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The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. - Jane Austen

C.S. Lewis – The Problem of Pain

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For centuries people have been tormented by one question above all: If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?

This is the question that C.S. Lewis is attempting to answer in this book, The Problem of Pain. And if you’ve ever read a C.S. Lewis book before, you’ll know that he is very good about writing the book he wants to write (unlike the last book I read).

Splitting the book up into small sections, Lewis unravels the answer to this oft-asked question in such a way that you can’t doubt that he is right. He writes in such a considerd way, I found myself nodding along with what he was saying constantly.

That said, Lewis is a very clever man. And in some places, I found myself re-reading the same paragraph over and over again because I just couldn’t get what he was trying to say. Obviously the fault there is entirely mine, but I would definitely not recommend you try and read this book when you’re tired or just before bed when your mind has a tendency to drift.

I feel like this is the kind of book you can read again and again and get something new from it each time. I’d say that if you’re new to Christianity and you want the ‘problem of pain’ to be answered, there are probably books out there that are easier to read, but I doubt any of them are as coherently put together and in such detail as this.

As with all Lewis books, there are so many quotes that I could pick as my ‘favourites’, but I have managed to narrow it down to two which made me put the book down and think ‘wow’.

“The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you – you, the individual reader.”

“In all discussions of Hell we should keep steadily before our eyes the possible damnation, not of our enemies nor our friends (since both these disturb the reason) but of ourselves. This chapter is not about your wife or son, nor about Nero or Judas Iscariot, it is about you and me.”

I’ll definitely be coming back to this book again in the future, probably many many times.

Jonathan Falwell – 1000 Days: The Ministry of Christ

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I’m in two minds on this book. On one hand, I feel like when I was reading it, I did find myself nodding in agreement with things that were said. But on the other hand, I started reading this book in July last year and have only just finished it. Usually if I really get into a book, I read it pretty quickly, especially one like this that wasn’t very long.

The book professes to take us on a journey through the roughly 1000 days of Christ’s ministry on earth, from his baptism in the River Jordan, through to his death and resurrection.

And I guess it did what it said , my only complaint would be that we spent less time actually ‘in the Bible’ and studying the readings than we did reading anecdotes that didn’t to me always seem related to the part of the Bible we were talking about.

The book assured us that we would ‘study’ and ‘look closer’, but I felt like we were barely scratching the surface. I expected a more in depth study on some of the subtleties that we may not notice on first (or second or third) read, but I just didn’t get that.

If you’re looking to learn about Christ’s ministry on earth, I’d say you would probably be better off reading it directly from the gospels than hoping you would get much more insight here.

Paul Williams & Barry Cooper – If You Could Ask God One Question

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I’ve had this book on my Amazon wishlist for ages, and my lovely sister bought it for me for Christmas. It’s something that I’ve been asked a few times this year on the various courses I’ve done at Church – If you could ask God one question, what would it be? I always struggle with this to find a question that doesn’t sound stupid, but a lot of the questions I think of are included in this book.

The questions include things like ‘If you are there, why don’t you just prove it?’ and ‘What about people who believe in other religions?’.

The book is intended to be read as a book, not just to skip to your particular question and then leave it, as some answers refer to previous questions in order to be answered fully.

All the questions were answered with a strong grounding in the Bible, with references provided for all the points that the authors made, which I loved as it felt like they’d properly researched the book and weren’t just making it up as they went along, which is always a worry when buying a book like this from authors you’ve never heard of.

I did feel like some of the questions weren’t answered fully; if I was coming to this as a brand new Christian, or even someone with no faith at all, I might have felt a little disappointed by a couple of the answers. But most questions were answered very sufficiently, and I did find myself nodding my head and saying ‘ahhhhh yes’ at certain points.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who has questions about their faith that they haven’t been able to find the answer to, as this could definitely help. You can pick up a copy very cheaply on Amazon – just check out the links at the right!

Raechel Myers & Amanda Bible Williams – She Reads Truth

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The anticipation for this book was immense. I heard about the book when it was first announced on the She Reads Truth website, I eventually got around to pre-ordering it a month before it came out, but Amazon made me wait until an entire month after the release date before I actually got my hands on it! I don’t know why it took so long, but when it arrived I was dying to read it!!

And like the She Reads Truth reading plans I’ve been following for the past year, it did not disappoint. The subtitle for the book is ‘Holding Tight to Permanent in a World That’s Passing Away‘, and (as I interpreted it), it was all about making sure that you anchor your life on the things that matter (i.e. God), and not on the things that are unimportant; all those things we make such a fuss about, but that in the end, we can’t take with us.

Threaded through the book are very personal narratives from the two authors. In the book, they’ve laid themselves completely bare, and it made me feel totally connected to them in a way I haven’t in a book for a long time.

In thinking about what quotes I wanted to pull in here from the book, I was left with way too many to list all my favourites. But what I will leave you with is my absolute favourite quote, which I read on the bus on the way home from work. It spoke to me so deeply, and I read it over and over again on that journey thinking that the book was speaking directly to my heart.

“In God’s Word I’m reminded that I don’t secure my standing before him by any guarantees I make, or even those I manage to keep. I am secure because He holds me in the safety of His covenant, the same covenant he has kept for generations past and will keep for generations to come.

The promises I make to God don’t impress him. They don’t score bonus points in some heavenly account. Ultimately only one promise is necessary, only one guarantee is required: The promise he’s made to me. And that promise has already been kept, sealed, for eternity. I can rest in it. I can stop making my own.”

Every Christian woman should read this book. It was the best read I’ve had in ages, and spoke so many truths to my heart about His Truth.

Steve Ross – Marked

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I recently went on our Church Parish Weekend, and had the pleasure of helping out with one of the youth groups for the weekend. One of the resources given to each of the children during the weekend was a copy of Marked by Steve Ross. It’s a graphic novel representation of the Gospel of Mark, something I would never have even though of reading.

But like some of the kids, I went back to my hotel room the first night we’d been given it and read the whole thing in one go, I think I stayed up past 1am just so I could finish it. I was completely gripped by the style of the presentation and the unusual take on some of the familiar stories.

It’s amazing how you can think of something in a brand new light when someone presents it to you in a way you’ve never seen before, and this novel achieved that many times, so many ‘a-ha! moments’.

I’d recommend this to any young teenagers (our group was 9-14 years old), and also to older teens and adults who just want a different take on the gospel to refresh their minds. It was great later in the weekend as we read through the NIV version of the gospel to see the kids relating it back to the images they’d seen in the novel and the way they lit up. Simply brilliant.

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C.S. Lewis – The Great Divorce

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I don’t think I’ll ever fail to be amazed by the imagination of C.S. Lewis. The ideas that he has and the way that he approaches them are simply genius.

I took this book with me on our recent Church Parish Weekend away at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick. I couldn’t think of a better place to read, sitting by the side of the lake and being surrounded by nature, it was perfect!

Reading CS Lewis - The Great Divorce

It’s quite a brief book at only 146 pages, taking us on a journey through heaven and hell and demonstrating our power to choose between our selfish selves, and salvation and eternal life. We, along with the narrator, overhear many conversations between those that live in heaven and those that have come up on a journey from hell to decide if they are to change enough to take their place there.

The conversation that resonated most with me was one where the ‘visitor’ realises that the heavenly person that had come to meet him was a murderer while he was living on earth. The visitor couldn’t believe that the murderer had made it to heaven, and he was unwilling to go to heaven if this man was there, as he didn’t believe that he belonged in the same place or that the ‘murderer’ should be forgiven. It’s really easy to judge people by their actions, but it’s also really easy to forget that you don’t know their heart or their circumstances. God doesn’t condemn us for bad decisions; as long as we truly repent, we can be forgiven. I think not judging people is much easier said than done, but this was a good reminder that God loves us all the same.

I had so many favourite quotes that I probably couldn’t write them all here for fear of publishing the whole book, but I’ve picked a couple that really stood out to me.

The first is when a ‘visitor’ to heaven can’t believe that people that were famous on earth are no longer distinguished in the same way in heaven. The reply he gets is as follows:

“But they aren’t distinguished – no more than anyone else. Don’t you understand? The Glory flows into everyone, and back from everyone: like light and mirrors. But the light’s the thing. They are all famous. They are all known, remembered, recognised by the only Mind that can give a perfect judgement.”

The second is when another visitor is trying to defend her feelings towards her son, with “What right have you to say things like that about Mother-love? It is the highest and holiest feeling in human nature”. The response is this:

“No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods”.

A stark reminder that we need to make sure that God is the centre of our lives and that we let him guide our actions and our feelings. If we let our feelings take the reins instead of God, things will go bad.

What I liked most about this book that it didn’t feel preachy or like it was pushing morals in your face. It was more gentle and subtle reminders of unhealthy behaviours that we need to keep in check. If you weren’t a Christian, you could probably enjoy this book as a fantasy about heaven and hell, but as a Christian, it set off sparks in my mind that have continued long after I finished reading.

Confirmation and First Communion

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Today was my confirmation at Church. Since coming back into my faith last year and starting attending Pudsey Parish Church, I’ve done lots of things that have made my life so much better, I’ve started going to a weekly Cell group, I’ve been through the Alpha Course, and I’ve met loads of wonderful people.

So at the end of the Alpha Course when the Vicar said he’d be running weekly sessions at the Vicarage to prepare for Confirmation, I knew this was the right time. Since the beginning of January, I’ve been going to these classes with a small group of people, and tonight the Bishop of Richmond, Paul Slater, came to conduct the service, which started with our confirmation and then we all took Communion together, which was absolutely great.

I can still say that my decision to go to see Archbishop Sentamu at the Civic Hall last year was one of the best I’ve made, my life is so much better now!

Review: A. J. Jacobs – The Year of Living Biblically

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20140531-220146-79306212.jpgI decided to read this book as a bit of an impulse. When I joined the library, I was looking around to see what kind of books they had, and I took a look at their religious section. This one kind of jumped out at me, it looked like an interesting concept: a guy decides that he’s going to spend an entire year living to the rules in the Bible. I couldn’t help but pick it up and see what it was all about!

Obviously some rules are easier to keep than others: Thou shall not kill for one. But things like not cutting your beard, not sitting in a seat after a woman has done so during her ‘unclean’ time of the month and not wearing clothes of mixed fibres are slightly more difficult to stick to.

As expected, I found the book to be quite funny, but mainly I found it very insightful. During his quest, he decides to talk to as many people as he can, from the neighbourhood Rabbi to the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the extremely evangelical Christian groups of Southern America, it was very interesting to see the many different ways that the Bible can be interpreted, and how people use the same verse to justify wildly different behaviour.

I loved the way that the author fully immersed himself in the journey, tackling the harder parts as well as the easier ones. Starting the year as an agnostic, non-practicing Jew, the culture difference is immediately apparent, especially since he’s having to drag his wife and young son along on the journey with him, and there are many times when you can sense that his wife is shaking her head and wondering what is the point.

By the end of the book, he is changed in ways that he might not have expected, and I think I was too. It’s quite easy to just disregard some of the rules in the Bible as being not applicable to this day and age, and to believe the hype that the Bible forbids homosexuality and other behaviour that is completely normal nowadays, but as A.J. finds out, verses of the Bible can be interpreted in different ways, and a lot of verses are almost certainly not supposed to be followed word-for-word.

I absolutely loved the book, although I found the ending slightly disappointing. We spend nine months of the year on the Old Testament and only three months on the New Testament. Granted, the Old Testament does contain more of the ‘rules’ and guides for life, but I felt that the New Testament section of the book was a little rushed and more like it was tacked on the end. I would have liked this part to be a little more fleshed out, but I can understand that as he was brought up in a Jewish family, the New Testament would not have been as comfortable to follow.

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone, Christian or not. It’s an eye-opener, and you might just find yourself learning something and becoming more tolerant of other people.

5/5

 

Review: Michael Mayne – A Year Lost and Found

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Michael Mayne - A Year Lost and FoundSometimes, a book comes into your life at just the right time, and this was so perfectly timed it’s untrue.

I only picked it up by a random choice when I was browsing the religion section at the library. It stuck out to me for some reason so I checked it out. And it turned out to be completely perfect for what is going on in my life right now.

Michael Mayne was a priest struck down with a seemingly mysterious illness. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong and he spent most of his days in bed, unable to summon the energy to move. Eventually, after being shunted from doctor to doctor for test after test, the doctors told him it was probably some kind of post-viral syndrome, which could clear up in days, or it could take up to a year.

This is quite similar to my dad. He’s been spending the majority of his time in bed since last August, when he suddenly lost all energy and found it extremely comfortable to sit up for any long period of time. He’s not asleep when he’s in bed, just completely lethargic – like the author. And the doctors have diagnosed ‘extreme jet lag’, one of the things that was suggested to Michael.

The first half of the book took you through Michael’s year of illness, the highs (not many) and the lows (a lot). The second half of the book is the Michael talking about how he relates this to his experience of God, and how he doesn’t lay the blame for his illness, how suffering has a higher purpose. The book was a great (and very personal) story about illness and hope, perfectly timed to give me the hope I needed.

My favourite quote from this book was:

“Nowhere is Jesus more powerful than in his passive suffering on the Cross. Nowhere does he show more clearly the truth of the passive, suffering God whose hands are tied by love.”

4/5

Review: C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity

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cs-lewis-mere-christianityLike I said in my last post, I didn’t really know what to expect with this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. I’d only ever heard of the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, so I didn’t know he’d written anything more ‘serious’, but this was definitely a lot different to Narnia.

Lewis was asked by the BBC during World War Two to give a series of lectures about Christianity and this book is a collection of the lectures. There is a foreword by Lewis where he lets us know that he has re-worded the lectures to make them easier to read (instead of easy to listen to), changing a few words here and there.

The book in the first part spends a lot of time arguing the case for Christianity and why there must be a God. If you had any doubts before reading it, he does a very good job of persuading you. I think this book is based a lot on his conversion to Christianity after spending much of his life as an atheist, so it has a lot of personal feeling in it, but still very carefully structured and well thought out.

He then goes on to talk about Christian virtues and behaviours. First of all the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. After talking about these, he then moves onto the three theological virtues: hope, faith, and charity.

One of the most memorable parts of the book for me was this one:

“That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or – if they think there is not – at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.”

Apart from the fact that this verse really got stuck in my head, I love the way that Lewis used the metaphor of the greenhouse to sum up exactly what he meant. He does this a lot throughout the book to make his points clearer or easier to understand, which I can imagine was helpful when listening to the BBC broadcasts. It’s similar to what Jesus did when he told his parables, to make sure that everyone can understand what is being said.

I’m extremely glad that I picked up this book after reading so many recommendations about it, and I would highly recommend it to everyone. It definitely makes you think a lot about your actions and the things you have been doing in your life. If you’re one of the blogs that recommended the book – thank you!

5-5