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Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Brave Ollie Possum

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

Culture Clashes

Bruce Jenner & Micklewhite: Adult problems lurk amongst the picture books

It was a beautiful day. The temperature had soared to eighty degrees plus and one of our daughters and four of our grandchildren were over for a few days. Together we watched the Baltimore oriole as he perched on the hummingbird feeder and pecked at a slice of orange. The downy woodpecker showed up as well as the cardinal and an indigo bunting. We carefully tiptoed past a ruffed grouse sitting on its eleven eggs. Here in our backyard was a wonderful array of color and sound made by the fifth-day creatures God has made. And we, the sixth-day image-bearers of Himself were privileged to see and hear them. It was a work-holiday. The kids helped us with raking, gathering up leftover leaves from last autumn, as well as mowing huge swaths of lawn. Our daughter straightened flowerbeds, and weeded. And afterwards there was swimming and splashing in the pool. Children and grandchildren are truly a marvel! After supper, Tirzah, our daughter's youngest child, was ready to curl up on the sofa next to her Mom for some before-bedtime reading. It's my wont to always visit the library prior to a visit, if I know about it, and to stock up on a variety of books. Tirzeh and her Mom were rummaging through the pile and I was putting away some laundry. Half-way up the stairs with an armload of towels, sheets and shirts, I heard my daughter call out. "Mom!!" I paused. Was there a problem!? She called out again. Actually it was more like a yell. "Mom – this is awful!" I turned, descended the stairs, still carrying the laundry. "Have you looked at this book, Mom?" I was in the hall by now, searching my brain as to what she was talking about. Entering the living room the most aghast look of the twenty-first century hit me. "Mom, did you know that you took out a book on cross-dressing?" "No," I responded, and truly I had not known it. Then I recalled that when I had gone to the library the previous Saturday, it had unfortunately been fifteen minutes before closing time. Quickly scanning the shelves, first for literature for the older grandchildren (and becoming rather engrossed in some of these volumes), I had been nudged by the librarian that they were closing and that it was time to leave. Running into the children's section of the branch, I had raced around the room taking all the display books off the racks. I figured that these were likely popular favorites and probably indicated good reading. Obviously it was not a well-thought out assumption! "Mom! This book is horrible! Do you know what it's called?" I shook my head: "No, I don't." "Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress!" Cute name, Morris Micklewhite, but the glaring truth was that it was a boy's name – and boys, unless they are Scottish and kilt-oriented, ought not to wear dresses. Deuteronomy 22:5 is very clear on that: "A woman is not to wear male clothing, and a man is not to put on a woman's garment, for everyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord your God." I'm very thankful that my daughter is a conscientious child of the covenant and that she recognizes evil when it approaches, even under the innocent guise of a child's book cover. There are, sadly enough, a number of Morris Micklewhites in the world. Bruce Bruce Jenner was born on October 28, 1949, in New York. This means that he will be 70 years old this fall. Like all children, Bruce was sent to school when he turned 6. Dyslexic, Bruce had trouble with spelling, reading and grammar and disliked school very much. Not diagnosed until the fifth grade, he had nightmares about the teacher having him read in front of class. Like Morris Micklewhite, he had to overcome certain fears about going to school. But Bruce managed to complete grades one through twelve. Not an academic, he turned all his energies into outdoor activities. He had such a penchant for sports, as a matter of fact, that he earned a football scholarship in 1968 which allowed him to attend Graceland College in Iowa even though his grades were not very good. A knee injury, however, soon forced him to stop playing the sport of football in which he excelled. Worried about losing his scholarship and being drafted into the US army, he changed his sports focus. Having a natural gift for track and field, Bruce made the switch to the decathlon. In 1973 he graduated from Graceland College with a degree in physical education. He married his high school sweetheart, a minister's daughter, and set his mind on training for the Olympics. His wife, a flight attendant, worked, even as Bruce trained during the day, selling some insurance on the side. Although he finished tenth in the 1972 summer Olympic Games in Germany, his rigorous day training eventually paid off and he won the decathlon gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Rugged and tough, Bruce was built like a natural athlete. Had he lived during King David's time, he possibly would have qualified as one of his mighty men. But after winning the gold medal, muscular Bruce Jenner settled for being the spokesperson for Wheaties breakfast cereal for several years, posing for the cover of the box. This supposedly encouraged buyers to think, "If you eat this cereal, you could possibly be as brawny and sports-oriented as Bruce Jenner." He also drank orange juice for Tropicana and took pictures for Minolta. Six foot two and 194 pounds of well-distributed muscle, he gradually evolved into a public advertising idol. It paid his bills. It made him rich. Outside of the athletic arena, Bruce Jenner was making more money from winning that single gold medal than any other athlete had before him. He continued to be in demand for countless commercials, promotions, and public appearances. All this publicity took a heavy toll on his marriage – a marriage which dissolved in 1980. In the wake of his broken marriage, Bruce turned to a film and television career, and married again. During the next five years, he also became a successful racecar driver. Then there was another divorce and another marriage. In all, he fathered six children – two by each of his three marriages. Truly the man was a broken puzzle, a sad book to read! The 2015 chapter in Bruce Jenner's life, however, was the saddest one yet - on page April of this chapter he announced that, like Morris Micklewhite of the children's literature, he wanted to wear a dress. In other words, he announced that he was transitioning into a woman, a yearning which, he said, had always lived within himself. Although he had been created a male by the Lord God, Bruce Jenner questioned his Creator's decision, rebelling against it. Changing his name from Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner, he went on to pose, two months later, for the cover of Vanity Fair, as a female. As to be expected, Bruce was praised for his “courageous” action by all those who love evil. That same year of 2015 saw him as the winner of the Social Media Queen award; Glamor magazine named him one of its 25 glamour women of the year; in December he was named “Barbara Walter's most fascinating person of 2015” and he was on the Time's short-list for the 2015 person of the year. Looking back on his athletic career, it would appear that Bruce had been dissatisfied with it, that he'd had no long-term goal for which to aim. He is quoted as saying: "I spent twelve years training for a career that was over in a week." And apparently having no handle on who he is as a male person made in the image of God, he referred to his transition as a “female” by saying: "I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self." Conclusion What a sad thing to so blatantly disregard God's good intentions for one's life! Healthy and wealthy, he fell far short of being wise, fell far short of fearing God. Throughout all this there is no doubt that Bruce Jenner is looking for meaning, searching for fulfillment, but he will fall flat on his face unless he acknowledges that the only meaning in life is to be found in our Lord Jesus Christ; that the only fulfillment is to praise God and enjoy Him forever. God have mercy on the Micklewhites of the world. They will never find peace following the intention of their own base hearts and the prodding of the devil's evil strategies. All this to say that no matter how cute little boys can look in tangerine skirts, we do well to remember that the words of Deuteronomy 22:5 are not cute, are not to be dismissed lightly. A person detestable to God lives in darkness and the Micklewhites of the world are heading for eternal darkness.

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Jan/Feb 2020 issue

WHAT’S INSIDE: The great moon hoax of 1935 / "Seven Wondrous Words" book excerpt / Why we should be life-long learners / Complementarianism is not misogynistic / This isn't your parents' Katy Keene...or Archie Andrews / "The Gospel comes with a house key" review / The case for biblically-responsible investing / Canada has no "right to abortion" / When the Word of God is not preached / Christian fantasy fiction for teens and adults / What you should know to survive and thrive in your secular science class / Four films to see for free online / I started my business for the wrong reasons / and much more...

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Culture Clashes

The subterranean origins of certain Equality and Justice doctrines

A Page From Hell's Playbook

****

If I were the devil – which some of you may believe after reading on – if my sworn mission was to devour the Christian faith from the inside out, then here is what I would not do. I would not slither into a Sunday service, breathing blasphemy and dragon fire, bragging about my triumphs at Auschwitz, commanding the congregation, “Deny that God is God!” I would not be an idiot. If I was the devil… I would dress up to look like justice, compassion, or equity, or some other ideal Christians would be quick to “Amen!” I would sink my teeth and suck the true, biblical content from those words – not that many of the Enemy’s people know the true, biblical content of those words to begin with – and then inject it with the venom of new meaning, a meaning that is antithetical to the Enemy’s definition of such silly words. Then I could get nearly every faithful Tom, Dick, and Sally to deny the Godhood of God while they think they are merely being more just and compassionate. I could get them to deny the Gospel itself while they think they are merely caring for the oppressed. Even better, I will include in that injection certain policies that are almost certain to further hurt the oppressed, the same policies I’ve used over and over to crush image-bearers. It’s the perfect evil trifecta I try to achieve in all my ploys. Rob worship from the Enemy, dupe the Enemy’s church, and inflict even more oppression on as much of that despicable race who bears the Enemy’s obnoxious image as possible. The oldest trick in the book Consider "equity," one of my favorite words. The ideologues use it often, but I’ve smuggled it into the average person’s mind under the common objection, “That’s not fair!” It’s literally the oldest trick in my book. When the first of the Enemy’s image-bearers stood at the tree, I convinced them that God and God alone knowing good and evil wasn’t fair. Why shouldn’t there be equity between Creator and creature? I like to think that I did my job so well that when they took the first bite they believed they were doing justice, righting some cosmic inequity by trying to equalize the powerful Have from the powerless Have Nots. It was the same trick I pulled with great success in Germany several millennia later. “Why should all the Jews be doing so well? Of course it’s because of their sinister plot to keep you Germans down. Wipe out their race and equity and justice will return to your beloved Deutschland.” And they fell for it, the damned fools, to the destruction of millions of Jewish souls. I robbed God of worship as they worshipped their Fuhrer, I duped much of the German church, and I inflicted even more carnage and misery on the Enemy’s image-bearers. And all under the guise of equity and justice. Those three powerful words: It’s–not–fair. I had the Soviet’s repeat it like liturgy about the Kulaks in Ukraine, “Why should they be such lucrative farmers while we scrounge.” I had the French revolutionaries singing hymns about equality, sowing the word egalite into their protest banners, while their guillotines fell and their Age of Equality became my Reign of Terror. And what was Marxism but a rallying cry for equality between the rich and poor, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat? I managed to turn the 20th century cry for economic inequality into state worship and obliterate over 100 million of the Enemy’s image-bearers in less than a hundred years. A million-plus per year, one of my finest centuries. History repeats And here we are in the 21st century, and, I can hardly believe it, they seem to be falling for the same old trick all over again. Wrap the Anthrax in something shiny, conceal the poison in an apple, dress the monster up like an angel, use words like “justice” and “equity” and “compassion” to describe tyranny, and the Enemy’s image-bearers will almost always take the fruit, open the anthrax, embrace the monster, and help me usher in tyranny every time. Fools. They deserve the ruin I relish bringing them. Yes, there have been a few – Douglass and Tubman in America, Dostoyevsky, Solzhenitsyn, and Havel in Eastern Europe, the Scholl siblings and Bonheoffer’s resistance in Germany, to name a few from that loathsome cadre – who have exposed my plot. But few listen to them. And the Enemy’s image-bearers have such lousy memories and so few good historians, that I can roll out the same devious plot within a generation and no one is the wiser. I’ve got the majority on my side and the majority would kiss a snake, club a grandma, or crush a baby if I told them it was for "justice."

Dr. Thaddeus Williams serves as Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Biola University. This article is an excerpt from his upcoming book “21 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice” and is reprinted with permission from the publisher. It is a homage of sorts to C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" and if you liked to learn more about Lewis's book you should click here. If, on the other hand, you would like to hear more of Dr. Williams thoughts on social justice, check out the 30-minute interview below on the topic of "How should Christians think about social justice?" on the Think Biblically: Conversations on faith and culture podcast.

Assorted

Why should we study Scripture together?

It’s too easy to take for granted the blessings God has heaped on us, so let’s stop for a moment and think about several of them.

We still have the blessing to freely worship. Not only on Sunday, but during the week too, we’re free to gather together for fellowship and study. We also have the blessing of God’s Word in our own language. Unlike so many believers in the history of the New Testament church, we have the Bible in a language we can understand – and these Bibles are cheap and readily available. Finally, we have the blessing of literacy. The fact that you’re reading this puts you at a far greater advantage than many believers in the history of the church. What incredible riches our God has lavished on us!

Do we have a heart for searching out God’s Word?

Yet it does seem that many church members take these things for granted. In every church I’ve served, there is always the mass problem of Bible study. Every consistory discussed it. It’s the problem of encouraging individual believers to study the Bible for themselves. It’s also the problem of encouraging believers to study the Bible together. I’d venture to guess that, on average, probably 25% of the communicant members in the churches I’ve served regularly studied Scripture together. Actually, 25% is on the generous side.

What can consistories do about it? Here’s the problem: office bearers can badger members into Bible study groups for a time. But if their heart is not in it, typically they won’t persevere. The heart is the issue – and how do you change someone’s heart? You can’t. The Holy Spirit does that. He does it, however, through us. He says in 1 Thess. 5:14,

“And we urge you brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

We’re to do these things with the Word of God in our hand.

In this article, I want to lay out the Bible’s answer for why believers should study Scripture together. There are two audiences I want to address. The first is the office bearer who wants to encourage Bible study in his congregation. The second is the believer who may be lagging in conviction about the value of this practice.

Psalm 119 as a prayer for the way we want to be

So, why study the Bible together? When our thoughts turn to Scripture and our attitude towards it, Psalm 119 is a frequent destination. This Psalm extols the Scriptures in exuberant terms. It also speaks of the believers’ emotions/affections about the Bible. For example, nine times the Psalmist speaks of his delight in God’s Word. Seven times he testifies of his love for the Scriptures. He witnesses to the joy that comes from the divine writings. It’s important to read all these things with our eyes on Jesus. He is the fulfillment of all these holy emotions – he exhibited them with an unparalleled depth and consistency. Moreover, Christ did that in the place of us who often sag in our feelings about God’s Word. His love and joy in the Word are credited to us by God.

When we see Psalm 119 that way, it puts it in a new light for us. It speaks of our Saviour’s obedient life for us, but also his sanctifying power in us. We look at Psalm 119 as a prayer for the way we want to be. In our new nature, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we want to be like Christ. We want to reflect our union with him – we want to love the Scriptures like he does!

When we do, we won’t have to be coaxed into Bible study. It’s something we will love to do because, being united to Christ, we love God and we love his Word. Personal Bible study will come from the heart, and so will group Bible study. Then the rest of what I’m going to write will sound perfectly persuasive.

Getting to know our God

The chief attraction of Bible study together is a better view of the glory of God. The Scriptures are all about revealing to us the glory of the Triune God, particularly in the gospel. I’m talking about his beauty, his splendor, his magnificence, his awesomeness. Scripture reveals God to us in all his transcendent excellence.

When you study by yourself, you will see it. But when you study with others, you will see more and see further than you will by yourself. One person can only see so much. One person can have blind spots. But when several Christians gather together around God’s Word, they’ll find more to be amazed at about our God. He will receive more praise and honor. That’s what we want, isn’t it?

Encouraging one another

However, there is not only a vertical aspect here. It turns out that what brings more glory to God is also for our benefit. When we gather together with fellow believers around God’s Word, there’s encouragement to be found. We support one another. We pray together. We enjoy fellowship. When it’s going as it should, Bible study can feel like Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

We could also think of what Scripture says in Ephesians 4. There God speaks about how Christ has given the gift of office bearers to the church. He says their work is to “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” They do that work with the Scriptures. Bible study together will likewise build up the body of Christ and with exactly the same blessings described in Ephesians 4:13. Bible study together will lead to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of Christ. It will enable us to grow together in maturity. It will help pull us into the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Two objections

Some church members have keenly developed reasons for not going to Bible study. They could go (they have the health and the time), but they refuse to. Let me briefly address two reasons I’ve heard over the years.

One objection is that it’s all the same: “The same people talk and they always say the same thing. It makes for a boring hour or two. So it’s just not worth the time or effort.”

I’m familiar with this one because I used it as a young man. I remember saying this at a friend’s house and his mom reamed me out. She said, “If you don’t like the way it is, then it’s up to you to make it different. You lead by example. You’ll only get out of it what you put into it.” She was exactly right.

Another reason comes from a darker place: “Everyone at these Bible studies is so dull. They don’t have a good basic understanding of the Bible. It’s just frustrating listening to them ramble on in their ignorance. Their lack of knowledge about the Bible is exasperating.”

The essential problem here is pride. One’s pride leads to impatience with other believers. Bible study presents an opportunity to share our insights with one another. One may have to pray for growth in holiness to do that humbly and judiciously, but rather than flee from that challenge, we should embrace it. Moreover, we need to be open to the possibility that there is something to learn from other believers – perhaps we don’t have the exceptional level of knowledge we thought we had (cf. Phil. 2:3).

Conclusion

The Bible has famously been compared to a love letter from God. Of course, love letters are mostly a thing of the past, but the idea is still current. If you were to receive a love letter, you would treasure it and read it carefully several times. The Bible is God’s love letter to his people. Why would any recipient not want to read and study that letter as often as possible, both on your own and with other believers?

If you’re part of a Bible study, stay consistent with it. If you’re not part of a Bible study, go and find one in your local church. With your meaningful contribution, God will be praised and you’ll be blessed.

Dr. Wes Bredenhof blogs at Yinkahdinay.wordpress.com.


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