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Adult biographies, Book Reviews

Saint Patrick

by Jonathan Rogers 2010 / 132 pages While legends about St. Patrick (385-461) abound, facts about this Irish saint are hard to come by. Jonathan Rogers explains that the most substantive information we have about Patrick comes from just two documents, which are the only pieces of writing we have from the man himself. The Confession of Saint Patrick, lays out his theological beliefs, even as he shares the story of his capture by Irish slavers, and his later escape back to civilization. The Letter send to the soldiers of Coroticus, was a plea to a British raider to return the newly baptized Irish Christians the man had stolen and taken off to slavery. These two documents are included, in their entirety, as appendices in the back of this slim volume. Rogers uses the remaining 100 pages to put Patrick's writings in a historical and cultural context. The biggest eye-opener for me was the reason Ireland hadn’t yet been evangelized. With the Christianization of the Roman Empire, people of this time saw “outside the Empire” as being “outside the Church.” So to most it was unthinkable that the barbarian Irish could even become Christian. But it wasn't inconceivable to Patrick. My takeaway from this book is that what made Patrick special was his zeal for lost people that others thought irredeemable. That’s a takeaway worth applying. While new copies are getting scared, used copies abound, and the e-book is readily available on Amason....

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

Saving my assassin

by Virginia Prodan 2016 pages / 336 pages How would you respond if you were staring down the barrel of a gun held by someone the government had paid to kill you? That’s how Virginia Prodan found herself. A citizen of communist Romania, her memoir begins when she was a young girl, in trouble already for her family’s attendance at the Catholic Church. Then, as a recently converted lawyer, she defends fellow Christians from the government’s persecution, and eventually she is exiled to the United States. It is an intense story, full both of bravery on Virginia's part, and reliance on God to make that bravery possible. It is also an important window into the persecution that many of our brothers and sisters face all over the world. Finally, it wraps up with some information on the assassin mentioned on the title, showing the ways God’s grace goes much further than was ever expected. Cautions There are elements of daily life in Romania, especially prior to Virginia’s conversion, that fall outside of how Christians ought to live. There is also a brief mention of the ending of a marriage that feels strangely cavalier, though it is likely just not highlighted further as it falls outside the main timeframe of the book. These cautions are minor, and should not deter mature teens or adults from reading the book. Conclusion This is a book that would be interesting as an action story or spy thriller. But it is more than that, a book that examines how God can provide great courage to his people, how He works in situations that are frightening, and how He uses means that no one involved would expect to bring his sheep home to the fold. It’s an exciting and moving story that is well worth the time....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

3 ways of confronting the problem of diminishing attention spans through the Great Books

How many books do you finish? How many blog posts do you really read? I am guessing that you, like me, are busy and are tempted to skim just about everything. In a world of touch screens and endless entertainment, our attention spans atrophy into something that might look like childishness to our ancestors. But how can we build up the attention spans that we need for sustained thought in the modern age. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay said that the audience that they contemplated while writing their masterful defense of the new US Constitution in The Federalist Papers was a farmer in Upstate New York. In our day, it seems that most every time a politician opens his mouth, we find that he could not match that 19th-century dirt farmer. Our attention spans are diminished and might, it seems, be extinguished completely, but I want to recommend a course of treatment. It is simple: read the Great Books . Here are three ways reading these books helps us confront the problem of diminishing attention spans. 1. The Great Books are a mirror that helps us see the problem The Great Books hold up a mirror that helps us see the extent of the problem (which is the diminishment of our capacity for sustained thought). Reading the Great Books is challenging. The first book I teach to our seniors each year is Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is a challenge! Deep concepts, archaic language, demanding expectations (because Milton expects that you have read the other Great Books written before his – particularly the Bible). This is difficult, but we need to understand one powerful fact: people in every generation prior to ours have mastered these books because they are so important! What is the mirror saying about our generation? 2. The Great Books reward sustained contemplation The Great Books reward sustained contemplation where the reading of “chapters” is necessary. Have you ever read a page or two, or a paragraph or two, of a book only to get distracted? You retain almost nothing. Emily and I had an embarrassing situation like this early in our marriage. We decided to read The Lord of the Rings together. So far, so good, right? Wrong! We decided that we would read it to each other when we went to bed. Our first daughter, Maddy, had just arrived. I was working hard at the school. We were both exhausted. It did not go well. We actually dreaded the elf poetry and songs that Tolkien inserts. That knocked us out every time. Because of the brokenness of the reading, we missed so much. The Great Books reward sustained concentration and punish flighty drifting. Each year when I teach Paradise Lost, I tell the students that reading this book is like weightlifting. Reading it grows you. You leave it stronger than you began, but unless you devote yourself to reading a section, book, canto, or chapter your reward is diminished. This means that these books challenge their reader to make them a priority. They grow our attention span and by this they grow us toward fuller humanity. Very few people do things just because they are difficult – and most of those people need help. Hard things should be hard for a reason. They should eventually result in happiness or the hope of happiness. The Great Books can be challenging, but they reward those who discipline both their tastes and abilities. The experience of the Great Books makes everything else better and sweeter. Every time I am watching a movie where a husband stands between his wife and evil men, my mind starts drifting off to Odysseus stringing the bow and restoring order to Ithaca. Your life is richer for reading The Odyssey. So, the discipline that reading the Great Books rewards actually makes life sweeter and better. 3. The Great Books measure us  The Great Books measure us. We need to grow up to read them. We need to do this thoughtfully and with a sense of the frame of our students, but we should celebrate with them when they become men and women who complete the Iliad or the Aeneid or Moby Dick. As they accomplish this, they become a member of a community that stretches back in time to the beginnings of this civilization. They begin to love the same words that their grandparents and great-great-great (etc.) grandparents loved. Of course, the Scriptures are at the core of this “way of viewing the world.” In them, we find the stories that encompass our lives. A number of years ago, Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio was speaking at a conference and he made this point in a profound way talking about music, he said, “Tradition is something we have to live up to.” His point is mine. The great music of the past, measures us. It is not that we cannot add to it, but to add to it, we should first master it. Mastering it prepares us to find our own voice and to find that we have a voice worth heeding. The Great Books are a tradition like this. We speak best when we are disciplined enough to master the tradition. My hope is that you kept reading this post and that, hopefully, this post will encourage you to set aside some time to devote yourself to reading the Great Books. Start by doing the reading. It will stretch you and grow you, but you will find yourself stronger and wiser as you devote yourself to this worthy task. Ty Fischer's article first appeared on the Veritas Press blog and is reprinted here with permission. Veritas Press has a number of homeschooling resources built around a Great Books curriculum.  Editor's endnote What are the "Great Books"? There is no one list, but the term is meant to describe a compilation of classics from Western Literature. Some lists are very long, topping hundreds of books, while others limit themselves to as little as 50, but the idea behind all of them is that these are foundational books – read these and you will have a better understanding of some of the key ideas shaping the world today. A Christian list would look different than a non-Christian, though a Christian list should contain non-Christian books. Placement is as much or more about a book’s influence as it is about its genuine insight, so pivotal infamous books do make their appearances. So what exactly might be on such a list? Here is an example: The Unaborted Socrates by Peter Kreeft The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul Macbeth by Shakespeare Beowulf The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom The Heidelberg Catechism Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton Time Will Run Back by Henry Hazlitt The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther The Epic of Gilgamesh Divine Comedy by Dante The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien Animal Farm by George Orwell The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Christianity and Liberalism by John Gresham Machen Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift Gilead by Marilynne Robinson Lord of the Flies by William Golding Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer Desiring God by John Piper Aesop’s Fables by, well, Aesop Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie City of God by Augustine Here I Stand by Roland Bainton The Prince by Machiavelli 1984 by George Orwell Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne 95 Theses by Martin Luther Knowing God by J.I. Packer The Brothers Karamazov by Fydor Dostoevsky The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain The Republic by Plato The Koran by Mohammad The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn The Odyssey by Homer Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe The Westminster Confession of Faith Competent to Counsel by Jay Adams Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis John Adams by David McCullough Hamlet by Shakespeare A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift Ivanhoe by Walter Scott Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin ...

Articles, Book Reviews

Why read biographies?

More importantly, why stop? Any Christian who reads the Bible has been already been reading biographies. Let’s start with Genesis, where we read about the call of Abraham and his response; the prodigal son Jacob and God’s pursuit of him into the land of Laban; or the exile of Joseph, his life as a rather successful stranger in a strange land, and his return to Canaan several hundred years after his death. The books of Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, and the prophets are filled with biographies of judges, kings, queens, governors, and prophets. The New Testament has biographies of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and plenty of autobiography of His most famous follower, Paul, as well as history of the work of Peter and other apostles. Perhaps you are thinking that none of these count as biographies, since their purpose was not to recount the life of a famous person, but were instead intended to reveal God in his covenant love for the seed of the woman, and to show us our sin and the one Way to salvation. Fair enough – but that should be at least one of the purposes of all Christians’ biographies. Christ at work So, one benefit of biography is to show Christ at work defending, preserving, and increasing His people. The natural question at this point might be why we should read any biography beyond those God gives us in His word. The answer is that God didn’t stop saving people at the end of the Book of Revelation. We can gain great comfort by seeing just how active Christ is in his Kingly work after the close of the New Testament period. For example, what is often called the first autobiography is Augustine’s Confessions, written between 397 and 398 A.D., showing both how far he wandered from his Christian upbringing, and how the Lord brought him back. Augustine’s life is a great source of comfort for those who have family members straying from the faith, as his mother Monica prayed for his return for twenty years – and her prayers were answered. Many Christians’ biographies and memoirs have a similar purpose – to reveal just how God moved them toward their conversion. C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy shows the three main stages in his spiritual journey.  First, he was raised within a very nominal and cold “Christian” upbringing.  He went through a period when what he thought was his reason contradicted Christianity. Finally, by the grace and providence of God, he came to the realization that reason and faith both point to Christ as the Son of God. (A great follow up to Surprised by Joy, is Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress, his updating of Pilgrim’s Progress – it shows the hero John, like Lewis, overcoming intellectual stumbling blocks on the road of faith.) A less famous and more recent conversion story is David Nasser Jumping through Fires: The Gripping Story of One Man's Escape from Revolution to Redemption. Nasser tells how in childhood the author’s family escaped the religious fanaticism of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, how he at first therefore rejected all religion as dangerous and fanatical, and how Christian love showed him that the way of Christ is something different altogether. A similar type of journey out of the grip of Islam toward Christ is shown in Mosab Hassan Yousef’s Son of Hamas, about the son of a major Palestinian leader. Yousef goes from seeking to kill his Israeli enemies to seeking to love them. This revelation to the reader of a new purpose for his life brings up a second reason to read autobiographies – to learn from great examples of Christians being used by God for His purposes. Great examples Let’s go back to Augustine for a moment. Like Nehemiah’s Bible book, Augustine’s Confessions is directed first of all to God. Thus, beyond showing God at work, both of them also give us models for our prayer and praise in response to God’s work. Many Christian biographies show us that there are many ways beyond prayer and praise to respond to what God has done. Some more recent ones show us just how big God’s call is on our lives, how we can serve and represent Him in so many different places and stations in life. For example, we all sense that the army is a noble way to serve your country, but both movies and the day-to-day routine of army life may bring a sense of skepticism about the possibility of a Christian serving there. As an example, the movie Black Hawk Down captures the cost of the American military’s mission in Somalia in 1993, but the language in the movie certainly would not make it one worth recommending. (The cliché “swearing like a trooper” has some truth to it.) However, the story of Captain Jeff Struecker’s actions in that crisis in his memoir The Road to Unafraid tackles many of the same issues of fear, courage, loyalty, and sacrifice for teenage guys (and others) without the problem of inappropriate language. In his autobiography Struecker makes us aware that you can serve both God and country. Two books that can inspire teenage girls are Abby Sunderland’s Unsinkable and Bethany Hamilton’s Soul Surfer. Sunderland reveals how a teenage girl’s faith in God strengthens her as she seeks to circumnavigate the world – solo – by sailboat. (We’ll look at the wisdom of that quest later.) Hamilton reveals how a teenage girl copes with the loss of her arm due to a shark attack while surfing, and how she found God’s purpose in the aftermath of that terrifying event. What makes Soul Surfer particularly intriguing is that Hamilton is so normal: her story is broken up by lists of her favorite surf spots, favorite things about her home of Hawaii, and a history of surfing. Yet in the midst of all that typical teenage stuff is the awareness that God is helping others through her willingness to share her experiences. Sharing experiences Which brings us to a third reason for reading biographies. Someone once said that experience teaches us the stuff that we needed to know to avoid the problems that experience brings us. In other words, the school of hard knocks is a really strict school. Biographies can help us learn about the tough stuff without having to go through it ourselves. Remember Unsinkable? Some people have really questioned the wisdom of Abby’s parents in letting her sail around the world alone. Reading the book thoughtfully can bring us to some reflection on whether such a trip is too high a risk – whether it contradicts what the Catechism says about the command “not to recklessly endanger ourselves.” There are countless biographies about a period of history that we all hope will never return to endanger anyone – the Second World War. A quick list of such books from my school’s library would include Diet Eman’s Things We Couldn’t Say, Jan de Groot’s A Boy in War, Albert VanderMey’s When a Neighbor Came Calling, J. Overduin’s Faith and Victory in Dachau, Hermanus Knoop’s Victory in Dachau, and Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Why do we need to know about that time? First, we need to honor our grandparents, great-grandparents, and others who went through those years, with the strength that God gave them, in a way that honored Him and served their oppressed neighbors. Second, we need to understand the currents that led to the oppression of that time, to make us aware that it could happen again. Biographies can show us both the ideas that led to the devaluing of human life then, and the urgency of the struggle against those ideas now. A biography that shows us the path toward the Nazi rule of Germany, from the perspective of teens living there at that time, is Eleanor Ayer’s Parallel Journeys. Her book shows how a member of the Hitler Youth and a Jewish girl who survived the Holocaust eventually joined to show the horror of that time to audiences now. Hard experience shared can also show us that the danger is not over. David Gibbs was the attorney who fought to keep Terri Schiavo alive when her husband wanted to prevent her from receiving any treatment after a stroke. Gibbs’ book Fighting for Dear Life shows us just how far the promotion of euthanasia has gone. Another threat to human life that is still so often taken for granted is abortion. Abby Johnson’s Unplanned shows us her journey from being a director of the abortion provider Planned Parenthood to acting and praying against abortion. Conclusion One of the fruits of the Reformation was that Protestants stressed, as one writer put it, that God’s people should be a reading people. Reading biographies, in particular, can inspire thankfulness for Christ’s heavenly work on behalf of His people; give us courage to face difficult circumstances; and provide us with wisdom to know where to begin, by God’s grace, to change the world around us. This was first published in the July/August 2012 issue....

Adult biographies

Gospel Patrons: people whose generosity changed the world

by John Rinehart 2013 / 170 pages Are you a giant? Church history is full of such people. William Tyndale translated the Bible into English. George Whitefield was used by God to spark the Great Awakening, while John Newton was the ex-slave trader who wrote Amazing Grace and helped William Wilberforce end the British slave trade. These were Christian giants; their stories well known. But, as author John Rinehart notes, not all of us are called to these leadership positions. Many are called to supporting roles. In Gospel Patrons Rinehart tells the stories of three people who enabled Tyndale, Whitefield, and John Newton to do their work. Humphrey Monmouth was the man who financed Tyndale’s translation work (and spent a year in the Tower of London as reward). Lady Huntingdon used her position and influence to have the richest in England come to hear George Whitefield preach the Gospel and she funded his work reaching the rest of England and America. John Thornton placed John Newton in an influential church and encouraged him to publish a book of his hymns, one of which was Amazing Grace. Their stories are not well known, but their roles were vital too. Most of us are not giants like Tyndale, Whitefield, and Newton, and we might think that we don’t have the funds to act like Monmouth, Lady Huntingdon or Thornton either. But while few of us have the funds they did, most of us are in a position where we can spare money or time to support worthy causes. In sharing these three biographies, what author John Rinehart wants us to realize is the importance of this supporting role. God has a part for each of us to play. And if we understand how important the “lesser” roles are, perhaps we will more willingly take them on, sacrificially donating our money and our time. If I were to offer one critique, it would be on the topic that Gospel Patrons doesn't tackle: making sure that who you give to is going to use your money to good ends. Christians need to be generous and discerning. That said, this is a short book with a tight focus – to encourage and inspire Christians to be generous – so maybe discernment in giving is a topic for a different book. Meanwhile, Gospel Patrons is a very readable, very challenging, and much-needed book. I highly recommend it for all ages. TO EXPLORE FURTHER: If you want to get a flavor of this "gospel patron" idea, author John Rinehart has also written a series of articles and created some short videos, all of them freely available on his website GospelPatrons.org. Here are two examples that might be of particular interest: The Gospel Patron behind RC Sproul ...

Adult biographies

Eight Twenty Eight: When love didn’t give up

by Ian & Larissa Murphy 208 pages / 2014 I really enjoyed this book. It is the true story of Ian and Larissa. Soon after they decided to marry – ten months into their courtship – Ian was in a horrific car accident, receiving a traumatic brain injury. He spent many months in the hospital, and when Ian did eventually come out of the coma he was quite handicapped. Larissa felt that the old Ian was still there and continued to grow in love for him.  Then on the 28thof August, 2010, they married, seeking to serve God and enjoy life together with much laughter. After the accident a person made a well-meaning comment to Larissa, "You need something to keep you going" which really hurt her because it sounded like he thought she "had nothing to be living for outside of an improved Ian." But what carried her, what she discovered was the understanding that God turns everything– Ian healed, or Ian handicapped – for good (Romans 8:28). Anyone who has sat beside a loved one’s bed in ICU and gone through intense therapy with him or her, or someone who has had to come to terms with the handicaps of a loved one, will want to cling to the encouragement found in that promise. You can read the prologue and the first chapter here. And the book trailer can be viewed below. ...

Articles, Book Reviews

5 powerful pictures book

Julia Gonzaga by Simonetta Carr 64 pages / 2018 This is another book in Simonetta Carr’s “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series and it is once again a very well researched book with lovely pictures. Julia Gonzaga was born in 1513 into a wealthy nobleman’s family. She was married at age 13 and was widowed 2 years later. She never remarried but became a strong voice for the Reformation in Italy, and supported it financially. In the land of the Pope, the Reformation didn’t take place as it did throughout Europe. In 1542 the pope reopened the Sacred Office of the Inquisition, a court that put Christians on trial who opposed the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Many believers were tortured and martyred. Italian Bibles were outlawed until 1769 when the Roman Catholic Church published a translation of the Latin Bible. I learned that education flourished in the Protestant countries making it possible for the common people to read the Bible. In 1861 only 25% of the people of Italy and Spain, predominately Roman Catholic, could read and write over against 69% in Europe and 80% in USA. Julia Gonzaga is not at all well-known making this book an asset to the many books written about the Reformation in Europe. For children ages 7-12. – Joanna Vanderpol God’s Outlaw: The real story of William Tyndale and the English Bible by The Voice of the Martyrs with A. Paquette 40 pages / 2007 We all have many Bibles in our homes, something we take for granted. But there was a time when no one had that wonderful gift, a Bible which they could read and use to instruct their children. William Tyndale (1494) was a very learned scholar and the reading of the Bible in the original languages was a life-changing experience for him which he wanted to share with all people “even a ploughman.” Against the wishes of the Church and King Henry VIII, he began this task. But soon he had to flee to Germany and from there his pamphlets found their way into the hands of the common people in England. The Church responded by imprisoning and killing many of them. In 1535 Tyndale was betrayed, refused to bow the knee before the church leaders and was burnt at the stake  Just before he died he prayed “Lord Jesus! Open the King of England’s eyes!” And two years later King Henry VIII decreed that the Bible should be available to all people. This book ends with some thoughts and questions for reflection. The pictures are bright and descriptive edging towards the graphic novel style. This is a good book for Primary school teachers to read to their class. This one is not widely available but can be found at Christianbooks.com. – Joanna Vanderpol Something from nothing by Phoebe Gilman 32 pages / 1993 This children’s book, winner of the Ruth Schwartz Award, has become my favorite book to read out loud to my grandchildren. It is adapted from a Jewish folktale and in wonderful, rhythmic language tells the story of Grandpa who lovingly sews a blanket for his newborn grandson to “keep him warm and to chase away bad dreams.” As the boy grows up, the blanket wears out and is altered into a jacket, which is altered into a vest, etc. The pictures are so delightful and add to the story. For instance, we see that mom is pregnant and then a few pages later a little sister appears in the story. A second wordless story takes place along the bottom of each page. Father and mother mouse set up house and as the little mice appear, use the scraps of material from the blanket that falls between the floorboards and make them into clothes for their family and also into blankets and curtains for the wee mouse house. This is a type of story where you want to take your little dear one onto your lap and just warmly snuggle and read, explore the pictures and find lovely little treasures. – Joanna Vanderpol God made Boys and Girls by Marty Machowski 32 pages / 2019 My not even six-year-old already knows that some people think girls can marry girls. And she knows God says that isn’t so. We haven’t had to talk – yet – about folks who think that girls can become boys, but when that time comes, this book will be a help. The story begins with a fast little girl, Maya, outrunning the boys…so one of them teases her that this means she’s going to become a boy. And that gets her worried. Fortunately, this little girl has a great instructor, Mr. Ramirez, who teaches the class that gender is a “good gift from God.” He shares how, if you are a boy, then you are a boy right down to your DNA. And the same is true for girls too. Mr. Ramirez then brings things back to the very first boy and girl, Adam and Eve, and how their Fall into Sin happened because they wanted to do things their own way instead of God’s good way. Today some want to do try their own way – not God’s way – when it comes to their gender too. One of the many things I appreciated about this book was how clear kids were taught what’s right, and then encouraged to act kindly to those who are confused. Finishing up the book are a couple of pages intended for parents, which, in small print, pack a lot of information on how to talk through gender with our kids. One caution: there is one depiction of Jesus, as a baby and with no real detail given, on a page noting that God the Son became a tiny speck inside a girl, Mary, and became a man. I don’t think this a violation of the Second Commandment, but maybe someone else might. The only other caution is in regards to what isn’t tackled in this story: gender roles. God made us different, and He also gave the genders some different roles and also gave us some different general tendencies. So yes, as the book notes, some boys do like dancing, and some girls like car repair…but that’s not the general trend. And because the general trend is never noted in the book, this absence could, if left undiscussed, leave young readers with the impression that no such trends exist. Then they would fall for a different one of the world’s gender-related lies: that other than sexual biology, men and women aren’t different at all. This is not a picture book you are going to read over and over with your children because it is more of a conversation starter than a story. But it is a wonderful help for parents in discussing an issue that none of us ever confronted when we were kids. It is a different world today, and we want to be the first to broach these topics with our kids. Reading and discussing a book with your little one is a fantastic way to do it. - Jon Dykstra Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat by Andrew Wilson & Helene Perez Garcia 32 pages / 2019 The story, written in engaging rhythm, opens with Sophie crying because her sister broke her dollhouse and Sophie, in anger, pushed her over and then yelled at her parents. As she thinks about what just happened and meditates on how bad she is, she looks out the window and sees the Heidelberg’s cat from next door.  Surprisingly, the cat asks her why she is crying and Sophie tells her sad story. He invites her onto the rooftop and as they walk along, they chat. At first I thought, oh no, this is not a Reformed story, as Sophie tells her story and how she tries to be so good but fails. But then the cat sets her straight by explaining that no one can be good because we are all sinful. There is only one person who is good and that is Jesus. Only He can free us from our sins. The cat then uses Lord’s Day 1 from the Heidelberg Catechism and comforts Sophie with the words that “I am not my own” but belong to Jesus.  This is a lovely book for ages 4 and up who can understand the concept of God’s love and grace in Christ Jesus. – Joanna Vanderpol...

Church history, People we should know

Rahab the whore...mother of Christ

"...the LORD your God is He who is God in heaven above and on earth beneath..." - Joshua 2:11 ***** In the house where one pays for love there arrived two young customers who had a different kind of business on their minds. They were engaged in espionage, nothing less: covert activities which required circumspect movements; activities that disguised their real intent, that even lead to the pretense of tourism, accentuated by a trip to the establishment of the local prostitute. They had been sent out by the master of strategy, Joshua the son of Nun, one of the two survivors of an earlier spy mission some forty years ago. At that time the economic intelligence gathering yielded interesting results, but the military intelligence had been devastating for an unbelieving generation. It took forty years to purge the nation of that element of destructive disbelief: they were all buried in the sands of the desert. Forty years of grave digging, forty years of sighing about "the wind passing over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more," (Ps. 103:16) as one of their offspring, David, would later sing. Then, at last, even Moses died; the LORD Himself took care of the funeral arrangements. Some safe house! Rahab hiding the spies in the flax. But now a next generation had come forth, the covenant had been renewed, and with it came a new willingness to serve, as these young men demonstrated, arrayed in their disguises. They were in the business of gathering information, and for information, they searched. This woman they met was ready to give answers to questions that had not even been raised. And so, notwithstanding the surroundings of ill repute, they had come to the right address; this too was of the Lord. Maybe they did not realize it, but they ended up in what the spy industry calls a "safe house." "Some safe house," one might mutter; hardly had they bedded down then that the local constabulary arrived for their arrest! Had the woman ratted on them? They were instructed, "to view the land, especially Jericho" (Josh. 2:1). Had they been too obvious in their observations of the land, even in their disguises? Were their questions reported? Thinking fast What do you do when soldiers come with their raucous order: "Open up in the name of the law!"? How do you respond to the gruff demand: "Hand them over, those enemy agents that we know came to your house!"? What do you do? Do you panic? Do you deny the obvious? In times of war and threats of war, house searches are not always conducted under the sanction of a warrant, the validity of which one could politely argue so as to gain some time to contemplate one's next move. But here was a woman who did not panic, who did not need to stall for time. Had her trade made her skillful in leading men astray? She surely knew how to forestall a house search! She was, likely, more than a little coy when she assured them that, indeed, these men had come to her, you know these things happen in an establishment like mine, and they left not so long after they arrived, and that is not unusual in my profession either. And you tell me they were spies? Wow!  Then, in a conspiring manner, she might have whispered, "They can't have gone far; they went that-a-way. Run after them and you'll be sure to catch up with them." The path she pointed out to the soldiers seemed to be clear route towards promotion in rank, and maybe even a decoration. The gates were opened for them and the gates were shut again after them, and the pursuers of Israel's heroes chased after wind. The “white lie” Through the years much has been theorized and debated about the possibility of "white lies." It seems that up until World War II most commentators agreed that a deception like the one performed by Rahab was still, in itself, a sinful act. But during the war many persons of great integrity suddenly faced Nazi soldiers and their loud demand: Aufmachen, Polizei!! "Open up, it's the police!" Since then the condemnation has not been so outspoken any more. Those who managed to lead the authorities down the garden path showed no remorse when later they admitted to have given their deceptive testimony. In fact, they were rather gleeful to report how several Jews were saved, the consequence of a gullible interrogator. There are some amusing anecdotes about those days. The scene in the book of Joshua is not without humor either, enhanced by this preposterous elaboration: "so the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan, as far as the crossing points..." (Josh 2:7). You could almost hear the eager conversations between then: how pleased the captain would be when they brought the spies in, and how proud their wives would be when their men would have their medals pinned on them. And then, gradually, the conversation slowed until finally they muttered: Where on earth are those fellows? But the readers of Joshua know where those fellows were all along: right there, hidden under the flax on the roof! Yet, "the men pursued them," Joshua said seriously. What a joke! Prostitute and now traitor? All this may seem somewhat goofy, worthy of an occasional chuck, but yet... couldn't we say that Rahab the whore had now added to the abominable character of her profession the sordid crime of high treason? She had joined in with the enemy camp! If we think back to World War II again, who would have anything to do with someone who stooped that low? However, is that verdict fair? Should she be displayed in the marketplace, shaven, shorn, and tarred, to have all the passersby spit on her? "The love of country is inborn in every citizen," it is said. We know all about that. During wars opposing armies claim: "We have God on our side." How convincing are the speeches of the leaders! How strong the conviction of their followers! "With honor and valor we fight for our cause, with God on our side." It has been repeated over and over at wreath-laying ceremonies. But inside this woman something had changed. Was she aware of Noah's curse over Canaan? Who were those gods that were supposedly on their side? Wasn’t it to demons that they offered their sons and daughters? The cruelty of those evil forces! Then, in total contrast, there were the stories of this large nation trekking through the desert, the children of Abraham. There was a cloud to guide them by day and a fire by night, she was told. Those were the manifestations of an entirely different God – One who loved His people, who was like fire around them to protect them, who rained bread from heaven to feed them, and who let them drink from the rock. True, He punished them for their evil doings, but He still upheld them and destroyed their enemies before them. Who knows, but that some wandering minstrel might have come by with fragments of the song of Moses "...the Lord will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants..." (Deut. 32:36). This God was not like the demons who belong to the netherworld. He was the God in heaven above and on the earth beneath. But in His holy nation, would there be a place for her, daughter of the accursed Canaan, a woman who had availed herself of the profits of fornication? From rebel to child of God Rahab helps the spies climb out over Jericho's wall. But then this wonder took place, as miraculous as creation itself: according to His decree, God softened her heart and inclined her to believe. At the same time the crisis of possible detection having been forestalled, she ran up the stairs and blurted out her confession: "I know that the LORD your God is He who is God in heaven and on earth beneath." Would a critical onlooker find that confession a bit meager? It is probably fair to say that she wouldn’t have passed an exam in systematic theology. All we know is that in that confessed faith she bargained with the two representatives of God's holy nation: their safety for her and her family. They made a deal and it was confirmed by oath. The last words reportedly from her mouth were: "Amen, so be it" (Josh 2:21). Of these actions, undoubtedly recited through the ages, James, the leader of the church at Jerusalem, would later make honorable mention, listing them in one breath with the great works of faith by father Abraham (James 2:23-25). So it was that the first major strategic undertaking of Joshua, the son of Nun, seemed to have been upset by the tardiness of the spies. What kind of secret agent accomplishment was that, to bed down in a house of ill repute, to sneak through a window, to hide three days in the caves? Not a very good start, was it? Yes, true, it did not seem like much, but out ways are not God's ways. Just look at the valuable intelligence they received out of the hands of a woman chosen by God: "Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands; and moreover, all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of us" (Josh 2:24). God’s ways are not man’s ways ...and the walls came tumbling down. The preparations for the battle of Jericho, seen from a military point of view, seemed to be directed towards a total disaster. When the first encounter with a fortified city is to take place, what military exercises come up front? Stamina-building drills? A mock attack? Special wall-climbing exercises? None of that happened. Instead, the sign of the covenant was administered (Josh. 5:2-9). All the army was circumcised. The effect of adult circumcision was that the army was sapped of its military strength for days. If the enemies were to find out... But thus it pleased the LORD to fulfill all righteousness. And stranger yet, a patch of ground within view of Jericho was declared holy territory, where the military leader of Israel met the commander of the mighty host of the LORD (Josh. 5:13-15). Joshua, the son of Nun, was in this very peculiar way made ready for battle: he had to take off his shoes. Now Jericho, known for its mighty men of valor, was sealed up tight ready to defend itself behind its fortified walls with whatever strength still remained within its armed forces. So, we would say: "Time for action. Get on with it! Let the battle start...” But then again the events took a weird turn. Instead of an attack, there was a solemn procession around the city: seven priests blowing horns, followed by the Ark of the Covenant, and after that, the army detachments. No shouting, no banging of drums, no belligerent songs. Only the mournful sound of the seven rams’horns. The army followed silently; it was an uncanny show. Once this was accomplished, everybody headed back to their own camp and the deathly silence returned. The following days it happened again, and the next day again, and again. And every time the procession came by the house of Rahab the whore the people saw the scarlet cord hanging out of the window. And every time Rahab the whore looked out of the window and saw this strange procession going by, her heart beat wildly in anticipation. The battle of the Lord was taking shape and she had taken His side, or rather, He had taken her on His side. Now it was going to happen: the Hour Zero approached rapidly. The tension was building to an unbearable level. Finally, on the last day the procession around the city was repeated several times over, till the final trip was made and the horn blowing ended. There was a short moment of utter silence. Then the trumpets sounded their dramatic long blast, and the whole scene erupted into turmoil. The entire army gave off a loud shout, a howl of derision for the enemies of God. After that a rumbling came up, as bricks and mortar split apart, as boulders cracked and rolled away, and in their course felling and crushing the hapless defenders. Then the walls of the city fell upon them, and the ruins of the structures covered them. And through the clouds of dust, over the rubble, clambered the victorious armies of God, in endless waves, to fulfill the command of total destruction. Total destruction? Yes, the city was devoted to the LORD for destruction. Nothing was to be spared. Nothing except... The war correspondent in Joshua 6 first passes on the direct order as it was given: destroy everything. Everything, except the house of Rahab the whore. Reason for the exception? She hid the spies. Then follows the narrative: as instructed by General Joshua, the young spies went into the one remaining structure of the ring-wall. It was marked with the crimson cord. Spitting out the gritty dust of the ground granite that made film on their lips, they egged on the occupants: "hurry, hurry, quick this way to safety!" Finally comes the recap, the summing up of the total victory: the city was burned with fire. The vessels of bronze and iron were put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. End of report? No! Again it is stated, and now with greater emphasis yet, that Rahab the whore and her father's household, and all who belong to her were saved alive. "And," concludes the report, "she dwelt in Israel to this day." Why? "Because she hid the messengers, whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho," that's why. In the Hall of Fame In the hall of fame of the heroes of faith, there is a long wall lined with portraits. Hebrews 11 leads us through it. There is Abel, all scarred up, but still speaking through his faith. And look, there is Noah, that ridiculous shipbuilder on dry ground, but therefore heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. See Sarah there, laughing, because at age ninety she still conceived, and God had made laughter for her... And then...yes, indeed there she is. Rahab the whore. Even now the title of her terrible profession is still etched on the copper plate that carries her name. But her features seem familiar. Haven't we seen her somewhere before? Yes, of course, the evangelist Matthew listed her in the genealogy as a not-so-immaculate mother of Christ! The company some people keep! Look at the strange smile on her face. After all those centuries, does she still think that sending those poor soldiers on a wild good chase was rather funny? Frankly speaking, it really was funny, but it seems that the smile is not about that. No, this is a fond smile, a smile caused by amazement and expressing great love. How could she, daughter of the cursed Canaan, and practicing prostitute, how could she possibly have ended up here, among these great ones in the kingdom of Christ? Indeed, there is every reason for amazement. Here was one woman who came in last, totally unworthy, not even qualifying for the crumbs of the dogs, and yet she was given a seat of honor up front by her Great Son, the Christ, through the eternal love with which He loved her before the foundation of the world. If that does not make you smile, what else would? In this reflection the author wants to direct us back to the text to look at it with new eyes – an oh-so-familiar story startles us once again when viewed under this different light. But like any commentary on Scripture, it shouldn’t be read instead of the text itself. Read on its own, it could become confusing as to what are the author’s thoughts, and what the text actually says. So an important follow-up then is to read Joshua 2-6. This is a slightly edited version of an article that first appeared in the December 1993 issue. John de Vos was the very first editor of Reformed Perspective....

Adult non-fiction

An interview (of sorts) with "Gay Girl, Good God" author Jackie Hill Perry

Jackie Hill Perry is an American poet and recording artist on the Humble Beast label. Married to Preston, she is the mother of two children. Last year, she published her first book Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was and Who God Has Always Been. This is an “interview” of sorts, with her responses coming as excerpts from her book. ***** WES BREDENHOF:  At its heart, what is your book really about? JACKIE HILL PERRY:  Every sentence is the pursuit of showing off God….This is a book with a lot of me in it but with a whole lot more of God.  He is what the soul needs for rest and what the mind needs for peace.  He is the Creator God, the King of Glory, the one who, in love, sent the Christ to pay the penalty for and become the sin that we are all born with.  It is the words from and about this resurrected Lamb of God that I hope will lift off the page and into the heart.  This book is a lifted hand, a glad praise, a necessary hymn, a hallelujah overheard and not kept quiet.  This work is my worship unto God that, with prayer, I hope will leave you saying, “God is so good!” WB:  You say that it was the story of who you were. So who were you? What were you like? JHP:  To me, the devil made more sense than God sometimes.  Both he and God spoke.  God through His Scriptures; Satan, through doubt.  I’d learned of the Ten Commandments in Sunday school in between eating a handful of homemade popcorn and picking at my stockings.  The “Thou shall nots” didn’t complement the sweet buttered chew I found myself distracted by.  They were a noise I didn’t care to welcome.  “You can’t.  You shouldn’t.  Do not,” didn’t sound like a song worth listening to, only a terrible noise to drown out by resistance.  Satan, on the other hand, only told me to do what felt good or what made sense to me. WB:  When you finally came out as gay, what were you thinking about God? And what do you think He thought about you? JHP:  As much as I wanted to believe God grinned when He thought of my life, I knew He didn’t. My conscience spoke to me throughout the day.  In the morning, it reminded me of God.  A few minutes before the clock brought the noon in, it brought God to mind, again.  Night was when it was the loudest.  On the way to sleep, my head lay relaxed on my pillow surrounded by the natural darkness of night, I thought about God.  I was His enemy (James 4:4).  How could I, an enemy of God, have sweet dreams knowing that He sat awake throughout the night? WB:  So by God’s grace you became a Christian in 2008 – through his Spirit and Word you were miraculously brought to faith and repentance. What impact did your conversion have on your same-sex desires? JHP:  To my surprise, being a Christian delivered me from the power of sin but in no way did it remove the possibility of temptation.  A common lie thrown far and wide is that if salvation has truly come to someone who is same-sex attracted, then those attractions should immediately vanish.  To be cleansed by Jesus, they presume, is to be immune to the enticement of sin.  This we know not to be true because of Jesus. He being completely perfect and yet He still experienced temptation. WB:  What was that temptation like for you? JHP:  It was slapping me around like a weightless doll in the hands of an imaginative child. Being tossed between fun and funeral, who would I decide to trust more?  What the temptation wanted me to believe or what God had already revealed?  The struggle with homosexuality was a battle of faith.  To give into temptation would be to give into unbelief.  It was up to me to believe Him.  His Word was authoritative, active, sharp.  The simplicity of faith is this:  taking God’s Word for it.  And I might not have felt like it, but I had no choice but to believe Him. WB:  Why do we have a hard time believing that a gay girl can become a completely different creature? JHP:  Because we have a hard time believing God.  The Pharisees saw the man born blind, heard his testimony, heard about his past and how it was completely different from the present one, and refused to believe the miracle of Whothe miracle pointed to. The same power that made a man born blind able to see through the means of something as foolish as spit and mud is the same enormous power contained in a foolish gospel brought into the world by a risen Saviour.  It is through faith in Him, initiated by His pursuit of me, that I, a gay girl, now new creature, was made right with God.  Given sight, able to recognize my hands and how they’d been calloused by sin, and how Jesus had come to cleanse me of them all.  Now seeing, I worship.  One thing is sure, if ever I am asked, how am I able to see now, after being blind for so long, I will simply say, “I was blind, a good God came, and now, I see.” WB:  You have experienced the struggle with same-sex attraction.  Should those who are tempted with that identify themselves as “Gay Christians”? JHP:  I don’t believe it is wise or truthful to the power of the gospel to identify oneself by the sins of one’s past or the temptations of one’s present but rather to only be defined by the Christ who’s overcome both for those He calls His own. All men and women, including myself, that are well acquainted with sexual temptation are ultimately not what our temptation says of us.  We are what Christ had done for us; therefore, our ultimate identity is very simple:  We are Christians. WB:  In your book, you warn about the “heterosexual gospel.”  You write that “God isn’t calling gay people to be straight” and it’s actually dangerous to teach that he is.  Why do you say that? JHP:  Because it puts more emphasis on marriage as the goal of the Christian life than knowing Jesus.  Just as God’s aim in my salvation was not mainly the removal of my same-sex desires, in sanctification, it is not always His aim that marriage or experiencing an attraction for the opposite sex will be involved. Excerpts from Jackie Hill Perry’s “Gay Girl, Good God” have been used with the gracious permission of the author (and publisher). Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com. A Dutch translation of this article can be found here. ...

Book excerpts, Book Reviews, Theology

A passage from "The Hiding Place" I can't manage to read out loud...

Corrie Ten Boom's autobiographical The Hiding Place is best known for its account of her war time experiences. But one of the many powerful sections in the book is about something that happened decades before, in the year 1919. Corrie's describes her Tante Jans as a Christian social activist, who helped the poor, and also wrote tracts and pamphlets decrying such evils as mutton sleeves and bicycle skirts. In other words, a busy, well-meaning, but generally humorless lady, who was trying to earn her way to heaven. When the doctor diagnoses her with diabetes it is quite a shock as there was no real treatment at that time. It meant that Tante Jans had very little time left, maybe a few years. Her response? "And from then on she threw herself more forcefully than ever into writing, speaking forming clubs and launching projects." But then one day her weekly blood test came back black. Black meant she not longer had years or months, but merely days, three weeks at most. The family learns this before Tante Jan, and as they consider how to tell her Corrie's father hopes that: "Perhaps she will take heart from all she has accomplished. She puts great store on accomplishment, Jans does, and who knows but she is right!" So upstairs to her room they all go. "Come in," she called to Father's knock, and added as she always did, "and close the door before I catch my death of drafts." She was sitting at her round mahogany table, working on yet another appeal... As she saw the number of people entering the room, she laid down her pen. She looked from one face to another, until she came to mine and gave a little gasp of comprehension. This was Friday morning, and I had not yet come up with the results of the test. “My dear sister-in-law,” Father began gently, “there is a joyous journey which each of God’s children sooner or later sets out on. And, Jans, some must go to their Father empty- handed, but you will run to Him with hands full!” “All your clubs…,” Tante Anna ventured. “Your writings…,” Mama added. “The funds you’ve raised…,” said Betsie. “Your talks…,” I began. But our well-meant words were useless. In front of us the proud face crumpled; Tante Jans put her hands over her eyes and began to cry. “Empty, empty!” she choked at last through her tears. “How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?” And then as we listened in disbelief, she lowered her hands and with tears still coursing down her face whispered, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done all – all – on the Cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”...

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

i am n

Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists by the Voice of the Martyrs 293 pages / 2016 The “n” in the title is Arabic shorthand for “Christian,” and Islamic extremists will paint it on houses owned by Christians as a means of intimidation. It is, in some places, the equivalent of being marked for death. This was a very different and much better book than I thought it would be. I was anticipating something hard to endure: story after story of Christians getting beat up, beheaded, or jailed. I started reading only because I knew the topic was important. As the front cover puts it, we must "not let our brothers and sisters suffer in silence, nor...let them serve alone." So I started reading out of a feeling of duty. However, I kept reading because I am n is encouraging, and challenging, and just too awe-inducing to put down. Encouragement It was encouraging to see what God is up to in the  Islamic East, even in the midst of severe persecution. As one story details, before 1983 Christianity was almost unknown in Algeria. There were "no Christian bookstores, no indigenous churches, and virtually no access to Bibles." But then a few Christian tourists invited the locals to play a soccer game. The invitation was declined because the local team's best player was sick. These Christians then asked if they could come pray over the young man, and they were allowed to do so. The next day the young man was fully recovered and able to play in the soccer game. News of his healing quickly got around, and these tourists, while not missionaries, were very happy to answer the many questions that came their way. While they eventually had to go back home, the gospel news they shared stayed behind. "I felt that the stories they told were not just stories, but real," recalled Hassan. "It made we want to leave everything and follow Jesus." Hassan and other Algerians began turning to the God of the Bible. The "soccer miracle" is credited with initiating an explosion of faith in a country where Christianity was once rare. With the growth in numbers also came a growth in persecution – it is not easy to be a Christian in Algeria. But what a wonder to hear about how God can gather a people for Himself using even a soccer game. There are many other encouraging stories throughout. In chapter 43 we learn about Alejandro, from the Philippines, who was "a cold-blooded killer, a terrorist for Allah" before turning to God and becoming a pastor. And as remarkable a turnaround as his life is, God wasn't done with the amazing. "During the final evening of conference, Alejandro conversed deeply with an attendee grieving the lost of relatives – a pastor, his wife, and children – who had been killed by Muslim militants several months earlier. Only God could bring together a former Muslim murderer of Christians to comfort and pray for believers who were suffering at the hands of Islamic extremists. Challenging Now, it was challenging to read story after story of Christians who lost everything: their businesses, their homes, their friends, their family connections, even their own lives, or those of their children or spouses. They gave this all up because they understood that what they were losing paled in comparison to what they have in Jesus their Lord. In a section of the book titled " JOY" we meet Jon, a Malaysian Christian, who was able to laugh as he was beaten, expressing the joy he felt "for the honor he was feeling. 'I was okay with being beaten,' he recall. 'They beat Jesus too.'" Then, in the next chapter there is Musa, a North African who was able, for a long time, to be a quiet Christian. He wasn't sure what he would do if he was confronted about God. But then the moment came: one of his coworkers wanted to know why he didn't take a break with them to go do their prayers. "Musa realized. This is it. This was the moment he had to decide if he was for Christ or against him. A phony or the real deal. All in or all out. After a long pause, he looked his friend in the eye. 'Prayer,' he began, 'is an intimate conversation with God, and it should be done all the time, in my heart, rather than at specific times using the same phrases and postures.'" This is a world away, but a situation we can understand. We have co-workers too, who ask us questions. But the stakes aren't nearly so high for us. Musa knew he faced the loss of his job, and even the loss of his family just by making it known he follows Jesus. But still he professed his Lord. Awe-inducing Why then am I so slow to speak the name of my Savior? Why don't we profess God's name loudly and constantly? This is the challenge that I am n throws at western Christians. We have so much, and we risk so little. Why are we so quiet? What do these persecuted Christians understand about God that we still don't? They know that God is all. While we can get distracted by the abundance around us, they often times have nothing but God. And they know He is more than enough! Cautions When it comes to cautions, I can think of some minor quibbles. Mention is made of how The Jesus Film was used as an evangelistic tool. Visually depicting Jesus, and having an actor portray Him is not something we would do. But we also know that God can use even bent sticks to draw straight lines. At another point a new convert refers to himself as becoming a "son" (rather than brother) of Christ. But we should expect new converts to have some misunderstandings. Finally, there are many descriptions of persecution, but none are graphic. Conclusion I am n is a book to delight in, pray over and pass along to others. The 300 pages are broken down into 54 chapters with 48 of the accounts from the present day, and another half dozen from the pages of Church history. The short accounts make this a very easy read, and while many atrocities are described, it is always done delicately, so this may be appropriate for children as young as 10. The front cover subtitle has made this a controversial book. It reads "Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists." Yes, most of the persecution Christians face around the world is at the hand of Muslim radicals. That is not a fact that many want to acknowledge, but when we ignore it, we do so at the expense of the Christians suffering at their hands. No, not all Muslims are violent and no one is saying they are. No one is calling on us to hate Muslims. This is, in fact, a book full of Muslims who have been brought to God through the love of their Christian neighbors and family. So yes, this is an account of the Muslim persecution of Christians, but it is also an account of how that persecution should best be met: by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute the body of Christ." (Matt. 5:44). I am heading out to an abortion protest in a couple days, and after reading this, I am not nearly so intimidated as I might have been. It is indeed an honor to face persecution for the sake of God. This review first appeared on the Dykstra book blog www.ReallyGoodReads.com....

Adult biographies, Remembrance Day, Teen non-fiction

The Hiding Place

by Corrie Ten Boom 1971 / 225 pages This was such an encouraging story, and in so many ways. If you know only the barest details of Corrie ten Boom's life story you might mistake her for a superwoman. After all, this is a lady who lost her father and sister to the Nazis, and who had to endure deprivation and cruelty of a German concentration camp and yet she still managed to forgive the very people who did her so much harm. That certainly doesn't sound like any ordinary person! However, while Corrie was most certainly a special woman, her biography is all about God's greatness and not her own. HER WISE EARTHLY FATHER... In the first third of the book she sets the scene, telling of her early life, and sharing the sage wisdom of her father. Once, when she was a little girl she overheard someone talk of "sex sin" so she went to her father and asked him, "Father what is sexsin?" He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it up on the floor. "Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?" he said. I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning. "It's too heavy," I said. "Yes," he said. "And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a heavy load. It's the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you." And I was satisfied. More than satisfied– wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions – for now I was content to leave them in my father's keeping. ...POINTED HER TO HER HEAVENLY FATHER Later she, still as a child, has her first encounter with death – a small baby in an apartment on her same block has passed away - and she can't stop worrying about what she would do if her father and mother died. She can't eat, and can't stop crying. In response, her father points his little girl to her Heavenly Father. Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. "Corrie," he began gently, "when you and I go to Amsterdam – when do I give you your ticket?" I sniffed a few times, considering this. "Why, just before we get on the train." "Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things, too. Don't run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time." And that is just what Corrie finds, when years later this ordinary woman, who led such a quiet life for her first 48 years, finds herself as the leader of a Resistance cell, hiding Jews and members of the underground, stealing ration cards from the Nazis, and providing whatever help she could to whoever came asking. And that is what she found still in the midst of the Nazi concentration camp, surrounded by cruel guards and biting fleas. God gave her just what she needed, just when she needed it. This is a wonderful story that will be encouraging to anyone contending with discouragement, sickness, or the death of someone close to them. Miss ten Boom wants us to know that God never stops being good, even when we ourselves are wavering as things around us go so very badly. We can trust Him. We can count on Him. He loves his children! I'd recommend it to anyone 16 and up and suggest it as a very good offering for any reading group - it would foster some wonderful discussions. There is also a "young reader's edition" which has been abridged to about half the length. But they accomplished this feat by taking out all the charm. The original reads just as you might expect an older Dutch lady to talk, but the abridged version has only a flat, generic narration to it - Corrie's unique voice is gone. So give it a skip, and go with the original, even for "young readers." Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com....

Adult biographies, Adult non-fiction

Shocked by Augustine's Confessions

There are many classics I mean to read in my life, but I just haven’t yet. Fortunately this summer, while laid up with an injury, I found myself facing Augustine’s Confessions without an excuse. So I dove into it. And I was quite shocked – not by any of his confessions, but how readable it is. You always imagine classics to be quite unreadable, which doesn’t really make any sense, because how could anything become a classic unless people read it? But whatever the case, this classic is engaging. FREE TO QUESTION The best thing about the first few chapters is all of Augustine’s questions. Instead of doing what most books do, which is pose a question (such as ‘Why does a good God allow evil?’) and then immediately answer it, Augustine just begins with posing questions. Many chapters start with a block of questions directed towards God, and Augustine doesn’t even pretend he has answers to most of them. If he has part of an answer, or a thought about the answer, he’ll say it, but it’s not from a position of authority. His bits of answers are not presented as definitive. He just lets his mind go wild with wonder over God. I’d give a few examples, but to baldly state the questions in my own words destroys his beautiful wording of them. I’ll just say one or two – for example, haven’t you ever wondered whether you have to know God first before you cry out to him, or if you can cry out to him in order to know him? And haven’t you ever wondered how a God who’s outside time, and created time, experiences time? AN ATTRACTIVE HUMILITY The unexpected thing about this is Augustine is such a revered figure in the church. He’s more or less the ancestor of many of the churches that exist. So much of Christian theology has roots that go back to his writings. So I expected him to present himself as an expert. It was refreshing because I haven’t read a book that admitted it didn’t have the answers for a long time. Most often people write books because they do think they have the answers. Or they write because they think people need the answers, so they cobble together some kind of explanation. They know their book won’t attract our precious divided attention if they don’t make bold claims. But Augustine shocked me because he’s not presenting himself as the pattern the Church after him should follow…even though the Church does. (At least, he doesn’t present that way in the first part of Confessions.) If anyone has a right to make bold claims, it would be Augustine, of all writers. Some translations of Augustine’s "Confessions" can be easily found online and downloaded for free. But the free versions often have older language, with "Thees" and "Thous." A more current, very readable (but not free) version is Benigus O’Rourke’s translation pictured here. – JD This is not to say Augustine is completely uninterested in answers. No, in fact much of his search for God is driven by his dissatisfaction with the answers given by his pagan worldview. And finding a few answers was central in his conversion – he explores answers more and more the further you delve into his book. However, the questions never stop. In the end, he is willing to have faith without answering every question that could be asked about God. QUESTIONS ASKED IN FAITH The second really cool thing about Confessions is that, unlike if I was the one asking the questions, Augustine is able to ask them without a trace of cynicism. He doesn’t resent God for not providing answers to all of them. Somehow Augustine is able to put down all his wonderment with the deepest humility, and in a fever of steadfast love. He’s asking because he loves God. He wonders because a person is obviously interested in the ones they love. I can only hope I present a similar attitude one day. If someone had wanted me to read Confessions before now, they should not have described it as Augustine’s autobiography, or however else people describe the book. They should have said, “Here’s a guy who lived a couple thousand years ago, who has a mind that works just like yours.” It’s crazy to reach across the centuries and find a thought pattern that feels familiar. And as for the unanswered questions? This is what Augustine says about them: “Let ask what it means, and be glad to ask: but they may content themselves with the question alone. For it is better for them to find you, God, and leave the question unanswered than to find the answer without finding you.”...

Book excerpts, Book Reviews

When gray hair meets green

Age has its privileges and the freedom to dish out sympathetic sarcasm is one of them **** Half his head is shaven. The middle part is green and the right side bright orange. He is clean, very clean. His red jeans are ripped, to show his boxer shorts. His torn T-shirt is white and clean. Lots of piercings; huge earlobe holes, like some African tribesman. Have not seen that since 1954. He is talking to an old crying Native man. I see him going to the coffee counter and returning with a coffee and a bun and giving it to the Native man. That was the last I saw of him that day. Two weeks later he wandered into the kitchen while Sue and I were trying to figure out how to feed about 80 people on 30 eggs and 72 buns. First we decided the staff would not eat that day. No worries there as this allowed me to stick to my diet plan. Someone brought in a hot apple strudel, six inches by twelve. We looked at it and just laughed. He stood in the doorway as we boiled the eggs - very small eggs, not meant for sale and therefore donated to the shelter. He got in my way as I was peeling the eggs. Suddenly he found himself with a spoon and knife in his hand. "Cut the eggs right through the middle and scoop out the egg, dump it in the green bowl." The old lady, me, had spoken. He looked at me funny and went to work. One of the guys ran out and got a jar of Mayo. In no time at all, we had egg salad on the buns and got the kid to bring out the trays to the hungry. When all the buns were gone and the apple strudel still on the counter, the kid got busy. He ran to the back freezer and came back with ice cream – two half full pails, chocolate and strawberry. It was just the two of us in the kitchen. He found the styrofoam soup bowls and plastic spoons. We divided the strudel into some 60 pieces and added two kinds of ice cream. When he carried the first tray out, he was greeted with a shout of "Dessert!" Sue came back and took the second tray. He came back into the kitchen and again it was just the two of us working together. When everything was gone, he suddenly said: "The way I live I have about 10 to 15 years to live." "So do I,” I informed him dryly. He glanced up at me with a stunned look on his face. Then he started talking again. "I’ve had fun. Got drunk every day, that's why I’m here. Community service. Can't wait to get back to drinking." "First time?" I asked him. "No, the second and the last time," he said. I agreed and told him that the third time would probably be jail and even more fun. He asked, "Well did you have a fun life?" "Sure did and no splitting headache in the morning. Besides that, I can even remember the fun I had." I asked him if he’d ever played in a band, toured Europe by motorbike, or traveled all over the world. I told him that I completely understood that going to a bar and spending the evening drinking and then staggering around with a splitting headache was, of course, much more fun. But at least I had fun for more years than he had had. We cleaned the kitchen, no longer talking. Before he left, he told me he had six more hours to serve and probably would not see me again. I agreed with him and told him I realized that it would be jail for him. He left but came back a little while later. "Look,” he said, “if I ever want to be told off, can I look you up?” "Sure, be glad to,” I replied. We grinned and shook hands! So now there is another kid in my prayers and I do not even know his name.  This is a chapter from Gerda Vandenhaak’s book “Geertje: War Seen though the Eyes of a Child as an Adult” which is available at www.gerdavandenhaak.com or Alder and Elm Christian books (1 587-988-1619)...

Articles, Book Reviews

4 great Christian novels

If the fiction section in your local Christian bookstore is all-Amish all the time, then here are 4 recommendations of a very different sort: a fictional biography, a modern-day myth, a Western of sorts, and a super hero epic....sort of. What links them all is that they are all Christian adult fiction, and they are all really good reads! Redeeming love by Francine Rivers 1997 / 464 pages They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and that was never more true than with Francine River’s novel Redeeming Love. When it first appeared on bookshelves it was marketed with a schmaltzy romance cover. Two Reformed ministers told me it was fantastic, but I couldn't get over the cover. I only got around to reading it a year or two later, after it came out with a much more subdued cover, one that I could walk around in public without all the other boys making fun of me. It was worth the wait. A powerful, poignant, even brilliant novel, it tells the story of Michael Hosea, a settler in the California of 1850. The story is inspired by the biblical book of Hosea, and the true power of the story is in how it forces the reader back to the Bible to reexamine a small prophetic book many have overlooked. You can’t help but study the book of Hosea after reading this novel. If you are well acquainted with Hosea you’ll understand why this novel comes with a “PG-13” rating. The prophet Hosea, after all, marries a prostitute, and Francine Rivers closely parallels those facts in her account. So some disturbing subject matter is dealt with that probably isn’t suitable for young teens. Now, I'm always leery of books that purport to be fictionalized retellings of biblical stories, and with good reason. I remember one novel about the apostle Paul that left readers with the impression that he and James actually disagreed as to the importance of works, which is entirely untrue. Francine Rivers also has a number of fictionalized biographies of biblical characters and because fact is mixed with fiction it is so very hard, after reading one of those stories, to remember just what the Bible really says. So, I don't thinking fictionalized Bible tales are a great idea. But because this is inspired by, rather than purporting to be, the book of Hosea, Redeeming Love is something else entirely. It would be hard to confuse this with the original source material. And yet, it is an insightful parallel of Hosea that might make this somewhat mystifying Bible book a little more understandable for some readers. Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey 290 pages / 2017 This is two biographies in one, about the little know relationship between the "Prince of Preachers" Charles Haddon Spurgeon and a former slave, Thomas Johnson. The men couldn't have grown up in more different circumstances. Spurgeon was in the United Kingdom, and establishing his reputation as "the Prince of Preacher" while Thomas Johnson was still a slave in the America. Johnson first heard Spurgeon's name mentioned when the preacher's sermons and books were being burnt by slavery-defenders in the South. They didn't like the strong and clearly biblical way that Spurgeon had been denouncing slavery.  When emancipation came and Johnson was freed he also became a preacher. And with his heart inclined to the mission field in Africa, he eventually ends up at Spurgeon's bible college where the two meet and become friends. Perhaps one reason they became friends was because Spurgeon struggled throughout this life with depression, and his young friend Johnson knew something of that too, borne out of his despair as a slave. As true Christians brothers, they are a help and a companion to one each other. While these two men are both real, I should note this is a fictionalized account. That means that while the broad details are all true, and much of the dialogue is taken from the men's works, this work should only be enjoyed for the general impression, not the specific details, it provides of their friendship. I'll give one example of how this mix of fact and fiction does, on the one hand, stay very true to reality, but on the other hand, can give a bit of an inaccurate impression. When we read of how Spurgeon proposes to his wife-to-be, he comes off as quite the Prince Charming with all the right words, the perfect thoughtful present, and just the right timing. However, the authors have compacted the evening's events from events that took place over more than the one occasion. The facts are true, but this compaction of the timeline, to keep the story flowing, makes Spurgeon seem to be quite the suave fellow – super suave even. Steal Away Home is a wonderfully readable book, and attractively put together too. You aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover but it's wonderful when a good cover can give a reluctant reader just the encouragement they need to get started. I'd recommend this to anyone with an interest in Church history, or in knowing more about the American South during slavery and after, or anyone who enjoys historical fiction or biographies. Flags out Front by Douglas Wilson 196 pages / 2017 Flags out Front asks, what if a Christian leader took a stand on principle and, no matter what pressure came, just would not back down? What might happen if, instead of wilting under that pressure, he fought back fearlessly? Now, like Luther, Tom Collins didn’t set out to cause a fuss. This "mild mannered president of a dwindling southern" Bible college arrives on campus one day to find a prankster has swapped a couple of the flags at the campus entrance. Now, instead of the American flag flying above all, the Christian flag waves from on high, with the Stars and Stripes just below. Collins doesn't know quite what to think. But, upon reflection, he concludes the change is one he's content to leave be. Then the phone calls start coming. Conservative, patriotic sorts, wonder why the American flag is not in its central place. He hears from the other side too, from those who'd be happy enough to burn the flag, but don't want to see it waving below a Christian flag. Protests to the right, threats from the left, and yet Collins stands his ground. And he's willing to stand alone. But his resolve is inspiring, and alone is the one thing he won't be. Quiet, meek, Dr. Collins becomes the rally point for Christians of all sorts...including some clever college students who know how to make some noise. This is how is should be, and, maybe could be. Who knows what God would do with a fearless few? Actually, we already know: this year we're celebrating the 500th anniversary of the firestorm God started with one monk and his mallet. Flags out Front is a funny, clever, political feel-good novel that most anyone would enjoy, particularly if you want to be inspired as to how Christians can do politics differently. I've foisted this off on a number of friends and family (and read about half of it out loud to my wife) and the response has been enthused all around. Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin 340 pages / 2007 This is part murder mystery, part adoption story (times two), and part...well, super hero epic. The murder mystery is an old one, and the person trying to solve is Chase Walker, journalist, and formerly a foster kid who bounced around from one house to another until he arrived on the doorstep of “Unc” and that's where he stayed. The murder victims are Unc's father and first wife, and while the police think the case is settled, Chase is not so sure. The adoption-story-times-two involves Chase, adopted by Unc, and a nameless boy who was so badly abused his vocal chords have been damaged, leaving him mute. With Chase all grown up, Unc has space in his heart, and in his home, for another boy in need. The super-hero of the story is Unc himself, a man so good as to be a bit unreal. That's the story's weakness, but also a lot of its charm. Unc is the father figure that us fathers want to be. He most often knows just the right thing to do or say. When Chase, as a boy, gets it into his head that his father is finally coming to get him, Unc does what he can to sooth the boy’s disappointment. Unc walked up next to me and hung his arms across the fence railing. In his hands he held an empty mason jar with holes punched in the lid. He stood there a long time turning the jar. Inside, a single lightning bug fluttered off the sides of the glass. Every five or six seconds, he’d light his lantern. Unc turned the jar in his hand. “Scientists say that these things evolved this way over million of years.” He shook his head. “That’s a bunch of bunk. I don’t think an animal can just all-of-a-sudden decide it wants to make light grow out its butt. What kind of nonsense is that? Animals don’t make light.” He pointed to the stars.” God does that. I don’t know why or how, but I am pretty sure it’s not chance. It’s not some haphazard thing He does in His spare time.” He looked at me, and his expression changed from one of wonder to seriousness, to absolute conviction. “Chase, I don’t believe in chance.” He held up the jar. “This is not chance, neither are the stars.” He tapped me gently in the chest. “And neither are you. So, if your mind is telling you that God slipped up and might have made one giant mistake when it comes to you, you remember the firefly’s butt.” Maybe Unc is a bit too wise, too patient and too good, but I was okay with that. That’s in part because the author is good at his craft and pulls it off. It’s also because there is something genuine about Unc – this is fatherhood as we want to practice it, this is sacrificial love the way it should be done, and this filling up a kid the way he ought to be. There is truth here. Finally, while Unc may not be entirely realistic, the world he inhabits is. There is some grit here. First off, several people are murdered. Also, one of the people Unc helps is an abused girl who later ran away to become an adult porn star. In addition, the physical abuse the mute boy has suffered is detailed and it included someone pinching and ripping his skin with pliers. That is about as descriptive as it gets, but these elements mean this is a book for adults only. Another caution would be about the hero's faith. While God is made mention of throughout the book, Unc doesn't attend church, though that is in part because he isn't welcome there. He also has a seemingly superstitious understanding of baptism, going to extreme lengths to get someone baptized shortly before their death. But those will be minor matters to Christians with discernment. Chasing Fireflies will likely make you cry, so if you don't like sentimental books, don't start it. On the other hand this is so much better than the average tearjerker because Martin's writing is simply remarkable. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com....

Adult biographies, Adult fiction

The Betrayal: A novel on John Calvin

by Douglas Bond 383 pages / 2009 If you want to get an understanding of the times Calvin lived in, this novel is better than any biography. Douglas Bond immerses readers in the day-to-day details of living in France in the 1500s by telling Calvin’s story through the eyes of a life-long, entirely fictional, companion named Jean-Louis. Jean-Louis is born in the same village as Calvin, and for a time goes to the same school. But while Calvin’s intellectual gifts set him apart early, Jean-Louis is an average fellow living an ordinary, though rather brutal existence. Like many in the 16th century, he loses his whole family and his livelihood to the Plague. Left without a home or money, he falls back on his one extraordinary ability: Jean-Louis can lie without shame or qualm of conscience. It is this “talent” that gets him close to Calvin again, securing a job serving the Reformer. And it is this trait that allows him to act the role of loyal servant even as he vows to work against God’s servant. This is a fascinating read, but one that takes some effort. Though Bond is known as a teen fiction author, the weighty theological dialogues interspersed throughout The Betrayal make this a novel best suited for adult Calvin enthusiasts. It is available at Christianbooks.com and has also been translated into Dutch as Het verraad....

Children’s non-fiction, Children’s picture books

Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World

by Paul Maier 32 pages /  2004 Take a look at your children’s bookshelves. How many of the stories there are about the history of God’s church? Here, finally, in a wonderfully illustrated edition we have a story for young children that gives a beautiful account of the life of Martin Luther. It was 1483 when Martin Luther was born in Eiselbern, Germany, but this story starts long before that. This story begins with God’s promise to preserve His church throughout history, and already on the first pages of this book we read of God’s mercy in sending people to call His church to repentance. Times were dark for the church in the 15th century. The church was leading the people away from the true word of God into a world of lies and false doctrines. The people were walking in darkness and it was into this world that Martin Luther was born. Luther’s story is very familiar to most of us. His name is a common one in our households. Yet this book brings out for the young reader what life was like for Martin Luther. As a child growing up, his life would have been much different than ours. Did you know, for example, that in his school children who did poorly had to wear a donkey mask! Or, can you imagine the students in your school having to go from door to door in the neighborhood to sing for their food? As Luther’s life unfolds, the young learner can see how the Lord leads Luther step by step. The author shows how Luther, through constant searching and studying of God’s word, learns that his salvation does not come from himself, or from the church, but that his salvation rests in God alone. It is with this sure knowledge and the confidence in his Savior that Luther confronts the Roman Catholic Church. His boldness to proclaim God’s Word leads him into many life-threatening situations but the Lord uses his efforts to spread His true word to many people around the world. Paul Maier is the professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University. His overview of the life of Martin Luther in this non-fiction children’s book remains true to the historical details of the time. He does not shy away from telling what was wrong with the Roman Catholic Church of the time and proclaims the message of salvation through grace alone as Luther himself did many years ago. Greg Copeland adds to the book’s appeal with beautiful illustrations that bring this story to life. There are very few books written about our church’s history that are geared to the young readers in our homes and schools. This book is ideal for a read-aloud at home or in the primary grades at school. Add it to your bookshelves as a research tool for your young students in both the primary and intermediate grades. It would be wonderful to be able to fill our children’s bookshelves with stories and resources like this little gem on Martin Luther!...

Adult biographies

The life of John Calvin: A Modern Translation of the Classic

by Theodore Beza 148 pages / 1997 This biography has two strengths. First, it is short. Because it was originally written as an introduction to Calvin’s last published work, his Commentary on Joshua, it weighs in at only 144 pages. That could also be considered a weakness – the small size means it doesn’t have the detail or scope of most other Calvin biographies – but the slim size makes it more inviting than its 400 or 500 page rivals. This is a biography that can be read in a few days, rather than a few weeks. Second, this is an eyewitness account. Theodore Beza was a friend and disciple of Calvin and wrote his account as a tribute. That too could be considered a weakness; Beza’s admiration of Calvin made him incapable of seeing, or at least incapable of recording, any of his mentor’s faults. But this same admiration made Beza the best chronicler of Calvin’s gifts, the God-given talents that made the man a giant of the Reformation. The Life of John Calvin is available in a number of different editions but, because the original is over 400 years old, some translations are dated and simply dreadful. Fortunately Evangelical Press books have done “a modern translation of the classic” that can be found without too much digging on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca....

Adult biographies

The Legacy of Sovereign Joy

by John Piper 160 pages / 2000 Meet the giants! In this slim volume, John Piper tells the tales of Augustine, Martin Luther and John Calvin with a very specific purpose. He aims to encourage modern-day believers by showing how God’s grace overcame each man’s flaws to provide the church with the gift of their work and example. Augustine was arguably the most influential church father after Paul. He was also a favorite of John Calvin, who quoted him 342 times in the Institutes. He spent the early years of his life enslaved to lust, living with a concubine, and drinking in the philosophical ideas of his day. His eyes were finally completely opened and God became his “sovereign joy.” Augustine spent much of his life and energy defending the centrality of God’s grace against the Pelagians, who taught that, “though grace may facilitate the achieving of righteousness, it is not necessary to that end.” His complete dependence on God is perhaps best summed up with his prayer: “Command what you wish, but give what you command.” Martin Luther’s story is generally well-known among Reformed folk, and is another striking example of the grace of God at work in history. Luther had an extremely high view of the Bible as the very words of God, and thus spent countless hours reading and wrestling with the Word. It was this relentless study that God used to open Luther’s eyes to the wonder of grace, which freed him from bondage to the works righteousness of the Roman Catholic church. This view of God’s Word also led Luther to warn against spending all one’s time reading commentaries and books and never going beyond this to the Word itself. Doing so makes us “like men who study the signposts and never travel the road.” John Calvin, another well-known Reformer, shared Luther’s view of God’s Word, and was awestruck at the majesty of God present in the pages of Scripture. B.B. Warfield once wrote that, “No man ever had a profounder sense of God than he.” Calvin had visions of spending his days quietly as a biblical scholar. However, God called him to pastoral ministry through the imprecations of William Farel and later Martin Bucer (contemporary Reformers). Calvin continued to dig through the gold mine of God’s Word, producing an astounding number of sermons, commentaries, and his well-known Institutes of the Christian Religion. This book is certainly not an exhaustive historical treatment of each of these men since it serves a more pastoral purpose of encouragement. Throughout the book Piper makes generous use of original quotations from these men, and, although some quotes are unnecessarily reused a number of times, they overflow with a love and zeal for God. In fact, they may stir the reader to reading the originals. Overall, an easy and encouraging read for anyone. To make it even more appealing, John Piper is giving the e-book version of it away free. You can download the pdf by going here.  ...