Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Grace in Thine Eyes - Liz Curtis Higgs

This novel is set in the summer of 1808, in parts of south west Scotland and the Isle of Arran. The main character is seventeen-year-old Davina McKie; the only daughter of a gentry family who is exceptionally gifted musically, but has been unable to speak since childhood. Her protective younger brothers hold the secret to her silence, which is slowly revealed in a story, loosely based on the biblical story of Dinah, the only daughter of Leah and Jacob.

Through some shocking and powerfully-told events, on midsummer’s eve, Davina’s innocence and carefree childhood disappear forever, to be replaced by impossible decisions and difficult secrets, which are gradually uncovered by unexpected subplots.

Throughout this sensitively crafted tale Davina extends forgiveness through huge measures of grace to those who have hurt and betrayed her, longing to see her loved ones walking the same path of self-sacrifice.

Each of the book’s eighty-two, short chapters commences with an intriguing epigraph, hinting at its direction, and ends on a precipice, which as the reader will discover, is more than just a metaphor.

Grace in Thine Eyes is the sequel to a trilogy of historical novels, which develop some of its characters. Nevertheless it can be read alone, with the reader catching glimpses of earlier events in their lives. As one of those readers, I look forward to enjoying further novels by Liz Curtis Higgs.

Additions to the story are hand drawn maps of the areas, author’s notes, questions for group or personal study and a Scottish glossary – which I wish I’d discovered earlier.

A beautiful, if harrowing story, which has much to commend it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bad Girls of the Bible - Liz Curtis Higgs

I really enjoyed this book by a prolific writer, of fiction, nonfiction and children’s literature. Bad Girls of the Bible is part of a series, including Really Bad Girls of the Bible and Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible. Liz Curtis Higgs’ purpose in writing this series is given in her subtitle – And What We Can Learn From Them.

Each chapter starts with a contemporary fictional story, which introduces a female Biblical character with whom there are similarities. Each made a bad choice in some way. The author grades ‘bad’ in terms of ‘Bad for a moment’; ‘Bad for a season, but not forever’; and ‘Bad to the Bone’. Each girl, both fictional and real, erred from God’s high standard for their lives, and that is what we all can identify with: none of us is righteous, without Christ’s forgiveness.

There are ten stories: seven from the Old Testament and three from the New Testament, interspersed and not in chronological order. Although the contents page lists the Biblical women whose stories are told, each chapter title allows for a little intrigue, enabling the reader to become absorbed in the fictional character, who slowly reveals her similar character traits. I found this a really clever and exciting writing ploy and was caught out more than once, failing to identify her until well into the story. I also liked the way the fictional story often ended on a cliff-hanger, leaving the reader to imagine what happened next.

Following the fictional story, each chapter then continues with a comprehensive Bible study and commentary on the real character. The author has drawn on a wide range of material and Biblical translations to illustrate her thought-provoking and lively narrative. The final two short sections look at the lessons we can learn from the character and a series of questions entitled Good Girl Thoughts Worth Considering, which can be used for group or personal study.

So, each chapter, plus a Study Guide at the end of the book, can be used as resources for small groups to explore together. The final section is an interview with the author called A Chat with Liz, where she shares her own story, how she identifies with her characters and how she came to write the series. Liz Curtis Higgs maintains that there is no substitute to researching the Bible for yourself, but hopes that her novel approach will encourage more people to learn valuable lessons from these ten women.

I certainly learned a lot and am now keen to read other books by this author. Highly recommended.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Lineage of Grace by Francine Rivers

This is the first book I have read by this author, who specialises in writing for women, about women. Francine Rivers has written five novellas about five different women in the Bible: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary.

The subtitle, Five unlikely women who changed eternity, explains the theme of the separate and complete narratives which are chronologically arranged to demonstrate the progression of those women who are specifically mentioned in the Biblical record of the lineage of Jesus Christ. Each woman had a significant role to perform, which she was often unaware of. We have the advantage of history, of reading their stories and of recognising how God chose ordinary and sometimes sinful or broken women to fulfil his purposes. The Grace of the Lord shines through every story, emphasising the book's title throughout.

Each novella has the Biblical record weaved into it, but as fiction it expands what are often brief or missing details: curious gaps in the story, which Rivers readily admits are her interpretation of what could or might have happened. As such the reader must bear that in mind when reading, recognising that this embellishment of the Scriptural record is just one way of looking at the events.

The little known story of Tamar, with its disturbing story of betrayal and abuse, touched me deeply, providing an insight into early Jewish culture. Both this story and the second, about Rahab, were really sensitively written, but retained the shocking element, which I have often missed or have not been impacted by, when reading the story in the Bible.

Ruth is a beautiful story which was very familiar to me, but this retelling brought fresh understanding of the relationship between Naomi and Ruth, especially of how difficult their everyday lives were. I enjoyed the first part of the story about Bathsheba, but then felt that the story diverted away from Bathsheba, onto David and contained too much historical detail about his later reign, before completing the story with Solomon’s accession to the throne.

Almost everyone has heard of Mary the mother of Jesus, but Francine Rivers’ portrayal of her was full of fascinating detail and very believable. I liked the way Mary retained her ordinariness throughout and how the enemy was represented tempting her mind. Another lovely embellishment was her growing relationship with disciple John, to the point where he accepts her as his mother, following Jesus’ final instruction from the Cross.

A six-part Bible study is included with each woman’s story, compiled by Peggy Lynch, inviting the reader to ‘seek and find’ through exploring the Biblical text. Thought provoking questions are included, which are suitable for individual or group study, and provide extra opportunity to reflect on the story just read.

I shall definitely read more of Francine Rivers' books. Thoroughly recommended!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Making It Happen - Jonathan Mantle

This hard-backed, glossy colour-photographed, book, is The I.M. Group Story, and the chronicle of how Bob Edmiston transformed himself from financial controller for the ailing Jensen company, in 1974, into a self-made millionaire, who was top of the UK charities giving list recently. Bob Edmiston is also the chairman of Christian Vision, the charity he started in 1988, and with which I have personal connections: my husband, Andy, working there since 1991. But this book is not the story of Christian Vision, although it is mentioned twice within Making it Happen. I.M. Group is the company name for a wide variety of business interests, including International Motors, from whom the name derives.

Starting from Bob’s birth, in India, and following the British family’s move to England, then Kenya and back to England again, it is not difficult to see how his entrepreneurial roots grew early in life. Including photographs of his grandparents and parents before his birth, this is a historical account of his working life, up to the 25th anniversary of I.M. Group in 2001.

Throughout the book, photographs of the people, cars and premises which form an integral part of the narrative are beautifully displayed in relevant places, making it easy to browse, using the photographic record as a guide. It is an ideal ‘coffee table’ book.

Bob’s Christian faith plays an important part in all his business dealings, and right from the point when he applied for the job at Jensen, he knew that God had big plans for his involvement with the company. Faced with the job of making the personnel, including himself, redundant, Bob saw an opportunity to start a company called Jensen Parts and Service Ltd, by buying 15% of its shares with his redundancy money. So, in May 1976, Bob and sixty-eight members of the previous Jensen workforce moved into small premises in West Bromwich. A testament of the loyalty he gave and received during those early tough times, can be seen in the many original staff remaining with the fledgling company over the twenty-five years. By the end of its first year, it had turned over £1 million.

Looking for ways to diversify, in 1977 Bob signed the first of many contracts to distribute foreign vehicles in the UK. Japanese, Subaru, followed by Korean, Hyundai, launched International Motors, in 1982, which then became I.M. Group in 1986. The company invested heavily in property, which was to prove itself time and again in the following years.

By the company’s 20th anniversary, Bob was the richest man in the UK’s, West Midlands, and the richest man in the motor industry, but retirement did not appeal to him in the slightest. This is where Christian Vision comes in and it is what keeps him motivated. The demand for charitable work will never be satisfied and as such will keep him busy for the rest of his life. Ten per cent of I.M.Group’s pre-tax profits are invested into Christian Vision, through two main branches, ‘Touch a Billion’, a network of radio stations throughout the world, and ‘Impact a Nation’, a unique method of making a significant difference in needy nations.

Bob started grooming his son, Andrew, for leadership within the company, and by its 30th anniversary in 2006, Andrew had already been involved for fourteen years, and was ready to take the company into its fourth decade (This event took place five years after Making It Happen was written).

This limited edition makes very interesting reading, especially for car enthusiasts. It is well worth it – if you can find one!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I am not but I know I AM - Louie Giglio

This intriguing title, has the subtitle 'My Small Story and God's Big Story'. Written by a man who is passionate about our insignificance compared to God's indescribable universe, this small book challenges our constant striving to make ourselves the centre of everything. In some ways it is a teaching manual for a meaningful lifestyle, being small, but presented in an unusual format.

Each chapter is set in a particular location, with a story involving that location; I particularly enjoyed the chapter set on the Zambezi River. But what sets it apart from other books is Giglio's use of font size and highlight, to contrast the largeness of God and the smallness of the reader. In places it's difficult to see the words referring to 'me', and this is a deliberate choice to demonstrate his message throughout the text. It's a clever ploy, which works, once you have got used to it.

Another clever aspect is the constant use of God's name, 'I AM' relating it to the verb, 'to be'. He has invented what he calls, the one-word Bible Study Method, where he encourages the reader to take a short passage of Scripture, and meditate on it, one word at a time. He provides several examples, which are fascinating, and encouraged me to try it for myself. It was an exciting exercise which I will continue.

The repeated use of the prefix 'be', as in become, belong, beloved, etc is another clever literary tool, which readers whose first language is not English may find difficult to follow. Nevertheless, he explains his reasoning very clearly with practical examples. His honesty throughout, applying the principles to himself first and then encouraging the reader to join him on his quest, is refreshing and endearing.

This is a book that is very diffcult to describe - you just have to read it and discover it hidden secrets for yourself.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dream Stories - Russ Parker

Subtitled, ‘A Journey into the Bible’s Dreams and Visions’, Dream Stories explores a topic which tends to polarize people: either dismissing or accepting that dreams can have meaning for our lives.

The author has a long history of research into dreams. He has published several books and believes that understanding our dreams can help bring healing and wholeness into our lives. He is also a poet, demonstrating his creative talent throughout Dream Stories. Each chapter closes with a poem based on the final section entitled, ‘Making it Personal’. Here, Russ applies the message of that particular dream, helping the reader to see how the principles revealed can be applied in practical situations.

The book follows the chronological order of dreams and visions in Scripture, from Jacob’s dream at Bethel, to Paul’s vision of the Macedonian. Each chapter follows a similar format, with a Scripture quotation of the dream or vision, using a range of Bible versions throughout. A full explanation of the circumstances and context then follows, with the message of the dream or vision, what happens as a result of it, the application for the reader, and finally a prayer in the form of a poem.

This is not an exhaustive study of dreams and visions in Scripture, as the author points out, but nevertheless it is an excellent introduction to the topic, as sixteen of the major dreams or visions, that many people are familiar with, are covered in this 160 page volume.

I particularly enjoyed the two chapters on Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, from the Old Testament and Joseph’s dreams, in the New Testament. There were many aspects of the context of the dream or vision that were new to me, and I found many of the dream applications helpful, being able to apply several of them to myself. The poem prayers provided a reflection and helped to sum up the main points brought out within the chapter just covered.

Although I have never received a dream which I felt was from God, I have had visions and pictures. Some of these have been related to areas of ministry which, in time, have actually begun emerge. As a result of reading this book, I will now pay more attention to my dreams and ask the Lord to speak to me when I sleep. Dream Stories has stimulated my interest in dreams and visions. I hope it does for you too.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Desert will Rejoice - Christine Parkinson

This is a very interesting book with a local connection, published by Authors OnLine. Christine Parkinson moved to Birmingham in 1984 because she believed God spoke to her through these words from Isaiah 35,

‘The desert will rejoice and blossom as the rose.’

Even though she had no family roots there and knew nothing about the city, she accepted a job and moved from West London. Three years later, whilst driving her usual route to a church meeting, her attention was drawn to a derelict building, together with the words ‘That’s the place!’, which she heard as an audible voice. She knew that God had plans for this dilapidated row of three former shops on a busy high street and set about finding other like-minded people to work with.

In the same year a Dutch woman living in Birmingham, received a revelatory picture of a large house with three roofs. After sketching a picture of her vision, she and her husband went searching for it, finding the same property that Christine, a short time later, was also drawn to. It then became clear to her that the name for this ministry was to become GILGAL, taken from Joshua 4-5, and meaning ‘New Beginnings’. At the same time God revealed the names of two other places, JERICHO – a place of blessing for people in need, and BETHEL – a place for the presence of God.

The Desert will Rejoice is the fulfilment of these revelations: of three separate projects, which over the next 20 years, multiplied into no less than sixteen different urban mission initiatives. The journey that Christine Parkinson, Maria Blom and a few others travelled was full of bureaucratic potholes, which drove them to the brink of despair and exhaustion more than once, but is nevertheless, a fascinating account of how God used ordinary people to have an extraordinary impact on a disadvantaged community of England’s second city.

There are photographs of the property restoration process, personal testimonies from people whose lives were transformed, examples from booklets used to explain particular projects and a chart detailing their proliferation.

This is a story of great courage, stalwart determination and miraculous interventions, which has parallels to the nation of Israel’s dramatic occupation of their Promised Land. The names of these foundation ministries were clearly given to mirror the Israelites experiences in taking land from their enemies and establishing God’s rule and reign among his people.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in inner city restoration together with others who long to illuminate the Light of Christ in their own communities.