“Invitation to a Journey”, M. Robert Mulholland Jr.

Invitation to Journey #1386

Photo courtesy of InterVarsityPress.

“The process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others” is how Professor Mulholland defines spiritual formation. I’ve read a number of books on “how” to do this but this one perhaps provides the best outline with quality Biblical references.

What I particular appreciate about this book is the recognition that God has made us all uniquely different so our journeys of spiritual formation are similarly uniquely different. Mulholland explores these differences and provides guidance on how each broad personality type (think Myer Briggs or at it’s most basic extrovert vs introvert) engages spiritually. I’ve never explored it like this and have tended to pigeon hole myself into a particular form of worship and service that is very individualised due to my introversion.

But what Mulholland stresses is to develop true holistic spirituality we all need to incorporate elements of the individual, corporate and social dimensions into our walks. I needed to read that as increasingly I’ve become frustrated with my “walk” but now realise that the personal dimension far outweighs the other two and hence, I have an imbalance which limits my growth.

I most appreciated the second last chapter on “Corporate Spirituality” where Mulholland provides wonderful Biblical teaching on Jacob and then Nicodemus to demonstrate how we can only truly “grow” when we relinquish control of our relationship with God to God. That was a lightning bolt moment for me – I’m the boss, not Him. Mulholland then demonstrates through silence, solitude, prayer and accountable communion with others we can gradually let go and give control over to God.

I expect I’ll be diving back into this book many times in the future.

“Making All Things New,” Henri Nouwen

9780060663261This is short at 96 pages and is written in three sections, all of which are easy to read. But there is such powerful insight in the words Nouwen uses.

I can read his work every day as there is such wonderful clarity around the understanding of the human condition plus he writes in this wonderfully melodic style that is non-judgemental and peaceful.

The book starts with identifying busyness as a key enemy to a spiritual life. However, he highlights the fact that busyness doesn’t necessarily lead to fulfilment. He then leads us into outlining the importance of the two disciplines: solitude and community. And it is in these two disciplines where a true spiritual life begins.

I particularly appreciate how he emphasises that prayer is about entering into God’s presence so we can understand His purposes. God is always talking so it is only in solitude that we are able to hear God outline His plans and purposes. Jesus was an active listener and Nouwen encourages us to develop the same habit.

Highly recommended.

A few things …

Some of you may have missed three  “media” pieces that I’ve participated in recently, so I thought I’d share them here.

1. Blogtalkradio Interview

This was my first ‘live’ interview. Carla Hoch, my host, was most gracious and I enjoyed the experience immensely. I hope I get a chance to do more in the future.

My spot starts around the 90 minute mark.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rrradio/2014/03/20/gate-beautiful-radio-show-thursday-march-20th-2014

2. Four Tips for Preparing for a Radio Interview

Soon after I wrote a piece for the International Christian Fiction Writers (ICFW) on what I learnt from the interview. One of my tips is the importance of listening to the interview and learning from it. I cringed listening to most of it but as I say learnt some valuable lessons. Here’s the link.

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“Stranger Things”, Erin Healy

Stranger Things

Photo courtesy of Thomas Nelson website

This is my new favourite Erin Healy novel. It has all the hallmarks of what we’ve come to expect from Healy: gripping suspense, characters grappling with their external world but also with what’s in their heart, and an insider’s perspective of the “thin places” where the natural and supernatural intersect. However, added to this novel is an especially powerful story line drawing the reader into the dark sinister world of human trafficking.

The novel starts fast and doesn’t let up. Healy’s descriptive powers make this novel a highly visual experience. We get multiple points of view which I enjoyed as it enlightened the experience in my mind.

The story demonstrates how human trafficking is able to proliferate due to systematic abuse, deceit and corruption. For much of the novel we’re not exactly sure whether the heroes are actually villains and vice-versa. As the story unfolds the layers gradually peel away to reveal some very courageous people and sinister bad guys.

Serena Diaz and Amber Larsen are two very gutsy women, both survivors of this heinous industry, and marvelously crafted. They are drawn together, coincidentally, by Amber’s brother, Christopher. Embedded in both ladies is his passion and energy to rescue those in need and shine light in the darkness of the industry that has played such a role in their lives since their youth.

The bad guys are creepy in their arrogance, abuse of power and complete disregard for the lives of the many they destroy. Healy reveals the far-reaching tentacles of structured corruption that pervades the industry.

This is an effortless read that was hard to put down and I was sad it ended.

Reflections on Lent – It’s all about Jesus

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Photo courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org

As longer time readers may recall, I observed Lent last year for the first time. You can read about my experience in a series of posts I wrote, starting with this one.

So I thought I’d do it again this year. Why? Well, any practice that gets me to think more about Jesus and The Father is a pretty good thing I reckon. But in saying that I don’t want to get too religious about it which in this case means I’m doing something for the sake of doing it, rather than truly seeking Him. Often less is more, if that makes sense.

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“Draw the Circle,” Mark Batterson

circle-makerThis is a series of 40 separate devotionals on focused on the power of prayer. Each chapter is only 4-5 pages in length so can be read quite quickly. However, most of the chapters have much to chew on and so I found myself meditating on many of the chapters throughout the day.

I believe Mark Batterson wants to encourage us to pray more and believe, trusting that God is indeed faithful. Each devotional contains a short story, Biblical references and many wonderful soundbites that are useful for journalling. The chapters don’t really build on each other rather address a separate aspect of prayer.

The final devotional is a beauty about the fact the only way to get better at prayer is to keep doing it. It’s not meant to easy, just like learning a new language, but there are fruits to be experienced every time we surrender to the Father in prayer.

This is incredibly encouraging and has helped stimulate my prayer life.

Highly recommended.

“Water Walker”, Ted Dekker

18143692I read the 4 separate episodes on ebook and provided reviews on each but I wanted to summarise my overall thoughts on the complete novel. BTW, I love the episodic method of reading a novel and hope it plays a big part in the future of fiction.

Alice Ringwald (or is her name Eden?) is kidnapped from her foster parents by Wyatt, the nicest kidnapper one could ever want to meet. Wyatt was acting on behalf of his wife and Eden’s mother, Kathryn.

The search starts at pace and we meet Olivia Strauss, the agent in charge, who has her own story of losing a daughter.

Kathryn and Eden are reunited and the rest of the novel including a jump of five years in the future revolves around their relationship. Kathryn has a mentally handicapped son, Bobby, who is a delightfully written character reflecting an innocence that has managed to survive much abuse.

The home the family of four live in is really a compound of sorts with the Jim Jones-type character, Zeke, controlling everything they do in the name of Jesus. We soon meet Stephen, the Outlaw, who first appears in Eden’s dream, and plants a seed of freedom within Eden’s mind. Not a lot happens and a good third of the book is spent hearing what’s going on in Eden and Kathryn’s minds.

It is when Stephen reappears for a second time, in another dream (or was it?) and helps Eden realise how bound she is by her fears and the affects of the abuse inflicted upon her and Bobby. She “walks on water” by stepping beyond that that binds her and in forgiving Kathryn, she both frees her heart and enables Kathryn to confront her fear of Zeke.

Letting go and letting God is a powerful message. Further, letting go of all the offence we may have been subjected to through forgiveness breaks the chains around our heart and shatters the scales that cover our eyes. I especially liked how Dekker used Eden’s forgiveness of Kathryn to demonstrate this power.

I enjoyed Eden or is she Alice Ringwald? Might be time for me to re-read “Showdown” once again. She’s a good character but there’s lots of opportunity to further develop her. My favourite character was Olivia Strauss and so hope we see her again in a future production as her role in this one is quite minor after the initial first few scenes.

And then there’s the Outlaw, Stephen. I’m not quite sure what to make of him. Interesting how his love contrasted so radically to that of Zeke, both of whom sought to represent the love of Christ. We don’t have to be as blatantly evil as Zeke to be out of sync with the love of Jesus, a good warning for us all.

Stephen shares the message in words and Eden as a good pupil listens and responds. I do wonder, however, that it’s a little unrealistic for an eighteen year old who has had such abuse be able to so quickly let go and respond so maturely. This is why, as I’ve mentioned, Eden’s love changing Kathryn’s heart truly reflects the miraculous power of accepting Christ’s love.

Every Dekker fan should read this and for those new to his work this continues on this new path his work has taken starting with “Eyes Wide Open”. These last few novels have had much stronger messages than previous ones, messages that are so important for we fiction readers to soak in.

“Found in Him,” Elyse M.Fitzpatrick

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Photo courtesy of Crossway.org

We all desire acceptance and belonging. It’s a natural yearning that I believe God has placed in us all. Much of what we do in life from our earliest days as a child can be a result of this natural yearning. Ultimately, God desires we discover that only He can satisfy this deepest need.

Found In Him provides a wonderful outline of what God has done to demonstrate His yearning for relationship with us in giving us His Son. But more significantly this gem of a book provides a means to believe that is His desire and how we can find acceptance and belonging in Him.

The book is broken into two parts. The first covers the Incarnation. Fitzpatrick outlines in some detail how Jesus was like us. He was a child who did what children do. He lived intentionally as a child so he “veiled his omniscience”. He had to otherwise he wasn’t living as we did. That was his intention: to live as a human lives. That way he was able to replace us as on the Cross. Up until His baptism, Fitzpatrick contends “He didn’t get any special perks or supernatural privileges, like us He walked by faith, not by sight.”

Fitzpatrick walks through Jesus life to demonstrate His humanness in this first part and then leads us into the second part where she reflects on our union with Christ. She opens this section stating that Paul’s letters mention our being “in Christ” thirty-three times so is a central theme of much of the New Testament.

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.” (John 14:23). The Father loves us as much as He loves Jesus.

I don’t think I’d really ever thought of God’s love like that. I am loved as Jesus is loved. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Fitzpatrick lingers on the analogy of a wedding, the motif of which is strong throughout the Bible. The church, that is, His people, is His bride. And Jesus was our wedding gift.

The final chapter and in fact Appendix 2 (make sure you read this Appendix) draw it all together. There is nothing more we need to do but rest in the knowledge that we are wonderfully adored and loved by our Heavenly Father. How do we do that? Spend time with Him. Like any great relationship, time and giving of ourselves is how we find true connection and comfortableness.

This book needs time so read it slowly and stop frequently to meditate and talk to God about points that are presented. It is bathed in Scripture and Fitzpatrick makes reference to many other scholars who have written about “oneness” with Christ.

If you struggle with acceptance and a sense of belonging I’d encourage you to grab this wonderful book.

My virtual chat with Ronie Kendig plus an awesome Giveaway

roniepicI had the pleasure of featuring Ronie Kendig on the blog in May last year when Talon, the second instalment in the “Breed Apart” series released. Beowulf: Explosions Detective Dog, the final piece in the puzzle, has recently launched. Ronie was kind enough in her very busy schedule to answer some questions I posed her.

I loved Trinity and Talon. Beowulf is staring down at me from my bookshelf waiting to be read (“pick me, pick me”). I’m sure it’s another cracking good read.

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Favourite Books of 2013

As you are likely to be aware I do read a lot of books and I thought a good way of wrapping up 2013 was to highlight some of my favourites.

Before I do that I thought I’d share some of my reading stats. (I borrowed this idea from Katie Weiland, one of my favourite writing instructors).

Books Read –  93 (2012 – 75)

Fiction to Non-fiction ratio – 27: 66

Paper to ebook ratio –  48: 45

(this surprised me. Majority of the ebooks fall into the non-fiction category)

Top Categories – Christian self-development (23 books), Christian fiction (20), Devotional (12), Secular non-fiction (12), Writing & Marketing (9), Bible commentary (9).

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