Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Review: The Irresistible Revolution

What if Jesus really meant what he said?

This question is what tempered my reading of The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.

Jen Hatmaker in 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess makes a brief mention of The Irresistible Revolution during her month of giving. Originally further down my summer reading list, I decided to bump up Claiborne's book to see what his book said.

Having gone to Belmont, I had the privilege of hearing Shane Claiborne speak multiple times, and his book is just as convicting as his talks. It calls into question not just modes of operation of serving "the least of these", but the faint heartbeat in the modern American Church.

It's not always a message I want to hear, but its a message I desperately need.

Claiborne promotes a way of being Christ followers that stands in stark contrast to the removed existence of many churches. Frustrated by diminishing relevance in contemporary culture, the church has seemingly adjusted to its complacency. We've, for I include myself in this predicament, neglected the poor and the marginalized in our efforts to seek after God.

Yet Jesus spent His time among the poor and the marginalized, so it is no wonder that we struggle to find meaning and relevance in our removed context.

Before I review books, I have a tendency to see what others are saying about the book as well to make sure my thoughts are tempered with some sort of rationality, not just pure emotion. This book is definitely a decisive one.

Yet wasn't Jesus' message, the Good News, a decisive message as well?

I'm convinced in part that many of those who come down hard on this book for being "socialist" or "liberal" maybe are more taken aback by being confronted with places in their life that they haven't surrendered completely to Jesus?

I definitely know I have been. I absolutely don't like being reminded that sitting in my comfortable room, reading on my laptop or iPhone puts me in a social class far above a huge portion of the world in wealth. While I am considerably blessed, the kingdom of God doesn't have exemptions like a tax code. To follow Jesus means everyone. You, me, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, we're all compelled by the Gospel to serve the least of these.

Uncomfortable? Me too.

I thought about, and erased, a few attempts to qualify or justify The Irresistible Revolution, but in reality I would be doing an injustice to the message of the book. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus meant what he said, regardless of how comfortable I find the message.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rhythms of Life: Silence

There are natural rhythms to life.

In fact, an often quoted scripture from Ecclesiastes points to this phenomena:

For everything there is a season, and a time
for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and  a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time  to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
One thing I missed until recently in these rhythms of life is the necessity of both ups and downs. I anticipate things such as planting, healing, building up, laughing, and dancing. These are good things, they bring happiness to the soul.

Yet for each of these aspects its opposite exists as well: breaking down, weeping, mourning, tearing. Then there are the three I really struggle with accepting: killing, hate, and war. None of these things are pleasant, and rather than embracing them as aspects of life that come in seasons, my solution is to attempt to compartmentalize them and tightly micromanage them into non-existence.

Recently, I have experienced a lot of silence from God. As a person who prefers to hear directly from the Father on a consistent basis, I struggled with the silence. First of all, it landed at the close of my senior year of college, a point where I expected God to be incredibly close. Yet most of what I had was silence.

Deafening silence.

God was speaking into the lives of many of my friends, why not me?

I went on a frenzy of trying to figure out if it was some part of my life causing God's silence. One month of quiet times I spent in stillness, hoping that the remedy to the silence was to "Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth," (Psalm 46:10).

My normal mode of quiet times is to write out my prayers, because handwriting things helps me to maintain focus, rather than the random course of distracted tangents I encounter when I pray in silence. So I tried going back to just saying simple prayers, and still more silence.

Then something profound happened, a God moment to use Christian lingo. I began to recognize and relate to biblical characters who experienced deafening silence. The Psalms where people cry out to God for His presence or His voice came alive to me. I identified with chunks of the Bible that previously had felt elusive in their content.

Do  I want to hear more regularly from God again? Absolutely. Am I learning to rejoice in all circumstances? Most definitely. Would I trade this season of silence, as trying as it has been? No, because God has continued to use it for His glory and to bring me to a deeper understanding of scripture.

What rhythm of life do you struggle with, how can you learn to look for God in the place you are at now? My prayer is that whatever season you find yourself in, You will continue to seek after the Lord and learn to understand His wisdom and teaching in every rhythm of life.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Review: 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

I knew by the end of the first page, I was in trouble.

The prickling in my heart that I've come to know as the Holy Spirit's conviction started bearing down on me.

I have terrible consumerism habits.

Exhibit A: The morning I started reading the book, I had just bought three pairs of shorts online. I had planned on getting two, but if I bought a third pair, I got free shipping. So I bought three pairs of shorts.

7 by Jen Hatmaker made me confront my habits of consumerism that constantly tell me I need more. Habits I justified because most of my wardrobe comes from Target, Forever 21, and now the new H&M in Nashville. People, I'm not sporting haute couture on a daily basis. See! I'm not spending lavishly, everything is good, right?

Then a couple of verses were whispered into my heart:
"But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person." (Matthew 15:18)
Our words (and actions) come from the state of our heart and they show our character. Therefore, my battle caused me to constantly want things, all sorts of things: shiny things, colorful things, things I try to fill my life with that don't satisfy.

Which of course brought me to another passage from Isaiah 55:
"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food." (v. 2)
I am guilty of make pretend shopping lists. Lists that include owning ever color of 5" khaki shorts from Old Navy, shoes from Target in 3 more colors when I already own 2 pair, and there's always one (or five) more dresses that could be added to my wardrobe.

I may not already own these things, but the intent of my heart is what matters.

I am grateful that 7 really shook my heart up. Especially when I got to the chapter on giving up possessions. My emotions flitted between sheer panic of God calling me to let go of worldly possessions to embrace Him and crying as I read Jen's experience with the homeless on Easter and a six year old little girl named Nene that got one of her handbags.

I was tore up. For those that don't speak Southern, I was wrecked and completely convicted about what I place my priorities in. I have a closet full of beautiful clothes, yet I still want more. Maybe it's time to reflect redefine needs, wants, and the looming "must-haves" list. Instead of wanting it all, my satisfaction might rely on contentment with what I already own.

Beyond my own experience with the book, I also would say that 7 is a great introduction to the concept of fasting. In the circles I grew up in, there was little to no talk about this very Biblical topic, and Jen's book does a great job of explaining beyond "you should do it because Jesus mentioned it." Not only does she talk about it, she spends seven months fasting in a variety of ways, theory and application at its best.

If you're looking for a book that shares truth and causes you to consider exactly how you spend your time, money, and resources 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess is the perfect next read.