“Galatians for You,” Tim Keller

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Photo courtesy of The Good Book Company

I studied Galatians at college not so long ago so I thought I had a pretty good understanding of it. However, this excellent study opened my eyes to far more. I can’t speak highly enough about it.

This is practical expository teaching, taking each verse of the epistle and unpacking it so we can both understand but also use it.

Keller uses excellent layman’s language and the conversational style reads like he is sitting alongside guiding you through the epistle. Then after each section of teaching there are three challenging questions for self or group reflection that assist in personalising the message.

Galatians is all about the gospel of grace. As Keller writes in the last paragraph: “The gospel of grace is what the Galatians need to know , and love, in “your spirit.”” As do we.

If you are soon to study Galatians then grab a copy of this book.

“The Way Back,” Tom Pawlik

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Photo Courtesy of TomPawlik.com

This is different to Tom Pawlik’s first two novels that I enjoyed immensely. Pawlik describes it himself as a ‘coming-of-age’ sort of novel which it is, but one filled with gripping suspense that kept me turning (well flicking, is that what it’s called on a Kindle?) the pages.

Pawlik is masterful in how he describes his settings. In particular, the way he describes Jake and Buck’s boat trip through a creepy swamp had me feeling like I was a third passenger on it. The suspense he creates when danger is at hand is riveting. His scenes with a certain large crocodilian creature reminded me a lot of Peter Benchley’s Jaws.

But it was his character, Abe Garner, an elderly man, misunderstood and rejected by his small community, that grabbed my heart. It is his story that lingers in my mind on finishing the novel. His story is such a beautiful one of grace in action, of forgiveness and not allowing one’s mistreatment to malign one’s life with bitterness, mistrust and hatred.

Read this so you can meet Abe Garner. Oh, and one very large water-dwelling reptile.

“The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

I found this both charming and terribly sad.

Fitzgerald’s elegant craftsmanship with attention to detail using such economy of words was extraordinary. It was such a delight to drift off into another time as he captured the soul of Gatsby’s world in the 20s. It was an interesting use of the 1st person as Nick Carraway narrated the story.

But there was such sadness with the apparent meaningless of these characters lives. All fluff and bubble without any soul. I found I felt sorry for Gatsby, unlucky in love and seemingly wealthy from dubious commercial activities that never got fully explained. Daisy, I felt nothing for, as she came across as the most callous selfish individual, blessed with beauty and good upbringing.

I can understand why the novel is held in such esteem by the literary world. In less than 200 pages, Fitzgerald was able to describe the folly of the hedonistic life that has even greatest prevalence today, making the novel very relatable to a modern readership.

“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.

“Afloat”, Erin Healy

Afloat-e1360600179383Riveting storytelling that leaves much to ponder!

I love a novel that stays in my mind long after finishing it. This is one of those novels.

Healy powerfully blends natural disaster, murder and the supernatural to compose a fascinating multi-layered story. Her mastery of the writing craft and ability to create intriguing multi-dimensional characters make Afloat a compelling read.

Even though the action commenced immediately, it took me a while to absorb the complexity surrounding the disaster and the introduction of many characters. I enjoyed this detail even though there were times when I found it challenging to visualize the full extent of the scene unfolding.

But once the survivors are thrown together the novel really takes off. Vance Nolan is a marvelous hero. He’s flawed with a troubled past, but selflessly courageous. Zeke, the blind man of faith, and a father figure, has invested years of love and wisdom in Vance and their relationship is a beautiful illustration of the power of committed friendship.

Most of the characters are complex. We see their foibles, inhibitions, hopes and fears. Developer Tony Dean is an excellent antagonist. Greed, power, lust, we see it everyday, but perhaps not so well portrayed in a fictional character like Tony Dean.

The reason this novel still lingers in my mind and why it is so special is there is so much to take away from it. Every reader will be grabbed by something different to ponder. And that is its’ magic. Whether it’s redemption, bad things do happen to good people, or sometimes faith involves staying put and waiting it out, there is so much in this novel. And I haven’t even mentioned the angelic intruders.

Highly recommended: 4.5 out of 5.

If you missed my Q&A with Erin Healy from a  few weeks ago, you can read it here.

“The Power of Weakness”, Keith Giles

17254288I received this 100 page ebook as part of a giveaway as a result of buying Frank Viola’s new book. Gee, I hope the other gifts I downloaded are as good as this one.

Pastor Giles takes us through the stories of key Biblical figures: Jesus, Solomon, Moses, Samson, David, Gideon to name a few. He demonstrates using Scripture how they only “succeeded” by emptying themselves to fully surrender their lives to God. Samson, for example, was only powerful because the Holy Spirit equipped him with incredible strength.

This book comes at an important time for the church where I believe we may have forgotten this critical aspect of faith. God can only use us when we let Him by depending on Him. All of these Biblical people were weak so they depended on the Father to provide the power.

Well written with strong Biblical references. My only suggestion for improvement would be if we saw some modern day examples of this phenomenon. I get the concept and want to do it, but I’m still not quite sure how to. What do I need to do when I wake up each day to be “weak” and therefore depend on Jesus?

Highly recommended – 4/5

“Alone with God”, John MacArthur

107334lgSometimes we can spend too much time reading about prayer rather than doing it. However, this shortish book (180+ pages) is a great resource for aligning our focus.

Too often our prayer can be too needs-based, ie, it’s all about us. Whilst in taking us through The Lord’s Prayer and then Paul’s priorities in prayer, MacArthur provides a challenge to allow prayer to be more God focused. Most of the book walks through MacArthur’s reflections on the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve been using The Lord’s Prayer a lot recently, so I found this a good reminder of Jesus’ intentions when reciting this prayer.

However, it’s the last two chapters that spoke to me the most. MacArthur moves from Jesus to Paul’s prayer life to outline what Paul prioritised in His prayers. He highlights two key priorities:

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“Talon, Combat Tracking Team”, Ronie Kendig

Talon-cover_FINAL-197x300Having read Trinity, the first in the series, a few months ago, I was eagerly awaiting Talon, the second. It exceeded my expectations. It took me a little while to get into Trinity, but I was hooked on this story from the first pages.

Kendig has created a great character in Dane ‘Cardinal’ Markoski. Cardinal has a troubled past which is intriguing and it simmers below the surface for the entire novel until it crashes into the present in it’s climactic ending. Great, great writing

I hope Kendig builds a series around Cardinal. She has developed a character with wonderful apparent complexity (or is it just male aloofness?) that drives both the action and much of the dialogue.

Aspen, his romantic interest, didn’t really grab me. There was too much reference to flicking curls away but more significantly I didn’t see the underlying strength of character that her colleagues in the book saw.

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“Living a Prayerful Life”, Andrew Murray

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Photo courtesy of Bethany House

“Satan endeavours to become the master of the Christian prayer time.”

That statement is written on the third last page of this marvellous book but is a great reminder of where the battle for our souls is played out. The enemy knows we are ineffective against him if we aren’t praying.

Andrew Murray in this relatively short book emphases the power of prayer by exploring Jesus’ commitment to it. His ministry wouldn’t have been as effective if it weren’t for His prayer life. I know I often forget this.

Murray regards prayerlessness as the scourge of the christian community: we just don’t pray enough. This book needs to be read diligently as Murray explores many new ideas. It isn’t a “To Do guide” only featuring the one small chapter on how to spend one’s prayer time but rather by focusing on the Word, the lives of Jesus, Paul and some more modern day Christian heroes like George Mueller and Hudson Taylor, encourages us to greater commitment to prayer.

It got me praying more which is the best recommendation I can make about a book on prayer.

“Fearless”, Mike Dellosso

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Photo courtesy of Mike Dellosso

Mike’s one of my favourite suspense authors. I’ve read most of his catalogue and continue to be impressed with his ability to create spine tingling suspense.

He is truly a master craftsman of the suspense genre.

I was fortunate to receive an advance reading copy (ARC) of “Fearless”, his latest creation. Here’s the cover blurb of the novel:

When a nine-year-old Louisa mysteriously appears in the middle of a house fire with no memory of how she got there or where she came from, Jim and Amy Spencer agree to take her in. Wrestling with the recent loss of their own child, they soon discover Louisa has a special gift. But when the same gift unknowingly puts her in contact with a serial killer, the grieving couple must unite to face all odds and save themselves and Louisa before it’s too late.

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