Sunday, April 28, 2013

Polycarp of Smyrna

by Sinclair B. Ferguson

Sinclair Ferguson wants to point young people to heroes, rather than idols. As the back cover asks, “what’s the difference?” Well, our idols are people we admire and want to be like because of their looks, their money, their power, or their abilities, but heroes – true heroes – are people who pursue the Lord with everything they have, willing to live and die for Him.

Polycarp was just such a hero. He lived during the time of the Roman Empire, and had been taught by the Apostle John himself. As an old man he was presented with a choice: deny the Lord, or be burned to death. His accusers didn’t really want to burn him, and they pleaded with him to renounce his faith. But Polycarp would have none of it, declaring: “For 86 years I have served Christ. He has done me no harm! How can I deny Jesus who is my Savior?” He was burned but his courage and steadfastness encouraged the believers who saw him die.

Colorful illustrations are sprinkled throughout, with only the strange, seemingly random, enlargement of the first letter of the first word of one third of the paragraphs distracting me a bit, but causing no problems for children. Overall evaluation: a superior church history title for children. It would make a good gift for those in Grade two and up.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The barber who wanted to pray

by R.C. Sproul
33 pages, Hardcover

R.C. Sproul has written a half dozen picture books to date, all of them great instructional tools, but all of them decidedly average stories. However, this time around Sproul is using a picture book to teach both children and their parents and packaged a great lesson on prayer and he's packaged it in a pretty good historical tale.

Barber Who Wanted to Pray is based on something that really happened. In 1535 Martin Luther was asked by his friend, Master Peter the barber, how to pray more effectively. Luther wrote a 20-page answer which became the booklet A Simple Way to Pray (... for Master Peter).

Artwork is first-rate – we feel like we’re right there in a 16th century German barbershop. And the lesson Luther and Sproul pass along here is sure to help readers of all ages with their prayers. To get a better account of what Luther was suggesting, please do find a copy of this book, or look up Luther’s booklet Simple Way to Pray online. But, in brief, what Luther suggested was that we memorize the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed and the Ten Commandments, and then, each time we pray, use a single line or clause from one of these as the focus of our prayer. So, for example, we might focus on the Apostle’s Creed’s first line: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth” and then in our prayer think on and recall some of the wonders God has made on the earth, and in the heavens above.

It’s a wonderful, very helpful lesson. I originally got Barber Who Wanted to Pray thinking it might be a good way to teach my three-year-old how to do more than 3 or 4 line repetitive prayers. But what was a bit much for her was still helpful for her daddy. The simple lesson Luther taught his barber 500 years ago is just as useful to young and old today.

You can pick up a copy at by clicking here.

Related reviews

The graphic novel Luther: Echoes of the Hammer
The 1953 film Martin Luther
The biography The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther
The children's picture book The Barber Who Wanted to Pray

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton
Collier Books, 1987, originally published 1948
283 pages, paperback

Last month, I started reviewing some "really good reads" that are studied in our school. I mentioned that one way to tell that Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird is such a really good read that it made a really good movie. In the case of Cry, the Beloved Country, the most recent movie is not as beautifully faithful to the themes of the novel; however, as with Lee's novel, when the movie version of Paton's novel is successful, it is when it trusts its source, using meditative and descriptive passages from the novel (read by James Earl Jones) to deepen our understanding of crucial scenes.

So why does the movie quote the book as often as it does? The reason is that Cry, the Beloved Country is possibly the most poetic novel in the English language. Here is the passage that opens the book, part of which also is read in the recent movie:

THERE is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down one of the fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the crying of the titihoya, one of the birds of the veld....

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Promise Kept

by Robertson McQuilkin 
1998, 96 pages, Hardcover

A Promise Kept is the true story of a man putting his wife's needs and wants ahead of his own. That's what husbands are called to do (Eph. 5:25) but to consistently, repeatedly love our wives as Christ loves his Church is a struggle, so when a man is doing it it is awesome to see. We can't help but see God in it; we can't help but praise God for enabling a man to love his wife like that.

A Promise Kept is about the decision Robertson McQuilkin made in 1990 to step away from his prestigious and influential role as a Bible college president so he could stay home and care for his wife Muriel. She had, years earlier, started showing signs of Alzheimer's and as the disease progressed it became clear she would need full-time care. It was suggested she be put in a home, but, as Robertson noted in his resignation speech, when he was near her, she was calm, and when he was not, she would get anxious and scared. In the same speech he noted it was an easy decision to make: he had promised to care for Muriel until "death do us part" and he considered it an honor to care for her.

This a very short book – just 90 pages – but profoundly beautiful.