Book Review: Saffire

An intricate story with complex, diverse–if not a bit confusing–characters. The best part is that history is woven into the narrative, a piece of history that was unfamiliar to me.

The writing is wonderful, rich and creative. Many times I simply paused in awe of the author’s ability to describe a scene or individual.

My only complaint is that the characters remain underdeveloped. I finished the story feeling as if even the protagonist was holding something back from me. He remained mysterious. Certainly, all the supporting characters seems that way.

Overall, a very enjoyable read.

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A Book Review: Born After Midnight

John Piper has written an entire article declaring the value of “Read[ing] Old, Dead Theologians 15 Minutes a Day.”

Having passed in 1963, A.W. Tozer hasn’t been gone long, but he certainly fits the criteria.

I love reading Tozer for what I describe as the “pearlistic” quality of his work. He is often defined as a mystic and due to that trait, some of his prose require a few passes to fully understand. But, much like C.S. Lewis, once you’ve mined Tozer’s original intent, you find yourself marveling at the unusual beauty and clarity that he brings to any given concept.

Tozer’s book, Born After Midnight, is a collection of fairly unrelated devotionals. But his overall purpose is captured in the title and in this delectable quote from the first chapter:

“It has been the experience of countless seekers after God that, when their desires became a pain, they were suddenly and wonderfully filled. The problem is not to persuade God to fill us, but to want God sufficiently to permit Him to do so.”

The depth of relationship with God that we long for and admire in New Testament apostles like Paul and John, cannot be acquired in the clear, easily navigated, comfortable “daylight” hours. Rather, it is often in the dark, in the wilderness, in the lonely spaces that we are suddenly filled by God.

Tozer’s book walks the reader into the painful corners of life, and without minimizing them at all, refines them in order to reveal their necessity. While pain never seems appealing, Tozer paints it in such a light as to reveal its value and the ultimate revival that can come from patient endurance and prayer.

Anyone who has ever felt the press of suffering, or the cried out that life seems unjust, or queried how God could possibly work their circumstances for good, must read this book.

 

A Book Review of “The Mapmaker’s Children”

map maker“Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world … “ http://www.wikipedia.com.

Perhaps this is true in a wider sense than we ever imagined. Perhaps we are more connected and our lives more similar to the past than we ever realized. Perhaps progress has not made us so different …

The Mapmaker’s Children is an peerless book by Sarah McCoy; intertwining the lives of two women a century-and-a-half apart. What’s even more admirable, is that McCoy reveals the inseparable stitches binding these two lives together, and to the reader, without ever fully allowing her characters to intersect.

It’s a subversive commentary, painful truth scarcely concealed by a riveting story, on some of the most prolific ills of modern life. McCoy examines a brittle marriage, deception between spouses, broken hearts, infertility, abortion, child abandonment and more.

Alternately, she glances backward at the broken aspects of an earlier society—slavery, injustice, murder, loss, bitterness between siblings, loveless marriages and the ravages of war.

Finally, just as her well-developed characters remain only vaguely aware of each other, she loops the reader into the story allowing them to glimpse themselves, their world, in the light of these two women. She reveals to the reader his or her own weaknesses, needs and vulnerability without harshly pointing fingers or even losing the interest of one rapt in the story.

On top of all of this, McCoy expertly weaves in history. It’s another unsuspected tact, evidence of her mastery of the craft of story. The reader gets a lesson in civil rights, the history of the Civil War and the very tangible lives behind the Underground Railroad. There we meet the Mapmaker and her children.

Book Review: Fixing Our Eyes on God

Do your prayers always start with, “Dear God … ” or, “Our Father in heaven … “? “Fixing Our Eyes on God: An A-Z Journey Through The Names of God”, will broaden your understanding of the God who calls you His own, will strengthen your faith showing you how God applies Himself to every aspect of your life and deepen your prayer life.

Maybe you see God kind of one dimensionally. I mean, even when we think hard to give our children meaningful names that represent the person or personality we want them to honor or express, we still only give them one name. And for the rest of their lives we call them by that descriptive. Often, they grow to fulfill that name.

So have you ever wondered why God introduces Himself throughout Scripture using many names?

In her book, “Fixing Our Eyes on God,” Billie Jo Youmans will take you on a simple, daily experience of God as you’ve never known Him before. She identifies names and descriptions of God that perhaps you’ve never heard or thought of before. Can you think of God as your Guide and Guard? What about your Intercessor? She even includes some of God’s names in the original language such as the Omega.

I say that Youmans’ devotional book is simple in that you can enjoy its riches even if you don’t have extensive biblical knowledge or hours to devote to Bible study every day. As the title indicates, there are 26 entries, one for each letter of the alphabet. Each includes a short devotion delving into the name of God highlighted that day. Youmans includes scripture, anecdotes and biblical research to explain each name. Then, a page is provided for journaling.

This book called to mind an old hymn, “He’s Everything to Me.” One line that has always touched me from that song says, “Then I knew that He was more than just a God who didn’t care, who lives away up there … “. Youmans’ book has done just that for me. I understand now, better than before, more of this wonderful, indescribable God who loves me.

You can find Billie Jo’s book here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1518725821?keywords=billie%20jo%20youmans&qid=1455152904&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1#customerReviews

Book Review, 50 Shades of Grace

Fifty Shades of Grace. Who knew there were so many?

Weren’t you taught, as I was, that grace had a rather simple definition? Grace is, “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” It has a nice Sunday school rhythm, but honestly, it doesn’t mean very much. It prompts all sorts of questions:

How many or much of God’s riches?
Did Christ pay for all of it, or was it simply a down payment?
What are God’s riches?

These are questions I believe everyone entertains, whether consciously or not. I was twenty-five years into my own walk with Jesus before I admitted my struggles with the concept of grace. One question in particular plagued me: “If grace saved me, what keeps me saved?”

“By grace you are saved through faith!” I knew that by heart, but the trouble is, that’s where it stopped. I was saved—now what? Does grace still apply to me or do I now have to earn my keep?

As I listened to countless pastors and teachers, attended to dozens of pulpits and persuasions, only rarely did the fog, the confusion over the concept, lift a bit. Instead of feeling adopted into God’s family, I felt a little like a foster child, hoping to please my temporary parent so much that He wanted to keep me forever.

Don’t get me wrong, for a couple decades I denied I felt this way. But my actions shouted over my voice. The anthem of my heart was, “God, what do you want me to do?”

Slowly, God has been removing the veil—the same veil that hung over the eyes of the Hebrews in 2 Corinthians 2:14,

“But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.”

I felt worse in church or Bible studies; a cross between motivated to, “go out there and serve God more”, and a fear that I wasn’t doing enough. The old covenant of law-keeping still hung partially across my vision. Saved by grace … saved to serve … and what if I’m not serving God well enough?

If you identify with anything I’ve said so far, you must read, 50 Shades of Grace.

Who knew there were so many shades of it? Who knew the grace that saved you through the red-hot blood of Christ, is the same grace that beckons the golden sun every morning, the same grace that shelters you in the blue-black storms of life, the same grace that tastes like green grass and looks like being led by streams of living, blue water. It’s the same grace that transfigured Jesus and allowed the disciples to see Him in all of his brilliant white splendor; the same grace continually transforms you from golden glory to golden glory.

This book is meant to be read steadily and digested like a scrumptious meal. From the very beginning, author, Dr. Eddie Summers, instructs his readers not to rush through the book. We’re shifting whole paradigms here; this is going to take some time!

Fifty Shades of Grace, is effectively broken into 10 chapters, which contain five sub-chapters or “shades” of grace. Beginning with “Grace Every Day”, Dr. Summers walks with his readers through the application of grace in health, troubles, spiritual growth and extending this grace to others.

It’s tempting, as a life-long Christian, to throw up our hands indignantly, insert a snippet of Scripture and move on to “deeper” books, believing we’ve mastered this grace thing. Believe me, you haven’t. You never will.

Don’t miss this book; or you’ll never know the glorious, full spectrum of grace you’ve been missing all along.

If you’re interested in a Bible study on this topic, you can find my book Beyond Belief: Jesus Saved You, Now What? here. 

Book Review: Craving Grace

You might be a little special if God has to teach you the same thing dozens of times, from multiple sources and with gentle Holy Spirit nudges. [Enter: me.]

Emerging from the cess pool of an eating disorder, I finally pegged one of the most confusing and frustrating elements of the whole ordeal:

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I couldn’t understand why I didn’t have enough faith to be healed. Why couldn’t I trust God enough to take care of my body? Finally, I told God, “I believe you for eternity, the next life, but I do not, apparently, trust you for today.”

Thankfully, God did heal me from anorexia, and today I walk in progressive freedom. Each day, month, year, I glance back and realize I’m more alive than I used to be. But it’s that progressiveness that means I still need books like Craving Grace, by Ruthie Delk.

Delk is transparent from the very beginning. She too was an unbelieving Christian (it’s not really an oxymoron). This Christian’s salvation is not at stake, but their joy–the joy of the Lord, their peace–the peace that passes understanding, and their relationship–the ability to see God as the perfect father–will always be intermittent.

Delk uses a diagram she calls the “Gospel 8”. It’s a clever tool that expresses how we hang in the cycle of repentance and restoration for a time, then make a wrong choice concerning our sin and suddenly find ourselves stuck in a cycle of resistance and isolation. These two touching circles of thought and action cause the Christian to either understand their identity as a child of God or falsely believe they are an orphan.

With steady steps, Delk leads the reader through specific, practical steps to see their sin as it really is, repent in truth, receive God’s insanely wonderful forgiveness and walk in the light of grace–the grace we all crave. At the same time, one for one, Delk presents what will always happen if we refuse to see our sin as God does, repent in truth and receive grace. Suddenly, we’re back in the circle of orphan-living.

John Piper uses the expression, “preach the gospel to yourself.” I’ve never been sure how to do it. The Bible calls us to share the gospel with the world. The majority of nonbelievers find themselves tangled constantly in the lower circle–managing sin and struggling to find hope, peace and joy in morality.

So whether I learn to use this tool to preach the gospel to myself or others, there is everything to gain.

For each and every Christian, Craving Grace, will be an invaluable tool on their progressive journey toward Christ-likeness.

Book Review: Luther and Katharina

When pivotal figures of history are relegated only to the pages of factual school books, pass or fail exams and dusty encyclopedias, often everything but that single hinge—that pivot point—of their lives is lost.

We are left to wonder (or simply don’t): What ordinary days shaped them into that world-changing person?

We mistakenly assume, unconsciously, that their entire life was spent in those years we’ve recorded.

I think we do ourselves (and our subjects of interest) a great disservice if we fail to ponder the little things: What were their relationships like with their parents, spouses, children? Did they struggle with boredom, depression or loneliness? Did they have a chronic illness, a short temper a bad habit? What were their favorite foods, hobbies or interests? Certainly they had many, many more hours than are accounted for in our alphabetized encyclopedic notations.

In elegant response to these proper questions rises the well-researched, historical-fiction novel, and one of the best is Luther and Katharina: A Novel of Love and Rebellion, by Jody Hedlund.

As a reformed Christian whose most fundamental tenants of faith are based in the reformation, I am humbled to admit that I knew so little about the man, Martin Luther. In the pages of this well-written, engaging book I have met him, come to know him, loved him and loved with him. I have found who he was, what he might have been, considered his thoughts, his pains, his failures and triumphs. Exquisitely done.

Luther and Katharina actually begins with her. Luther’s teachings were the linchpin that sparked her daring escape from the cloistered life of a nun. The reader follows this fiery lass through her first encounter with Luther and the long, God-ordained process that refined them both and brought them together.

In between the narrative of these remarkable lives, Hedlund weaves the gritty details of history. I had never really considered the thousands of lives lost in the reformation—nor how Luther must have felt as the catalyst to the entire series of events. I had never known about the degree of corruption in the Roman Catholic Church; never really considered the impact of such lies as indulgences and celibacy.

Luther and Katharina: A Novel of Love and Rebellion is one book you will not want to put down and you will be better for every minute devoted to reading it. Don’t miss this excellent, heart-warming, heart-rending book.

Whose Story Is It Anyway?

It’s easy to read the Bible as strictly past tense. After all, it happened thousands of years ago–right? We don’t often think about Abraham’s past, but eternity stretches on either side of Abraham’s personal dot on the timeline of history.

David Ramos’ book, Climbing With Abraham, opens with this unusual observation. Abraham’s future, his influence, is still potent today. And all of history prior to his birth was in some way preparing the earth for his mission–his time and place. Go figure!

… there was a before Abraham and there was an after Abraham, and the same is true for you. Countless stories have taken place to allow you to live at this precise moment in time. Countless more will be written after you are gone …

Your story is part of something much larger. (Day 1, “A Bigger Story,” Climbing With Abraham)

How does that make you feel? Is it a relief to know that nothing you do is actually the “end of the world”? Or, does it bother you to wonder if God simply sees you as a tiny cog in the monstrous “circle of life”?

I just opened David’s book this morning and I’m already cogitating on this little nugget. What does this finite moment of my forever future (praise God who has given eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ–John 3:16) mean for everyone who comes after me? Will it mean anything?

The only way my speck-story on the timeline of history will mean anything at all is if I understand everything that led up to me. In all that God has done to this day, He kept in mind His intention of creating me–Abby Kelly.

To glance briefly at this truth echoed in the life of another Old Testament character, see Esther and the wisdom one of her one predecessors spoke into her life:

“And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

What will you do with your past?

Pulling Back the Shades, A Book Review

I started this book review purely altruistically—to write a review that might help others who really need to read the book. I mean, after all, I have my own set of temptations and struggles, but erotica isn’t one of them. And my marriage of 11 years isn’t perfect by any means, but I’ve also read most of the relationship books recommended by Focus on the Family. What new, life changing information could this book have to offer?

Through the second chapter, my expectations were confirmed. But by the time I got to chapter 7, “The Spiritually Satisfied Woman”, I was convicted, challenged, inspired and refreshed.

Dr. Juli Slattery and Dannah Gresh collaborate seamlessly in their new book, Pulling Back the Shades. Instead Unknownof blending their voices, they alternate, often switching authors in the middle of a chapter. Different fonts designate who is speaking. Neither woman dominates the book; both write from their expertise. Even though they admit they differ on a few issues and come from vastly different backgrounds, Dr. Slattery and Gresh present a powerful, united front on a sensitive subject that provokes many disagreements among believers, if we even have the courage to discuss it.

The first half of the book is devoted to explaining erotica. This includes the chemical effect that it has on the brain, the addictive nature, the conflicts about it within the church, a discussion of the “grey” areas and a staunch stance against it based on the Word of God. Dr. Slattery and Gresh write graphically, borrowing short segments from the book, Fifty Shades of Grey, to make their points.

The authors’ opinion is uncompromising. To sum it up in a simple statement, without re-writing the book: God’s ideal for sex is unabashed, exciting, varied, exquisite intimacy within the bonds of marriage.

I mentioned that my heart began to resonate with the book beginning in chapter 7. This is where Dr. Slattery and Gresh delve into the incredible and unique intimacy that God wants to have with each of us.

Here, they debunk the myth that God promises every woman a “happily ever after”, fulfilling, intimate relationship with a man—even after marriage.

“I bet you’ve never heard a sermon on what God does not promise. This is unfortunate because it is quite dangerous to place your trust in things you falsely assume God has promised. Jesus said that He came that you may have life and have it abundantly. His promises are great and He is trustworthy in fulfilling each one. But His ways are not our ways, and He has not promised some of the things you may have assumed or hoped He has.”

The authors mention a quote by Dr. Larry Crabb, “God is all I need, but I don’t know Him well enough for Him to be all I have.”

This brought a twinge of conviction and a huge sigh of relief. I do not need to fret over whether my husband ever becomes more like Prince Charming. I must know God well enough that He is not only all I need, but all I have.

The book closes with numerous Scripture references and gentle guidance to help readers begin deepening their intimate relationship with Jesus. It even includes discussion questions, practical resources (other books and websites) as well as enumerated suggestions for practical application.

This book is applicable to all women in all relationships—even those who are single—and those who don’t think they have a problem with erotica. The book covers all aspects of a woman’s relational needs and explains where fulfillment is found.