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Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

Animals by design: exploring unique creature features

by ICR illustrated by Susan Windsor 125 pages / 2018 Mexican walking fish, lantern fish, immortal jellyfish, and zorses – those are just some of the crazy creatures featured in this fun little book. Every two-page spread showcases another animal, and even when it’s one you’ve heard of before, there’s sure to be cool details that’ll surprise you. Animals by Design is published by the Institute for Creation Research. That means that, in addition to all the fascinating facts, a clear Christian perspective is also included. The point of this book is to introduce our children to how awesome our God is: hey kids, just look at the amazing, bizarre, surprising, unique, and simply astonishing creatures He’s made! This has been sitting on our coffee table, off and on, for a few months now, and it turns out I was the only one in the family who hadn’t been regularly reading it. My wife and girls had all been taking turns flipping through it. It’s an easy book to dip in and out of – it doesn’t require a big time commitment – because each animal can be read on its own. So, maybe this time I’ll learn a little about zorses, and the next time I sit down at the couch, I can always find out then what makes an immortal jellyfish immortal. The colorful drawings will appeal to kids but it’s a kids book that mom and dad and anyone interested in animals or science will love too. In the US you can find it at ICR.org and in Canada you can order it through the Creation Science Association of Alberta.                  

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Brave Ollie Possum

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

Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: The Winter King

by Christine Cohen 351 pages / 2019 15-year-old Cora lives in a time of horses, and swords, and meat pies. It's also a time of poverty, and bitter winters, and threadbare clothing, and not enough food to make it through to Spring. To make things even worse, ever since Cora’s father was killed, the village has treated her and her family as if they are cursed, and as if that curse is contagious. But no matter, Cora is resourceful, and she’ll do just about anything to ensure her family lives through the winter. But how does a young girl stand up, by her lonesome, to the village god, the tyrannical Winter King, who is taking their food? I didn’t know quite what to think of this book in the early stages. While the village other villagers were religious, Cora was not. And she was the hero. So how was this a Christian book, then, if the god in the story seemed to be the bad guy? Well, as one reviewer noted, this is a very Protestant book in that Cora rejects a false religion in favor of the true one. She rejects the false representation of the Winter King that the village’s religious authorities maintain. But then she uncovers a book that tells a very different story about this King, presenting instead, a God who loves. CAUTIONS Cora is bitter and sometimes manipulative, and so driven to keep her family fed that she does stuff that she should not. There's good reason for her desperation – death is reaching for her whole family – but that it is understandable makes it tricky ground for the younger reader to tread. This is not a heroine in a white hat, and for the pre-teen, or even younger teen reader, used to simpler morality tales, they might not have the discernment skills yet to be able to cheer on a hero whose actions are not always praiseworthy. I feel like I'm making Cora sound darker than she is. There is surely darkness in her – but there is also a darkness around her that she is fighting, futilely at first. And then hope comes. CONCLUSION From the cover to even the way the pages are laid out, this is a gorgeous book, with a deep and satisfying story. I'd recommend it for 15 and up, but I know adults will find this has real depth to it that they'll enjoy exploring.

Assorted

How important is "nothing"?

My Grandmother found me in the pantry of her house and demanded, “What are you doing?” My quick response was nothing. “Oh, you must have been doing something," she said. "No, I wasn’t. I was doing nothing,” I declared. And so goes the process of getting caught with my hand in the cookie jar.

“Nothing” is so easy to say and usually doesn’t mean “Nothing.” I’ve met with multiple Christian leaders heading into retirement. When I ask them what they are going to do next, I get a quizzical look and often the erudite answer, “nothing.” Now sometime it comes out as I don’t know, or I don’t know yet, or I haven’t figured it out, or I’m going to take some time off. Seldom is the answer definitive or part of a new life’s direction. It’s mostly a response suggesting what is being left behind, and not what is ahead. The allure of nothing? Kind of strange, isn’t it, that a large majority claim nothing as their goal in retirement. Instead of a move from success, or even meaningful existence to significance, it's a move from something to nothing. A quick look in Webster’s suggests the following about nothing: not any being or any particular thing, a state of non-existence, worthlessness, or unconsciousness. This eruption of nothing has exploded to the point where January 16 is identified as our National Day of Nothing. If more people were aware of it, less would get done. A lot of nothing for sure. The more or less official description of the goal of the day is to provide Americans with one national day when they can just sit without celebrating, observing or honoring anything. Raise the flag for nothing? No, that would be doing something. I thought I’d see what else I could learn about nothing. In the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon takes about all of man’s desires as meaningless, or nothing compared to the majesty of God. The word is used to describe the lack of value as in Proverbs 13:7 where Solomon again opines, one person pretends to her rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth. Nothing and “naught” are often used to portray the nothing of man compared to the wealth of God. Interestingly, in John 1 Jesus says that without a relationship with him, you can do nothing. Following the logic, if you are doing nothing, you will not have a relationship with him. Not only no relationship but no meaningful action either. So why in our culture, our faith-based culture, have so many bought into the cultural priority of doing nothing in retirement? The allure of making every day a Saturday is certainly there when you have worked at a job for 30 years. But 30 years of Saturdays leaves much to be desired. Made for more than golf Part of the cultural allure, even deception, comes from the desire to escape from work and then tie leisure to value. Thirty years of playing golf won’t bring meaning or purpose to the Christian who realizes that we are called to be faithful for a lifetime. Another subtle meaningless thought is that church, bible study, etc. alone reflects God’s plan for your life. God does have one, you know. And it does not stop when you retire from your job, sell your company, or even leave the pulpit. There is more to be done, perhaps interspersed with a bit of nothing thrown in. But nothing as a goal, as a reflection of God’s plan for the rest of your life? Absolutely not. Here is some encouragement to move beyond nothing. It’s from a 1981 United Technologies Corp. ad that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, likely written by their CEO Harry Gray, who was close to retirement at the time:

Retirement doesn’t have to be a red light. It can be a green light. Othmar Ammann would agree. After he “retired” at age 60, he designed, among other things, the Connecticut and New Jersey Turnpikes; the Pittsburgh Civic Arena; Dulles Airport; the Throgs Neck Bridge; and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

Paul Gauguin “retired” as a successful stockbroker and became a world-famous artist.

Heinrich Schliemann “retired” from business to look for Homer’s legendary city of Troy. He found it.

After Churchill made his mark as a world statesman, he picked up his pen and won the Nobel Prize for Literature at age seventy-nine.

Don’t just go fishing when you retire. Go hunting. Hunt for the chance to do what you’ve always wanted to do. Then go do it!

Shifting gears is different than stopping I had a conversation with a man on the plane. He’d sold his companies 6 years prior. When asked what he’d been doing, he answered, nothing! How is that working out for you? I asked. Not so good. As a matter of fact, I think I’m about at the end of nothing. God did not prepare him for nothing. That’s true for you and me too. Too often we make nothing into all-or-nothing. Either I’m working, or I’m doing nothing. We don’t leave any room for shades of gray. I’m convinced we need to change how we think about the nothing we call retirement. Need to find meaning and purpose. The meaning and purpose God intends for us during these last three stages of life. A comedian used this phrase to define the word “nothing”; “Nothing” is an air-filled balloon with the skin peeled off. A graphic description don’t you agree. Nothing is not anything until we think or reflect on it, then it becomes something. Starting to think about our next life stage of nothing, is important, valuable, encouraging, and yes, exciting. Every little kid has asked, “what are we going to do next?” Their voice is full of anticipation; ours should be to whether we are in our 50s, 70s, or 90s. Here is some accumulated wisdom from those who should know: Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Robert Schuller, “I'd rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed.” Helen Keller, “Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” “There is a definite cost to doing nothing.” Edward Livingston And here is the thought that challenges me the most: The hardest work of all is to do nothing. I’d rather be excited about the day, week, and months ahead. How about you? So how important is nothing? Victor Hugo said, “Doing nothing is happiness for children and misery for old men." Stay with us as we journey together. Don’t disturb me either, as I am very busy doing nothing.

Bruce Bruinsma champions the emerging Retirement Reformation Movement along with other key members of the Retirement Reformation Roundtable. The Retirement Reformation Manifesto is an initial step to encourage Christians to radically change the way they think about retirement. For the last 30 years he has given leadership to a financial services firm providing retirement plans to ministers, missionaries, churches, and faith-based organizations. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife of 56 years, Judy. This is reprinted, with permission, from his blog at www.BruceBruinsma.com.


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