Sunday, January 29, 2012

How Do You Know God's Your Father? A Review by Kathy Porter

How Can You Be SURE You're Headed to Heaven?

When it comes to where you'll spend eternity, many people hope they'll find a place in Heaven, while others just assume their place is secure.

Rather than guessing or presuming about the future, you can find in the book of 1 John a definite answer about where you stand with God. As you learn how a person's lifestyle reflects the character of the one to whom they belong--whether God or the devil--you'll learn exactly what it means to walk in light rather than darkness.

This enlightening study will lead you to the confidence, peace, and joy that come from knowing without a doubt that God IS your father and Heaven IS your home.

If you're similar to me, you probably find yourself often wondering the question, What does a genuine Christian look, and act, like? You know in your heart of hearts what one *should* look and act like, but attempting to live a Godly life in an ungodly world has taken a toll on you from some of the "Christians" you've met: The ones who may act pure and holy on Sunday at church and then dramatically switch personalities throughout the week.

In John 8:44, we are told--by Jesus--"You are of your father, the devil." *Ouch.* Here we thought God was our father. Bring on the doubts...

Struggling with doubts about our relationship with God is a terrible, horrifying, miserable way to live life. Wondering brings a lack of peace, hoping a sense of lessening confidence. **Anguish** is a theme to a life lived in this manner.

Yet, there is hope that brings peace which surpasses all understanding! *How Do You Know God's Your Father* is so much more than an average Bible study. The truth that shines throughout each of the six weeks invokes passionate emotions, from sheer joy and excitement to making even the most devout Christian feel uncomfortable, as only the truth can.

Other key themes that I found to be particularly helpful include: Walking in the light versus walking in darkness; knowing AND abiding in God; the ways God views our relationships with others; the importance of love; and eternal life.

Perhaps you, yourself, have been struggling daily with questions of where you might stand with God, or how to treat those you come across who claim to love God and serve Him, yet their actions have hurt you (on purpose) or you can't understand how to have a relationship with them. Yet, you find yourself not seeking the answers--or any form of help--for a lack of time. This Bible study is perfect for you. Throughout the course of six weeks, for only 40 minutes a day, your questions will be answered via Scripture, as well as your own involvement with each lesson.

Now is the time for personal growth. Now is the time to know God really is your father. Now is the time to ensure you're headed for eternal life in Heaven.

*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.*

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Forgiveness: Breaking the Power of the Past, a Review by Kathy Porter

Unleash the Healing Power of Forgiveness

As imperfect people living in an imperfect world, we eventually find ourselves needing to extend or receive forgiveness in nearly every relationship. But when the wounds run deep, forgiveness doesn't come easy.

This liberating study deals with the difficult questions of forgiveness, including "How can I forgive when the pain is so great? Does forgiving mean I have to forget the past? and "What if I choose not to forgive?" As you dig into what the Bible says on this vital topic, you'll encounter the depths of God's own mercy and discover how choosing forgiveness can free you from a painful past and propel you toward being all that God intends you to be.

The teaching team at Precept Ministries International has teamed up yet again to bring Christians all over the world the "40-minute-a-week" Bible study that has the potential to change lives.

Human beings disappoint one another. They "fail" them. It's all in human nature, as nobody is perfect. So, at some point in each person's life, he/she is going to be faced with the challenge of forgiving others, or forgiving one's self. Often, the latter proves to be a more daunting task. Forgiveness is not only the Godly thing to do, as God has forgiven all of us for our numerous sins, but it gives peace to all involved.

The Bible can be interpreted in just about any way a person desires. Individuals frequently use "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" to justify their private craving for vengeance. This common flaw in humanity is one of the most important reasons Kay Arthur, David and BJ Lawson, have united to create their 40 minute Bible studies, which take place over a course of six weeks. Rather than just simply listing scriptures to help guide humans in need of answers from God, a real-life scenario from the Bible (such as Joseph's ability to forgive his brothers) is connected to the questions specifically being addressed.

The amount of interaction involved in each week's study is also amazing. Each week, participants within the small group (or an individual study, such as the one I've embarked upon) are instructed to underline and circle key words, phrases, and pronouns within the Bible verses (supplied on the same page as the questions and observations). Discussion is heavily encouraged and topics for such discussions are provided.

There is no doubt in my mind that, when the right heart turns to the study, clings to the Scriptures, and gives God the opportunity to speak (as His word is the only truth in life), lives will be transformed, and the power of forgiveness will free individuals of their painful pasts.

To conclude, as stated by Kay Arthur, David and BJ Lawson, "Forgiveness may cleanse the soul, but it also unlocks the very chains that hold you captive to the person who wronged you."

*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.*

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fatal Deduction: A Review by Kathy Porter

One across…Three down…
The answer is in the puzzle.
The danger is in not solving it before time’s up.

            Libby Keaton longs to be close to her twin sister, Tori, but their lives have taken them in different directions. Forced to share Aunt Stella’s old Philadelphia home in order to receive their inheritance, Libby hopes for a change, but it isn’t looking good so far.
            First, Tori tries to steal the affection and allegiance of Libby’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Chloe. Then, when a crossword puzzle with a hidden warning shows up on their doorstep, Tori refuses to take it seriously—in spite of the dead man who delivers it.
            Libby finds comfort in neighbor Drew Canfield, but he hesitates to trust her after his disastrous marriage. As Libby struggles to act faithfully in the midst of these confusing relationships, she must also deal with a stolen diamond and a botched kidnapping. The answer to her problems lies in the riddles of the crosswords, if only she can solve the puzzles before it’s too late.
            I decided to take a break from reviewing my favorite genre, Historical Fiction, and try a fiction/suspense novel. I’m glad I did as Fatal Deduction from veteran author Gayle Roper turned out to be one of the most unique pieces of Christian literature I have read yet.
            The concept that individuals are kept from doing what is right out of a sense of fear is deeply explored through each emotional situation the main characters face. As Job once wrote in the Holy Bible, “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward,” yet the apostle Peter eternally reminds human beings to cast ALL of their anxiety to the Lord because he cares. This is one of the most beautiful aspects of the story Roper has given her audience. Every character essential to the plot is caught in an emotional upheaval—those who believe in the Lord with all their heart find their flaws coming to life while attempting to lead a Godly life in an ungodly world, particularly through the turmoil members of their family put them through. In this sense, Roper has presented reality. Fatal Deduction is a piece of contemporary Christian fiction, yet the reader doesn’t experience the story through rose-colored lens. It’s humanity at its highest and lowest points. Just as God has a purpose for each individual, our lives are all connected, in ways we cannot even begin to comprehend. We are destined to meet certain people…this destiny, an important gift in God’s will, sometimes leads us to second chances in life.
            Roper has also intertwined the concepts of murder, mental illness, forgiveness, peace, love, and mystery into each twist and turn in the plot. Readers interact with the characters as the actual crossword puzzles delivered to Tori are featured in the book, giving each audience member the chance to solve the puzzle.  
            From the moment readers pick up the novel, they will be intrigued to the other end, as they turn the pages very rapidly to discover which twist will unfold next. It is truly masterpieces, such as Gayle Roper’s novels, that are forever changing the shape of Christian literature to appeal to a wide variety of audiences. What an incredible testament to an author who has written novels for more than thirty years with more than forty-five books to her name.

*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.*

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Shape of Mercy: A Review by Kathy Porter

“We understand what we WANT to understand.”

Leaving a life of privilege to strike out on her own, Lauren Durough breaks with convention and her family’s expectations by choosing a state college over Stanford and earning her own income over accepting her ample monthly allowance. She takes a part-time job from 83-year-old librarian Abigail Boyles, who asks Lauren to transcribe the journal entries of her ancestor Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials.

Almost immediately, Lauren finds herself drawn to this girl who lived and died four centuries ago. As the fervor around the witch accusations increases, Mercy becomes trapped in the worldview of the day, unable to fight the overwhelming influence of snap judgments and superstition, and Lauren realizes that the secrets of Mercy’s story extend beyond the pages of her diary, living on in the mysterious, embittered Abigail.

The strength of her affinity with Mercy forces Lauren to take a startling new look at her own life, including her relationships with Abigail, her college roommate, and a young man named Raul. But on the way to the truth, will Lauren find herself playing the helpless defendant or the misguided judge? Can she break free from her own perceptions and see who she really is?

The Shape of Mercy, another novel from acclaimed author Susan Meissner is a Christian historical cautionary tale of the dangers that can happen when humanity abandons the grace of God. As Meissner does with the story she creates, the historical significance of the tragic events which occurred during one of our nation’s darkest periods, the Salem Witch Trials, brings together the lives of three generations of women who learn the very definition of love first-hand.

The significance the Salem Witch Trials can still play in today’s society boils down to the dreaded fear that, once someone says something untrue about another, as long as other people are ready and willing to believe the same misconceptions, that person is whatever believed to be. Once something is taken away, however, such as credibility and a respectable reputation, it can never be returned.

The story flows together very nicely, enticing all who pick it up until the last page is turned. Although a work of contemporary Christian fiction, the novel has all of the qualities of great secular pieces of literature—mystery, suspense, heartache, and lovable characters. There are a number of twists and turns which lead up to an unpredictable ending. The fingerprints of God are evident. God, Himself, set beside Meissner and breathed inspiration into her ear.

Expectations are a dangerous thing, as The Shape of Mercy’s readers will discover for themselves through the tales of each woman. Yet, one will not be disappointed by holding high expectations that the journey experienced throughout the 305 pages will be life-changing and present new perspectives on life.  May I be so bold as to suggest that this novel will haunt you—in a positive way—and challenge you to avoid presuming individuals are a certain way before you get to know the essence of their God-created souls?

Pick up The Shape of Mercy. It is living proof that God can—and will—use whatever He desires to inspire us all to make a difference in this world, regardless of what the world expects of us.

Forgive. Live. Love.

On a personal level, of all the great literary works I have read in my twenty-two years on this earth, I have never been so spiritually connected, involved, heartbroken, and changed by one solid title. It is further proof to me that things aren’t always as they seem. As challenging, difficult, and unfair as life can be, God always has a greater purpose in mind, even when it seems impossible to find a reason for needless, senseless, cruelties. As my heart broke for all Mercy Hayworth had to endure as the result of several young girls with a craving for evil—and furthermore, because lives were lost in reality—the beauty of God’s grace shone even brighter. When the world breaks us down, God lifts us up. Just as Meissner places the character of Lauren in the middle of Mercy and Abigail, He leads us to those we need most.

*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.*

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Sound Among the Trees: A Review by Kathy Porter

A house shrouded in time.
A line of women with a heritage of loss.

As a young bride, Susannah Page was rumored to be a Civil War spy for the North, a traitor to her Virginian roots. Her great-granddaughter Adelaide, the current matriarch of Holly Oak, doesn’t believe that Susannah’s ghost haunts the antebellum mansion looking for a pardon, but rather the house itself bears a grudge toward its tragic past.
When Marielle Bishop marries into the family and is transplanted from the arid west to her husband’s home, it isn’t long before she is led to believe that the house she just settled into brings misfortune to the women who live there.
With Adelaide’s richly peppered superstitions and deep family roots at stake, Marielle must sort out the truth about Susannah Page and Holly Oak— and make peace with the sacrifices she has made for love.   

A Sound Among the Trees, a novel by Susan Meissner, is an exemplary tale of love, forgiveness, relationships, and the grace of God. Painted against a beautiful Southern canvas in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and creatively intertwined with historical events, Meissner quickly grasps the attention of her audience in this psychological piece of fiction.
It is rare in literature that themes of Christianity collide with that of the paranormal world. Yet, Meissner succeeds in weaving the two together to illustrate the point that “ghosts” are merely “startling shimmers of the past” that are still visible from time to time. What happens, though, when those ghosts begin to control one’s life and curse all who enter?
While A Sound Among the Trees provides the perfect mixture of laughter (especially through the quirky Southern women portrayed) sentimentality, betrayal, and sadness, perhaps the beauty of the story truly does lie in the fact that the story told of one family’s relationships throughout generations is told through the eyes of a physical structure: Their house.
Houses are an emblem for refuge, not lies and broken promises, yet Holly Oak has become a tomb for buried truth due to the ugliness of the past. Through God’s love, however, one family is given the opportunity, the strength, and the bravery to conquer the demons of the past and learn to love life, and Holly Oak, in the process.
A Sound Among the Trees is bound to become a classic in contemporary fiction, leaving all readers with a hauntingly passionate outlook towards life, the secrets we keep, and the false perceptions our human minds sometimes create. Although the pace is somewhat slow, as the characters are revealed in depth, and the conflict of the story is laid out in great detail, the themes, struggles, heartbreaks, and joys are all very realistic. Meissner has created a great relate-ability factor.
From the opening of the book, and the turning of the first page, readers will be left wanting more—more from Meissner, more from the characters that reside at Holly Oak, and more from the familial relationships we all share. Your heart may even break a time or two, but you will be left smiling at the graciousness of a loving God, who loves and blesses His children, despite the past and gives the gift of moving forward.

*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.*

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball: A Review by Kathy Porter

Joy. Peace. Hope. Goodwill to men.

These are but just a few of the most beautiful words, and phrases, known to man. Throughout the hustle and bustle of the year, how often we forget just how sweet they sound--until the world joins together in a conspiracy of love at Christmas to rejoice, once more, in the birth of our Savior.

However, it is also in the hustle and bustle of Christmas that we can sometimes forget, or stop looking, for the purpose God has in mind for each individual. Love may seem completely lost. Yet, it is within the holiday season when we may open our eyes to the fact that love is not lost, but has rather been in front of our eyes, ears, and noses all along.

In Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball, Donita K. Paul remarkably weaves together the lives of Cora Crowder and Simon Derrick, two residents in a "sleepy, snow-covered city," as they begin to realize--as will readers--that hope is never lost.

Paul manages to intertwine spirituality, hope, faith, and mystery into every aspect of the plot, which is so often rare to come by in today's society.

Readers begin their journey as Cora Crowder stops in the magical, mystical, and yet mysteriously unusual Warner, Werner, and Wizbotterdad's bookshop to purchase a Christmas gift. From there, the plot only thickens as this trip to the bookstore also results in the surprise meeting, and encounter, she shares with Simon Derrick, a co-worker. When they both receive a ticket for a unique (for lack of a better term) Christmas ball, their lives are forever changed.

Not only is the story line entertaining--in fact, it's nearly impossible to put this novella down once started--yet the theme is much-needed in a sometimes cold, dark, world.

Things are not always as they seem, and seldom in the world of literature has this lesson been brought forth in such a special manner as Paul has perfectly demonstrated in this masterpiece.

Just as the booksellers of the uncommon bookshop strive to bring people together and then link them romantically, God IS matchmaker of our souls. When he decides to bring people together--for the ups and downs of life--it is meant to happen. Taking a risk can save our souls.

It would be easy to post a review which would contain several pages, as this novella is just that good, yet one last thought can sum up 226 pages: One primal spiritual truth for all individuals--regardless of their religious beliefs--is the fact that God loves us. He never intended for man to be alone. Yet, in our human minds and spirits, we sometimes believe we are destined to stay alone for the rest of our lives. When we are able to completely trust, and put love, into God's hands, though, the end results may be surprising. What more appropriate time to witness a miracle than Christmas?

Are you looking for a miracle in your life? Does your soul long to be inspired? Look no further than to Donita K. Paul's Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball. Your spirit will soar year-round as you breathe in the depths of God's love, relayed to you through an entertaining, fictional, story.

*I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.*