Thursday, December 24, 2009

20 books John plans to read in 2010

Jean inspired me with her list of books to read in 2010.

Four novels:

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen 22nd January - 4th December

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin 6th - 14th March

My brother will probably be surprised that I haven't read this... but I received it as a Sinterklaas present from Kara, so I have no excuse now.

Bachelors Anonymous by P. G. Wodehouse 7th - 8th January

This is one of ten Wodehouse books that Kara brought into our marriage. :)

Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle 7th - 11th January

I've been getting back into Sherlock Holmes lately - maybe as a result of the recently released film. I read all the short stories when I was a kid, but I hadn't read this novel.

Four books of theology or Biblical studies:

Four Gospels, One Jesus: A Symbolic Reading by Richard Burridge 3rd January - 11th February

Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament 14th February - 16th May

This will be the third book I've read in Zondervan's Counterpoints series - and this is an important subject.

The Drama Of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach To Christian Theology by Kevin Vanhoozer Commenced 5th September

Deep Exegesis by Peter Leithart 27th May - 2nd July

I've read half a dozen books by Leithart now, and enjoyed every one.

Four books to help me in my work as a pastor:

Quitting Church: Why the Faithful Are Fleeing and What to Do about It by Julia Duin 1st - 10th May

Preaching That Speaks to Women by Alice Mathews 16th May - 30th June

This looks like a book that's worth reading, but I really don't know if I will agree with it at all. After all, Steve Schlissel says, "Preaching should be self-consciously directed to the men of the covenant... Preach to women, have women; preach to men, have men, women and children."

Church and the Older Person by Robert Gray and David Moberg 7th November - 15th December

Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman 13th November - 9th December

No, this isn't a book that discusses the need for evangelism - rather, it examines how we can evangelize by asking questions. "It worked for Jesus; it will work for you," proclaims the back cover.

Four more Christian books:

Wages of Spin by Carl Trueman 11th June - 18th July

I really liked Trueman's Minority Report, which I read a few months ago. I also heard Trueman speak in Melbourne last winter, and he was excellent.

Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller 7th - 30th January

This is by the author of Blue Like Jazz, which was great, and Searching for God Knows What, which was pretty good. I also read Miller's blog.

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life by Joan Chittister 24th January - 20th March

This is a review copy from Thomas Nelson's Book Review Blogger scheme.

Brave New Family: G. K. Chesterton on Men and Women, Children, Sex, Divorce, Marriage and the Family 9th April - 19th June

This will be, I believe, the 18th book I've read by GKC. It's a fairly recent compilation of essays.

Four other books:

The Diary of Anne Frank Commenced 20th December

The Two Cultures by C. P. Snow 30th July - 13th August

The two cultures Snow refers to are the humanities and the sciences. He argues that our society's intellectual life is characterized by a division between the two.

Poincaré's Prize: The Hundred-Year Quest to Solve One of Math's Greatest Puzzles by George Szpiro Commenced 12th November

It's been a while since I've read a book on mathematics. This is about the Poincaré conjecture, the only one of the so-called Millennium Prize Problems to be solved.

The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life by Angelo Pellegrini 1st February - 30th April

Now that I live on gourmet food, I thought I might as well read about it. According to the back cover, this book "inspired a seismic culinary shift in how America eats."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Book giveaway at Kingdom People

Trevin Wax at Kingdom People is having his annual book giveaway at the moment. Trevin is giving away his ten favourite books of 2009 to one lucky winner. With interesting titles like The God Who Smokes and unpronouncable authors such as Tullian Tchividjian, this stack is a treasure trove for Reformed Christians.

To enter, subscribe to Trevin's blog, and send him an email.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

John's December Reading

Currently Reading:

My Soul Magnifies the Lord: Meditations on the meaning of Christmas by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

This book consists of four expositions on the Magnificat - Mary's song in Luke 1. I've been reading one chapter in each Sunday of Advent.

Powers by John B. Olson

I received a copy of this as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewers scheme. Stay tuned for the full-length review coming soon.

Science and Christianity: Four Views edited by Richard F. Carlson

This book is published by IVP, in apparent imitation of Zondervan's Counterpoints series. I'm reading this in preparation for a workshop I will be running at PYV Summer Camp on "Can I be a Christian and believe in science?"

The Faithful Sayings in the Pastoral Letters by George W. Knight III

I am in the middle of a series on the faithful sayings in the Aspendale evening services. Five times in the pastoral epistles (I & II Timothy and Titus), Paul says "this is a faithful [or, "trustworthy"] saying. The first one in particular is a great Christmas text: "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief," (1 Timothy 1:15)

Finished Recently:

The Path to Rome by Hilaire Belloc

Rather than being the story of Belloc's conversion (he was a life-long Catholic), this is a travel book, written in 1902. Read the book online here.

Belloc undertakes to walk from Toul (in France) to Rome. He does end up cheating, however - twice he catches a train, and twice he hitches a ride on a cart. Here is a Google map of Belloc's trip - I would love to follow in his footsteps one day. By car, of course - it's a 22 hour trip:

Dark Fire by C. J. Sansom

This is the sequel to Dissolution, which I read on my honeymoon. There are currently four books in this series of historical mystery novels, featuring a hunchbacked lawyer as the hero. "Dark Fire" is another name for Greek fire, the long-lost formula of which, in the book, has apparently been rediscovered.

Bound for Glory: A Practical Handbook for Raising a Victorious Family by R. C. Sproul, Jr.

This is the fourth and probably the best book I've read by R. C. Sproul Jr. This has some challenging things to say about Christian family life - and although I have read a fair bit on this subject, I found much in the book that I hadn't thought about before. For example, Sproul argues that a church Session can function as a sort of "court of appeal" for a wife (p. 93):
My wife and I have a dispute. We are not agreeing. I am asking her to do something she doesn't think we ought to be doing. So she goes to court. The court she comes to however, is the church, not the state. That I am not Jesus is painfully apparent. But here, in a church that is willing to exercise discipline and recognizes its rightful calling in these circumstances, she has protection.
The Old Church Book by Robin Langley Summer

This is coffee table book of churches in North America. Although it was a bit frustrating that not all the churches discussed were pictured, I was particularly interested in what it said about revival styles (Greek, Gothic, Romanesque), since they are also to be found in Australia. So, for example, when Kara and I visited Hobart last month, we saw St George's, Battery Point (left) whose pillars are clearly Greek revival. Notice the (architectural!) similarities to the United First Parish Church, Quincy, Massachusetts (right) which is one of the churches featured in the book:

Saturday, November 07, 2009

John's November Reading

Currently Reading:

Face to Face: Meditations on Friendship and Hospitality by Steve Wilkins

I'm reading this with Kara. We're both keen on extending our hospitality over the next few years, and hopefully this book will help us to think theologically about the subject.

Preach or Perish, edited by Donald Howard

I like usually to have a book of preaching on the go, and this is a good one. Most of the contributions come from Sydney Anglicans, but there are a few Presbyterians in it as well.

1 Samuel by David Jobling

I've been preaching through 1 Samuel in our evening services at Aspendale, and this book has stimulated my thinking. Jobling provides us a good example of where liberal assumptions can take us in biblical interpretation - if the Bible is only a fallible record of human experience, there is no reason to believe it contains an accurate portrayal of God. Sure enough, Jobling believes that 1 Samuel portrays God as childish and irrational (p. 84). Despite this outrageous statement, Jobling raises some important questions that do need to be answered. For example, why does David remain king despite all his sin, whereas Saul is rejected after a trifling offence? Jobling puts it down to God's inconsistency, but there is a better explanation: the LORD made an everlasting covenant with David (2 Samuel 23:5), whereas he did not make one with Saul. All in all, this is a potentially dangerous book, and not one I can recommend to readers of this blog.

Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn

This is a classic example of a controversial book. It has 29 reviews on Amazon: 17 give it five stars, while 10 give it 1 star.

Kara and I are planning to homeschool our kids, and this book looks like it's going to be very useful in helping us plan a curriculum.

Finished Recently:

Aussie Pilgrim's Progress by Kel Richards

This book is almost better than the original. I avoided getting Richards' Aussie Bible, but at just $3 at Borders, this was too good to pass up. I read it to Kara, and had the dual pleasure of sharing a devotional book with her, and teaching her the Australian language.

At a couple of places, Richards makes some positive theological adjustments to Bunyan's text. In Hopeful's account of his conversion, Richards includes an explanation of the Big Swap. In the original version, Hopeful has to wait for Christ to reveal himself to him, which he does in a special revelation to his soul, but in Richards' version, all Hopeful (or "Trusty", as he is now) has to do is pray a short simple prayer and really mean it, and he has made the first step on a lifelong journey.

The Sermon on the Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7 by Don Carson

I've just finished preaching through these chapters in our morning services, and this book was quite helpful. Not Carson's best, (that would be A Call to Spiritual Reformation) but still very good.

The Deceiver by Frederick Forsyth

Another spy novel, better than the one I read last month.

Miniatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen by Peter Leithart

As the subtitle suggests, this book doesn't just look at Jane Austen from a Christian perspective - it actually argues that her novels are Christian. It has be admitted, however, that we don't know much about Austen's personal faith.

I must confess, I did not read all of this book - just the introductory chapter, and the two chapters on the two Jane Austen books I have read: Pride and Prejudice and Emma. But Leithart has encouraged me to keep on reading through the Austen corpus. Next stop: Mansfield Park, which Leithart claims is Austen's most theological novel.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Two literary tools

I've been playing around with two book-related websites. The first is Amazon, which is so much more than just a place to buy books. I've been posting some old book reviews there - a couple are taken from my old blog, a couple are reviews I wrote for periodicals, and the rest are pared-down versions of book reviews I wrote at college. Anyway, here is my list of reviews on Amazon.

The second website I have been playing with is LibraryThing. I've listed my books there, having imported them from weRead. All the books, that is, that I both own and have read. Anyway, LibraryThing has some great tools on it, and one of them is the capacity to construct a word cloud from any given list. So, here is the author cloud of my personal library.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Kara's September/October Reading

Currently Reading:

The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond by G. K. Chesterton

Mr. Pond is an odd character. He's always saying things that just don't make first. Take this from the first story, "The Three Horsemen of Apocalypse" : "... Grock failed because his soldiers obeyed him. Of course, if ONE of his soldiers had obeyed him, it wouldn't have been so bad. But when TWO of his soldiers obeyed him--why, really, the poor old devil had no chance."

And then there were the two doctors who "came to agree so completely that one of them naturally murdered the other..."

I'm enjoying this book. :)

Her Father's Daughter by Gene Stratton Porter

I've only just begun this title, but expect it will be an enjoyable, if somewhat flowery read. Porter's interest in birds and plants again comes to the fore in this story of a young girl living on the outskirts of 1920's Los Angeles.

Recently Finished:

The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out by Mark Driscoll

This book took me a while to finish, simply because I found it hard to get past Driscoll's tone. I found it both overly familiar--this diminished after the first chapter or so-- and times abrasive. However, now that I've made it to the end, I find myself wanting to read it again. There are many things he says about evangelism and culture that make me uncomfortable. But this is a good thing, because I am forced to ask myself "why?".

One thing in this book that I appreciate is the emphasis on evangelism through hospitality. This is an area I would like to grow in. Here are a few other things I've been thinking over:

"The way to avoid sin is not to avoid sinners but to stick close to Jesus." (p. 40)

"As long as Christians fail to repent of self-righteousness, we will continue to speak of evengelism in terms such as outreach, which implies we will not embrace lost people but will keep them at least an arm's length away." (p. 78)

"Jesus told us that the kingdom will be filled with joy, and so we make it a habit to take God very seriously and everything else very lightly." (p. 187)

My husband has written a review which covers the contents of this book more in depth.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

A mark of a good book of historical fiction is that it makes you want to read some real history. Even better if a bit of mystery is in the mix. This book fits the bill. It's a criminal investigation held hundred of years after the suspect(s) and victims are dead. On trial: Richard III.

Overall a great read, even though I was quite irritated at some historical revisionism regarding the Covenanters. Seems a bit much to marginalise them as simply political radicals, none of whom actually died for their faith.

From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple

A travel book in which Dalrymple retraces the steps of John Moschos, a 6th century monk who traversed Byzantium in its declining years, and then wrote a book called the Spiritual Meadow . I suppose what I liked best about the Holy Mountain was how I could learn ancient and modern history simultaneously. I was fascinated by the accounts of many strange sects, such as the Stylites, ascetics who lived on top of pillars. This book gave me a greater understanding of the difficulties that Christians face in the Middle East, and of the complexity of the issues behind conflict in the Holy Land.

Lincoln's Dreams by Connie Willis

One of the most intense books I've read. Probably wasn't a good idea to pick this up right after finishing Fahrenheit 451! Lincoln's Dreams is the story of a young researcher who meets a girl who is having very strange dreams. He soon concludes that they are not actually her dreams, but the dreams of Robert E. Lee, somehow transferred across the years (an idea I found quite disturbing). He sets out to help her, and soon finds himself in a bit of a predicament. There is a twist to this story that in retrospect I should have picked up on sooner. A very strange story.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

John's October Reading

Currently Reading:

The Compass Rose by Ursula Le Guin

This is a book of short stories that seem to linger in the grey zone between science fiction and fantasy. I'm starting to develop a taste for Le Guin...

Primeval Saints by James Jordan

I've read a fair bit of James Jordan over the years (mostly on the Biblical Horizons website) and he's always stimulating. In this book he looks at the patriarchs in Genesis. My wife read it a while ago, and now it's my turn.

A Passion for Books by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan

A modern classic in the books about books genre. The subtitle says it all: "A Book Lover's Treasury of Stories, Essays, Humor, Love and Lists on Collecting, Reading, Borrowing, Lending, Caring for and Appreciating Books."

Scientific Mythologies by James Herrick

This is a true "Science and Christianity" book, but it's also "Science Fiction and Christianity". Herrick examines the interplay between science and science fiction over the past century, and some of the myths that have arisen in both. I think this book has a really cool cover:

Finished Recently:

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carre

This is a gritty, "realistic" spy thriller, not at all like the James Bond books I read as a kid.

Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport by Richard Mouw

The idea of this book comes from a scene from the 1979 film Hardcore (which I have not seen) in which a Dutch Reformed elder from Grand Rapids attempts to explain the five points of Calvinism to a prostitute at Las Vegas airport. Which raises a whole lot of questions, that this book attempts to explore: How does TULIP relate to everyday Christianity? Is Calvinism more that just the five points? Do we refer to the "Reformed distinctives" when we explain the gospel to non-Christians? I really enjoyed this book up to chapter 8, when Mouw's inclusivism bubbled to the surface.

Travel with Robert Murray McCheyne by Derek Prime

Note the non-standard spelling of M'Cheyne's surname. Still, this is a solid contribution to a worthwhile series. It is a biography combined with a travel guide, which means the reader is treated to some lovely, if somewhat gratuitous, pictures of Edinburgh, Dundee and Jerusalem.

Minority Report by Carl Trueman

I heard Carl Trueman speak in Melbourne a few months ago. Hearing him was great and reading him better. This book has several shorter pieces from his Wages of Spin column on the reformation21 website, as well as four longer pieces. Two themes emerge from his writing. The first is the necessity of studying (and understanding!) church history. Not all that surprising, really, given that Trueman is Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at WTS. The second theme is a bit more surprising: he critiques the "mere Christianity" popular in modern evangelical circles, which thrives at the expense of a robust confessional orthodoxy. Trueman's perspective comes out most clearly in his review of Is The Reformation Over? by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom. Thought-provoking stuff.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

John's September Reading

Currently Reading:

Emma by Jane Austen

I've actually been reading this for ages. Now that my sister-in-law has started reading it, the race is on to see who finishes first.

Martin Luther's Tabletalk

I remember my old church history lecturer, Maurice Betteridge, once saying that Luther would be a much more interesting dinner companion than Calvin. Fortunately for us, some zealous disciples wrote down the stuff he said at the dinner table.

Essays on Reformed Doctrine by Jelle Faber

I'm returning to my roots with this book. This is a collection of essays from a man who for twenty years was Principal of the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches, the denomination in which my Dad was once a minister. Most of Faber's essays deal with the doctrine of the Church.

An Introduction to Aramaic by Frederick Greenspahn

I'm learning Aramaic! It's the much-neglected third biblical language. Although most of the Old Testament is written in Hebrew, Ezra 4:8-6:18 and 7:12-26, Daniel 2:4b–7:28 and Jeremiah 10:11 are written in Aramaic.

This is the first book I've read on computer. Luke and Amy kindly gave me their old laptop last month, and I've been using it for work. I installed a copy of my Bible software on it, and discovered that it included this book. I'd been meaning for ages to learn Aramaic, and thought this was a great opportunity.

Finished Recently:

The Sunday Wife
by Cassandra King

This is one of the books discussed in the excellent Preachers and Misfits, Prophets and Thieves: The Minister in Southern Fiction, which Kara gave me for my last birthday. The main character, Dean Lynch, is a minister's wife neglected by her husband. Plenty of food for thought.

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by Don Carson

One reason the doctrine of the love of God is difficult is that the Bible talks about God's love in several different ways. The love the Father has for the Son, God's general love for his creation, God's "salvific stance towards his fallen world," his "particular, effectual, selecting love toward his elect," and love that is conditioned on obedience. Carson deals with all these aspects in a masterful way.

The Seven Ordeals of Count Cagliostro by Iain McCalman

The story of Count Cagliostro is a fascinating one, and McCalman tells it well. It is, in effect, a history of Europe in the second half of the 18th century, since Cagliostro's story intersects with those of Marie Antoinette, George IV, Casanova and Catherine the Great of Russia.

Athanasius' On The Incarnation

This is the edition that comes with the famous introduction by C. S. Lewis, in which he says that it is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. "If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones." Lewis also says that he tends to find "doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books." On The Incarnation is a great book to read devotionally.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

John's Dustings

Since Kara has posted her list of books recently read and currently reading, I thought I'd better do the same.

Currently Reading:

Enthusiasm by R. B. Knox

This book has numerous untranslated French and Latin quotations, but it's still worth the effort. Writing from a Catholic perspective, Knox describes movements within Christendom such as Jansenism and Methodism.

The Spirit in Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper by Vincent Bacote

I'm giving a lecture on Kuyper at the end of August, so I thought I'd better read some more about him.

Autobiography of John G. Paton

Paton was a pioneer Presbyterian missionary to Vanuatu. Last year our denomination had a missionary awareness day for kids, and I dressed up as him:

I'm the one on the right.

Collapse by Jared Diamond

The book is a follow-up to Guns, Germs and Steel, which I read a couple of years ago. That book made the argument that it is geography rather than biology that determines the destiny of civilisations. Which is just a secular version of Acts 17:26: "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live."

Here Diamond chronicles civilisations that collapsed, such as that of the Maya, the Vikings on Greenland, or the inhabitants of Easter Island.

Finished Recently:

Heiland by Franklin Sanders

This is almost post-apocalyptic in its tone. Heiland, the protagonist, is a coin minter who works as an intelligence officer for the Tennessee Free State in its struggle against the US Government.

Christ-centred Preaching by Bryan Chapell.

Probably the best book on preaching around.

The New Faithful by Colleen Carroll

Does for the Catholics what Young, Restless, Reformed did for the Calvinists.

Fatherland by Robert Harris

This rather intense book is set in a 1964 in which Germany had won World War II.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dusting off the shelves...

Blogging has been the furthest thing from my mind in recent months. Not too surprising, as those months involved two very life-changing events: marriage and an international move. But as the two-month anniversary of my wedding approaches, I feel the urge to once again toss a few words of my own into the blogosphere.

Currently Reading:

Primeval Saints by James Jordan

This is a study of some of the men and women in the book of Genesis. Since John and I are currently reading through Genesis, this book caught my eye. I was further intrigued by this sentence in the introduction: "From the pagan point of view, Abram did not act honorably when he told Sarai to tell Pharaoh that she was his sister and not his wife. Many Christians have faulted him for this, but as we shall see, he was acting in faith to preserve God's kingdom. And God vindicated him. "
I have yet to find out why he says this...

The Complete Stories of Dorothy Sayers

I was thrilled to find this on John's shelf! I loved the Lord Peter short stories, and had been disappointed that none of Sayers' other short stories were available in libraries near Wichita. Now I'm zipping through the 300 pages of adventure that I missed. Some of the stories send a shiver down my spine. Others make me feel like the top of my head is coming off. Not sure what that means. But perhaps others who've experienced the sensation will understand!

For a Glory and a Covering by Douglas Wilson

John is reading this to me. It's a bit more theological in tone than Wilson's other books on marriage. He does repeat many things he has said elsewhere, but those things are worth repeating.

June 6, 2009

Finished Recently:

Sketches of Home by Suzanne Clark

Ever since I read Tremendous Trifles by Chesterton, I've wanted to find more essays that appreciate the small things in life. This book is chockful. Honest, poetic, and unsentimental, it chronicles the life of Mrs. Clark from the early days of her marriage til her children reach the brink of adulthood. Mixed in are occasional reminiscences of her own childhood.

In John's home state of Tasmania

Black and Tan by Douglas Wilson

It's been years since I read anything about the War Between the States. But I've had a few questions posed to me recently, so I decided it might be time to revisit the period. I found this collection of essays to be a helpful and balanced discussion of the theological issues surrounding the war. Good mind-stretching stuff.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

John recommended this to me way back when, but for some reason I procrastinated. Once I had it in my hands, though, I couldn't put it down. It's the collected correspondence of a booklover and a London bookshop and tells the story of the friendships that developed over twenty years. The sequel, Duchess of Bloomsbury, was included in the same volume. It's the diary of the author's trip to London, after the successful publication of 84 Charing Cross Road. Wryly humourous, it brought back good memories of my own travels, and made me want to go back to see the places I missed.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

I can summarize this book in one word: Weird. But enjoyably so. I could feel the author laughing at me as I finished the final paragraphs.

It feels so good to settle down into the rhythm of a new normal. My life is quite different in many ways, but books are a comforting constant!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Too Good To Miss!

Canon Press is running a great book sale through May 8th. There are 9 pages of books for 1, 2, or 3 dollars, including A Great Mystery, an excellent collection of wedding sermons which John and I recently finished reading together.

Check it out!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Story of Answered Prayer

For as long as I can remember, I have desired to be a wife and mother. I distinctly remember the day my grandfather asked me the perennial question, “what do you want to be when you grown up?”. I made him guess, and after suggesting an enormous list of occupations, ranging from gynecologist to zookeeper, he gave up. “What do you want?” “To be a mommy”, I replied. That, to me, was the greatest aspiration a girl could have. I knew my mother was pretty special, and I wanted to be just like her. This was when I was about twelve years old. That desire never left me. But as my high school graduation neared, I began to have doubts as to its validity. I again had opportunity to answer the perennial question. But this time, I found that my answer would be countered with, “Yes, but what do you really want?” And I began to wonder if I was supposed to have some other goal in life. So I turned to my music—piano, viola, and theory. But I soon reached the end of my musical goals, and felt at a loss.

That was the beginning of my time in God’s school of contentment and humility. My first lesson was realizing that much of my life had been spent in the pursuit of selfish pleasure. As God changed my heart, I began to find joy and fulfillment in serving others, and especially my own family. During this time, I began to realize I had bought into many unbiblical preconceptions of what womanly fulfillment meant. I’d grown up hearing about the rebellious feminist, and found to my horror, that I was one myself. This was hard to swallow, and I began to spend time reading my Bible to find out what God had to say about His plan for me. I found that I didn’t have to leave my home to do important work. The simple task of washing the dishes grew in my estimation, as I learned that this, too, was serving God. The next lesson was the most humbling yet. I realized that I had placed my desire for marriage above God. I had allowed the lack of one thing to make life seem hopeless. When I read the story of King Ahab’s lust for Naboth’s vineyard, I saw myself.

By God’s grace, I began to get my priorities straight. And thus began some of the hardest years of my life. For, as my relationship with God grew, and as I sought His will for me as a woman, I became completely convinced that marriage was a good thing. And more than that, that it was His will for me. On the one hand, this was freeing. Now I knew what I should prepare for. On the other hand, it was discouraging, for the years passed by without a prospect in sight. It was tempting to despair.

In the summer of 2008, I became increasingly burdened to pray for marriage for myself, as well as for my single girlfriends. So much so, that for the first time, I voiced that desire in public at a ladies’ prayer meeting at my church. This was a significant step; over the years I’d become cynically silent on the subject, feeling I’d heard enough pat answers. I felt immediately rebuked for my assumptions, as several ladies began to encourage and pray for me. Something one of them said in her prayer prompted me to take a fresh look at God’s Word, and what it said about godly men. I began to surrender many of my preconceptions of how things should be. In retrospect, I see this as key preparation in order for me to be receptive to the idea of long-distance courtship.

Also that summer, I participated in a young ladies’ Bible study on prayer, at which many helpful conversations on the subject of marriage were held. I also read and reviewed Candice Watter’s book, “Get Married.”

By August, I felt that I had come to the absolute end of myself. I had studied what God had to say about marriage and godly womanhood. I had prepared to the best of my ability. My lifeline became the prayer of faith. I took comfort in Jesus' parable of the importunate widow, grasping the promise that God would hear my prayers.

In September, one of my dearest friends began courting. And for the first time, I felt no jealousy, simply joy. Joy that God was doing great things. I thought those great things were for my friend. Turns out they were—but, in the biggest surprise of my life, I found God was working on my behalf, as well.

October 3rd began as a normal, sunny Friday. As I waited for my family to gather for morning devotions, I began the routine check of my e-mail on my sister’s laptop computer. There was a Facebook message from John Dekker, someone I vaguely knew through blogging. The first line was all I could see: “I feel a bit awkward sending this…” And as I clicked on the message, my first thought was, “Oh, no! What did I say?” For I distinctly remembered John’s precision with words; one of our very first blogging exchanges involved me having to explain ambiguities in my writing. I was not expecting what I saw next: “pursue friendship….contemplate marriage…”. My jaw dropped. It was all I could manage to hand the computer to my mom and say, “read this”.

I was completely shocked. For, all my thought and prayers about marriage notwithstanding, I had never once thought of John as a prospect. He had similar interests in literature, yes. But he lived on the other side of the world! I really knew next to nothing about him. He was simply a name in cyberspace.

But I immediately knew that I was interested. The reason was this: I had been praying a very specific prayer that week. I had prayed that God would prompt whoever he had for me as a husband to show some initiative in beginning a relationship. There were secondary reasons for my interest: John’s taste in literature, his evident sense of humour and his work as a minister. But these were dwarfed by this one apparent answer to prayer.

The first test of whether it truly was God’s answer was my father’s response. I knew if my dad said “no”, it was a closed door. And I fully expected him to refuse. I knew he was not at all keen on the idea of internet relationships. So when my dad decided to write to John, I was both surprised and scared. A reserved person by nature, I like my life to be certain and safe. The outcome of this situation was definitely uncertain, and it did not feel safe at all. The two weeks Daddy spent writing to John felt like the longest of my life. I was still in shock, and my days became one long prayer. Prayer simply that God would make His will clear. Because, now that the opportunity had come, I didn’t know what I wanted. The decision was too big. Yes. No. Yes. No. My wishes changed daily, even hourly. So when my mom came to me on Saturday, October 18 and told me she and daddy were happy for me to pursue friendship with John, I felt relief and happiness that the first answer had come.

Now for a timeline of our courtship:

October 19, 2008. John and I begin corresponding via e-mail. I feel completely out of my depth. It is a struggle to overcome my feelings of vulnerability, and to be completely honest. I discover that I didn’t trust God as much as I thought I did, and grow in faith.

November 17, 2008, my birthday. I am no longer fearful. By now we have discussed many foundational beliefs, and I begin to feel a growing interest in this man.

December 2008. I realize it is nearly impossible to remain emotionally detached. By the second week of the month, I surprise myself by falling in love. My prayers change at this point. I don’t understand my feelings, and ask God to give us both direction, and that if it is His will for us to marry, John would propose when he visits.

January 20, 2009. It is an answer to prayer that when we finally meet in person, it doesn’t take long for us to feel comfortable together. There are no surprises: John is the same in person as he was long-distance. After spending 3 days together, I felt as if we’d been friends for years.

January 24, 2009, Saturday morning. John makes me the happiest girl in the world, when he asks me to be his wife. Eight long years of prayer are brought to fruition.

That’s our story. I’m still in awe of it all. God has blessed me far above what I asked or even imagined. There are so many things I love and admire about John. He challenges my thinking-- this even from our very first blog discussion. He is a spiritual leader. We have had the blessing of studying several books of the Bible together. He is a teacher—I learn something new, nearly every time we talk. He is considerate of others. This was demonstrated in how he was careful to spend time with each person in my family when he visited. He is deliberate and intentional in his actions. I saw this continually throughout our courtship, and was often amazed at his forward thinking. He is patient. He always waited until I was comfortable before beginning a new stage in the relationship. (e.g. moving from e-mail to instant messaging) He can talk to strangers. This is a skill I greatly admire, as it is an area I struggle with. He had ample opportunity to demonstrate it, as I introduced him to many of my friends and church family during his visit to Wichita. He is discreet. He makes me laugh! And most of all, he points me to Christ.

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Our Story...

...and why I love the author of this blog.

My name is John Dekker. On the evening Tuesday January 20, I met Kara for the first time. Three and a half days later, on Saturday morning, I asked her to be my wife, and she accepted. How did these events come about, you may ask?

Internet relationships have been around for a while now, and in the last couple of years blog relationships seem to have taken off. I'm personally aware of Mike and Christine (read their story here), Adrian and Susan (read their story here) and Aaron and Jessica.

Well, I came across Biblio-File, and I liked what I saw. I came to it from Lydia's blog. I knew Lydia through Susan, whom I knew through Sherrin, whom I knew in real life.

Throughout 2008, I spent some time rethinking my approach to marriage. Possibly influenced by Debbie Maken's Getting Serious About Getting Married, I began to think about becoming more proactive about finding a wife. I also started to rethink what things were important to me in a future spouse. One of these was that I decided I was looking for a girl who wanted to get married – not merely one who thought she might want to get married someday.

And that's something I saw in Kara. She was happy to publicly state her belief that “desire for marriage is God-given and that intentional prayer and preparation are not wasted efforts.” She also quoted approvingly Jackie Kennedy's maxim, “I want to take such good care of my husband that whatever he is doing, he can do it better, because he has me.”

But most of all, I noticed that Kara shared my love of books. We had so many favourite authors in common: P. G. Wodehouse (which showed that she had a sense of humour), G. K. Chesterton (which showed that she wasn't afraid to draw on other theological traditions) and Douglas Wilson (which showed that she wouldn't be put off by my Federal Vision sympathies.)

And one of my most favourite books, Angels in the Architecture, appealed to her also. It's a book that I have, on occasions, given to people to explain what I am on about. It is one of the clearest statements of my worldview, and the sort of things I wish to encourage in my home. The fact that Kara rated the book with five stars on Facebook, told me that we had much in common.

Well, it does seem that one can find out a lot about an individual by reading his or her blog. This may particularly be the case with a book blog like Biblio-File. And I'm more convinced than ever that a person's books say a lot about them.

I don't think I had any explicit evidence that Kara was Reformed in her theology, but I certainly got that vibe. Similarly, I had the feeling from reading her blog that Kara wanted kids, which was really important to me also.

So, we had common interests, common theology, and from the photos I had seen her blog and facebook (we had become facebook friends almost a year earlier) I thought she was attractive. At that particular moment in time, that was enough. So I told her that I had been admiring her for some time, and would like very much to get to know her better. I asked her if I could cultivate a friendship with her in order to prayerfully contemplate the possibility of marriage.

I hardly expected her to be interested. Internet courtships are not for everyone. Neither is getting married to a pastor. Neither is moving to Australia. I am the minister of Aspendale Presbyterian Church in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, and expect to stay here for several years. I knew I would be asking Kara to leave friends and family behind.

I wasn't particularly surprised when I got an email back from Kara's father. What thrilled me most was that I was still in with a chance. Mike thanked me for my interest in his daughter, and said that he would like to correspond with me first. This process took two weeks, at the end of which he gave me permission to write to Kara.

The courtship process has been a wonderful one. It lasted right on three months. Perhaps a timeline would help: (these are the Australian dates!)

20th October – I send my first email to Kara. We quickly begin to cover some important ground theologically, as well as sharing our personal histories.

12th November – we begin to talk seriously about marriage, and about the possibility of marrying each other. We realize that we have similar perspectives and expectations.

14th November – a significant moment for me: Kara asks me how I feel that she could help me in my ministry. I realize that I'd made a good choice, and we talk about companionship, hospitality and what being a pastor's wife might entail.

19th November – we start chatting online. It was so helpful to wait until we had sorted through the serious philosophical issues before we started on this. It didn't take long before we both felt really comfortable with each other.

28th November – I ask Kara if I can come and visit, and tell her that now would be a good time to break off the relationship if she thought it wasn't going to continue. But she seemed more than happy to meet me.

8th December – we start reading through Isaiah together, a chapter a day, emailing our thoughts to each other. This has been such a blessing to both of us.

20th January – we meet face to face, at Wichita airport.

24th January – after talking with her Dad in the early hours of the morning and receiving his permission, I propose to Kara at about 10am, and she immediately accepts.

So – why do I love this girl? She's kind, intelligent, feminine and loving. She's full of discretion, wit, wisdom and courage. She has lovely eyes and a beautiful smile. And she admires, respects and loves me herself. Why wouldn't I want to spend the rest of my life with her?

Finally, I need to emphasize that we are still getting to know each other, and I feel like I know Kara so much better than I did when I asked her to marry me. And I could swear she's becoming more beautiful every day as well.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Just in case I didn't make myself clear in the last post...

...there will be a few changes coming to the Biblio-File. As my readers may have noticed, I have been quite lax in my posts of late. With the addition of a new writer to the blog, I hope that pattern of posts may become a bit more frequent. This new blog-team member is even more of a bibliophile than myself, and I anticipate the possibility of some thought-provoking book reviews! Or at least, a Good Story. :)

Please welcome John Dekker, pastor, avid reader, board-game enthusiast....and also, my fiancé!

With many thanks to God for answered prayer,

Kara A.

Browsing at Eighth Day Books

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2008 in Books

These are the new books I read cover-to-cover this year. I'm sad the list doesn't even add up to a book a week! But I console myself that it might, if I added all the re-read favorites... :)

I've included links to the books I reviewed here on the blog.

  1. Every Living Thing by James Herriot
  2. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
  3. The Boomerang Clue by Agatha Christie
  4. The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie
  5. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  6. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
  7. Eternity in Our Hearts by R.C. Sproul Jr.
  8. The 3AM Epiphany: Uncommon Story Writing Exercises by Brian Kitely
  9. The One-Minute Organizer by Donna Smallin
  10. Nineteen-Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  11. Two Are Better Than One by Carol Ryrie Brink
  12. Hidden In Plain Sight (pre-publication draft) by Martin Selbrede
  13. The World’s Greatest Horse Stories
  14. Son of a Wanted Man by Louis L’Amour
  15. Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey
  16. The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
  17. A portrait of Jane Austen by David Cecil
  18. Magic for Marigold by L.M. Montgomery
  19. Nothing to Wear? By Joe Rupo
  20. For Kirk and Covenant, The Stalwart Courage of John Knox by Douglas Wilson
  21. The Old Reliable by P.G. Wodehouse
  22. P.G. Wodehouse: An Illustrated Biography by Joseph Connolly
  23. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by A. Conan Doyle
  24. The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter
  25. Alone With God by John MacArthur
  26. Latin for Dummies by Clifford A. Hull
  27. Decorating With Books by Proeller Huston
  28. Power Through Prayer by E. M. Bounds
  29. A Thousand Days of Magic by Oleg Cassini
  30. Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help It Happen by Candice Watters
  31. Never Dies the Dream by Margaret Landon
  32. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship by Colin Duriez
  33. The Annotated Hobbit , annotations by Douglas A. Anderson
  34. The Golden Age of Couture, Paris and London 1947-1957, by Claire Wilcox (V/A Museum)
  35. Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris
  36. The Little Prince by Antoine St. Exupery
  37. Eloise by Kay Thompson
  38. Eloise in Moscow by Kay Thompson
Here's to a more productive reading year in 2009!