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Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Broken Beauty – Reflections of a Soul Refined by Cancer

by Helena Bolhuis 252 pages / 2020 It’s kind of exciting when someone you are personally acquainted with publishes a book. It’s a bit of a thrill to hold the book in your hands, read their name on the cover, breathe in the new book smell, and anticipate sitting down with a cup of tea to crack it open and begin to read. I certainly felt this way when I purchased Broken Beauty – Reflections of a Soul Refined by Cancer, written by Helena Bolhuis. I don’t know Helena well, but having sat under her teaching on a couple of occasions – there experiencing her warmth, wisdom, and openness and seeing in her a sincere love for the Lord – I was definitely looking forward to reading her book. Attending her book launch at the local Free Reformed bookstore only heightened my eagerness, for that morning we got a glimpse into the beautiful and emotional journey this book would take us on. Yet – dare I admit this? – I also felt a little bit of wariness, maybe even skepticism about the book, and at first I could not put my finger on why I felt this way. But on reflection, I realized what was making me uneasy: how could a book detailing someone’s personal experience not be a bit self-glorifying? How could the author, in human weakness, write about themselves without it being… all about them? Would God be given His proper place in this story? And now, having read the book, I can answer that last question with a resounding “Yes!” Broken Beauty is, indeed, not a book about the author, but about the faithful God and loving Father who carried and led her through her cancer journey. From the dedication on the very first page – “for You, Father, for Your glory” – to the thanks at the end of the book, and everywhere in between, God is given the glory. Again and again, Helena points us to the Lord who supplied her every need in a time of sickness. The reader is left with a renewed sense of awe for the Great Physician, the God who refines us and draws us to himself through times of trial and weakness. The Father who carries us on eagle’s wings is the loving Author of this author’s story. The book is organized in three main sections: the journey the provisions and the destination “The Journey” tells Helena’s cancer story as it unfolded in her life, describing doctor’s visits, waiting for and receiving test results, and the various treatments she had to undergo. And throughout this section of facts and details, Helena weaves the story of her inner struggle – emotional and spiritual – as she faced the very real possibility of her own death. In the second section, “The Provisions,” Helena speaks about how God provided for her in so many ways along her cancer journey, and she draws a parallel here to how God provided for the Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness. He provided for her relationally through the people in her life, and mentally through prayer, meditation, music, and books. God also supplied what she needed emotionally, physically, and spiritually in tangible ways. It was beautiful to read how every need was met by the loving hand of our Father. “The Destination” describes the emotional and spiritual process of adjusting to life post-cancer, navigating life outside the close “cocoon” of God’s shelter and love that Helena experienced during her illness and recovery, and then having to move forward. The cancer journey was at an end, but regular daily life continues on towards the final destination – eternal glory! Written with warmth, raw honesty, and so much hope, Broken Beauty gives the reader a close glimpse into a heart-rending yet beautiful time of suffering and sickness. Saturated with references to God’s Word and the comfort that Helena received from it, this book will be a real encouragement to anyone going through a period of trial or illness. It would also be useful to read when walking alongside a friend or relative experiencing a tough time, for throughout the book there is helpful advice and practical wisdom on how to be there for someone who is suffering. In this world broken by sin, we will all encounter suffering during our lives, whether our own or that of someone we love, and Helena’s book shines a bright light on how God turns our suffering into something beautiful, to His glory. I highly recommend it!

“Now I understood that life is all about God’s glory in my story and my delight in Him through that story. Now I understood that through His glory, my joy is made complete.” (p.239)

Broken Beauty is available at Amazon, including as an audiobook read by the author.

A version of this review will also appear in Una Sancta.

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Family, Movie Reviews

Babes in Toyland

Family /Musical 1961 / 105 minutes Rating: 7/10 Babes in Toyland stars all your children's nursery rhyme favorites. There's Little Jack Horner, Simple Simon and the pieman, Jack and Jill, Little Bo Peep and her sheep, and of course, Mother Goose herself. That might make this the perfect way to introduce your little ones to the musical genre. Our story begins with preparations for a wedding. Tom (as in, "Tom, Tom, the Piper's son") and Mary (quite contrary) are going to get married and the whole village is so excited they just have to dance and sing! There has to be a villain, of course, and the black-hatted, black-caped, black-elevator-shoe-clad Barnaby Barnacle is such an over-the-top meanie that only the youngest of children might be scared by him. He knows something Mary doesn't – that when Mary is married, she's going to inherit a large sum, so Barnaby wants to marry Mary, instead of Tom! To that end, he hires two henchmen – the very large Gonzorgo, and the entirely silent Roderigo – to, first, kidnap Tom and throw him into the sea, and then steal Mary's sheep so that, impoverished and alone, she'll be forced to marry Barnaby. Crooks that they are, the two henchmen instead sell Tom to the gypsies so as to get paid twice. And that sets the scene for Tom's eventual return. But there are still sheep to recover, and that leads to an almost "second chapter" for the film where Tom and Mary head into the ominous "Forest of no Return" to search for the sheep. There they find "the Toyman" who is a Santa-like figure, making toys for girls and boys. Further hijinks ensue, with Barnaby still trying to marry Mary, but this time using all sorts of toys and gadgets from the Toyman's workshop to try to put an end to Tom. When he gets his hands on a shrinking ray he thinks he can finally cut Tom down to size. It turns out, though, that even pipsqueak Tom, with the help of a toy army, is more than a match for Barnaby! Cautions Not much to note here: the talking trees in the Forest of No-Return were the only truly scary characters for my sensitive 7-year-old, and it helped to assure her that they turn out to be not so bad after all. Also, Tom briefly plays the part of a gypsy fortune-teller, and that might have been problematic if it wasn't all just a prank on Barnaby. Conclusion The acting is over-the-top and the characters are all from nursery rhymes so the target audience is clearly children. But there's so much color and energy and action that older kids and parents will enjoy it too. ...

Drama, Movie Reviews

The Song

Drama / Musical 2014 / 116 minutes RATING: 9/10 The Song destroys all the expectations we have for Christian films. It has great acting, a great script, an even better soundtrack...and also infidelity, abortion, suicide, drugs, and more infidelity. It's far better than most any Christian film you've seen, but also much grittier. It is based on, but does not pretend to be, the story of King David and Solomon. The setting is Nashville, with Jed King an aspiring country singer who hasn't yet measured up to the status of his superstar father. But he also hasn't fallen into any of his excesses either.  When he meets Rose, the manager of a winery, Jed writes a special song for her that turns into his first major hit. From there we see him rise to spectacular heights. Like Solomon before him, he has it all. And like Solomon (and his superstar father), that's not enough – he falls to temptation, in his case involving the lead singer of his opening act. That doesn't explain how very different this film is from the typical Christian fare, so let's focus on two things that make it remarkable. The first is the outstanding pairing of story with biblical narration. All the "Solomonic texts"– Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and the Song of Solomon – are quoted regularly and impactfully. Jed is learning some hard lessons through the film, and he shares them, warning us of the ways of the adulterous women and the futility of having it all when it is all going to turn to dust in the end. Remarkable, too, is the music. It's another fantastic pairing this time of story and song: the musical performances are worth the price of admission right there! While praising it as highly as I can, I will add that this was a hard film to watch the first time, since, being familiar with both David and Solomon's story, my wife and I knew that at some point Jed's happy story was going to take a devastating, self-sabotaging turn. We actually ended up watching it in two nights, the first with all the fun romantic joking and giddiness of Jed convincing Rose to be his wife. We shut it off right before Jed was set to make his stupid devastating decisions (it wasn't hard to tell when that was going to happen). Then the next evening, we could start with that ugliness, ride it out, and then enjoy the end of the movie, where we got to see his life impacted by undeserved but gratefully received grace. CAUTIONS Even though we don't really see anything objectionable, the mature topic matter means this is not a film for children. Underscoring that point, it begins with a two-minute overview of the lowlights of David King's life. We see Jed's father singing on the Grand ol' Ole Opry and later catching his bandmate's wife swimming naked in a lake (the water obscures her), paralleling David seeing Bathsheba. While King David kills Uriah, in the film the husband, upon learning of his friend's and wife's betrayal, commits suicide. Thankfully this is all covered in a quick montage in the opening minutes. CONCLUSION Some films are gritty for the sake of being gritty. This is gritty for the sake of being true. But it is also funny, romantic, rousing, thought-provoking, and toe-tapping for the same reason: because that's what life is like too. I don't know if I gave The Song the pitch it deserves, so I'm linking to a few other reviews so you can get a second and third opinion. Plugged In – conservative Christian review Variety – a secular take If you want to dig into the film further, here's a list of some of the biblical references throughout the film. You can check out the unique trailer below, and rent the film online at Amazon and other online streaming services. ...


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