“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.

“A Beautiful Defeat,” Kevin Malarkey

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Image courtesy of HarperCollins Australia

My pastor said recently: “the Kingdom of God only prospers through an atmosphere of warfare and violence.” It reminded me of this book that I’ve just finished for the second time in quick succession.

This is an excellent practical and Scripture-based guide on how to ‘take up our cross everyday.’

Malarkey starts out exploring why it is so difficult to live a surrendered life and in so doing has a good look at the nature of sin concluding there are three key influencers to why we sin: the world, the flesh and Satan. He provides useful illustrations clarifying the three.

The rest of the book provides guidance of how to practically surrender on a daily basis. He gives a good airing to acknowledging we are in a battle and how to appropriately prepare to survive and in fact prosper through it. There is a great chapter when he compares the preparation to what a Navy SEAL has to do in their line of work having interviewed one as part of his research for the book.

Each chapter ends with an action to take an honest assessment of yourself and a prayer to commit the key learnings to the Lord.

I took many notes as I read through it and am sure I’ll be referring back to those in the days to come.

If you’re grappling with the state of your walk with the Lord, you may find some super insights in this book that will help give you some sound perspective.

Highly recommended.

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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Reflections on Advent

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Photo credit: Unity Church Albany, New York

Advent means “coming”. It is a season many Christians practice for the four weeks prior to Christmas. According to Wikipedia it is “a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for His Second Coming.”

I observed Advent for the first time last year. Perhaps a better way of describing what I did was I studied it. I didn’t light a candle or do anything else symbolic. I read a few devotionals and spent more time each day just reflecting on Jesus.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience last year so am doing it again. Like last year I’m working through some devotionals to help stimulate my meditations and prayer time.

Once again I’m blown away by Jesus’ humble arrival. The Israelites were expecting a grand entrance by a king. But who turned up? A baby. Born in a barn.

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“Jesus is ______”, Judah Smith

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Photo courtesy of Thomas Nelson

In our mixed up world it’s very easy for us to lose sight of “the way, the truth and the life” whether we are a believer or not. We have this maddening way of taking charge ourselves or basing our opinions of faith on the church or other believers.

What this wonderful book does is bring us back to the heart of the gospel. A person. Jesus.

I love how Smith sums it up near the end of the book: “He just wants to love us. He wants to be loved by us.” We should wake each day and welcome Jesus to it. He’s here anyway, why not walk through our days in relationship with Him. And if we do we will truly discover who we are and can be.

Written in easily understandable language with much humour (some funny, some not so) plus plenty of anecdotes and Scripture, this is a beautiful reminder of what Christianity is all about. A person. Jesus.

We need more of this message and I look forward to Pastor Smith’s next book. Highly recommended.

Pray Like Jesus

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Photo courtesy of Ligonier Ministries

Jesus provides a wonderful picture of the power of prayer. His life revolved around it; His ministry would not have been effective if it hadn’t been for His commitment to prayer.

I often forget this about Jesus. It’s only been in recent years studying the Bible that I realised that Jesus was fully human. I had lived thinking He was God, so Jesus could do anything.

Jesus was only able to do what He did and fulfil His mission because of prayer. In living as a human for 33 years, Jesus provided the example for us to live by: be people of prayer.

Let’s have a quick look at some of the aspects of His prayer life. Some of this post I wrote 6 months ago, so some of you may be familiar with what follows. But I thought it useful to re-post it.

Regularity

Scripture tells us Jesus prayed constantly:

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)

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A Final Reflection on Lent – It’s all about Him!

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Photo courtesy of grandcanyon.free

It is the day after Easter Sunday. And my first experience of observing Lent has now passed.

Did I have an experience of God that wowed my mind? No.

Was I able to effectively let go of my daily ill discipline that I had set out to fast? Yes, but with lapses.

The most satisfying experience over the six weeks was reading the complete Bible. It was a massive task and one I often questioned why I was doing it. Most days I was just skimming through the Word just to keep up with the demanding schedule.

I don’t feel the same sense of euphoria that Margaret, who responded to God’s nudge to encourage thousands of people from around the world to take up this challenge (you can read about Margaret’s cartwheeling reflections here)

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Observing Lent

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Photo courtesy of www.malta.com

I’ve never given Lent much thought. For some reason, I know not why, I’ve thought it an outdated practice that Catholics observe. Typically, it appeared to be reduced to “what are you giving up for Lent?” In my overly judgemental moments I found it strange that apparently non-pious people chose to participate in such a “custom”.

As some of you may know, I observed Advent last Christmas and found it a wonderful practice in drawing closer to the Lord each day. I love learning and discovered so much in those 20 or so days. This led me to my word of the year, “Silence” and an increasing desire for intimacy with the Lord.

A few weeks ago, the Lord gave me one of those gentle nudges that got me thinking about Lent. At the same time, I noticed a Lent study by Ruth Haley Barton, whose book, “Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence” I so enjoyed when I read it last month. So I promptly ordered that study.

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“The Utter Relief of Holiness”, John Eldredge

9781455525713_Outside_Front_Jacket_00000000-90-135-24-jpegI so love John Eldredge’s work. He has a way of capturing the essence of the desire in our hearts. This little book is no exception and in fact I’d suggest it’s one of his best.

He starts out by asking a question that I’ve never asked myself: “What is Christianity supposed to do to a person?” Such an obvious question I chided myself for never asking it of myself. He then points to Scripture to provide the answer. And we’re only at page 7.

A verse that I’ve read repeatedly through my life but never with the association to that question above.

“Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.” (Eph 1:4)

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“Invitation to Solitude and Silence”, Ruth Haley Barton

835454_w185I felt invited to adopt ” Silence” as my word for 2013.

Funnily, enough as I looked around for some wise counsel on the subject, I was led to this beautiful work that has been sitting on my bookshelves for a few months. I can’t recall why I bought it originally, however, now sense some divine purpose in it.

This is a delightful book to read. It is filled with some tremendous Biblical insight regarding Elijah’s journey into the wilderness in 1 Kings 19. This revelation underpins the gentle flow of Ruth Haley Barton’s musings.

In sharing her journey where time with the Lord in solitude and silence has become a common daily practice, Ruth guides the reader with wisdom and practical application. There are many wonderful supporting quotes from the likes of Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen.

I’m 25 days into the new year and am thankful for reading this wonderful guide as I dive deep into seeking to better experience God and all He has for me. I expect I’ll be reading it a few more times before the year is up.

Highly recommended.