Thursday, July 31, 2014

Quote from the Casual Vacancy

I wrote a book review on The Casual Vacancy here and made the comment that Rowlings, "reveals thought-provoking insights into human nature". One example of this is her portrayal of Gavin (p.187). He makes this comment about his latest girlfriend:
Why couldn't she realize how little he wanted her, and take herself off without forcing him to do the dirty?
Gavin expected his girlfriend to take the initiative and break off the relationship to save him the trouble! Unfortunately I know people like this. They don't like causing upset or unpleasantness or even expressing a different opinion so they wait for the other person to take the initiative. Rowling further describes his behaviour like this:
As was Gavin's deeply ingrained habit he sought to deflect an imminent conflict and hoped that the future would look after itself.
The problem with this attitude is that the future brings more of the same because they refuse to deal with the conflict so it reappears later in different attire. How sad.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy

I read The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowlings as part of my book club.

As I was reading the book, I was reminded of the TV series, "Days of Our Lives" – a lot of self focused people making bad decisions about relationships, careers and life in general, plus covering a smorgasbord of social issues: neglect, abuse, theft, sabotage, self-harm, rape, suicide, addiction, obsessive compulsive disorders, alcoholism, greed, envy, class distinctions etc.

It was unfortunate that the story was populated with such unlikeable characters. I sensed that Rowlings may have felt she was portraying people realistically, that beneath our pleasant veneers we are all self absorbed. However in the course of reading this book, I happened to attend a local Rotary meeting and I thought to myself none of the people here are in Rowlings' book! Rowlings has taken the unpleasant side of human nature and described it as if it were normal.

As the book progressed and began to focus on five teenagers who were growing up in these dysfunctional families the story became more engrossing. At least, these teenagers had reason for their unpleasant behaviours. Despite the bad language and the way-too-much-detail sex scenes which were off putting, I'm glad that I persisted and finished the book. The concluding tragedy shocked many, but not all, into re-evaluating their priorities so that in the end the book finished with a sense of hope.

Rowlings' skill as a writer is obvious as she weaves together a cast of many and reveals thought-provoking insights into human nature along the way. However the obscenities in the book prevent me from recommending what is otherwise an interesting read.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Devotional Thought : 1 Kings 19:8

So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 1 Kings 19:8

Horeb is also referred to as Mt. Sinai. The place where God hid Moses in a cave while he passed by. The cave where Elijah spent the night may have been the same cave (v.9). Certainly it was in a similar area. Elijah in his discouragement went back to the foundation of his faith.

Likewise when we are discouraged remembering the past and getting back to basics is a good idea. We can call to mind how we came to a place of faith, the difference God has made in our lives since we started following him and the answers to prayer we have had on our faith journey.

Furthermore we can remind ourselves of the basics of our faith – that God loves us, that he sent his Son to die for us and he has promised us a future inheritance.

We can also remind ourselves that during times of discouragement our perspective becomes distorted. Elijah felt like he was the only one who was still being faithful to God. Yet God tells him there are 7,000 who have not bowed down to Baal (v.18). Since discouragement is not God's intention for us the thoughts we have during these times are usually not accurate. There are times I have to tell myself, "I would not be having these thoughts if I were not so tired and worn out." Sometimes a good sleep is the answer to discouragement.

Other sources of reassurance are worship, meeting with God's people and reading his Word. Worship takes the attention of ourselves and reminds us that God is all we need.

So remember Elijah and be encouraged.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Blog Tour : Better Than A Superhero

This blog tour is for the children’s book: Better Than A Superhero by Belinda Francis, illustrated by Kayleen West. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

My book review is here .

21st - 25th July 2014

is introducing

(Wombat Books 1 May 2014)


Belinda Francis, illustrated by Kayleen West

About the Book:
Who is better than a superhero? Find out about Jesus as you explore what he did and who he was. And most importantly how Jesus really can be your best friend!

About the Author: Belinda Francis
Award winning journalist turned children's author Belinda Francis worked in newspapers, magazines and electronic media for ten years in South Africa before she and her family immigrated to Queensland.

Shortly after arriving in Australia, her elder son was diagnosed with ASD and she devoted the next few years to his early intervention, which with God's guidance, has paid off miraculously. Her second son, who had been born ten weeks prematurely, is now healthy and strong – evidence of yet another miracle. She and her family recently celebrated the arrival of their third child, a much-prayed for daughter.

While raising her children, Belinda wrote Better than a Superhero, her first published book, and threw herself into the local church and community. She runs the Sunday school program at her church campus.

Belinda is passionate about raising children up in God's kingdom and excited about the ministry opportunities the book will undoubtedly open up.

About the Illustrator: Kayleen West
An award winning artist, her work hangs in private and corporate collections in France, United States, Italy, and the Australian Embassy in Ireland and in government collections in Australia.

Although an initial childhood dream was to write and illustrate for children, Kayleen was encouraged to venture into a career of an exhibiting fine artist and later a graphic designer. Returning to her original passion in 2009, Kayleen is now a published children's Author and Illustrator working on her third children's book and writes Christian content for magazines and blogs.

Kayleen is the author and illustrator of Without Me? (Wombat Books, 2013) and the illustrator of Better than a Superhero (Even Before Publishing, 2014).

For more information:

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review : Better Than A Superhero

This book is being featured on the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance this week. Information about the author and more details about the book can be found here.

Better than a superhero by Belinda Francis is a great way of teaching children about Jesus. It covers many aspects of Jesus' character and his mission. It touches on stories from the gospel accounts and gives children a great overview of Jesus' life as well as explaining his kingship. Furthermore the book encourages children to talk to Jesus and have a relationship with him.

I especially like Kayleen West's illustrations of Jesus, as well as coming across as caring, he also looks happy which I think is an important concept in itself. The rest of the illustrations are great too – attractive and appropriate to the text.

An instructive and fun book for young children.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Devotional Thought : 1 Kings 18:21

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. 1 Kings 18:21

Was it fear that kept the people quiet? Or was it that they wanted to keep their options open? When Elijah suggested a contest the people said, “What you say is good” (v.24). Perhaps they were wondering if God had forsaken them, or abandon them, and they wanted evidence. Despite their history through Abraham and Moses they wanted their own experience of God's intervention. Whatever their thinking they were reluctant to make a public stand.

This would have been extremely discouraging for Elijah and later he would complain to God that he was the only one still following the Lord. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (19:10, 14).

It is no wonder Elijah felt this way when no one would verbally declare their allegiance to the Lord. And no doubt, Elijah felt lonely in the face of such stiff opposition – "four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah" (v.19).

God responded to Elijah by saying, "I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him" (19:18).

But where were these seven thousand when Elijah needed them?

Where are we when our leaders need us? When they make a stand for righteousness do we support and encourage them? Do we stand with them? Or do we say nothing?

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Quote from Lauren Winner's Memoir

I have been reading Lauren Winner's memoir Girl Meets God and I'll write a book review in due course. In the meantime I'd like to share this paragraph which Lauren wrote about the Mitford series of books by Jan Karon. These books were instrumental in her coming to faith:
"They were no great works of literature, just vignettes about the people in Father Tim's parish, stories about ordinary Christians working out ordinary faith in their ordinary lives… They sang hymns I didn't know and prayed from a prayer book I had never opened. And I thought, I want what they have."
Christian Fiction can be subtly powerful because it describes what Christianity looks like, rather than explaining it.

So Christian Fiction Writers be encouraged!

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review : Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage with the subtitle, My journey to a deeper faith in the land where Jesus walked, is an autobiographic account of Lynn Austin's trip to Israel. It provides an interesting look at many of the historical sites in this country with Lynn's personal and Biblical comments.

While this was an interesting read, I'd have to say I prefer Lynn's fictional writing. I kept getting the feeling throughout the book that Lynn was keeping something from me. Lynn admits to being an introvert and I suspect she is essentially a private person so I imagine writing the book was particularly challenging for her, though she does not express this.

Early in the book she comments that her three adult children left home within a five month period and she struggled to cope with the change that this brought. Then at regular intervals she mentions her difficulties with the changes that were happening in her life, but I was never sure if she meant her children leaving home or something else. This issue does resolve a little towards the end when she is a little clearer about the effect her children leaving home has had on her but even so, this was not entirely satisfying.

However in spite of this it was a pleasant read and very informative. I am doing a study tour of Israel later this year so the book was helpful in this regard. I also liked the way Lynn included the Biblical accounts and insights which connected to the topography of the area she was visiting.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Devotional Thought : 1 Kings 15:34

He [Baasha] did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of Jeroboam and committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit. 1 Kings 15:34

Baasha killed Nadab, Jeroboam's son who only ruled Israel for two years. He also killed the rest of Jeroboam's family. We are told this happened because of the evil Jeroboam perpetuated in Israel (15:30). Baasha had the perfect opportunity to lead the people to return to the Mosaic covenant and the happy days of 1 Kings 4:20. But he didn't. Instead he committed the same sin and in the next chapter we see it brought the same result (16:3).

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. This is true of Baasha. He lived under Jeroboam's kingship and saw the outcome of his life and yet Baasha persisted in following Jeroboam's sinful ways.

God has graciously given us many role models, through the Bible and in life. Some are great examples of how to live a godly life. At other times God allows people to come into our lives who are less than ideal. We are wise if we can learn from both good and poor role models.

Surprisingly it is the bad role models that are often most instructive. We tend to take good role models for granted. They make wise decisions and reap good outcomes. However when we see unwise decisions being made and the resulting outcomes, it is important we also apply these lessons to our lives. It is easy to dismiss bad outcomes on unfortunate circumstances without considering if poor decision making has played a part.

Eleanor Roosevelt wisely said, "Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself."

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Quote from The Shack

"The real underlying flaw in your life, Mackenzie, is that you don't think I am good. If you knew I was good and that everything - the means, the ends, and all the processes of individual lives - is all covered by my goodness, then while you might not always understand what I'm doing, you would trust me. But you don't.”

This is a quote from The Shack by William Young. Although the book has some theological problems, it also contains some gems like this one. Do we really believe God is good? If we did we would trust him a whole lot more than we do.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Book Reflection : Ocean at the end of the lane

Last month, Ocean at the End of the lane by Neil Gaiman was my book club book. However this is not a genre that I would normally read and I must admit that I skipped a large section in the middle. So this is not a proper book review.

Nevertheless I would like to reflect on a couple of things. I suspect my dislike of these types of books is the subtle Christian spiritually that sneaks into the story. At one point the young girl is trying to take authority over an evil presence and asks it for its name which it does not give her. Consequently the girl was not able to gain ascendancy over it. Naming is important in Scripture and Jesus was known to ask demons for their name. However he was told their names and did gain the ascendancy (Mark 5:9).

Towards the end of the story the girl sacrifices her own life for the sake of my friend. However we discover she is not a human girl at all but some kind of mythical being, so she is not really dead but has to go away for a long time to be healed. Again this reflects Scripture but does so in a subtly negative way. Jesus sacrificed his life for his friends. It would be easy to surmise that this author does not think Jesus was truly human, that Jesus didn't really die and that he has gone away for a long time to be healed. There is nothing new in these ideas as they have been circulating in theological circles for centuries. The truth is Jesus was not a mythical being; he really did die and furthermore was resurrected and lives forever but not physically on the earth.

I didn't like the parallels that I found in this book with Scripture. Yet I suspect the author would either deny them or be unaware that they exist.

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Saturday, July 05, 2014

Devotional Thought : 1 Kings 12:26-27

Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.” 1 Kings 12:26-27

Jeroboam disregarded God's promise to him that he would rule over ten tribes of Israel and the promise of a dynasty as enduring as David's (11:31-38). Jeroboam thought he needed to secure the kingdom by using his own resources. The chapter continues:

"After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, 'It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin" (12:28-30).

Jeroboam led the people into idol worship in order to protect his own position. He didn't want the people travelling to Jerusalem to worship God so he instituted a substitute system. It shows his complete lack of trust in God to fulfil his promise to him.

These golden calves continued to be a problem for Israel. Generations later we read, "So Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel. However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit—the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan" (2 Kings 10:28-29). Jeroboam's lack of trust blighted the nation for over a hundred years.

What legacy are we leaving behind? A legacy built on faith in God or a legacy of compromise and pursuing our own ambitions?

Even today, Jeroboam's example of lack of faith in God's promises remains.

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Thursday, July 03, 2014

On going to Israel

As part of the Bible College course I am doing I had the opportunity of applying for a study tour of Israel. In order to go I also needed a travel scholarship and recently I learned that my application was successful. The tour is in November.

For some time I had not wanted to go to Israel since I was worried that historical sites had become mere tourist attractions and that much had been compromised for the convenient of attracting the tourist dollar. I was also worried about the infiltration of other religions in the country. Yet after hearing and reading of others who have been, and the impact it had on their spiritual lives, I had a growing desire to also visit the country that I have read about so much in the Bible.

The study tour is offered every second year and two years ago I became aware that I could apply. Yet it was not a convenient time as I was trying to get a job and I had a limited time window in which to apply so after a few enquiries I decided to wait until next time – which is now!

I attended the information session recently. I was pleased to learn that our tour guide is very knowledgeable about the historical sites and will be pointing out what is tourist hype and what is archaeological fact.

I will be travelling with a group of about 25 students.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Book Review : Foul Play

Foul Play by Janet Evanovich is a romantic tale about Amy Klasse and Jake Elliott. Amy works for a television station performing for children. It is a job she loves but she is abruptly replaced by a dancing chicken. Jake comes to her rescue and offers her a job as receptionist at his veterinary clinic. The relationship develops smoothly until the dancing chicken disappears and Amy is blamed.

Foul Play is an enjoyable, light-hearted story with a touch of mystery. I would have preferred Amy and Jake to solve the mystery of the disappearing chicken but perhaps Evanovich felt that would be implausible.

Nevertheless a fun story.

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