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Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin


Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Lessons from an Extraordinary Life by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin.

“I survived the war, but then I had to survive myself coming home from the war. Despite the good times and all the attention, I was under a cloud that kept growing darker. I had nightmares about killing the Bird from which I woke up shouting and swearing. My running legs were gone and I couldn’t compete anymore, which broke my heart. I wanted to strike it rich, but lost money instead. I drank and fought. I knew I was on the wrong path—but didn’t know what to do about it.” ~Louis Zamperini

If the movie Unbroken, or even what you’ve heard about the movie or the book by Laura Hillenbrand, is your only acquaintance with Louis Zamperini, then you already know that he was an amazing man with an almost unbelievable life story. What you may not know is what Paul Harvey used to call The Rest of the Story.

I would suggest that anyone who was captivated by Mr. Zamperini’s story in the movie should immediately, without delay, beg, borrow, or steal a copy of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. If you just aren’t a reader and can’t bring yourself to read that wonderful biography, then Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In tells the rest of Louis Zamperini’s story in a much shorter format, 224 pages laid out in easy to read chunks or chapter of three or four pages each. If you’ve already read Unbroken, but can’t get your friends or family members to read it, give them a copy of this book. Louis Zamperini’s character, warmth, and wisdom shine through the pages here just as they did in the pages of Unbroken.

David Rensin, who had already worked with Mr. Zamperini on his autobiography Devil at My Heels, met with Zamperini again for about six months to complete this book because Louis said he still had stories he wanted to tell. The stories in the book, which was completed two days before Mr. Zamperini died on July 2, 2014, continue to illuminate the life of this man who not only was a hero, but also a very broken and vengeful man after his return from prison camp. In Unbroken Laura Hillenbrand tells what it was that made Louis Zamperini whole again, in her words. In this book Mr. Zamperini gets to tell us about his recovery in his own words.

“I had nothing left to lose.
That admission itself was the beginning of my recovery. I’d always known that I’d come home from the war with a problem, but I had never been willing to ask for help—from anyone.
But now I had, and my whole body and spirit felt different. Wonderful. Calm. Free.”

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50 Facts and Links for Psalm 119

We studied Psalm 119 in our homeschool last fall and attempted to memorize parts of it. I thought I would collect some of the links and facts I learned about the longest psalm here so that I can refer back to these things.

1. It takes about 15 minutes to read aloud or recite the entire 176 verses of Psalm 119.

2. The Psalms are numbered differently in the Catholic (Douay) translation of the Bible which was translated from the Septuagint and takes its numbering. In Douay, this psalm is Psalm 118.

3. There are 22 times 8, or 176 verses in Psalm 119.

4. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and Psalm 119 is divided into 22 sections or stanzas.

5. Some people think that 176 different people wrote one verse each to compile the Psalm during the exile about 450 B.C. Other people think that the priest/prophet Ezra wrote all of Psalm 119.

6. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is aleph. Verses 1-8 all begin with aleph. Other than verse 115, the first three verses of the psalm are the only ones not spoken directly to God. They are the introduction.

7. Beth is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verses 9-16 all begin with beth. Beth also means “house” in Hebrew. We can make our heart a home for God’s word.

8. Psalm 119 may have been written as an acrostic poem so that it would be easier to memorize.

9. The Ortodox have a tradition that King David used this psalm to teach his young son Solomon the alphabet—–but not just the alphabet for writing letters: the alphabet of the spiritual life. They believe that Psalm 119 is a psalm written by David.

10. The name of God (Yahweh/Jehovah) appears twenty-four times in Psalm 119.

11. Psalm 119 is recited or read with special solemnity at Orthodox funeral services and on the various All-Souls Days occurring throughout the year, with “Alleluia” chanted between each verse.

12. In Orthodox monasteries Psalm 119 is read daily at the Midnight Office: “At midnight I arose to give thanks unto Thee for the judgments of Thy righteousness” (v. 62).

13. Eight Hebrew words are used to refer to God’s Word in Psalm 119.

14. The first word is promise or word, dabar in Hebrew, used 24 times: it means God’s spoken, revealed word.

15. The second word is saying, imrah in Hebrew, used 19 times: this is another way to say word, anything God has spoken, commanded or promised.

16. The third word is statutes, chuqqim, used 21 times: these are the rules that God gave to His people early in their history. It can be translated “laws”.

17. The fourth word is judgments, mishpatim, used 23 times: a later word for statutes, can be translated as judgements or rules or rulings.

18. The fifth word is law, torah, used 25 times: this means the first 5 books of the Bible. Later it included other books like Isaiah and Jeremiah. It is translated as “law” or “teaching” or even “revelation”.

19. The sixth word is commands, miswah/miswot, used 22 times: what someone with authority (God) tells you to do, orders.

20. The seventh word is precepts, piqqudim, used 21 times: these give us help when we want to know what to do. This word is sometimes translated as “guidelines” or “instructions” in Psalm 119.

21. The eighth word is testimonies, eduth, used 23 times: these are the things that God tells us to do. Related to the word “witness”, keeping His testimonies means being loyal to the covenant or promise that God has made with us.

22. Way and path both mean the same thing in the psalm. They mean: what we do in our lives. Our way can be good or bad. If we obey Psalm 119, our way will be good. Jesus said, “I am the way” (John 14:6). If we obey Jesus, our way will be good. In Acts 9:2, “in the way” is another name for “being a Christian”.

23. Psalm 119:89 is a popular Nigerian praise song.

24. Psalm 119:105 was set to music by Christian songwriters Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.

25. Psalm 119 is used in Jewish tradition to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

26. Psalm 119 is a prayer that includes many different elements, including prayers of praise (45-48), lament (81-88), vindication (132-134), obedience (57-64), and petitions for wisdom (33-40).

27. Charles Spurgeon liked this Psalm so much, he said, “we might do well to commit it to memory.”

28. “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” ~C.S. Lewis

29. The actual author of Psalm 119 is unknown.

30. Verses 14, 72, 83, 119, 127, 162, and 176 contain similes comparing one thing to another like thing.

31. Some great people have memorized this whole Psalm and found great blessing in doing so: John Ruskin (19th century British writer), William Wilberforce (19th century British politician who led the movement to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire), Henry Martyn (19th century pioneer missionary to India), and David Livingstone (19th century pioneer missionary to Africa).

32. George Wishart was the Bishop of Edinburgh in the 17th century (not to be confused with another Scot by the same name who was martyred a century earlier). Wishart was condemned to death and would have been executed. But when he was on the scaffold he made use of a custom that allowed the condemned person to choose one psalm to be sung, and he chose Psalms 119:1-176. Before two-thirds of the psalm was sung, his pardon arrived and his life was spared.

33. He is the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and it is used at the beginning of verbs to make them causative. So the prayers in this section (five) are stated, “Cause me to learn” and “Cause me to understand” and “Cause me to walk” and so forth.

34. “Blaise Pascal, the brilliant French philosopher and devout Christian, loved Psalm 119. He is another person who memorized it, and he called verse 59 ‘the turning point of man’s character and destiny.’ He meant that it is vital for every person to consider his or her ways, understand that our ways are destructive and will lead us to destruction, and then make an about-face and determine to go in God’s ways instead.” (Boice)

35. The yodh stanza (ten) represents the small Hebrew letter Jesus referred to as a “jot” in Matthew 5:18 : “Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”

36. “Kaph is a curved letter, similar to a half circle, and it was often thought of as a hand held out to receive some gift or blessing . . . He holds out his hand toward him [God] as a suppliant.” (Boice)

37. We are held up and supported by the word of God.
Uphold me according to Your word, that I may live. Psalm 119:116
“In the Middle Ages, under the monastic order of the Benedictines, when a novice’s period of preparation was ended and he was ready to become attached to the monastery for life, there was an induction ceremony in which, with outstretched arms, the novice recited Psalms 119:116 three times . . . The community repeated the words and then sang the Gloria Patri, which was a way of acknowledging that the commitments of the monastic life could only be sustained by God, to whom all glory belongs.” (Boice)

38. The Masorites said that the Word of God is mentioned in every verse except Psalm 119:122. Other people reckon differently (with disagreement about verses 84, 90, 121, and 132). But Scripture is mentioned in at least 171 of 176 verses.

39. There have been many lengthy works written on this Psalm, including one by Thomas Manton, a Puritan preacher and writer, who wrote a three-volume work on Psalm 119.

40. Persecution and suffering in the life of a follower of God’s law is a major theme of Psalm 119.

41. The psalm opens with beatitudes. “Blessed” are those whose ways are blameless, who live according to God’s law, who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their heart.

42. John Calvin preached 22 sermons (one for each stanza) from Psalm 119.

43. Charles Spurgeon lists eight marks of true love for God’s Word: 1)reverence for the authority of God’s Word, 2)admiration for its holiness, 3)jealousy for its honor, 4)respect for all that it says, 5)diligence in the study of it, 6)eager desire to obey it, 7)readiness to praise it, 8)great desire to share it with others.

44. The average Bible reader spends less time in the word of God each day than he spends watching the commercials in a thirty minute television program.

45. Psalm 119 is approximately the same length as the books of Ruth, James or Philippians.

46. Psalm 119 is not the psalmist telling me how much I should love God’s word. Instead it’s the psalmist telling all of us how much he has come to love God’s word. It’s a prayer of praise for the sweetness, value, and delight of God’s word.

47. Hymns based on verses from Psalm 119 are Open My Eyes That I May See (Clara Scott), For the Beauty of the Earth (Folliott Sandford Pierpoint), Break Thou The Bread of Life (Mary Lathbury), Lord Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word (Martin Luther/Catherine Winkworth), and Wonderful Words of Life (Philip Bliss).

48. “”I have hidden your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11. The Word, locked up in the heart—is a preservative against sin. As one would carry an antidote with him when he comes near an infected place—so David carried the Word in his heart as a sacred antidote to preserve him from the infection of sin.” ~Thomas Watson

49. “Beware of slighting, despising, or neglecting the Bible.
Read it daily,
pray over it incessantly, and
meditate on what it reveals continually!” ~James Smith, The Way of Salvation Set Forth
His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night! Psalm 1:2

50. The Gospel in Psalm 119 by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. “Making resolutions is not sufficient to meet the standard. . . His law is holy and good and righteous; it is pure, but we can’t keep it. Even when we make resolutions, we can’t keep it. We don’t keep it. We can’t. We’re not able to serve the Lord. We are failures, and that comes out in Psalm 119. . . . We need the divine enabling and power of Jesus. He is our righteousness; He is the only one who has fulfilled God’s law.”

Sources:
Psalm 119 Facts: Ten Things to Know About Psalm 119.
20 Quotes About the Book of Psalms
David Guzik Commentary on Psalm 119.
Grace Gems: The Scriptures.

Deuteronomy: A New Year’s Challenge and Reminder

I have a hard time with the book of Deuteronomy. It’s all about “obey and be blessed” or “disobey and be cursed.” And the problem is that I’ve already blown it, multiple times. But I can resonate with this take on the message of the book of Deuteronomy:

“[J]ust as the fingers of despair and guilt begin to tighten their grip, I remember a little verse in Deuteronomy 31 v.21 which astonished me when I first read it. It says ‘I know the intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.’ What did he know? He knew that the inevitable would happen. That good intentions would become bad choices. That the fire of passion would be dulled by the daily grind of life and that someday they would look around and realize their story had not turned out the way they thought it would.

He knew that they would take the gifts he gave them and twist and shape them into something they were never meant to be. He knew they would turn away and reject him, that those chosen to bear his image would instead deface it before a watching world.

He knew and yet he loved them.”
~The Inevitable Plot Line by Heidi Johnston

The message of Deuteronomy is not “you are already cursed, too bad for you” but rather “I know you and I love you. Choose life.”

Here are more treasures from Deuteronomy, written by one of my favorite preacher-bloggers, New Orleans retired pastor Joe McKeever:
The best things in Deuteronomy.
The next best things in Deuteronomy.
More of the best of Deuteronomy.
The best of Deuteronomy, part 4.
The best of Deuteronomy, part 5

Southern Baptists choose a book of the Bible to focus on each January for their “January Bible Study.” This year the study is entitled “Deuteronomy: A Challenge to a New Generation”.

Christmas at Brede Abbey, Sussex, England, c. 1955

“On the night of Christmas Eve the abbey was so still it might have been thought to be empty, or the nuns asleep, but when the bell sounded at ten o’clock, from all corners, especially from the church, silent figures made their way to their station in the long cloister, and Abbess Catherine led them into choir for Christmas Matins. The first nocturne from the book of Isaiah was sung by the four chief chantresses: ‘Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned. A voice says ‘Cry!’ and I said ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flowers of the field. . . .’ Voice succeeded voice through two hours until the priests, vested in white and gold, with their servers, came in procession from the sacristy for the tenderness and triumph of the midnight Mass. Lauds of Christmas followed straight after, and at two o’clock the community went to the refectory for hot soup, always called ‘cock soup’ because it was the first taste of meat or chicken they had had since Advent began. The soup was served with rice–‘beautifully filling,’ said Hilary in content–and after it came two biscuits and four squares of chocolate. ‘Chocolate!’ ‘We need to keep our strength up,’ said Dame Ursula.

In the twenty-four hours of Christmas they would spend ten hours in choir, singing the Hours at their accustomed times, and the second ‘dawn’ or ‘aurora,’ Mass of the shepherds as well as the third Mass of Christmas, which came after terce. The wonder was that the nuns had time to eat their Christmas dinner, most of it contributed by friends.”

I picked up a beautiful paperback copy of In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden at Half-Price Books the other day. The blurb on the back calls the book “an extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life.” I have called it “an excellent story about the lives of women within a closed community of nuns. Not only does the reader get to satisfy his curiosity about how nuns live in a convent, but there’s also a a great plot related to contemporary issues such as abortion, the efficacy of prayer, and the morality of absolute obedience.”

I highly recommend it if you’re at all interested in the disciplines of the Christian life or the difficulties and possibilities inherent in attempting to live in Christian community.

Blog reviews for In This House of Brede:
Laura at Lines in Pleasant Places.
Heather at Lines from the Page.
Phyllis at Life on Windy Ridge.
Diane at A Circle of Quiet.
Julie at Happy Catholic.

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Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson

A nameless girl dressed only in spiderwebs enters the Pennyroyal Academy, a place where girls are trained to become princesses who do battle with witches and boys are trained to become knights who fight dragons.

If that introduction intrigues you, Pennyroyal Academy is the book for you. If you got stuck, as I did, on imagining the girl dressed only in spiderwebs, then maybe you’ll get stuck again on some of the other rather odd aspects of this book. I just kept wondering how the the whole spiderwebs-as-clothing thing worked. Wouldn’t they be at least translucent, no matter how many spiderwebs you used. And wouldn’t the stickiness of the webs be nasty and uncomfortable? And how would you take them off? Yuck! There were other details that sidetracked me, too, but as these others are spoiler-ish, I’ll save them to discuss with those who have already read the book.

The princesses-in-training learn that to fight witches they must become courageous, compassionate, kind and disciplined. These are the four cardinal virtues of Pennyroyal Academy. Their commander tells them

“A Princess of the Shield is courageous. She is compassionate. She is kind and she is disciplined. Without these four core values, a girl may have all the crowns and castles she wants, but she will no more be a princess than she will a dragon.
You must prepare for battle as any soldier would, though yours are not the weapons of a soldier. Your weapons are pure hearts and steel spines. Your weapons are already inside you. And the only way to wield them is to know yourself. Which is precisely what we will teach you here.”

I liked that little speech and the idea that the girls must be trained for battle with the witches of the kingdom. However, as a Christian, I would quibble with the ultimate source for courage, compassion, kindness, and discipline (self-control). Disney teaches us, “Know yourself, be yourself, and be true to your heart.” The Bible says that the qualities of a Warrior Princess are gifts of the Spirit of God. To battle real witches and dragons, we Christians must be trained in dependence on that same Holy Spirit. In fact, Pennyroyal Academy reminded me of this song:

Deep inside we are children, not strong, self-sufficient warriors. We only war in His might and in His strength.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

A Hymn to God the Father by John Donne

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sins their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow’d in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore:
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more.

We were discussing this idea, along with Mary Magdalene, at church this morning. We have such need of a Savior every day. We all have such need of the gospel, the good news that Christ has paid the penalty for our sins and that we are redeemed in Him, every day. We have need of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit every day, every hour.

Jesus, I believe; help my unbelief.

Ezekiel

Repetitive. Hard. Weird. Seriously depressing. Ultimately hopeful?

The things I’m marking in the book of Ezekiel as I try to read and make sense of it are the phrases and ideas that Ezekiel repeats over and over:

Son of man: God’s nickname for Ezekiel. Almost every time God speaks to Ezekiel, the Lord calls his priest/messenger boy, “Son of man” or “Son of Adam.” Ezekiel’s actual name is only mentioned twice in the book of Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 1:3 and 24:24. The Hebrew expression “son of man” (בן–אדם, ben-‘adam) appears 107 times in the Hebrew Bible. The phrase is used mostly in Ezekiel (93 times). (Wikipedia)

I remember that Jesus called himself the “Son of man.” What does that mean? It means that Ezekiel and Jesus were both human, both sons of Adam. We forget the humanity of Christ sometimes, that God took on human flesh, that he humbled himself, that he was a “son of Adam” as well as son of God. This dual nature as the theologians call it is, of course, a mystery. But it is also an encouragement. God spoke to a son of man (Ezekiel), and God became the Son of Man (Jesus).

The glory of the Lord: My pastor preached about this phrase this morning. In Ezekiel chapter 11 the glory of the Lord departs from His temple and the glory doesn’t return until chapter 43. What is this glory?

John MacArthur, Grace to You: “The glory of the Lord is the expression of God’s person. It is any manifestation of God’s character, any manifestation of His attributes in the world, in the universe is His glory. In other words, the glory is to God what the brightness is to the sun. The glory is to God what wet is to water. The glory is what heat is to fire. In other words, it is the emanation, it is the effulgence, it is the brightness, it is the product of His presence, it is the revelation of Himself. Anytime God discloses Himself, it is the manifestation of His glory.”

And the Apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
“The everlasting Logos, the Word of God, who was with God and who is God, has now inhabited the creation that He made.”

Thus saith the Lord, or the word of the Lord came to me or declares the Lord: Ezekiel indicates over and over again that God actually spoke to him, audibly and in visions. Again, the word came to Ezekiel, but that’s only a hint of the final Word that was and is to come, the Word become flesh and dwelling among us.

Then you will know (or they will know) that I am the Lord This phrase appears more than sixty times in the book of Ezekiel. God tells the people through Ezekiel that He is planning to bring great calamity and judgment upon them and that then they will know that I AM THAT I AM. Sin separates us from the life and the glory of God, but we will no longer ignore His word or His glory when He brings both judgment and mercy to bear upon our sin.

Then they will know that I AM THAT I AM.

He is there, and He is not silent. ~Francis Schaeffer

And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it. Exodus 7:5

The LORD is known by his acts of justice. Psalm 9:16

The true state, both of nations and of individuals, may be correctly estimated by this one rule, whether in their doings they remember or forget God. ~Matthew Henry

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 4:9-11

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi.

In the course of one evening, I read this spiritual autobiography of a Muslim who, over a period of years of study and debate, converted to Christianity. I daresay one could give it a week, or a month, and not mine completely all the information and food for thought contained therein. I’ll simply hit a few of the ideas and impressions that stood out for me.

1)Islam is as fragmented with cults, sects, and denominations as is Christianity, if not more so. Mr. Quereshi’s family were (still are for the most part) members of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. Other Muslims consider the Ahmadiyya “not true Muslims.” Mr. Qureshi goes over the differences between Ahmadiyya and other forms of Islam in an elementary fashion in the book, but what I got out of the entire discussion was that while the Ahmadiyya consider themselves to be orthodox Muslims because they pray and recite Quran like other Muslims and believe and recite the Shahadah like other Muslims, those other Muslims do not accept the Ahmadiyya as orthodox followers of Muhammed and of Allah.
Many Muslims will not give credence to Mr. Qureshi’s arguments because his family’s faith is considered to be outside the pale of Muslim orthodoxy in the first place.

2)There is a great divide between the East and the West in regards to their approach to learning and authority.

“People from Eastern Islamic cultures generally assess truth through lines of authority, not individual reasoning. Of course, individuals do engage in critical reasoning in the East, but on average it is relatively less valued and far less prevalent than in the West. Leaders have done the critical reasoning, and leaders know best.”

Mr. Qureshi goes into this divide and its repercussions in relation to explorations of religious truth in part two of his book.

3)Dreams and visions were a part of Nabeel Qureshi’s conversion process. Because I approach revelation of truth and Christianity from a Western, scientific mindset, the idea of God revealing himself through dreams and visions seems subjective and prone to misunderstanding and dispute in my eyes. However, in a paper at Ravi Zacharias’ website, Josh McDowell has this to say about God’s use of dreams and visions to draw seekers to himself:

“Dreams and visions do not convert people; the gospel does. These seekers begin a personal or spiritual journey to find the Truth. As was the case for Nabeel, the dreams lead them to the scriptures and to believers who can share Jesus with them. It is the gospel through the Holy Spirit that converts people.”

That formulation makes sense to me.

4)Mr. Qureshi emphasizes in his story the importance of family and tradition to the Muslim, and parts of his book are heart-wrenching because he tells in detail of the price he and his family had to pay for him to become a follower of Jesus Christ. He had to give up his identity as a Muslim, as a good, loving, obedient son, and a carrier of the family honor and tradition. As he came to an intellectual assent to the truth of the gospel, Mr. Qureshi had to decide whether he was willing to pay this emotional price (and require it of his family) in order to follow the truth that he found in Jesus. I wondered as I read whether I would be willing to pay such a price were it required of me.

I recommend Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus to Christian and non-Christian readers alike. If you read the book with an open mind, you will find yourself questioning your own pre-suppositions, a good thing for all of us to do every now and then.

Against All Odds by Jim Stier

This book is published by YWAM and tells the story of YWAM leader Jim Stier and his missionary work in Brazil during the 1980’s. YWAM stands for Youth With a Mission, “an inter-denominational, non-profit Christian, missionary organization. Founded by Loren Cunningham and his wife Darlene Cunningham in 1960, YWAM’s stated purpose is to know God and to make Him known.” A worthy purpose, but I’m not so sure about the wisdom of all that I read about in Mr. Stier’s book.

I must say that there are some odd episodes in Against All Odds. For instance, the young people who make up Mr. Stier’s “team” receive messages from God by being impressed to look up specific verses in the Bible. It’s almost like the old “let the Bible fall open at random and read God’s message to you”, but for these missionaries the random verses come out of their heads while they are praying. Then, they have to “interpret” the sometimes cryptic message. For instance, one of Stier’s fellow missionaries is impressed to look up Judges 10:22: “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me.” The cave is interpreted as the Bible school where the missionaries are, and the five kings are $500. So they take up an offering.

No, it didn’t make sense to me either, and their interpretation has nothing at all to do with the context or literal meaning of the verse itself. A lot of the book is about how Mr. Stier and his wife and family and other missionaries in Brazil trusted God to provide for their financial needs as they began YWAM ministries in Brazil. Although I believe in trusting God for all of our needs, I also believe that Scripture commands us to work for a living: “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” I Thessalonians 4:11 Trusting God for Mr. Stier and his partners in missions looked a lot like waiting around until things got so desperate that someone, somewhere had pity on them and bought them some food or paid their rent.

Mr. Stier and his fellow missionaries do a lot of work, evangelizing, and yes, they are to be commended for their radical obedience to the call of God on their lives. However, I wouldn’t really recommend this book (or YWAM) to young people who are looking for a role model in radical obedience and discernment in following Christ. Surely, there are better ways to inspire (maybe reading Scripture itself?) all of us to be moved to follow Christ while rightly interpreting and following the Word of God.

The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz

Thirteen year old Nina Ross is feeling at loose ends this summer. Her best friend, Jorie, is changing into a boy-crazy clothes horse. Her beloved grandmother, the only person who really got Nina, died last year. Nina’s parents, divorce lawyers, work all the time. And her brother Matt is consistently either holed up in his room or gone to work.

Even though Nina isn’t “the type of person who goes out of her way to help people,” she decides to start a project: one good anonymous deed, small but remarkable, each day for the sixty-five days of summer vacation. Will it make a difference? Will Nina’s project change the neighborhood? Change the world?

This middle grade novel told a really sweet story, maybe too sweet for some readers, but I enjoyed it. Nina surprises herself and is surprised by the new truths she discovers about her neighbors and about her own family. The pace of these revelations and of the story itself is just right–not thriller pace but just enough suspense and charm to keep me reading. (There is mention in the story of a possible kumiho (Korean fox spirit) and a supposed ghost, but you can take or leave those possibilities.) All in all, The Summer I Saved the World . . . is a pretty good and encouraging summer read, a remarkable good deed and inspiration in itself.

The author tells about her purpose in writing the story in the end note:

“I started this story with a question: does doing good really do any good? Random acts of kindness are everywhere, but I wondered, so they really have an effect on people? Can small acts of goodness change our world?
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The answer to my question—does doing good really do any good—I will always hope, is a resounding and undeniable yes!”

Well, I would say, yes and no. Yes, doing good is good, and of course, even small deeds of kindness and encouragement change the atmosphere of any neighborhood or workplace or home. The Bible says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) Also, there are all the “one anothers”:

Bear with each other and forgive one another. (Colossians 3:13)
Be kind and compassionate to one another. (Ephesians 4:32)
Love one another. (John 13:34)
Be devoted to one another in love. (Romans 12:10)
Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
Encourage one another and build each other up. (I Thessalonians 5:11)
Spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
Greet one another with a holy kiss. (2 Corinthians 13:12)
Be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:50)
Serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
Receive one another. (Romans 15:7)
Rejoice or weep with one another. (Romans 12:15)
Admonish one another. (Romans 15:14)
Care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:25)
Pray for one another. (James 5:16)
Accept one another. (Romans 14:1; 15:7)
Be truthful with one another. (Colossians 3:9)
Confess your faults to one another. (James 5:16)

If even just Christians obeyed all of those commands, the world would definitely be a “saltier” and better place. However, the world is made up of sinful people (like me), some of whom are unrepentantly evil, and it’s not going to be redeemed and transformed by small acts of “random” kindness. Random kindness is good, but it isn’t enough to save the world. It’s going to take something BIG to change the world: a large act of perfect love and sacrifice.

I wonder what THAT could be?