All Is Well: A Story for Christmas is different from other children’s Christmas books for several reasons. It is on the reading level of an older child, perhaps about fifth grade. It is on the emotional level of a single mom who is struggling to make ends meet at Christmas. The story takes place in July, not during the Christmas season. Yet is most certainly a Christmas story, especially for those who going through tough times during the holidays.
If you are looking for a cute Christmas book for your child, this is not your book. But if you need encouragement to make it through Christmas, this may be the best book you could read, especially to a child who doesn’t understand why God is allows suffering and hard times.
In my list of favorite children’s Christmas books, I have to include the classic book that I loved when I was a child, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. This beloved book has been made into a popular cartoon TV show, that includes the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” In recent years, a live-action movie was also made, but I still prefer the cartoon that follows the book word-for-word. It is hard to improve on the whimsical rhyme of Dr. Seuss.
Most readers already know the story, of how the Grinch couldn’t stand the noise that all the “Who’s down in Whoville” made on Christmas morning. So he decided to steal all of their toys on Christmas Eve. What he never anticipated was that they would still sing on Christmas morning without any presents at all. I love the climactic lines:
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!/ It came without packages, boxes or bags!”/ And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. / Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!/ “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store./ Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”
The changed heart of the Grinch has put the word “Grinch” next to “Scrooge” in the Christmas vocabulary of the English language. Every child deserves a chance to hear a parent or grandparent read it to him or her directly from the book, and follow it with a heartfelt discussion about the real meaning of Christmas.
Imagine the famous poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” told in the dialect of south Louisiana, with St. Nicholas gliding across the bayou, with “eight alligator a pullin’ a skiff.” Of course, the alligators have French names:
“Ha, Gaston! Ha, Tiboy! Ha, Pierre an’ Alcee’! Gee, Ninette! Gee, Suzette! Celeste an Renee’!”
I have read this story aloud to my family and to children in public schools over the years, and it always produces loud laughter, even among those who aren’t familiar with the Cajun culture. There have been many imitations of this book, such as the Cowboy Night Before Christmas and the Redneck Night Before Christmas. But none have surpassed the originality and pure fun of Cajun Night Before Christmas.
The book is available in many book stores and at amazon.com here.
One of my favorites is Alabaster’s Song: Christmas through the Eyes of an Angel by Max Lucado. It tells the story of a boy who believes he hears the angel on the Christmas tree singing. Then miraculously, the gap-toothed angel appears by the boy’s bedside, a boy like him, and tells him what it was like to sing to baby Jesus. Children of all ages will enjoy this book, but parents, watch out, because you may get a lump in your own throat at the way the story ends.
The book can be found in many Christian book stores, and on Amazon.com here.
If you like John Grisham, you will probably like Randy Singer. I have read many of Singer’s legal suspense novels, and I found his plot twists to be consistently good, often better than Grisham. Singer is a Christian writer who avoids profanity and has a Christian worldview to his books. As a Christian myself, I really like that. But if you are not a Christian, don’t let that put you off, especially in Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales. Although his previous novels are not “preachy,” this novel is even less so. Singer simply weaves a captivating story of redemption. Landon Reed, a former SEC football quarterback who went to jail for taking a bribe to throw a game, wants to redeem himself by becoming a lawyer and helping others. He is an imperfect man who nearly falls again, and then gets caught up in a law firm where somebody is slowly killing every lawyer at the firm.
From beginning to end the plot kept my interest. Each short chapter seemed to end with something that made me want to read the next chapter and learn how the plot would resolve. Singer is a lawyer himself, and is able to describe complicated legal situations with clarity and detail. But what made this story engrossing in the first half was the theme of forgiveness and a second chance. In the second half, the plot accelerated and I couldn’t put down the book until I finished. This is probably Randy Singer’s best book to date.
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Recently, I had the pleasure of enjoying some pancakes with Joe McKeever. When he noticed that the waitress was friendly, he immediately pulled out a pad and pencil, asked her to stand still and smile, and in a few moments he had drawn a wonderful cartoon of her likeness. She was so excited, another waiter came to ask about it, and he gladly drew another one. Everywhere he goes, Joe draws pictures of people. You might say that he’s the quickest draw in the West.
McKeever’s cartoons were published for years in Pulpit Helps and are still a regular feature in various Baptist newspapers through Baptist Press. Now McKeever has published a great collection of some recent favorites, entitled 101 Cartoons. Each cartoon is a full page, and nearly all are in full color. Most of the cartoons poke fun at religious subjects, as is illustrated by the photo at the bottom of this review. Others, like the cover photo above, poke fun at life in general.
McKeever has a corny sense of humor, which I like. He pokes fun at pastors, deacons, pastor search committees, hypocrites in church, seeker-sensitive churches, Calvinism, fickle church members, Facebook, smart phones, politicians, TV, the lottery, sports, health and exercise, among other things. Some of the cartoons make a serious point, such as the one that shows a man in a wheelchair in front of a church with inaccessible steps, who says, “I’ll bet this is a real pretty church on the inside.”
The print is large and easy to read, and as you can see from the photos, they are very colorful. It makes a great coffee table book for enjoyable conversation with family and visitors.
101 Cartoons is available from Amazon.com or you may purchase it directly from the author and he will inscribe a personal greeting and cartoon inside the front cover for you. Send a check for $15 for one or $27 for two, to Joe McKeever, P. O. Box 855, Kenner, LA 70063. In the interest of full disclosure, Brother Joe gave me a complimentary copy of his book along with the pancakes; however, he did not ask me to write this review– I was glad to do that myself!
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I have read about 20 books by Max Lucado. I love his gift for telling a story and turning a phrase. However, after reading so many of his works, I began to feel that if I’ve read one of his books, I’ve read them all. So when I got a copy of Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference, I let it sit on my bookshelf for over three years.
Recently, some circumstances in my own life drew me again to the title. I’d like for my life to make more of a difference, so I decided to see what Max had to say. I was deeply moved– to take action.
This book uses the familiar writing style of Lucado that has made him one of the bestselling Christian authors of modern times: vivid storytelling with a surprise ending, and clever, poetic phraseology. For example, he described the apostle Peter’s reaction to the vision to eat unclean food by saying, “Peter was pondering the pigs in the blanket when he heard a knock at the door” (p. 146). He also follows a Biblical theme, as he does in most of his books. This one focuses on stories in the Acts of the Apostles to encourage Christian readers to make a difference in their world, the way the early disciples did.
What really stands out in this book, however, is how boldly Lucado calls on Christians to be involved in social action. Again and again, he urges Christians to help the poor, care for orphans, feed the hungry, etc. He is very specific in examples of how to do that, more so than any other book of his that I have read to date. He does so without abandoning the gospel message. In fact, chapter four, “Don’t Forget the Bread,” stresses that if we help the needy and don’t share the gospel, we are like he was when his wife sent him to buy bread at the grocery store and he came home with everything else and forgot the main thing: the bread.
Each of Lucado’s books include a discussion guide at the end, but this book has a “Discussion and Action Guide” (emphasis mine). America’s most inspirational author intends not only to inspire, but to move the reader to action. For this reader, he succeeded.
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I was attending a writer’s conference, and a publisher who was speaking to us said that books often sell well because of marketing and famous authors, not because of the quality of the books. Someone asked the publisher to name a book that did not sell well but was such a quality book that he was glad it was published. The publisher said, “Yes, the book is Lord, Show Me Your Glory by Ethel Herr.”
The book was out of print, so I ordered it from amazon.com. I’m glad that I did.
I spent the year of 2008 going through this devotional. A wonderful journey it was. The book is divided into 52 chapters to be used as 52 weeks of devotions. But each “Week” actually has two or three qualities of God to study, so it really amounts to about two or three devotionals for each week. For example, Week Four is a devotional on God is Carpenter, Potter, and a Working God, Week Twelve is on God as Living Bread and Manna, and Week Twenty is on Discipliner, Teacher/Master and Rabbi. You get the idea.
Herr has a very descriptive writing style. For example, in Week Eleven she describes God’s omniscience by saying, “grace without God’s omniscience would be as elusive as a hollow wind whistling through the broken window panes of an empty church” (p. 72). She also has keen insights into the character of God. In Week Eighteen, she says this about God’s as Resurrection and the Life: “So, when He chooses to let our dreams die so He can give us a resurrection rather than a healing, we sometimes feel abandoned” (p. 114). Each section lists scripture readings for further meditation on that particular quality of God. I found that looking up those scriptures was almost as enriching as the text of her book.
The experience of going through this book will help you understand the character of God in a powerful way. If you are looking for a practical devotional that is all about you and how you live your Christian life, this is not it. But if you are looking for a devotional that will make you forget yourself and will leave you in awe of our wondrous God, bowing before Him in worship, then find a used copy of this rare gem of a book online and order it.
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Robby Gallaty’s life was radically changed from drug-dealer to the pastor of a growing church. He credits the transformation not only to his conversion experience, but also to the process of personal discipleship he enjoyed under David Platt and others. His book, Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples, shares his passion for discipleship that he is living out as pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Gallaty gives a strong Biblical argument for the need for discipleship. The focal point of his book is the suggestion that instead of depending on Sunday School classes to do discipleship, churches should have small, closed discipleship groups with a leader and 3 or 4 other people of the same gender. He uses the name “D-group” for such discipleship groups. He prefers such small groups over discipleship by one-on-one mentors, saying one-on-one mentoring is harder to reproduce and may turn into a counseling relationship instead of a discipleship process. While he gives good reasons for the D-group, he seems to overstate the case that his is the best way. After all, Gallaty himself was mentored one-on-one by David Platt, while Jim Putnam’s book, Real-Life Discipleship, describes some effective discipleship with small groups that are larger than the size that Gallaty suggests.
Nevertheless, Growing Up is a useful resource for church leaders wishing to get serious about discipleship. The book is filled with practical advice about growing in one’s prayer life, Bible study, evangelism, and discipling others. Gallaty is fond of acronyms. The last six chapters of his book form the acronymn for the discipleship process: “CLOSER” which stands for Communicate, Learn, Obey, Store, Evangelize and Renew. He suggests the “HEAR” method of Bible study: Highlight, Explain, Apply and Respond. He says the D-group needs “FAT” belivers: Faithful, Available and Teachable.
While I would argue that D-groups are not the only way to do it, the fact remains that Gallaty is actually leading his church to do something, rather than just talk about it. I would highly recommend Growing Up as a resource that church leaders can use to implement true discipleship in their churches. It is “REAL” (Realistic, Easy to Read, Applicable, and Life-changing).
In the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I received a free copy of this book for review, but I was under no obligation to write a positive review.
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Guest blog: OUT OF THIS WORLD! Part Three: Books and audiovisuals on near death experiences and the afterlife.
Copyright 2013 by Joyce C. Rogers
(For the past two days on this blog, my mother, Joyce Rogers, has shared her insights from scripture and other resources on the subject of what happens when we die. Today she lists the books, articles and audiovisuals she read on the subject, with a brief comment about each.)
Alcorn, Randy. Heaven. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Randy is considered a leading authority on Heaven. He answers some tough questions as he invites you to picture Heaven as the Scripture does. This is a very scholarly book. One needs more than an afternoon to read it!
Alexander, Eben, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. Dr. Alexander spent seven days in a coma and experienced a heavenly reality of love and beauty. His experiences changed his scientific mind to one of profound belief in God, spirituality and love. An excellent book.
Black, Dale. Flight to heaven; A Plane Crash: A Lone Survivor: A Journey to Heaven and Back. Published by Bethany House Publishers. Captain Black pursued his dream of flying planes, even after being severely injured in a plane crash. His trip to Heaven is beautifully detailed. The story is a fascinating read.
Burpo, Todd and Sonja Burpo. Heaven Changes Everything. Published by Thomas Nelson, Inc. This is a sequel to the very popular book, Heaven is for Real, the story of little Colton Burpo’s unforgettable trip to Heaven. This family’s lives were changed. The Burpos show how believing in Heaven helps one survive hardships here on earth, including the death of a loved one, particularly the loss of a child. A sweet and down to earth book.
Burpo, Todd with Lynn Vincent. Heaven is for Real: A little boy’s astounding story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. Thomas Nelson Publishing. A four year old child, he sat on Jesus’ lap, said angels took him from his hospital bed and other wonderful things. Colton spoke with disarming innocence. A delightful and convincing book. Colton and his parents were interviewed on the “Today” show, showing the public interest in this story.
Garlow, James and Keith Wall. Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife: True Stories From People Who Have Glimpsed the World Beyond. People who have had near death experiences (NDEs) bring back word descriptions of the pathway to Heaven or the descent into the darkness of Hell. Those who go to Heaven lose their fear and report amazing feelings of love, warmth and acceptance. Those who go to Hell are horrified and so thankful they get to come back.
Graham, Billy. Death and the Life After. Word Publishing. Billy Graham talks about how the culture relates to death, the death of children, living wills, euthanasia, hospice care, the grief process, and preparation for death. He explores the practical side of death. Dr. Graham helps the reader find peace and comfort for those grieving or pre- paring a will or planning a funeral.
Graham, Billy. Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well. Thomas Nelson Publishing. At 93, Dr. Graham said that old age was a surprise. He advises one not to retire from life. Many older people have heard and obeyed God’s call. He says leave a legacy of faithfulness. We are meant for Heaven, our final home. Heaven is glorious because it is the dwelling place of God.
Graham, Billy. The Heaven Answer Book. Thomas Nelson Publishing. This short little question and answer book gives straight biblical answers about heaven in typical Billy Graham style. He answers such questions as “Does Heaven really exist?” and “What is a resurrected body?” Dr. Graham is evangelistic in his approach to these questions and answers.
Harris, Trudy. Glimpses of Heaven: True Stories. Published by Revell. A hospice nurse relates stories of those leaving the world in his/her own unique way.
Harrie, Trudy. More Glimpses of Heaven: Inspiring True Stories of Hope and Peace at The End of Life’s Journey. Published by Revell. More stories of the beauty and pain of life’s end as observed by hospice nurse, Trudy Harris.
Lotz, Anne Graham. Heaven, My Father’s House. W. Publishing Group. Billy Graham’s daughter writes about our heavenly home compared to our earthly home. She says, “The invitation to my Father’s house is extended to all, but you have to RSVP.” This is an inspiring little book.
Malz, Betty, My Glimpse of Eternity. Published by Chosen. Betty was “officially” Pronounced dead for 28 minutes before waking to report seeing and hearing angels and understanding several different languages at once. Catherine Marshall said, “Upon occasion God breaks into human life to give us a glimpse of what lies ahead.
Betty Malz’s remarkable experience is a resounding ‘Yes, there is life after death.’”
Neal, Mary C. MD. To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, angels, and Life Again. Waterbrook Press. Dr. Neal, a spine specialist, had a kayak accident and drowned. Her friends worked hard to revive her and finally did. In her “in-between “ state, she experienced a joyous welcome celebration in Heaven. Very readable and interesting.
Piper, Don with Cecil Murphy. 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life. Published by Revell. A popular book involving a car accident, being pronounced dead and waking up to sing with a minister praying and singing over him. After a long, grueling recovery, Don was persuaded to tell his story.
Prince, Dennis and Nolene. Nine Days in Heaven: A True Story. Charisma House Publishing. Nine Days in Heaven relates the vision of 25 year old Marietta Davis more than 150 years ago, in 1848. Her story is re-written in modern English. She was shown the heavenly nursery where infants are cared for and taught redemption’s story. Each section is supported by Scripture. Beautifully done. Especially helpful for those grieving for a lost child. Not to be confused with 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper.
Rogers, Joyce C. “After This, Then What?” Family Bible Study, Life Ventures Learner Guide. Summer, 2005, p.116-161. LifeWay Sunday School unit. Speaks of salva-tion here and now and throughout eternity, Jesus’ return, and the special place God has prepared for His own.
Sigmund, Richard. My Time in Heaven: A True Story of Dying…And Coming Back. Whitaker House Publishing. Following a traffic accident, Richard found himself in a thick, cloudy veil. He could hear sirens and the words, “He’s dead.” He could hear singing and laughter on the other side. Led along a path by angels, he saw a book containing his name. He claims to have seen mansions belonging to loved ones and many other wonders. The book has testimonies, select scriptures and an index.
Springer, Rebecca. Within Heaven’s Gates. Published by Whitaker House. After feeling alone in her illness far from home and family, Rebecca has a vision of life in Heaven. She describes with unspeakable joy life in Heaven where she has her own mansion and visits with loved ones. A vision, not an NDE.
Stone, Perry. Secrets from Beyond the Grave: The Amazing mysteries of Eternity, Paradise, and the Land of Lost Souls. Published by Charisma House. Detailed studies of questions related to death and the afterlife. The author asserts that Heaven and Hell are real places. Details he relates include: people in Heaven or Hell have all 5 senses; are not limited to time or space or travel hindrances; and have conversations not with words but with thoughts.
Wiese, Bill. 23 Minutes in Hell; One man’s story about what he saw, heard, and felt in That place of torment. Published by Charisma House. Bill Wiese said that he saw the searing flames of hell and was terrorized. He said, “My sincere hope is that this book is the closest you will ever come to experiencing hell for yourself.” A question he answers is “Can ‘Good’ people go to hell? There is an 18-page scripture index.
ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY Of AUDIO VISUALS
Besteman, Marvin with Lorille Craker, read by Maurice England. “My Journey to Heaven.: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life.” Baker Publishing House, Christianaudio, 2012.. Marvin Besteman shares the true story of his experience of Heaven in detail. He speaks of angels accompanying him to the gate, his conversation with St. Peter, and his joy when he recognized friends and family members who had touched his life. Very interesting story. Running time 4.7 hours. CD.
Malarky, Kevin. “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven,” Tyndale Entertainment Production in Association with Franklin Films. Based on book by Kevin Malarky. Six year old Alex Malarky suffered a terrible car accident which left him in a coma for 2 months. He awoke to share an incredible story of angels, Jesus and his trip to Heaven. He was left paralyzed, but we see how God is still using him today. This is an amazing and convincing story. Running time 50 minutes. DVD.
_______. “The Final Frontier.” Produced by Eternal Productions. Revived patients encounter some form of extension of consciousness beyond clinical death. They encounter some form of reality: Heaven or Hell. These are not hallucinations, but a highly structured and organized phenomenon. More and more scientific evidence tells us that life after death exists. Where we are going is a matter of choice. We must think about our own lives. This DVD makes one think. Running time 53 minutes.
_______. “The Lazarus Phenomenon: A Glimpse of Eternity.” Eternal Productions. Lan McCormack was stung by jelly fish off the coast of an island in the Pacific and was unable to get help. His experiences changed his life. On the other side of the world, a pastor died and 48 hours later revived. He was shown his death certificate. He also had experiences beyond the veil. Well worth watching. Running time 100 minutes..
Jeremiah, David Dr. “Revealing the Mysteries of Heaven.” Turning Point Television. Shadow Mountain Community Church, San Diego, California.. Sermons on Heaven. Dr. Jeremiah preaches a 3 month series of sermons on Heaven. Each sermon covers A different aspect of Heaven. Topics such as “Won’t Heaven be Boring?” and “What About the Children?” are covered. He says “Worship in Heaven is not about us – its about Him. Its not about here – its about there. Its not about now – its about then. Its not about one – its about many.” Wonderful resource. Each sermon about 30 to 40 minutes. DVD.
Copyright 2013 by Joyce C. Rogers
I am giving away a free copy of Thom Rainer’s book, I Am a Church Member, this week on my blog. Here’s what you need to do to win:
1. Follow my blog. If you are not already following, click on the link at the right and sign up.
2. Leave a comment below telling me what your church does, or what you wish it would do, to disciple new members. You must leave me an email address in the comment, so that I can contact the winner.
I will select a winner based on the comments (the person must also be a follower of my blog), and I will announce the winner on Friday afternoon. LifeWay will mail the book directly to you. (By the way, the winner must live in the United States or Canada.)
I WILL BE GIVING AWAY A FREE BOOK NEXT WEEK TO SOMEBODY WHO VISITS MY BLOG.
WATCH FOR DETAILS ON MONDAY!
There are many wonderful books that have been written on the Lord’s Prayer, but there are two in particular that I have found inspiring.
Max Lucado’s book, The Great House of God: A Home for Your Heart, uses the creative analogy of a big mansion to compare to the Lord’s Prayer. He takes each part of the prayer and compares it to part of the great house. For example, the study is where we learn “thy will be done,” and the kitchen is where we pray “give us this day our daily bread.” Lucado draws a visual image of the prayer that helps the reader see it in fresh ways.
Albert Haase’s book, Living the Lord’s Prayer: The Way of the Disciple, is my favorite book on the Lord’s Prayer. He challenges the reader to live the prayer, not just say the prayer. He takes each part of the prayer and challenges us to put the principles into practice. He uses personal and deeply moving illustrations that encourages the reader to be different because of this prayer.
Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
Crime Scene Jerusalem: A Novel by Alton Gansky (published by David C. Cook, 2007) does a masterful job of pulling off a peculiar premise: Max Odom, a forensics expert, is taken back in time to investigate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gansky makes the story much more than believable– he makes it gut-wrenching. The forensics expert doesn’t want to be there, and expresses all of the sarcastic humor of a jaded American man. But when he comes face-to-face with the cross, and sees how Jesus’ death speaks to the pain in his own life, he… well, read the book yourself. You will not be able to put it down, and you’ll be changed by the experience. Gansky describes life and culture in first-century Jerusalem vividly, and Gansky keeps the reader guessing what hurt Max Odom experienced that must come to the surface as he witnesses the Passion of Christ. A fascinating read for the Easter season or any season.
Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
John R. W. Stott, who was pastor of All Soul’s Anglican Church in London before passing away in 2011, was one of the most respected evangelical writers in Great Britain. I thoroughly enjoyed his classic book, The Cross of Christ (InterVarsity Press, 1986, 2006). I found it to be the best book I have ever read about the Cross. I’m not surprised that it received the 1988 Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Gold Medallion Award.
Stott wrote as an evangelical pastor and scholar. While he thought deeply, he wrote with clarity and frequent illustrations. In fact, I used his book as the basis for a series of sermons on the cross.
Stott’s book begins by making a passionate argument for the centrality of the cross to the Christian gospel. Then he explores the reasons for the crucifixion, and while describing many “images” of atonement, he zeros in on Christ as a substitutionary sacrifice to satisfy both the holiness and love of God. His discussion in chapter seven of propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation is perhaps the best chapter of the book. The book concludes with chapters on what it means to live as followers of the One who died on the cross, with excellent explanations of service, overcoming evil, and understanding suffering.
Stott has read widely on the subject and he graciously comments on opposing views from liberal scholars and Roman Catholic scholars. He takes other views seriously, but he is faithful to an orthodox evangelical interpretation of scripture. I found it interesting that he disagrees with the popular view of Jesus’ death as a “ransom” paid to the devil in a strictly literal sense. His discussion on the distinctions between Protestant and Roman Catholic views of justification is particularly insightful. Stott rejects the doctrine that God does not suffer, maintaining in chapter 13 that it is precisely because God did suffer on the cross that we are able to bear our suffering.
Many parts of the book read as if they were sermons. This is not surprising, since Stott was a pastor. Yet it comes together as a systematic theology of the cross. His conclusion makes an excellent sermon on how central the cross is to Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.
This is a book that I will read again and again in the years to come.