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The Screwtape Letters–twisting good into evil

The Screwtape Letters

by C.S. Lewis

Welcome to the inside-out, topsy turvy world of The Screwtape Letters, correspondence supposedly written by Screwtape, an experienced devil who is mentoring his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter, in the process of keeping the human assigned to him from becoming a Christian and making good choices. The human is considered a “patient.” God is called “the Enemy,” and Satan is referred to as “Our Father Below.” As you can imagine, this short book is not a quick read as you have to turn familiar designations of God and Satan, as well as your whole thought process, around so that the book will make sense.

First published in serial form in a newspaper, it is divided into chapters which are letters generally focused around one topic such as gluttony or humility and gives advice on how to twist things that God has created in beauty and purity into something that will draw the patient away from God and onto sinful paths.

I am glad I read this book, but I didn’t enjoy it in the same way I would an entertaining mystery or a gentle romance. It is quite witty with tongue-in-cheek humor throughout. It challenged my mind and spirit as I tried to decipher C.S. Lewis’ message. Reading The Screwtape Letters is rather like looking into a mirror. Beware! As you see a reflection of yourself in some of the passages, you may be inspired to make changes in your own life that will result in your reflecting God’s image rather than the one Satan would appreciate. With much food for thought, The Screwtape Letters could be read and studied many times, especially over the course of a lifetime, deriving a new depth of meaning applicable to you personally with each reading.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Fiction

Notes: C.S. Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century. He is the noted author of many works of fiction and nonfiction including The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity. The Screwtape Letters was originally published in 1942.

Publication: 1959—Macmillan Publishing Co. 

Memorable Lines:

All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear.

Music and silence…how I detest them both!…Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires.

And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.

Stay: Discovering Grace, Freedom, and Wholeness Where You Never Imagined Looking

Stay: Discovering Grace, Freedom, and Wholeness Where You Never Imagined Looking

by Anjuli Paschall

A spiritual journey is such a personal adventure. Anjuli Paschall shares hers in the book Stay. She also reaches out to other women encouraging them to lean into God through the irritations of daily life and the times of actual trauma and to stay with the pain of hard places because you’ll find God there. She suggests that, instead of building up walls of protection and withdrawing from the fray or working harder to force things to happen, we need to stay with Jesus and “drink life-giving water.” With intriguing chapter titles like “The Guard Shack: An Invitation to Make Mistakes” and “Old Spaghetti Factory: An Invitation to Hold On,” this book is filled with anecdotes and Paschall’s descriptions of how God led her to grow spiritually.

Paschal is a good writer and very effective at drawing the reader into her frame of mind as she navigates the various circumstances in her life. I highlighted many passages and agreed with most of the things she said. I am amazed at the number of turns in her life journey. She is the mother of five, wife of a pastor, photographer, founder of a social media site that helps other moms in truly desperate straits, and a spiritual counselor. Now add writer to that list.

Realizing that I am isolating statements that come from a rich context, I feel I must point out what I perceive to be a major conflict. Towards the end of the book, the author states “My one and only purpose in life is to be loved by God.” I disagree with that and she does too as earlier in the book she states: “We all have one calling. One deep, right, true, foundational calling in life—to love God and to love others.” That philosophy is found in the Bible in Matthew 22 in the New Testament and in Exodus 20 and Leviticus 19 in the Old Testament.  Although, I have a few points of disagreement, in general I find this book to be refreshing in the author’s honesty and transparency. She doesn’t try to appear to have it all together. She shares her fears and vulnerabilities as she also shares her hopes and dreams. She encourages women to abandon shame over never being enough and stay the course resting and trusting in Jesus.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Bethany House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Christian, Self-Help

Notes: Discussion questions are included.

Publication:   March 31, 2020—Bethany House

Memorable Lines:

I’m learning to be okay with my mistakes. They don’t define me or determine my worth, but simply direct me to God.

I believe we all can be placeholders of heaven for others. We can create a seat at a table, offer a single cup of coffee, leave bread on a doorstep, or clear an hour in our schedule. God will continually bring us people who are desperately in need of home. If we can embrace each other’s differences, move toward the disabled, welcome the foreigner, laugh with a child, talk with the elderly, all kinds of heaven can burst open like a flower in bloom here on earth. Even the tiniest spaces can become a place for others to taste eternity.

No amount of getting, accomplishing, or achieving will ever satisfy the soul. The soul focused on gaining power, influence, and admiration will only grow hungrier.

Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World

Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World

by Max Lucado

anxious for nothingWritten and published three years before the Corona Virus pandemic, Anxious for Nothing reads like it was penned for these desperate times. Author Max Lucado, by his own admission, is not perfect; he has experienced many of the same problems you have. You will enjoy his writing style which is simultaneously down to earth and exquisite in his turn of phrase. This book is filled with Scriptures that will encourage you during life’s difficult times. In it you will find examples from Lucado’s life and encounters with others in the form of anecdotes that illustrate Biblical principles. There are many references to the wisdom and guidance found in  the book of Philippians in the New Testament, but Max’s wording makes them easy to remember. He shares them as practical steps that will lead to a life with more calm and less chaos.

If I had to choose one book I would encourage everyone to read this year, it would be Anxious for Nothing. I usually include in my blog posts three memorable lines from the books I review. Never have I had a harder time including only three. Having heard Lucado’s online video study of this book, I can mentally hear him patiently, enthusiastically, and with understanding encouraging his readers. I can see the twinkle in his eyes as he shares one of his “secrets”: “God’s anxiety therapy includes a large, delightful dollop of gratitude.” I am grateful for the opportunity to share this book with you. 

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Nonfiction, Self-Help

Notes: Included at the end of the book are “Questions for Reflection” which could be used for individual or group study. There is also a useful guide that includes, by chapter, the Scriptures that are referenced by Lucado in the text. It would be very handy to use it to bring to mind God’s promises and truths as you are working through your personal times of chaos and daily struggles.

Publication:   September 12, 2017—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

The Lord is near! You are not alone. You may feel alone. You may think you are alone. But there is never a moment in which you face life without help. God is near.

Find a promise that fits your problem, and build your prayer around it. These prayers of faith touch the heart of God and activate the angels of heaven. Miracles are set into motion.

No more “if only.” It is the petri dish in which anxiety thrives. Replace your “if only” with “already.” Look what you already have. Treat each anxious thought with a grateful one, and prepare yourself for a new day of joy.

Empty Nest, Full Life: Discovering God’s Best for Your Nest

Empty Nest, Full Life: Discovering God’s Best for Your Nest

by Jill Savage

Empty Nest Full LifeParents, but mothers in particular, spend almost twenty years preparing their children to fly out of the nest and into the world of adulthood. It turns out that the releasing can be as hard as the preparation. There are issues of control, especially if you have boomerang kids. Mothers are good at piling guilt on themselves when things don’t work out perfectly or as expected for their kids. Grandkids are a blessing, but they come with their own set of issues. The list goes on and on.

Jill Savage, a speaker and teacher of the Bible, who has endured her own personal trials, shares Biblical wisdom and personal anecdotes to illustrate her viewpoints on various subjects related to the “empty nest” in Empty Nest, Full Life. The first half of the book is entitled “Let Go!” and discusses the problems encountered during the empty nest season. It speaks of letting go of expectations, guilt, opinions, traditions, your child’s problems, and your own idols (the things that steal your attention away from God, the things you use to identify yourself). Part Two is called “Hold On!” and within that section lie ideas for what to actually do during that season of the empty nest. Savage encourages you to grab hold of a new mission field, passions, and friendships. She encourages you to revitalize your marriage and your relationship with God.

Each chapter closes with a truth from the Bible, an action step, and a prayer. The book itself ends with encouragement for the next season, a list of questions to help you identify current or past baggage that has affected your marriage, reference notes, and a discussion guide for a leader to use in a small group setting.

My personal nest has been empty for a number of years so I am not approaching or in the middle of an empty nest crisis. I would imagine, however, that this book would be helpful for those wondering how to deal with their new found “freedom.”

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Moody Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Christian, Parenting and Family

Publication:   August 6, 2019—Moody Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Expectations will get us in trouble every time. They set us up for disappointment and leave us feeling disconnected.

Studies indicate the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of twenty-five. Yes, that means that our kids are now setting their own priorities when they’re not actually fully equipped to do so.

My friend Becky says that when she’s tempted to address something with her adult son, she tries to think of how she would address it with a friend. Most of the time she realizes she wouldn’t address it with a friend at all! This helps her find self-control and pray instead.

Just in Case You Ever Wonder–created by God

Just in Case You Ever Wonder

by Max Lucado

illustrated by Eve Tharlet

Just in Case You Ever WonderA gifted storyteller for both adults and children and known as “America’s Pastor,” Max Lucado has a way with words and thoughts. In  Just in Case You Ever Wonder, Lucado has captured some of the most important truths of reassurance in the Bible in a book he wrote for and dedicated to his daughters many years ago. In this newly published version, Eve Tharlet created soft and welcoming illustrations that feature bears as the characters instead of people. I am enchanted by this book that talks about God’s love and the parent’s love for his child. It provides reassurance for a child that both God and the parent will always support and love the child through good times and bad. The bad times are age appropriate—monsters in the dark, bullies, and bad days at school. It skirts the issue of death while describing the promises of heaven. I think every home with small children should have a copy: it will indeed be a favorite bedtime story.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Children’s Nonfiction

Publication:   August 6, 2019—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

The same hands that made the trees and the moon and the sun made you. That’s why you are so special. God made you.

If you looked all over the world—in every city, in every house—there would be no one else like you…

I knew in my heart God had sent someone very wonderful for me to take care of.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You

The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You

by Shannan Martin

The Ministry of Ordinary PlacesWhere is a Christian’s mission field? You know, the ordinary person who has not been called to go to another country? Shannan Martin in The Ministry of Ordinary Places says it is wherever God has placed you. She doesn’t advocate passing out pamphlets, cornering people, or pushing invitations to come to church. Instead, we are to love people, listen to them, invite them into our homes, be available to them and to the opportunities to help them as God presents them to us.

As a rural introvert, Martin has had to change a lot in opening her heart, time, and home to her neighbors in a multicultural setting. She had to “choose the comfort of the past or the struggle of moving forward.” She learned that hospitality is not perfection in entertainment; it is extending invitations willy nilly, throwing together some tacos, and letting God take it from there. She has learned to receive kindness from others, understanding the cost of that kindness from someone who is down and out.

Martin’s story is engaging, and her writing style is excellent from the humorous “Go with God, good middle school bus driver. You are a rose among loud, hormonal, Hot-Cheetos-for-breakfast-eating, lanyard-flipping thorns” to sharp edged descriptions such as “She has known the desolate landscape of struggle. Hunger and wanting blow through her life like gale-force winds through a thin cotton jacket.” There is magic for the reader in words like these.

Martin does not believe in pushing Jesus down anyone’s throat; she makes her own heart accessible and invites others into her life where they not only see, but feel, the impact of Jesus on individual lives.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian

Publication:  October 9, 2018—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Only as we engage in the hidden practice of listening do we learn about the struggles of others, gaining empathy where we one cast judgement.

It’s so easy to tip into judgment when we view the world through an us-them dichotomy. Sitting face-to-face, the problems loom larger and we have to contend with the sticky fact that there is simply always more to the story.

…we are all longing to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes we get so hung up on doing something great, we forget the best thing is often the smallest.

The Secrets of Paper and Ink–God’s working it out

The Secrets of Paper and Ink

by Lindsay Harrell

The Secrets of Paper and InkThe lives of three women cross in Lindsay Harrell’s novel The Secrets of Paper and Ink. Sophia is a women’s therapist in Arizona who finds herself in the need of therapy. Ginny is a formerly rich American who abandoned that life to follow her husband to Cornwall, England, to open a bookstore. Their lives cross when Sophia, who needs more healing time, answers Ginny’s ad for a vacation rental. They find a notebook with the story of Emily Fairfax, a woman who lived in the mid 1800’s. Sophia becomes obsessed with learning more about Emily.

Each of the three main characters has to deal with a problem particular to women—abuse, abandonment, and discrimination. The author handles all of these issues with respect. The plot pops back and forth with each chapter focusing on one character, but with Ginny and Sophia’s stories overlapping in real time. Both ladies are impacted by Emily’s story, and there is a delightful surprise ending. Readers who delight in all things bookish will particularly relish this book as it includes a wonderful bookstore, journaling, and a female author in a time period when that was unacceptable. Readers who enjoy a good Christian romance will take pleasure in the gentle ways in which the characters’ interest in God is reawakened. Lastly, historical fiction buffs will appreciate the inclusion of Emily’s story.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Christian Fiction

Publication:   February 26, 2019—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

But no matter what she felt, she knew deep down that her story did matter. She had to fight against the lie that it didn’t. And if she didn’t protect her own story or have the courage to write it down, no one else would. No one else could.

My senses rang with the cacophony of the muffin man’s bell, the clamor of the clarinet player on the corner, and the clickety-clack of the pattens on ladies’ feet.

Someone had finally noticed me drowning and offered to point me in the direction of the shore. Now it was up to me to keep stroking through the water until I reached the sandy beach beyond.

Thunder of Heaven–the power of love

Thunder of Heaven

by Ted Dekker

Thunder of HeavenIn reading Ted Dekker’s Thunder of Heaven, I deviated somewhat from the types of books I usually read. My thirteen year old granddaughter recommended this Christian thriller, and I wanted to gain insight into her reading preferences. Having said that, I should clarify that Thunder of Heaven is not written for the younger reader; it is an adult novel without the inclusion of sex or vulgar language. I do not normally read thrillers; but, although suspenseful, this is not the kind of psychological thriller which will keep me up for nights to come. 

Shannon and Tanya have grown up in the jungles of Venezuela where Shannon’s parents are coffee farmers and Tanya’s parents are missionaries. Their blooming romance and happy lives are interrupted by horrific events in this action packed story that focuses on good versus evil, the sacrifices of love, and God’s bigger plan.

I had some confusion with the identity of the characters, but it eventually surfaces that the confusion is intentional and is resolved in the end. The plot is strong and intricate. The Venezuela jungle setting is interesting, well depicted, and perfect for the tale Dekker weaves.

Thunder of Heaven deals with some of the bigger spiritual questions. Can God use evil for good? Can a person become possessed by satanic powers? Can a Christian have a vision from God? What is the ultimate sacrifice? The exploration of these topics is not simplistic and is woven throughout the book coming to a head in the resolution of the conflict.

I am new to Dekker’s work, but Dekker is not new to suspense aficionados. A best-selling author, he has written over thirty books which have been translated into multiple languages. Two of his works have been made into films. His chosen genres for his storytelling are thriller and suspense, fantasy and speculative, and historical fiction. I’m looking forward to reading more novels by this author.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Thriller, Christian Fiction

Notes: Thunder of Heaven is book 3 of the Heaven Trilogy, but as the publisher says, “Each is a stand alone story that in no way depends on the other.”

Publication:   August 28, 2005—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

“If your life made too much sense to you, you might forget about God altogether. It is man’s most prolific sin—to be full of himself. But your tormenting has left you soft, like a sponge for his words. It’s your greatest blessing.”

“We see only the terrible tragedy; he sees more. He sees the ultimate glory.”

Abdullah was no one to play with. His heart was the color of his eyes, Yuri thought. Black.

Father…dear God, I’m lost down here. Forgive me. I’m lost and lonely and confused. I hate this man and I hate that I hate him. And I don’t even know if that’s possible! What are you doing? What is your purpose here?

God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road: A Biker’s Devotional

God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road

by Tim Riter

God, a Motorcycle, and the Open RoadI couldn’t imagine what a devotional with a motorcycle focus would be like. If you are a motorcycle rider or aficionado, then the answer found in Tim Riter’s God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road is fascinating, inspiring, and FUN. It could be read over the course of a year with one chapter per week, allowing the reader to absorb and apply the Biblical truths. One day I may do that, but for this reading I devoured, it not wanting to put it aside.

Having logged more than 240,000 miles on two wheels in 46 states, Tim Riter loves short rides, long rides (including Iron Butt), hot and cold rides, solo and group trips. He loves God and sees a strong connection between motorcycling and his faith. The chapters in God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road are formatted to begin with personal anecdotes from Riter’s many motorcycle trips. Then he finds lessons in the stories and connects them to spiritual truths. He finishes each section with “Kick-Starting the Application,” encouraging readers to challenge themselves.

Come along with God and Tim on motorcycle adventures, some painfully hilarious stories by a master storyteller, and some life changing lessons. You will be glad you did.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Harvest House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Religion and Spirituality

Publication:   April 2, 2019—Harvest House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Why does God sometimes rescue some of his people and not rescue others? I have no clue….But I do trust his love even more than I trust his power. I suspect that’s the key. God’s omniscience trumps our finite knowledge. I’ve seen enough of his love to have faith in it.

Honda’s engineers want to provide the best riding experience. The closer we follow their design, the better we ride. God wants to provide our best life experience. The closer we follow his design, the better we live.

Frankly, leaning on God sometimes makes no more sense to our finite minds than does leaning a bike into a curve at speed. But that lean allows us to get through the curve. And reminding ourselves that God loves us in all of our trials and failures, that he always works for good, allows us to survive the curves of life.

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered

by Lysa Terkeurst

It's Not Supposed to be This WayWe all have had or will have painful, disconcerting times in our lives—times when we feel that life is not supposed to be the way it is. Lysa Terkeurst, in It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, shares three major struggles she has been through over the course of a three year period. This book was written in the midst of these extremely hard times when the pain, both physical and emotional were still raw. She talks of her profound agony and grief in hopes that others will benefit from what she has learned and from having a friend walk alongside them through dark times. The despair we feel comes from disappointment which Lysa defines as the difference between our expectations of what life should be like and our reality.

Lisa had to face life-shattering, life-altering and potentially life-ending events with all of the usual questions. Why me? Why now? Regardless of the reader’s circumstances, they will be able to identify with the depth of Lysa’s pain even if the source is different.

This book is not a Hollywood style “tell all.” Lisa only shares enough of the details of her trials for the reader to understand that any one of these events could be more than a person could bear, and Lysa experiences three of them in a short timespan. She tells how she struggled against attacks from within and without and how leaning into God’s word and truth and love sustained her.

Lysa’s writing style is honest and accessible. She is a Bible teacher who has applied the truths of the Bible to her unique circumstances but is also able to show how they apply to anyone who feels that life is not supposed to be the way they are experiencing it. With chapter titles like “But How Do I Get Through the Next 86,400 Seconds,” you know that Lysa “gets it.” She understands just how making it through the tiny portions of one day can constitute a huge struggle.

Each chapter concludes with a “Going to the Well” section that summarizes the major points, provides related Scripture references, and offers questions to reflect on. She ends it with a heartfelt, from-the-soul prayer as she continues reaching out to and trusting in God, the source of her strength for the ache in her soul.

Rating:  5/5

Category: Christian, Nonfiction

Notes: Also available, a video teaching series for this book

Publication:   November 13, 2018—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Humans are very attached to outcomes. We say we trust God but behind the scenes we work our fingers to the bone and our emotions into a tangled fray trying to control our outcomes.

No, I believe it took every bit of holy restraint within Him to not step in and remove my pain. He loved me too much to do the very thing I was begging Him to do. He knew things I didn’t know. He saw a bigger picture I couldn’t see. His mercy was too great. His love too deep.

The thrashing winds of the storm are gone, but the consequences make it impossible to return to something that feels normal. We make brief visits to normal, but there’s a lot of emotional debris to which we must tend. Little by little, we make progress in the two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of way.

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