, I did receive a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

What Your Dreams are Telling You


What Your Dreams are Telling You is a do-it-yourself guide to interpreting your own dreams.  As one who dreams a lot, I was excited to read this book, but, as a Christian, I was highly disappointed in its content.  Author Cindy McGill obviously has a lot of expertise in the area, I just expected a more Christ-centered book than what I found – especially considering it’s published by Chosen Books, who claim to publish “well-crafted books that recognize the gifts and ministry of the Holy Spirit and help readers live more empowered and effective lives for Jesus Christ.”  In this book, however, I found that lacking.

McGill identifies a framework for dream interpretation, laying down seven principles to guide the interpretation.  But, to be honest, they were just too vague and almost new-agey to me.  She talks about how we are all “receiving life messages in [our] dreams” (p29), but she doesn’t do a very good job of identifying the source of those messages (to be fair she does they can come from one of three sources: self, truth, or lie, but there’s never what I would consider a suitable way of discerning which of the sources one is dealing with).  And perhaps I missed it, but I was 39 pages into the book before I found any reference to “God”, and of her seven principals it was the final one (#7) that even introduced the idea of connecting with God (though here he is referred to by the generic “giver of dreams” and elsewhere she chooses to use the more generic “Creator” or “God” when referring to Him).   She does reference the Holy Spirit on page 91, but he is referenced almost apologetically when she writes, “I encourage you to ask the Spirit of Truth to come and help you interpret your dreams.”  Why is this a simple suggestion?  Isn’t it reasonable to assume that if there is a “Spirit of Truth” then that would be the ultimate source for dream interpretation and without his input there would be no interpretation?

So how long did it take to find Jesus in the book?  Again, unless I missed it, he shows up on page 155 (the book, without appendixes, is 156 pages, so the penultimate page of the book).  She talks about how she had an “encounter” with God through Jesus and the changes that have happened as a result.  But here’s the kicker: she says, “But that is my story.” (p156, emphasis hers).  Yes, I understand dreams are personal and so is a relationship with Christ.  But it stands to reason that if Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” as Jesus claims he is, that more than being just “her” story, every story must start in the same place: with surrender to God’s will through faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

And it was that message that was absent throughout the book.  Her insight on symbolism in dreams and the stories of people who have “heard” the messages they were being told through dreams are all insightful and inspiring.  But at the end of the day there’s nothing in this book that points back to Jesus; it’s all about “me”.  And I was looking for something more.

9780800795658So I’m giving this book a 1.5/5 stars.  For the record, I did receive a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

Real: Becoming a 24/7 Follower of Jesus


“If Sunday didn’t exist, would anyone know you were a follower of Jesus?”  This is the key question Jamie Snyder challenges his readers with in his book Real, and he actually does a really nice job with his argument.  Over the years I’ve read a lot of books that hit at the heart of what Christianity is supposed to be about – recent titles that come to mind in the past couple of years are Radical by David Platt (which, for the record, was one of the very first books I ever reviewed on my blog), and, more recently Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman.

Here’s the difficulty I have with many of these books that challenge modern-day Christianity: even though they suggest they don’t put forth a “program” or a list of things to do, in essence they really do prescribe how we’re supposed to be good Christians.  Take this excerpt, for example, from Real:

The joy factor in your life and mine will never be a result of working hard; it will always be the natural by-product of living a life surrendered to the will and way of the Holy Spirit…Living a life surrendered to the will and way of the Holy Spirit is not so much about doing as about being. (p79-80)

Then later in the book Snyder writes, “We must get this: Christianity is not about following a list, a creed, or a mere doctrine.  It is about following a real man named Jesus.”  (p142)

9780764210990

Sounds good so far; and I agree 100%.  But the disconnect (for me) happens in the the middle section of the book.  Snyder tells us that when we seek to follow Jesus we will live a life defined by:

  • Unbridled Joy
  • Daring courange
  • Rebellious joy
  • Risky faith,
  • Relentless hope
  • Scandalous grace
  • Mad love

The danger I fear is that people will view these as a the very list of things they are supposed to do that Snyder attempts so hard to avoid.  And this is the struggle with every book I read like this.  Don’t get me wrong, I agree that all these things are byproducts of a life lived with Jesus through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, but if we focus on getting these things rather than focus on dwelling with Him (the “being” that Snyder referenced at the beginning), we’ll be doing nothing more than the what the Pharisee’s did with their rules and regulations.

God has been teaching me this year that what is important is my relationship with him – the relationship that has a natural ebb-and-flow because it’s, well, a relationship between two beings – and one of us is imperfect!  The only metaphor I can think of (which I happen to think is a very biblical metaphor) is marriage.  There are certain aspects of all healthy marriages as I’ve come to learn – two of them are that couples spend time with each other and that they communicate with each other.  But if the focus shifts to the spending time or the communication and off the marriage then the marriage is no longer healthy.  So when we focus on only showing grace or love or joy or courage I’m afraid that too often we take our eyes off Jesus – something the writer of Hebrews warned us about.  This is a delicate balancing act between “judging a tree by its fruit” and remaining connected to the vine.

As I’ve read these books more lately I’ve actually felt a little convicted.  But not convicted that I don’t live up to what the author is saying, but that I’m reading the book at all rather than just spending time in the Word.  It’s as if the Holy Spirit is saying to me, “There’s nothing new here.  Just read my word and accept it for what it says – I will explain it to you.  Just abide in me and this stuff will take care of itself.”

So, I’m giving this book 4 out of 5 stars (I would be tempted to give it a perfect five, but that would just be too high, so I’ll drop it back a couple of spots to 4).  If you read it with an understanding that what you read about a things that Jesus will do in you as he transforms and sanctifies you as you remain in him, then you will learn much from the book and hear him speaking to you through it.  If, however, you look at these things as a list of things to do, you’ll miss Snyder’s point entirely.  Either way, I personally think it would be wiser to spend time in, say, studying Ephesians or reading the gospels and studying the life of Jesus.  You’ll learn the same thing, but you’ll learn it from the source.

For the record, I was provided a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher Bethany House in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

Deeply Loved


Over the past month I’ve done I’ve done four posts reflecting on Keri Wyatt Kent’s book Deeply Loved; this post marks my final post on the book and my review of it.

Deeply Loved Cover

The book is described on the back by saying “Jesus Loves You.  That profound fact has been changing lives around the world for centuries.  Yet, there are days when you don’t experience this completely in your own life.  So how do you get to the very core of that statement on a deep personal level?…Using the gospel stories of Jesus, reflection, and personal stories, Kent will guide you through forty days of how to create space in your life for Jesus to show up and love you.  Deeply.”  Over the course of 40 days she then guides you through 40 different disciplines meant to draw you closer to Jesus, or, perhaps more accurately, allow you to open up so he can draw you closer to himself.  Either way you look at it, I have to say that having gone through the book I can testify that the disciplines Keri shares did help me re-focus my thoughts, attitudes, and even actions on Jesus.

Though I read the book over Lent (which happens to be 40 days), and I did so with others from around the country as part of a blog tour, I can also reassure you that it would be appropriate to read any time during the year.  Each entry is only 4-5 pages long, meaning you can read it in just a few minutes a day.  But as you close the book each day you’re left with profound thoughts and reflections you’ll spend days meditating on (literally!).  This truly is one of the few books I’ve read that I will go back and re-read multiple times simply because it’s had an impact on my life that can’t be easily put into words; it’s by far the best devotional book I’ve read in a long time.

I’ll give this book 5/5 stars, meaning you need to add it to your “must read” list, especially if you want to read a book to draw closer to Him.