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Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Brave Ollie Possum

by Ethan Nicolle 373 pages / 2019 If you were ever a scaredy-cat, or if you might have one in your family, this could be a fun story to read together... though you might have to do so during the daytime, with all the lights on. It's about nine-year-old Ollie Mackerelli, who is so afraid of things that go bump in the night that he's taken up permanent residence in his parents' bed. This is about how he learned to be brave. But his transformation doesn't happen quickly. Things start off with cowardly Ollie running to his parents' bedroom yet again to crawl under the sheets with them. That's a safe place to be, but it does come with a cost: three people in a double bed leave his dad with bags under his eyes and a scowl on his face. He wants to know when Ollie is going to grow up and stop being afraid of imaginary monsters. Then, mysteriously. Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle, a very strange, very large lady shows up at the Mackerellis' door. She offers to take their son to a "special go-away fun place where children like Ollie can be taken and all his fears will be gobbled up." Who is this lady? Her card says she specializes in "professional anti-scary therapy and comfortology." Desperate, the sleep-deprived parents hand off their son to the expert, hoping she'll be able to help. But here's the twist: Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle isn't actually an expert in anti-scary therapy. She's actually an ogre. And all those bumps in the night? It's her pet monster making them. Ollie was right all along! But being right won't get him out of the clutches of this ogre. And to make matters worse, she wants to eat him. It turns out scared children are an ogre delicacy. But despite being scared, Ollie gathers enough courage to spray the ogre with one of her own magic potions. Sadly, ogres aren't susceptible to magic potions. People are, though, so when the ogre spits the potion right back at him, Ollie is transformed into a creature that passes out in the face of danger: Ollie becomes a possum. The rest of this rollicking tale is about Ollie, with the help of some animal friends, learning what true courage is: that it's not about being unafraid, but about facing our fears and going on anyway. The author of Brave Ollie Possum is one of the folks behind the Christian satire site Babylonbee.com so the book is every bit as funny as you might expect. Another highlight is the artwork. This is a full-size novel, but it could almost be called a picture book, with fantastic, fun illustrations every three pages or so. CAUTION The only caution I'll note is that this book about being brave is, at times, scary. I think it might be the book I am most looking forward to reading to my children, but there is no way I could read this as their bed-time story, or even in the middle of the day. I'm going to have to wait a bit, probably until they are all at least nine. CONCLUSION But for kids over ten and over, particularly boys, this will be so much fun. And for certain 9-year-old kids who are scared of what goes bump in the night, this could be a good day-time read with mom and dad to help a little one learn what being brave is all about.

Pro-life - Abortion

People with Down Syndrome in “civilized” Denmark almost all exterminated

Here’s one of those moral dilemmas. There are three people in a room. They all have the same medical condition and are in fact the last people alive who have it. It is by no means life-threatening, nor is it contagious, and its main symptoms are physical growth delays and varying degrees of intellectual disability. There is, however, currently no cure for it. Someone enters the room and tells you that they have found a cure, which they are going to give you. They hand you a gun. All you have to do, they tell you, is pull the trigger three times and you will have completely eradicated the condition from planet Earth. What would you do? Not hard, is it? Yet imagine someone carrying out the killing and then triumphantly proclaiming that they had indeed eradicated the condition. You’d be appalled at the Hitlerian cruelty. Appalled at the callous disregard for a fellow creature made in the Imago Dei. But perhaps even more than that, you’d surely be sick to the stomach to hear them acting like they had found a cure, rather than having simply killed three human beings to achieve their ends. You don’t cure disease by killing people, do you? Apparently you do. A few years back Iceland became the first “civilized Western” country to become a Down Syndrome-free zone, and Denmark is close to becoming the second. Back in 2015, CPH Post (formerly The Copenhagen Post), Denmark’s only English-language newspaper, ran a piece with the headline:

“Down Syndrome heading for extinction in Denmark.”

This must rank as one of the most misleading headlines in history. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that Denmark’s doctors had found a cure for Down Syndrome. Except they haven’t. What they have in fact done is not made Down Syndrome almost extinct, but rather people with Down Syndrome. The headline should have read: “People with Down Syndrome heading for extinction in Denmark.” Or more accurate still: "People with Down Syndrome heading for extermination in Denmark." Doesn’t sound quite as medical, does it, unless you mean in the Josef Mengele sense of the word! Yet this drive to eradicate Down Syndrome by eradicating people with Down Syndrome is apparently going down rather well in Denmark. According to the article, 98% of pregnant women who were revealed to be carrying an unborn child with Down Syndrome had him or her aborted, and 60% of Danes see it as a “positive development” that there are considerably fewer Down Syndrome children being born. Positive development? Ridding Denmark of Down Syndrome by curing it might be considered a positive development. But ridding Denmark of Down Syndrome by killing those with the condition? That’s a positive development??? Here’s what Britain’s biggest funder of abortions, the NHS, says about people with Down Syndrome:

“People with Down syndrome can have a good quality of life. With support from their family and others, many people are able to get jobs and live fairly independently.”

So 60% of Danes believe that the eradication from their country of “people who can have a good quality of life…can get jobs and live fairly independently” by killing them is a good thing? Have they ever seen the joy Down Syndrome people bring to those around them? Do they care? Have they any heart? Not so long ago, Down Syndrome could not be detected in the womb. Now that it can, 98% of Down Syndrome children are aborted in Denmark, over 90% in Britain, and – most shockingly – every single Down Syndrome child in Iceland. The real test of the character of any civilization is how it treats its weakest and most helpless members. If it loves them and seeks to help them, it should be praised. If it seeks cures to treat their conditions, great. But if it seeks to extinguish the people who have the condition from its midst, and then pats itself on the back at having eradicated the condition, what grounds do we have for calling it civilized?

Rob Slane is the author of “A Christian & an Unbeliever Discuss: Life, the Universe & Everything” which is available at Amazon.ca here and Amazon.com here. He lives in Wiltshire, and definitely not Wales.

Theology

Mike Ditka and Abraham Lincoln’s temporary comfort

Pithy bits of folks wisdom are everywhere – kitchen counters, business meeting room walls, even email tag lines display sayings like "Everything in moderation, and moderation in everything" or "Actions speak louder than words." Usually, there's some truth to these aphorisms, but this past week, when I received a promotional email from Thinkspot.com, I was struck again by how insufficient they often are. Thinkspot is the Facebook alternative that Jordan Peterson and others are trying to put together, and in this email they shared examples of the content they'll have, including one nugget from a Beta user touting the merits of the mantra: "This, too, shall pass." Football fans of a certain age might remember that phrase from famed Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka. When he was fired he told reporters and fans again and again that, “This, too, shall pass.” The aphorism seemed a comfort to him that no matter the pain and disappointment he was feeling, it was only going to be temporary. Ditka attributed the phrase's origins to the Bible, but it can’t be found there. Instead, there is a connection to Abraham Lincoln, who, while not taking credit for it, also thought it a fantastic line. In an 1859 speech he presented it to an audience of farmers, perhaps because of the frequent ups and downs of their weather-dependent occupation:

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

The reason Ditka and Lincoln and many others have been helped by this phrase is that there is truth to it. Whether we’re changing our sixth dirty diaper of the day, or celebrating with family and friends at our wedding, it is worth reflecting that both are only temporary. Knowing it is only for a time can help us endure trials and keep us grounded in triumphs. But, like so much of man's wisdom, this aphorism gets it only partly right. This is the stoics’ comfort, which keeps us from falling too low only by keeping us from rising too high. But Christians know – and need to share with the world – that not everything will pass. There is a lasting joy, and a complete comfort, to be found in knowing that whatever else might be temporary, our God is, always was, and always will be. As David in Psalm 23 proclaims:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Children’s picture books

20 read-aloud suggestions…

I’ve been reading out loud to my girls since they were born, and now that they are older we're still reading, ending each day with a chapter or two of something. That means for years now I've also been on the hunt for that next great book to read, talking to others and searching their bookshelves to find out what their favorites are and what they might recommend. If you're looking for that next book too, or maybe the coronavirus quarantine has you thinking about reading to your kids for the first time, here are some favorites that our family and others have sure loved. Many of these can be checked out electronically from your local library. Otherwise, considering buy the e-book version of one of the chapter books – it's an investment that'll pay off in the hours you and your family can enjoy these stories together. While there are 20 recommendations below, some are of books series, so the total number of books recommended amounts to well over 100, and all of them fantastic! PICTURE BOOKS All of these have big bright pictures on every page, and the first three are rhymed, which makes it a lot easier for a beginning Dad to get off to a good reading-out-loud start; these will make you sound good! A camping spree with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen – it has 2 great sequels The Farm Team by Linda Bailey – about a hockey-playing barnyard Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel  – a favorite of millions for the last 40 years Charlie The Ranch Dog by Ree Drummond – while the 10 sequels can't quite match the enormous charm of this, the original, your kids will love them too Don’t Want to Go by Shirley Hughes – Shirley Hughes has dozens of other wonderful read-aloud picture books The Little Ships by Louise Borden – this is a stirring WWII account suitable for the very young, about the bravery of ordinary folk James Herriot’s Treasury for Children – a big book with 8 sweet stories for animal-loving children Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant – an old man and his cat, and his wonderful neighbor and her trouble-making dog - 23 books in all. Piggie and Elephant series by Mo Willems – an Abbot and Costello-like duo of Piggie and Elephant getting into all sorts of antics. 29 books, most of which require from the reader only the ability to do just two different voices BOOKS WITH PICTURES There are pictures in these selections, but not on every page. These are slightly longer, more involves stories which your children will not be able to read on their own until the later part of Grade 1, or the beginning of Grade 2, but they’ll love to hear them a lot earlier than that. Bruno the Bear by W.G. Van de Hulst – one in a series of 20+ classic books that are impossible to find except here Winnie the Pooh & The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne – it’s worth getting the big collected treasury to read and reread again and again The Big Goose and the Little White Duck by Meindert DeJong – a gruff grandpa wants to eat the pet goose! Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling – the gorgeous Jerry Pinkney adaption is the very best Prince Martin Wins His Sword by Brandon Hale – epic story, in rhyme - this is just so fun to read out loud, and there are 3 sequels! CHAPTER BOOKS Once the kids are hitting kindergarten or Grade 1 mom and dad can read books they might read for themselves only in Grade 5 or 6, or even as adults. That can make reading aloud more fun for parents, as the stories will be of more interest to them now. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – this is not the easiest read aloud – the sentences can be quite choppy – but girls everywhere are big fans, and there are 8 sequels The Bell Mountain series by Lee Duigon – only downside to this 11-book Christian fantasy series is that each title leads into the next; it’s one big story with no clear ending in any of the books. But we've read all 11 so far and are eagerly anticipating #12! The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson – A laugh out loud hilarious adventure for older children (maybe Grade 3 and up), with 4 main books, and then a book of short stories too. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien – much more of a children’s tale than Lord of the Rings and shorter too (maybe also best for Grade 3 and up) The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton - the author is Christian though that doesn't come up directly anywhere; it's just good silly fun Treasures from Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson – a clearly Christian grandma talks with her granddaughter, telling stories about way back when she was a little girl. This wouldn't work for boys, but our girls absolutely love it (and there are 3 sequels every bit as good). Innocent Heroes by Sigmund Brouwer – Brouwer has collected true stories about the amazing feats different animals managed while working in the trenches of World War I, and then told them as if they all happened in just one Canadian army unit. This is probably my wife's favorite book on this list, and the girls sure liked it too. There were one or two instances where I had to skip a few descriptive words, just to tone down the tension a tad - war stories are not the usual fare for my girls – but with that slight adaptation, this made for great reading even for their 5-9-year-old age group.

Jon Dykstra, and his siblings, blog on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com.

SPURGEON’S SORROWS: Realistic hope for those who suffer from depression
by Zack Eswine
144 pages / 2014

Drawing on over eighty sermons by C. H. Spurgeon (largely from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit), the author paints a vivid picture of the recurring bouts of depression, melancholy, and helplessness that harassed Spurgeon. But Spurgeon’s difficulties also enabled him to minister from the pulpit and in correspondence with many suffering from depression and from the callous comfort of “friends.”

The book is organized under three themes:

1) Trying to understand depression
2) Learning how to help
3) Aids for daily coping

The author places a strong emphasis on the fact that depression often has “circumstantial, biological and spiritual contributors and challenges” and “that the spiritual side of things could originate its own kind of depression.“ He draws on sources contemporary to both Spurgeon and our day on depression,

A section named: “Jesus Suffered Depression Too” may raise eyebrows! Spurgeon on Heb. 4:15 and Heb. 2:18:

“readily applies this sympathy of Jesus to include not only our physical weakness but also our ‘mental depression.’… Realistic hope is a Jesus-saturated thing…. [He] is an ally, a hero, a companion-redeemer, advocating for the mentally harassed.”

****

THE HAPPY CHRISTIAN: Ten ways to be a joyful believer in a gloomy world
by David Murray
256 pages / 2015

In this book David Murray sets out to:

“identify the major causes of negativity and unhappiness in our lives and outline ten biblical and practical ways to tilt the balance of our attitude, outlook, words, and actions that will lift our spirits, compel attention for the Christian faith, and make the Church an energizing force in a life-sapping culture.”

The “key is individual Christians and the Christian church repositioning the positive symbol of the Christian faith, the cross of Jesus Christ, at the center of their faith again.”

Murray combines biblical breadth and depth with current research and statistics on happiness and mental health.  He presents this in an older more Puritan-style of writing, full of alliteration and multiple angles of description and application. Throughout the book there is much meat and sweetness to savor and meditate upon.

The chapter on “Happy Differences” deals with the topic of “diversity” or “Why can’t everyone be more like me?” He carefully distinguishes between issues of ethnic/cultural diversities and seeing all moralities/immoralities as the same.

One quibble: I do find it odd that virtually all the Scripture citations are in the end-notes and not in the text.


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