Wednesday, August 11, 2010

‘True Religion: Taking Pieces of Heaven to Places of Hell on Earth’ by Palmer Chinchen, PhD – Book Review

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God has led me to a lot of missional-related books. The latest book is ‘True Religion: Taking Pieces of Heaven to Places of Hell on Earth’ by Palmer Chinchen, PhD.

Here is the purpose for this book, from the author’s perspective:

I’ve written this book because I’m bothered. The more places I go and the more I see, the more I believe there are places of hell on earth. There are villages where children have no shoes, cities where families have no homes, countries where people have no hope. It doesn’t have to be this way. But it is.
It’s time to live differently.
We have the ability and resources to do so much… but the key word is we. As individuals, our reach is limited – but think about the combined power of a church or community or even a group of committed friends. Together, we can do so much to repair what is broken in this world.
That’s why I’m bothered. And I think God wants to bother you, too.

Here is the biography of this author:

Palmer Chinchen is a popular speaker, author, and pastor of The Grove in Chandler, Arizona. He grew up in Liberia, West Africa, witnessing firsthand the ravaging pain of the AIDS and malaria pandemics and the daily burden of poverty. Palmer holds a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois and a BA and MA from Biola University in California. He lives with his wife and four children in Chandler, Arizona.

Here is the touching and beautifully produced book trailer:

In the chapter entitled ‘Confession,’ Pastor Chinchen gives some more background on his life:

I’ve spent about half my life in Africa. Growing up, my home was the Liberian jungle. As an adult, I’ve taught college, preached, served, and lived in Liberia and then again across the continent in Malawi; I’ve also traveled to the ends of the continent and what feels like everywhere in between – from Cape Town to Cairo, from Dakar to Dar es Salaam.
The other half of my life, I’ve been in America, where I spend much of my time imploring others to give their lives away to love a hurting world. Over the years, I’ve invited others to travel with me to places far and away, like Guinea and Guatemala, Costa Rica and Cuba, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
I’ve written this book because I’m still bothered. The more I go and the more I see, the more I realize this world is broken and filled with people who hurt – filled with places of hell on earth. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And that’s what really gets me.
I – we – have the ability and resources to do so much. So much more than we do. Not only can we make a difference as individuals, but think about the combined power of a church or community or town or city. In the places on earth where children have no shoes, have no homes, people have no hope – one person or one church can do much to fill the most miserable place with beauty. (pp. 13-14)

Palmer explains how life is in these United States (and many other parts of the world):

We live in a self-indulgent culture. Much of life is arranged for the good of ourselves. So we accumulate, we chase leisure and pleasure, we self-promote, and we do all we can to point the world at me. But God lays out a different way of living that is better for His world and better for you. Give your life away to change this world for good.
Christ made a profound request of you and me and everyone else who determines to walk in his footsteps: “Take up [your] cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34)
The appeal is an interesting one, because on His cross he gave His life away to change this world – to change your life and my life – forever. He knows this planet we live on contains ruined places and rubbish-filled lives. But it doesn’t have to be that way. He asks that you continue to carry His cross and do good, share hope, show love, and bring healing….
Jesus never made His life about what He could gain for Himself. He was never interested in power or control or recognition or fame or possessions. He was oddly focused on rescuing other people from oppressive regimes, social stigmas, broken marriages, crippled bodies, physical blindness, and spiritual death.
He succeeded.
But upon His departure, He asked that you and I pick up the cross He once bore and carry it for Him. (p. 20)

Pastor Chinchen asserts that we need a life transformation:

A transformation experience wakes up your soul. Your eyes open wide as you soak in all that God can do through you. You now see the limitless potential you possess. Your senses are keener than ever before; you hear His still, small voice, and you know He listens to your every whisper. You develop a passion for life and God like you have never known. Your vision for life has increased and intensified.
In the New Testament accounts, we see Saul the Christ-rebel hit by a transforming moment. He’s headed down the road of animosity and anger when God rocks his world. He knocks Saul flat on his face…and lights up his dark soul.
Blinded by God, Saul would become Paul and never see the same again (pp. 23-24)

One way to have a transformed life is to travel the world:

My entire point is this: If you will give your life away to changing this world, God will change you. This book is about the exhilarating transformation God works in you spiritually when you live that way.
The global experience will disturb your soul and change your spiritual state. You will have new eyes, you will have a softened heart, you will have an “upsized” idea of God, you will love people in new ways, you will be bothered by things you never noticed before, you will discover the ability to do things you never believed you could do, and your life will never be the same. (p. 25)

We really need to live a life that is outside of the margins:

The life following hard after God is so much more exhilarating than many have allowed. Let’s become like the revolutionaries of the early church. God has an unparalleled adventure waiting for you. There’s purpose, there’s danger, there’s transformation for all who step out.
Live that way. Live in the white water. Live where it’s just a little but uncertain and unsafe. Live where something thrilling just might change you forever.
It’s time to live differently. (p. 57)

Palmer is convinced that heaven and hell are not only really places after our lives end on earth, but they are also found on this planet:

God, in His wonderful way, lets us touch heaven. Being in love is a taste of heaven. Enjoying music with friends is a bit of heaven. Forgiveness, grace, generosity, babies, sandy beaches, hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts, art, flowers, and just about anything beautiful are pieces of heaven. The beauty and joy of heaven are all around.
In the same way, we see the bitterness of hell clear and present in this world: hate, abuse, addictions, racism, rape, bigotry, prejudice, poverty, and suffering.
The point here is that if places of hell really do exist, then by all means, God’s people must be about the business of taking a piece of heaven to them. (pp. 61-62)

He also believes this:

Spiritual transformation often happens in the moments of life that stun us. When we experience, want, or hear of something disturbing, it creates this cognitive conflict that can change the way we think and live.
You may already know how diamonds are formed. Carbon, which is just black dirt, is compressed by millions of pounds of pressure by the earth’s weight. This extreme pressure and heat from the earth’s core transforms the carbon into something pure and beautiful. The greater the heat and pressure, the more pure (or clear) the diamond forms.
In much the same way, I’m convinced we are transformed through moments of spiritual conflict. Under the pressure of going globally and giving our lives away, we open ourselves to the possibility of God crafting something beautiful in our souls. He uses the pressure of the experience and the heat of the moment – sometimes literally – to transform us spiritually and make our lives a bit more beautiful.
We have two options. We can choose to stay and ignore. Or we can choose to go and see and be disturbed. One choice leads to a kind of death; the other leads to life and change and hope. (p. 67)

Pastor Chinchen thinks we need to return to the simplicity of the Gospel:

I went to college in the eighties with the yuppie, Beemer-driving, Members Only-wearing, mega-consumer generation. The emerging generation is refreshingly simple. And when it comes to church, they still want simple. They are not interested in performance, dogmatism, personalities, judgmental attitudes, opulence, or mega-anything.
And here’s why it makes sense. Following Jesus was simple. Sleep in what you wear. Eat whatever people set in front of you. Live on the go. He said: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.” Somewhere along the line, we made following Jesus very complicated.
Missional churches value simplicity. For example, their facilities tend to be simple (and to accomplish this I don’t mean that churches have to look cheap and junky. There is a significant difference between excellence and opulence). Missional churches create a culture of austerity. (p. 112)  

We need to love more:

Love as God loves. His love is deep and lasting and intimate. He loves you on the sunny days, and He loves you on the rainy days. He loves you in the morning, and He loves you at night. He loves you on the days you wander and on the days you wonder if anyone cares.
But if you are one who lives in the love of God, then know this – you are His hands from heaven. Yes, you. You are the means by which the love of God is scattered all over the world. You are His hands and his feet. (p. 123)

Pastor Palmer has determined that there are two ways to live:

I’ve boiled life down to two ways you can live. One, you can live optimistically and full of passion; or, two, you can live pessimistically and full of apathy. I’m convinced that if God has your heart, you will live with a passionate desire to give Him, this world, this life, everything you’ve got.
And here’s what I invite you to wrestle with right now: Do you know, without a shadow of a doubt, what God wants with your life? What is it that God wants to accomplish through you and in you during your short time in this world? (p. 140)

I loved this poem that groomsmen (all football players from the Taylor University football team) in a wedding in which Pastor Chinchen presided recited before the wedding (p. 173):

This is the beginning of a new day.
God has given me this day to use as I will.
I can waste it or use it for good.
What I do today is important, because I am
exchanging a day of my life for it.
When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever.
Leaving in its place something I traded for.
I want it to be gain, not loss;
Good, not evil;
Success not failure,
In order that I shall never regret the price I paid for it.
                                                Author Unknown

It seems as though the majority of people who have grown up in or traveled to third-world countries have a totally different worldview than does the average citizen of the United States. I have been on an overseas mission trip – to Warsaw, Poland – but Poland is as modern as is the United States. Our church has a missions trip to Zambia annually, and I am guessing that my husband Fred and I will participate in that trip at some point in time.

Palmer opened my eyes to many truths in this book, and I appreciate his heart for the people who are hurting and are separated from God. I also appreciate the challenges that he sets forth in this heartfelt book.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by David C. Cook and provided by the B & B Media Group for review purposes.

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