Book Review: “Getting Jesus Wrong” by Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson presents a very frank and honest assessment of his own walk with the Lord over the past 20+ years. I appreciated the fact that he wrote this book as a means of documenting his own journey and experiences as a believer making it very readable and relatable.

The book has 2 Parts:

Part 1: Life Coach Jesus and Other False Gods,
Part II: The Antidote to Pride and Despair.

Part 1 addresses some of the ways he and, therefore we, may get Jesus wrong. This also includes looking at certain church scenarios that he experienced: the Life Coach Jesus, Checklist Jesus, Movement Leader Jesus, Visionary Jesus and Pride & Despair. I saw myself having experienced each one of these throughout my own walk both the different church situations and the drivenness to achieve, to mark off my checklist and the resultant pride and despair.

Johnson came across a little cynical in this section but I may not be familiar enough with his sense of humour. In saying that I recognised myself in much of what he covered and opened my eyes to some aspects of my own faith that I have perhaps taken for granted which I’m very appreciative of.

Part II then seeks to outline how we can journey through life with a “correct” perspective of Jesus. These 3 chapters are the most powerful and are full of great truth supported with relevant Scripture plus a number of references to a number of influential thinkers including Martin Luther who in particular, appears to have had a great impact on Johnson’s reflections. Dependence on Jesus is the only way but this can take a lifetime for us to work out. Letting go of our humanness is such challenge simply because it comes naturally to us.

There are many things to like about this book and I would encourage people to read it. My only concern is I felt it leaves a slightly sour view of the church. Yes, the church is full of people and therefore is always going to make mistakes. However, the church is pivotal to Jesus’ mission and He is passionate about the church. We all have a role to play in helping bring more of Jesus into the church.

I received a complimentary copy of Getting Jesus Wrong from Litfuse with no expectation of a positive review. If you’re interested in reading more about the book please visit the Litfuse Blog Tour site.

Book Review: “The Dog who was There” by Ron Marasco

As a dog lover, I was intrigued to read a story about a dog who experienced first hand the life of Jesus. I didn’t really know what to expect and now having read it I have a mix of thoughts as regards reviewing it.

I appreciated the grittiness of the story. We see the times of Jesus from the ground level so we get a taste of the dirt and squalor of certain areas of Jerusalem and other nearby locales. We get a view of the violence of the period, in particular, the ruthless and callous disregard the Romans had for life, both human and canine. For some readers this may be a bit confronting.

Barley is a rescue dog in the true sense of the description (we have 2 at home) and has a delightful spirit even though for much of his life he is poorly treated. But we do get to see him being loved by a married couple and later by a petty criminal, Samid, which Barley responds well too.

Jesus, or the Kind Man as Barley describes Him, doesn’t really enter the story until about halfway and then it’s not until the last 30% of the book when Barley gets up close to Him in His last days. And the crucifixion scene is tremendously portrayed from the eyes of Barley.

What I found challenging about the novel is that not a lot happens in the first half and I struggled to get through to it. I kept wondering when Jesus was going to become more prominent as that’s what the title alluded to. I was confused by the POV quite a lot. The author jumped between Barley and 3rd person narrator frequently to the extent they almost meshed. I felt Barley often saw things through a human and not, a dog perspective.

The last third of the novel was very good to read with a couple of very clever twists which amped up the emotional connection I had to the story. However, there is so much quality reading material available I’m not sure I’m able to recommend this one.

Note: A special thank you to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

You can discover more about “The Dog who was There” on the Litfuse Blog Tour site.

Book Review: “Waiting for Wonder” by Marlo Schalesky

waiting-for-wonder-pkWe’re all familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah … how they were blessed by God to be the blessing for future nations and generations. Of how Abraham, the great man of faith, on hearing God’s instruction to leave home, grabbed his family and did just that, not knowing where the Lord was leading them. But in Marlo Schalesky’s marvellous book we hear from Sarah, we gain insight into her perspective, on being Abraham’s wife and being wholly favoured by God not because she was a wife but because she too was the Lord’s beloved.

I liked how Ms Schalesky set out each chapter: we start with a Scripture from Genesis which sets it up, then a short introduction before we “hear” from Sarah herself, well, the author’s thoughts on what may have been going through Sarah’s mind at the time, then a section “Waiting for Wonder” where the author explores what’s to be discovered in the waiting and then finally “Who is this God?”, a short section bringing back to the greatness and goodness of God.

Yes, there is some repetition across 14 chapters of exploring “waiting”, however, there are some outstanding insights to be gleaned from the author’s interpretation of Sarah’s story that makes this book such a worthy resource on the subject. As Sarah and Abraham journeyed through many years of waiting the Lord drew them increasingly towards Himself, to a deeper intimacy and new devotion. This is what He calls each of us too. And that’s the wonder of “waiting”: our Creator woos us. To Himself in order that we discover our Lord in ways we could never have imagined and in so doing fresh perspectives on ourselves and His beloved.

I also appreciated the point that even when they received the blessing (yes, Sarah received it specifically too) from God of a child in a year’s time, they were again tested. And again they initially struggled because of their inherent fears that had always inhibited them. “Sometimes we must go back in order to go forward. We must face the sin, the lies we live, those in ourselves and in the people close to us.We cannot receive the fulfilment of promises to bless the world when we are stepped in old fear, old deceptions, old sins.”(loc 1357)

This so spoke to me. The Lord has something more for us but first of all we need to let go of the past and all its muck, whatever form it may take.

If you’re presently in a season of waiting then buy this book. Ms Schalesky wrestles with Scripture and overlays aspects of waiting in her own life to provide an excellent insight into the wonders that can be gained from waiting.

Note: A special thank you to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

You can discover more about “Waiting from Wonder” on the Litfuse Blog Tour site.

“A.D.30,” Ted Dekker

934503This is the first novel of Ted Dekker’s that could be classified as Biblical fiction. It is breathtaking in its portrayal of the times, the brutality of humans and in Maviah, the central character, someone all readers can relate to. And then we meet Yeshua, the Hebrew for Jesus. It’s hard to put into words the experience the reader has seeing Jesus through Maviah’s eyes. Sitting near Him as he shares many of the parables we’ve come to know through the Bible. I didn’t want Him to leave. I expect that was how the disciples felt as they journeyed with Him.

Maviah is a Bedouin slave who at the request of her dethroned father to seek out King Herod and secure his assistance to free her people from the Thamud. This takes her on a wild journey through the desert with her valiant aids Saba and Judah. Their journey will take them past Jerusalem. Judah who knows of Jesus, being a descendant of the kings who visited Jesus at his birth, and is desperate to meet him. Circumstances outside their control unexpectedly lead them to the house of Nicodemus where Jesus is happening to supper.

Maviah is a wonderful character. We see her courage in undertaking the journey and the many fears she will fail. It is in meeting Jesus she is able to begin to realise her destiny as Queen of the desert. The final scenes are simply extraordinary storytelling as Dekker demonstrates the power of faith when the odds appear insurmountable.

There are many other notable well developed characters; Judah and Saba in particular. It was fascinating to see Dekker present his interpretations of such people as Herod, Herodias, Aretas as well as Stephen and some of the disciples.

This is Dekker at his absolute best. In fact, he’s stepped up a level as he combines the truth and power of the gospel with a breathtaking tale of good and evil that makes me want more and more.

Erin Healy discusses her latest novel, “Motherless.”

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Photo courtesy of Erin Healy

Erin Healy’s latest novel, “Motherless”, was released a few weeks ago. Being a keen supporter of Erin and her work I was delighted she was willing to respond to a few questions I posed her.

There is also the opportunity for two readers to win a copy of Motherless. More on that at the end of this post.

Introducing Motherless

The tale of two young adults trying to solve the mystery of their mother’s seventeen-year-old suicide.

A whispering voice at the back of my mind reminds me that I’ve been this way for some time. Dead, that is.

The dead have a very broad view of the living, of actions performed out of sight, of thoughts believed to be private. I would know. Losing both parents is a trial no child should endure, and Marina and Dylan have endured enough. They deserve the one thing I could never give them: a mother’s love.

A mother’s love, and the truth.

My children have believed a lie about me for years and years. After all this time I can still feel their hurt in my heart. But the tether holding me to them is frayed from years of neglect . . . and I have to find a way to make my confession before it snaps.

But when the truth comes out, what other beasts will I unleash?

“Why do we lie to the children?” someone asked me once.

“To protect them,” I answered.

How terrible it is that they need protection from me.

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“Motherless,” Erin Healy

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Photo courtesy of Erin Healy

“This is truth: we all tell the stories that we want to believe. We tell them for so long that we forget what we really know. Occasionally we convince others to believe them too.”

Motherless is the story of brother and sister, Marina and Dylan, who are coming to terms with the anticipated death of their father (he’s in an induced coma) having lost their mother many years earlier from an apparent suicide.

Marina, even though only a few years older than 16-year-old Dylan, has taken on many of the responsibilities of being a mother. She is especially protective of him as he suffers from agoraphobia, which can be tremendously debilitating.

Their story is told through the eyes of a first person narrator who has a particular interest in their welfare. This individual takes on a far greater role in their story and especially the key themes as it unfolds.

Healy uses vivid imagery in describing her characters, the Californian coast and the delicacies created by Sara, another key character. At any moment Healy is able to transport the reader into being a cocktail party guest, harvesting grapes in a vineyard or sitting on a surfboard waiting for the next set to roll in.

I particularly appreciated how Healy took me into Dylan’s mind, the young poet who was at his happiest surfing the break outside his home even though stepping out the front door to pop down to the shops crippled him with fear. I know what that feels like.

Lies, deception, grace and forgiveness. Key themes at the heart of most families as they reflect the darkness and light we all must navigate through life.

This is what makes this story so compelling: it could be any of our families that Healy has captured on the page.

Highly recommended.

“The Legend of Sheba,” Tosca Lee

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Photo courtesy of Tosca Lee

There is little mention of the Queen of Sheba in the Bible other than that she paid King Solomon a visit having heard of his great wisdom and he worshipped an unseen God. (1 Kings 10:1-13)

This novel greatly expands on the little we know and introduces us to an enchanting, complex Queen who is powerful, fiercely independent, intelligent and very beautiful. We meet her as a child and then retrace her period of exile before becoming Queen. She soon asserts her authority by utilising Saba’s natural wealth to build a greater kingdom. Her council continually badger her to marry and produce an heir, however, she only wants to marry for love.

One of Saba’s trader’s shares his meetings with the King of the northern tribes of Israel who is becoming increasingly powerful in the region. She is soon intrigued and infatuated as the two begin corresponding by letter. He with his songs and proverbs, she in riddles. But a greater need arises as Solomon begins to build a fleet of ships and ports that will negate Saba’s trading capabilities. Sheba takes it into her own hands and sets off on the 6 month journey to pay the King a visit to negotiate access to his ships and ports.

It is on arriving in Jerusalem that this novel takes off as we get to witness a most passionate love affair between the two. The tension simmers for many pages as they seek to understand and be understood by the other. Solomon, tired of his wealth and his huge number of wives, meets his equal. A woman who can inspire, motivate and lift him from his boredom. He is captivated by her.

Sheba resists her feelings for him not wanting to be another conquest. But the more time they spend together the more she sees of the heart of this man. Having grown up worshipping Almaqah, a god of the sun and moon, she begins to realise it’s folly. It is in seeing Solomon’s struggle between his faith and his riches she comes to realise the unseen one is the one true God.

Lee writes beautifully as she always does taking us back in time as observant bystanders to the sounds, smells, and sights of the era. Her authorial skill makes this a most charming and fascinating read. Frankly, I was so disappointed when it ended.

There is an informative appendix that outlines some of the key findings from Lee’s exhaustive research which helped answer many of the questions I had as I read the novel. But one must always remember this is a piece of fiction.

“Hacker (Outlaw Chronicles),” Ted Dekker

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Image courtesy of Worthy Publishing

My name is Nyah and I’m a hacker. I know things most people would never believe. Things that shouldn’t exist, but do.” 

Seventeen year old Nyah Parks is a genius hacker whose world is unraveling. Desperate and with no other choice, Nyah turns her programming skills to cracking the firewalls of the world’s largest corporations. She exposes their weaknesses, and then offers her services to secure their systems from hackers.

But when the most dangerous job of her life backfires and forces her to go on the run, she encounters an impossible reality that shouldn’t exist, but does.

A hack unlike any other. A hack that will take her beyond the firewall of the human brain itself. A hack, which may be the only way to save her mother now.

What if there was a way to tap into the unseen reality that surrounds us all? Would you hack in? How far would you go to find the answers to your deepest questions? The answer lies deep beyond the firewall.

As part of the FirstLook Blog Tour Worthy Publishing provided a Q&A with Ted Dekker which adds good background to the above teaser.

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Q&A with Ted Dekker – Blog Tour for “Hacker” (Outlaw Chronicles)

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Image Courtesy of Worthy Publishing

I was given the opportunity to participate in Worthy Publishing’s First Look blog tour for Ted Dekker’s latest novel: “Hacker”.

Hacker is the third installment of the “Outlaw Chronicles” which Dekker describes as follows:

“THE OUTLAW CHRONICLES consist of EYES WIDE OPENWATER WALKER and HACKER. Although related through one common character, Stephen, they can be read in any order.

Written in the vein of Ted’s thrillers like Thr3e and Blink, these are transformational stories that take the reader on an intense ride full of twists that unravel the deep mystery or reality in ways rarely seen.

To discover the profound origin story of how Stephen came to live out of the law of darkness, read Ted’s novel by the same name: Outlaw.”

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“Stranger Things”, Erin Healy

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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.