Ted Dekker has peaked my interest once again! October of 2013, Dekker released his latest novel entitled Outlaw. The story takes place in Atlanta, Georgia in 1963. Julian Carter feels a calling to the mission field, so she and her two year old son board a boat headed to New Guinea. The ship runs into a huge storm and the captain is thrown overboard and her son is believed to be dead. Julian is found by a local tribe in New Guinea and taken slave. Dekker’s novel tells of how she must deal with the traditions of the tribe – one that disturbs her the most is how women are mainly seen as “baby makers” and only given value if they are able to have children.
About three-fourths of the story is told by Julian and the remaining one-fourth is told by Stephen (you’ll have to read the book to find out who he is…I don’t want to spoil the story for you). Dekker’s parents were missionaries in Indonesia when he was a child and he uses this experience quite a bit in his latest story. This book is definitely fiction, but he took some of the traditions and folklore of the tribes he saw growing up and used them as those of the fictitious tribes in Outlaw. There are two main themes in the book: 1) Discovering that your true identity is not based on what you can do for others (in Julian’s case, producing babies) and 2) Being able to forgive both yourself and those that have wronged you.
I highly recommend this book, as it kept me on the edge of my seat and it was very enjoyable. It would be best suited for those who are in their late teens or older, as there are some parts that may scare anyone younger.
Photo Credit: By Angel Roman
If you’re an avid reader, chances are you have a favorite author or two. Have you ever read a book by one of your favorite authors and felt a little disappointed? That’s how I felt with C.S. Lewis’ “Out of the Silent Planet.” It was published in the U.S. in 1943 and is the first book in a series called Space Trilogy (book 2 being “Perelandra” (1943) and book 3 being “That Hideous Strength” (1945)). To give you a better picture, Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe in 1950. Don’t get me wrong, I love C.S. Lewis, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get into “Out of the Silent Planet.” To me, it felt evident that this was one of his first attempts at fiction.
The whole premise of the book is that Dr. Elwin Ransom is kidnapped by Mr. Dick Devine and Dr. Weston. He is taken on a spaceship and left on a planet with which he is not familiar. Throughout the book he observes the creatures and environment of the planet. He gets to know several of the creatures and discovers that Oyarsa (one of the planet’s royalty-like creatures) has sent from him while he was on planet Earth. Beyond that, I honestly didn’t understand much of the book. I would try to read it and my eyes would glaze over with complete boredom.
Before I had read the book, I was wondering why it had never been made into a movie. After I read the book, I could easily understand why! There wasn’t much adventure to me…it felt like Ransom was in “observation” mode the entire book and I just couldn’t get into it. If you are a die-hard C.S. Lewis fan and you’re up for the challenge, I say go ahead and read “Out of the Silent Planet.” If you are just looking for a good book (or series of books) to read by Lewis, then I would suggestion reading “The Chronicles of Narnia” instead.
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The topic of God’s will can be very perplexing if we let it. We think of it as an equation: If I do “this” and then do “that” it will equal the will of God. It’s not quite that simple, or is it? I remember hearing someone say “Find where God is active in your life and join Him.” David G. Benner’s book Desiring God’s Will: Aligning Our Hearts with the Heart of God tries to shed some light on how we can truly desire God’s will, embrace it, and live in it.
This book is the third and final book in a series (Surrender to Love and The Gift of Being Yourself being the first and second books respectively). Its seven chapters include: Ways of Willing; My Kingdom, Thy Kingdom; Love and Will; Choosing God; Will and Desire; Choosing the Cross; Developing a Discerning Heart. I think Dr. Benner puts it best when he says, “Surrendering to God’s will makes little sense if we are not convinced of the depths of God’s love for us.” He further discusses how we get confused about God’s will thinking we must “know” it rather than how to “choose” it. He also talks about how we on our own don’t have the willpower to truly desire God’s will…that it is something for which we truly need Him to act on our behalf.
I found this final book to be an easy read and found myself eager to finish it to learn more about the topic of God’s will. I had several takeaways, but here are just a few:
- “What a tragedy if we lump choosing God in with things that are not naturally attractive. Is it any wonder that the thought of surrendering to God’s will evokes mixed feelings? Choosing God’s dream for us feels like choosing to take bitter medicine.”
- “Looked at carefully, willfulness is more against something than for something.”
- “The act of willing surrender is a choice of openness, a choice of abandonment of self-determination, a choice of cooperation with God.”
- “Discipline was, for Jesus as it should be for us, grounded in relationship and shaped by desire.”
- “We become love only only by surrender and self-sacrifice. The beginning of this journey is the return to ‘our Father,’ a journey that we take with the other prodigal sons and daughters who are brothers and sisters.”
- “God’s will cannot be separated from God’s kingdom.”
I highly recommend this book. It is more geared to those who are more established in their faith, but I also think that new believers would also be able to gain a great deal of knowledge from it as well.
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I lead a men’s small group through the church I attend. As a group, we decided to read and discuss the book The Grace of God by Andy Stanley. I had read What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey a few years ago, so I was interested in reading Pastor Stanley’s thoughts on grace. One of the guys in the group had found a free online study guide so we used that as well as just talking in the group as to what caught our attention, anything with which we agreed, and anything with which we disagreed.
The book itself is an easy at only 13 chapters. In each chapter, Pastor Stanley talks about one or two people from the Bible (like David, Adam & Eve, and Abraham) and how God gave them grace in their respective situations. Society as a whole typically believes the “What’s In It For Me?” or “That’s Not Fair (For Me)?” mentality and grace is a concept that goes against that way of thinking. With Grace, we are not given what we deserve…we are given what we DON’T deserve. In one of the chapters Andy reminds the reader of the parable of day laborers (Matthew 20:1-16). In this story you really see three versions of “fair” so to speak: 1) What a given day laborer thought was fair to himself 2) What other day laborers thought was fair with regards to another given day laborer 3) What the land owner thought was fair. If we went by what was “fair” which definition would we use? (Of course we would use the definition that most benefits us…but God chose to provide grace instead of what was “fair!”
With this book, Andy is not trying define what grace is, he is just showing examples of grace in the Bible in order for the reader to get a better understanding of it. If you are looking for a book that provides more of a definition or goes over the entire concept of grace, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” by Philip Yancey would probably be a better read for you. I really enjoyed this book and was constantly finding myself learning something new regarding God and grace. Here are just a few takeaways that I had:
- “Just as God was under no compulsion to create and provide, so mankind was under no compulsion to receive and reciprocate God’s love. Grace in its purest form can have no strings attached.”
- “When the one true God initiated his relationship with mankind, it didn’t begin with a command; it began with an invitation: will you trust me?”
- “The presence of sin means that sometimes we don’t get the good that we deserve. The presence of grace means that sometimes we don’t get the consequences we deserve. Grace is the vehicle God uses on occasion to ensure that we get precisely what we don’t deserve.”
- “God initiated a relationship with his people before he even told them what the rules were…Rules without a relationship lead to rebellion.”
I would definitely recommend this book either as a group study or something to read on your own. It has so much to offer and will help the reader get a better understanding and appreciation of God’s grace.
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Have you ever read a book that you felt was written specifically for you? The Gift of Being Yourself by David G. Benner was definitely that book for me. It is the second book in a series of three books (the first book being Surrender to Love and the final book being Desiring God’s Will) that a friend recommended to me. There are only six chapters so it really isn’t a difficult read.
The chapter titles give you an idea of the specific topics covered by the book: Transformational Knowing of Self and God, Knowing God, First Steps Toward Knowing Yourself, Knowing Yourself as You Really Are, Unmasking Your False Self, and Becoming Your True Self.
A few of the takeaways that I had from the book were:
- “Even when Jesus felt that God had abandoned him in the Garden of Gethsemane, his confidence in the love of the Father was so great that he still desired God’s will over his own. Jesus knew that he was loved whether or not he felt like it. His identity was grounded in God.”
- “Self-acceptance and self-knowing are deeply interconnected. To truly know something about yourself, you must accept it. Even things about yourself that you most deeply want to change must first be accepted — even embraced. Self-transformation is always preceded by self-acceptance. And the self that you must accept is the self that you actually and truly are — before you start your self-improvement projects!”
- “Until we are willing to accept the unpleasant truths of our existence, we rationalize or deny responsibility for our behavior.”
- “Knowing the depths of God’s personal love for each of us as individuals is the foundation of all genuine self-knowledge.”
- “The self that God persistently loves is not my prettied-up pretend self but my actual self — the real me.”
I highly recommend this book (and series) to anyone who is really struggling with self-esteem or self-image. This book helped me realize that it’s not my public persona (how I want to be seen) that God loves and wants to know…it’s the me behind closed doors that He wants me to embrace in order to truly reach my full potential, to become what He desires for me to be.
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September of 2008, I had the awesome opportunity to meet Brennan Manning. He was speaking at the NPCC Single’s Labor Day Retreat. Mr. Manning was a very meek individual who truly loved God. If you had seen him, he looked like any other senior adult who could have been someone’s grandfather. He shared with us his testimony – a story of alcoholism, being a priest, homelessness, and hitting rock bottom.
What I loved so much about Mr. Manning was after he spoke, we were given the opportunity to meet him. I asked him if I could have my picture taken with him and his response was “Why would you want your picture taken with me? I’m no one special. God is the one who did it all through me.” I was floored by his humbleness and in talking with him further, I knew that God had truly used this man to further His kingdom. He also signed my copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel with simply “In Abba’s Embrace – Brennan.”
As someone who loves to write, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to meet two of the authors who have had a huge impact on my life (Brennan Manning and Donald Miller) and both interactions left me loving these two authors even more than I did prior to the encounters. I was saddened to hear that Brennan Manning passed away last week. In memory of Mr. Manning, I wanted to share a few quotes from The Ragamuffin Gospel that really blessed me.
“The Kingdom is not an exclusive, well-trimmed suburb with snobbish rules about who can live there. No, it is for a larger, homelier, less self-conscious cast of people who understand they are sinners because they experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle.”
“God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to Him. I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness.”
“Over the years I’ve seen Christians shaping God in their own image — in each case a dreadfully small God.”
“The danger with our good works, spiritual investments, and all the rest of it is that we can construct a picture of ourselves in which we situate our self-worth. Complacency in ourselves then replaces sheer delight in God’s unconditional love. Our doing becomes the very undoing of the ragamuffin gospel.”
Many of us at one point in time have wondered who we truly are – do we believe who the world tells we are? Do we believe who we think we are? Ultimately, do we believe who God says we are? This is the premise of the book Eyes Wide Open by Ted Dekker. Initially, the book was released as four individual episodes (Identity, Mirrors, Unseen, and Seer) within a two month time frame, but they have since been released in one book. If you choose the “individual book” route, you may be able to find book 1 for free and then books 2-4 for less than $3 each (I think Amazon.com has the entire book for $6 as of today).
The book is about Austin and Christy, two teenagers who accidentally end up in an insane asylum (you’ll have to read the books to find out how). While trapped, the doctors try to convince the two that they are not who they think they are…but really Scott and Alice (existing patients). Austin is very quick to fight off these false notions, but Christy is not as lucky. She is convinced by the doctors that she would be happier if she had plastic surgery to become who they think she really is and not what she truly thinks of herself. This sounds very confusing, but once you start reading the book it will make sense.
Just when you think it is over, Dekker sends you down another path. Identity and self image are just two of the topics that are covered in this page turner. In true Dekker fashion, this book is tied into his whole “universe” of books. Make sure you read the Paradise Trilogy (consisting of Showdown, Saint, and Sinner) first if you haven’t…then read Eyes Wide Open. It’s okay if you haven’t read the Paradise Trilogy first – things will still make sense, but they will make even more sense if you’ve read the trilogy first.
I really enjoy Eyes Wide Open and think it would even make a great movie, if done properly. It is a must read for Ted Dekker fans and a great first read for those who are not familiar with his work.
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