Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Doctor Zhivago Revisited

“This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of Boris Pasternak’s famous novel, Doctor Zhivago. Problems with Russian censorship meant it was first published by the Italian publisher, Feltrinelli; the English translation followed in 1958, which was the year I first encountered it, aged twelve. This was the year that Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, an event given an ominous dimension when he was forced by the Russian authorities to either renounce the prize or be exiled. Pasternak, for whom to live outside his homeland would have been unthinkable, chose the first option. Expelled from the Writers Union, he died, disgraced, in 1960...”

Read the rest of Francis Phillips' Mercator article, Doctor Zhivago at 60: A Spiritual Masterpiece right here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Tony Evans on "Kingdom Men"

“My concern is that Christian leaders have leveraged our men to build church buildings and run church programs, but we have failed to disciple them in what it means to be about the kingdom…   One of the greatest failures, I believe, of the American church has been that we have not equipped men to fully understand, realize, and implement their divine destiny of biblical manhood. We have stripped them of their manhood while attempting to redefine it with things such as church attendance in churches primarily geared toward women (from the decorations on the walls to the music to the short-lived and often less effective mission trips, and to the service on numerous committees). While each of those things is important and good, without a common vision on a common goal against the common enemy -- we often wind up simply busier than deliberately strategic.” (Tony Evans, Kingdom Man)

Boy, am I liking this book!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year’s Best Reads (2016)

Of the 73 books read in 2016 (besides the Bible itself), I found the most challenge, information, enjoyment, and overall appreciation in the following. The ones in bold typeface represent the ones I recommend the most heartily. Of course, you might well smile when you see that all of the re-reads are in bold but why not? I read them again and again because they are, in fact, outstandingly excellent.

Books read for the first time:
* The Snakebite Letters (Peter Kreeft)
* The Smoke at Dawn (Jeff Shaara)
* Fool’s Talk (Os Guinness)
* Cheaper by the Dozen (Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey)
* The Swiss Family Robinson (Johann David Wyss)
* Bob Flame: Rocky Mountain Ranger (Dorr Yeager)
* The Damsel in Distress (P.G. Wodehouse)
* Vandemark’s Folly (Herbert Quick)
* The Battle of Gettysburg (Frank Aretas Haskell)
* The Overcoming Life and Other Sermons (D.L. Moody)
* hand in Hand (Randy Alcorn)
* Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Colin Duriez)

Books that were re-reads:
* Heaven (Randy Alcorn)
* The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas)
* Twenty Years After (Alexandre Dumas)
* The Vicomte de Bragelonne (Alexandre Dumas)
* Louise de la Vallière (Alexandre Dumas)
* The Man in the Iron Mask (Alexandre Dumas)
* The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
* Out of the Silent Planet (C.S. Lewis)
* Perelandra  (C.S. Lewis)
* That Hideous Strength (C.S. Lewis)
* Manalive (G.K. Chesterton)
* Orthodoxy (G.K.Chesterton)
* The Magician’s Nephew (C.S. Lewis)
* The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis)
* The Horse and His Boy (C.S.Lewis)
* Prince Caspian (C.S. Lewis)
* The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (C.S. Lewis)
* The Silver Chair (C.S. Lewis)
* The Last Battle (C.S. Lewis)
* The Black Arrow (Robert Louis Stevenson)
* Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)
* Ben-Hur (Lew Wallace)
* The Church Before the Watching World (Francis Schaeffer)
* The Chimes (Charles Dickens)
* A Christmas Longing (Joni Eareckson Tada)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Quiz --- Number Three

For the previous quizzes, simply scroll down through the blog.

1) In what year did Charles Dickens write A Christmas Carol? A) 1790 B) 1843 C) 1890 D) 1933

2) Which popular Christmas song was actually written for Thanksgiving? A) “Frosty the Snowman” B) “Winter Wonderland” C) “Jingle Bells” D) “It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” E) “Deck the Halls”

3) In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus reads about the real reason for the season from what book? A) The gospel of Luke B) The gospel of Matthew C) “The Little Drummer Boy” D) A Christmas Carol

4) After worshiping the baby Jesus, the magi from the east were warned by God in a dream not to return to: A) Egypt B) Parthia C) Jerusalem D) Bethlehem

5) “Adeste Fideles” is more commonly known as: A) “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful” B) “Frosty the Snowman” C) “The Christmas Song” D) “Silver Bells”

6) Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus the Savior literally means: A) Salvation B) House of bread C) Without a home D) Anointed home

7) Who wrote the short story, “The Gift of the Magi”? A) Charles Dickens B) Lewis Carroll C) O. Henry D) Clement Moore E) Mark Twain

8) The Messiah, George Frederick Handel's beloved Christmas oratorio, was first performed in 1742. In what city was it performed? A) London, England B) Jerusalem in what was then known as Palestine C) Dublin, Ireland D) Berlin, Germany

9) One of the marvelous adventures of the great detective, Sherlock Holmes, is set in the Christmas season. The story involves: A) The murder of a man disguised as Father Christmas B) A valuable gem discovered in a dead goose C) A secret message hidden in a child's doll D) A bomb in a Yule log designed to assassinate the King of England.

10) The first people to receive a “formal announcement” of Jesus' birth were common laborers who were looked down upon as social inferiors. Who were they? A) Shepherds B) Tax collectors C) Reporters D) Actors

11) How many wise men visited the stable on the night Jesus was born? A) 3 B) 7 C) 12 D) None

12) In the poem, “”Twas the Night Before Christmas,” what headgear was worn by the Momma? A) Nightcap B) Red towel C) Christmas stocking D) Kerchief

13) In Victorian times, Londoners would have been familiar with a “goose club.” What was that? A) Holly boughs wrapped up and set on the fire B) A three-stringed musical instrument C) A method of saving to buy a goose for Christmas D) A group of Christmas merry-makers, usually involved in mischief

14) For what singing cowboy was “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” a smash hit? A) Gene Autry B) Tex Ritter C) Hank Williams D) Roy Rogers E) Rex Allen

15) The flight into Egypt was: A) Saint Nicholas' escaping from the Turks B) The magi fleeing from Herod C) The nation of Israel being delivered from Pharaoh D) The Holy Family traveling to safety after a message from God

Answers: 1) B 2) C -- James Pierpont composed the song in 1857. It's original title? “One Horse Open Shay.” 3) A 4) C – King Herod (in Jerusalem) had told the magi to return to him and give a report on Jesus' whereabouts. However, he wanted not to worship Jesus (as he had lied), but rather to murder him. 5) A 6) B 7) C 8) C -- Handel wrote the work to aid charities in Ireland. 9) B -- In “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” Holmes recovers a gorgeous diamond and, in the charitable spirit of the Christmas season, allows the repentant thief to escape imprisonment if he promises to leave England forever. 10) A 11) D – The Bible does not say how many magi there were who came to visit and worship Jesus. Most Bible scholars believe it was probably several. However, the visit of the magi almost certainly did not occur on Christmas night but many months after Jesus' birth. 12) D 13) C -- “Goose clubs” were popular with the working-class of London, who paid a small amount every week towards the purchase of a goose or turkey to eat for Christmas dinner. 14) A 15) D

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas-Themed Reading Suggestions

1) Reading aloud the Christmas accounts in Matthew and Luke should be an indispensable part of a family's Christmas celebration. But Papa should also instruct his children from his study of these texts and others relevant to the Advent of Jesus. For instance, the mystery of the magi, the significance of the shepherds, the nuggets contained in the genealogies, the miracle of the virgin conception, and many other of the profound details of the first Christmas should be fully explored. Christmas literature can be tremendously inspiring and fun, but the emphasis should always be put on the historical, supernatural truths of the Savior's Advent. With that understood, then, here are a few suggestions to expand your Yuletide reading.

2) Joni Eareckson-Tada's A Christmas Longing. A splendid work featuring inspirational art done by mouth-artist Joni and profound biblical commentary. This is an important book for your complete enjoyment of Christmas.

3) John MacArthur's God With Us. MacArthur is one of America's best Bible scholars and he shows it to great effect in this very interesting look at Christmas.

4) Our old pal, the very talented Calvin Miller has a nifty little Christmas novel entitled Snow that I joyfully recommend.

5) Of course, Charles Dickens is indispensable to the full-bodied Christmas that we love. But besides A Christmas Carol (that most exquisite of short stories), Dickens has also given us Cricket on the Hearth, The Haunted Man, The Chimes, and many other seasonal gems. Got your library card? Or a Kindle?

6) Don't settle for just watching the movie. Why not read the original text of Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies? You'll be pleased you did.

7) A definite must for Claire's and my holiday season is sitting down with a hot mug of something and listening to an old recording of Dylan Thomas reading his own fabulous poem, “A Child's Christmas in Wales.” I feel sorry for you if you don't have access to that experience, but you can at least read it yourself. So grab a copy at the library – or maybe whip up a batch of cookies and pay us a visit We'll be more than happy to heat up the old Victrola!

8) Henry Van Dyke wrote several religious Christmas stories but “The Other Wise Man” is his not-to-be-missed classic. It is a perfect family read.

9) “The Gift of the Magi” is O. Henry's claim to Christmas fame and rightly he earned it. But he has several other Christmas stories you'd enjoy as well.

10) G.K. Chesterton's Christmas gifts not only include some of the wonderful poetry we include in these pages, but a Father Brown detective story entitled, “The Flying Stars.”

11) Did you know that even Sherlock Holmes has a Christmas adventure? You bet! Check out Conan Doyle's “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.”

12) Poetry – man, there's a gang of excellent Christmas poetry that's been written but in our post-Christian culture, you have to work hard to find it. It's another reason to cultivate friendships with old books. However, you can find a few of the best by perusing The Book Den postings listed under the Christmas category.

13) And here’s a few more suggestions from our Christmas reading of recent years: Don Reid’s O Little Town; Richard Paul Evans’ Finding Noel; Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from G. K. Chesterton; John Snyder’s The Golden Ring: A Christmas Story;  Bess Streeter Aldrich’s The Drum Goes Dead; Louisa May Alcott’s short story, “The Quiet Little Woman: A Christmas Story;” Washington Irving's Old Christmas; Fr. Val J. Peter’s Gifts for a Joyous Christmas; William Dean Howells’s short story, “Christmas Every Day;” Anthony Trollope’s Christmas at Thompson Hall; Kate Douglas Wiggin’s The Bird's Christmas Carol; and finally, Joseph Bottum's “Wise Guy.”

Happy Christmas, dear friends, and happy reading!

It Ain't No Mayberry: A Review of O Little Town

(I’m reposting my review of O Little Town from 2009 because the novel remains one of my heartiest of Christmas reading recommendations.)

Among the enjoyable Christmas read this year (for both Claire and I) was Don Reid’s wise and winsome little novel, O Little Town. Though set in a small southern town in the late 50’s and therefore full of details of fond interest to readers of my generation who can match them to their own experiences of that time, O Little Town is more than up-to-date in its themes.

Mt. Jefferson, for instance, isn’t Mayberry.

No, the problems emerging from this fictional town are much more than Opie playing hooky or Barney lecturing Otis on the evils of drink. Try unplanned pregnancies. Broken marriages. The pastor’s daughter caught shoplifting. And a mysterious secret finally revealed by a dying man. O Little Town is a more realistic examination of the era as the author takes very seriously the nature of man’s foibles, failures and false pride.

But can a novel that honestly deals with such matters make for cheerful reading? Doesn’t one expect a Christmas novel to be full of delight and charm and happy endings?

Or could it be that first-time novelist Don Reid manages to accomplish all of these things?

Yes, he does.

Indeed, because of his honesty in writing about sin, Reid is able to write
profoundly and persuasively about redemption. For Mt. Jefferson doesn’t contain only vice, it includes virtue too – beautiful and necessary virtues like love, humble confession, forgiveness, healing and dramatic change for the good. Because it does and because Reid is a warm-hearted and talented writer, O Little Town succeeds quite well indeed as a Christmas book. We both recommend it highly.

I’ll end this brief review, however, with the item that actually serves as the lead to most others; namely, the author's most interesting other career. Because if you don’t know (and you probably wouldn’t unless you’re an old-school country music fan), Don Reid was part of one of the genre's most successful groups of all time, The Statler Brothers.

So, writing great songs is not an unusual activity for Reid. Not too big of a surprise there. And his experience has included co-writing the scripts for The Statler Brothers’ television show and penning three non-fiction books. But a novel is a different game altogether.

Thankfully, Reid took the risk and in so doing gave us a well-crafted novel, one with humor as well as pathos, honor as well as moral failure, and inspiring lessons of life richly portrayed.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Quiz --- Number Two

Again, from the pages of our “Making the Most of Christmas” packet, here's the second Christmas quiz.

(Here is the first.)

Christmas Quiz --- Number One

1) Electric Christmas tree lights were first used in: A) 1776 B) 1895 C) 1914 D) 1933

2) The boar's head was a favorite dish in the traditional English Christmas feast. According to legend, the choice of this dish dates back to the Middle Ages when a particularly rowdy boar was killed by: A) St. Nicholas B) St. George C) King Wenceslas D) Choking to death on a book of Greek philosophy

3) Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, and Father Christmas are all names referring to what genuine Christian hero? A) Alexander the Great B) Saint Nicholas C) Joseph of Arimathea D) Old King Cole

4) What plant is called “Flower of the Holy Night” in Mexico? A) Winter's Rose B) Navidad de Valencia C) Poinsettia D) Piccolino

5) Most countries commemorate the visit of the Magi on what day? A) December 8 B) December 14 C) December 25 D) January 6

6) What traditional Christmas dish has a name that means “to swell or raise” A) Egg nog B) Plum pudding C) Divinity D) Marzipan

7) On Christmas Eve in 1944, a terrible tragedy occurred but accurate news of the event was unavailable for a long time afterwards. What was it? A) The sinking of the S.S. Leopoldville B) The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria C) The Boxer Rebellion in China D) Amelia Earhart's airplane crashed in the South Pacific

8) The famous defense of Santa Claus' existence written by the New York Sun in 1897 was written in response to a letter written by a little girl named: A) Belinda B) Mary C) Brooke D) Virginia

9) The first film version of Babes in Toyland starred what comedy team? A) The Marx Brothers B) Laurel and Hardy C) Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland D) Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis

10) When Santa is in Finland, he chooses a different form of transportation than the sleigh he uses in the U.S.A. What is it? A) A magic carpet B) A horse C) A goat named Ukko D) A white elk named Grizel

11) The details we have about the Advent of Jesus come from what New Testament books? A) All four gospels B) Matthew & Luke C) The gospel of John D) The epistles of Peter

12) In both Idaho and Indiana there is a town named: A) Christmas City B) Yuletide C) Tiny Tim D) Santa Claus

13) The day after Christmas, December 26, is known as Boxing Day in England and elsewhere. It is also the holy day associated with what saint? A) St. Stephen B) St. Nicholas C) St. Boniface D) St. Jerome

14) This traditional Christmas item was popularized by St. Francis of Assisi in 13th Century Italy. A) Crèche (nativity scene) B) Advent calendar C) Mistletoe D) Holly wreathes E) Lighted Christmas trees

15) In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, which spirit leads Ebenezer Scrooge to a cemetery? A) Christmas Past B) Christmas Present C) Christmas Future D) None of the spirits took Scrooge to a cemetery. It was Tiny Tim.

Answers: 1) B. American inventor, Ralph E. Morris is credited with the first use of electric Christmas lights. His purpose was to find something safer than candles which started more house fires than one could count. 2) D. Yes, the story suggests a student saved himself from a charging boar by throwing a book of Aristotle's writings at it. The boar greedily gulped down the book, choked itself, and thus became a meal for the student and his colleagues. 3) B 4) C. The Poinsettia is named after an American ambassador to Mexico who “discovered” the pretty flower in the 1820's. 5) D. January 6 is Epiphany 6) B. By the way, there are no plums in traditional plum pudding! 7) A 8) D 9) B 10) C. Ukko is supposedly made of straw. 11) B 12) D 13) A 14) A 15) C

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas Quiz --- Number One

The following is just one of the Christmas quizzes we put together for our “Making the Most of Christmas” packets many years ago. I'll post the other two in the days to come. Please consider using them in your holiday get-togethers as icebreakers and conversation starters. We created these fun, non-threatening quizzes to use with friends, family members, and neighbors who may not know very much of the biblical accounts of Christmas. This way you can impart some meaningful Christmas information to them without making them feel on the spot. In fact, we will be using them at our party this weekend when we have neighbors over for a cookie exchange and to watch our Christmas edition of “When Swing Was King.”

Christmas Quiz --- Number One

1) Which Latin singer had a big Christmas hit in the 1960's with “Felize Navidad”? A) Julio Iglesias B) Desi Arnaz C) Jose Feliciano D) Carlos Santana E) Edward Schwartz

2) In what year were poinsettias first sold in Philadelphia as Christmas decorations? A) 1833 B) 1910 C) 1927 D) 1945

3) In which of these Christmas movies did Bing Crosby star? A) The Bishop's Wife B) Rudolph's Ride to Glory C) It's a Wonderful Life D) Going My Way

4) The music for what Christmas carol was written in 1818 by an Austrian priest to be played on a guitar? A) “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” B) “Adeste Fidelis” C) “Oh Holy Night” D) “Silent Night”

5) What Christmas work was originally written for the entertainment of the author's own family and was not published for 26 years after its writing? A) A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens B) “A Visit to St. Nicholas” ('Twas the Night Before Christmas) by Clement Moore C) “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss D) “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin

6) The first one of these was made in 1844 and they began to be sold commercially in 1860. Now, over 2 and 1/2 billion are used every Christmas season. What are they? A) Christmas trees B) Outdoor lights C) Candy canes D) Christmas cards

7) Who announced to Mary that she had been chosen to be the virgin mother of Jesus? A) The angel Gabriel B) Elizabeth C) She learned it in a dream D) John the Baptist

8) What is the popular Christmas custom that is attributed to Martin Luther?
A) Yule log B) Hanging stockings C) Attending church D) Christmas tree lights

9) In the story and film, A Miracle on 34th Street, who is put on trial?
A) Santa Claus B) The mayor of New York City C) A guardian angel named Clarence D) An elf named Hardrock

10) Good King Wenceslas hailed from what country? A) Syria B) England C) Bohemia D) Alsatia

11) The name of Scrooge's deceased business partner in Dickens' classic story, A Christmas Carol, was: A) Bob Cratchit B) Jacob Marley C) Mr. Posey D) Martin Chuzzlewit

12) What familiar Christmas object comes from a word meaning “to shine”?
Hints: there were seven of them in the Old Testament tabernacle and it is an important part of the Advent wreath. A) Candle B) Yule log C) Crown D) Holly wreath

13) In Tchaikovsky's beautiful ballet, The Nutcracker, the main enemy of the handsome hero is: A) Drosselmeyer the magician B) The King of the Mice C) The puppet maker D) The Blue Dragon

14) Long before Scrooge or the Grinch, there was a real villain who could be called “The Man Who Tried to Kill Christmas.” Who was he? A) Genghis Khan B) Caesar Augustus C) Ivan the Terrible D) Herod the Great

15) When did “Good King Wenceslaus” look out? A) Christmas morning
B) Epiphany C) Feast of Stephen D) Candlemas eve


1) D 2) A 3) D Bing starred in several Christmas movies (Bells of St. Mary's, Going My Way, Holiday Inn, and White Christmas. 4) D -- “Silent Night” was written hastily for a Christmas Eve service after the priest discovered the organ was broken and that the service would have had to go without music. 5) B 6) D 7) A 8) D 9) A 10) C -- Wenceslas was actually only a 10th Century Duke of Bohemia, not an actual king. 11) B 12) A 13) B -- The King of the Mice, usually represented with seven heads, leads his troops against the nutcracker's toy soldiers, but loses the battle when Clara, the heroine, stuns him with a hurled shoe. 14) D -- Herod was Rome's “puppet ruler” over Israel at the time Jesus was born. Paranoid, vicious, and an insanely jealous tyrant, Herod murdered hundreds of people to secure his throne. It was he who ordered the murder of the infant boys of Bethlehem in an effort to end the life of Jesus, Who had come to save mankind (even Herod himself) from the curse of sin. 15) C

Monday, December 12, 2016

Looking for a Good Christmas Read?

Thinking about a good Christmas read or perhaps a gift idea for the book lovers on your list? Here’s a few of the Amazon reviews on my novel, The Christmas Room, that you might find of interest.

“I loved The Christmas Room. The story is innovative and captivating, full of familial struggles and true to life stories that so many can relate to as they deal with aging parents. You'll learn and grow in your knowledge of care for the elderly and will be encouraged by the healing power of love, patience and kindness. Assisted living and nursing home employees/employers will especially enjoy how they can relate to so much in this book. Senior citizens have much to offer us!”

“Great read. Denny does a great job bringing out the good as well as the bad that families face dealing with family issues while also juggling the declining health of a loved one. Going to be sending this to friends and loved ones for Christmas. Thank you!”

“Thank you so much!  The Christmas Room is written with so much appreciation and respect for our elders as well as capturing the daily blood, sweat, tears, and joy of a nursing home.”

The Christmas Room is a book that holds your heart. Each page is full of love, compassion and joy. While the characters go through their trials and doubts - their faith grows, as forgiveness, mercy and understanding is waiting for them if they just trust and believe. A good read from a strong Christian writer.”

“The book is a bit of heaven in this cursed world. Oh if there really was a place like this for someone who needs care. This would be the place. Mr Hartford has such a wonderful way of weaving the personalities in harmony, problem solving, love, and respect for the dignity of all life. What a great book!”

Copies of The Christmas Room are available from Amazon and from Kindle download.  The novel can also be purchased at Divine Truth, Bookworm, and the Gloria Deo book shops in Omaha and Lincoln. You can also get copies direct from us.

Kids Books for Christmas (And They're Not Just for Kids!)

I recently read through a couple of lists representing recommended Christmas reading for kids. I'm afraid I didn’t care for either list. So, I thought I’d drop a few hints myself.  Ready?

For little kids (of all ages), you can't go wrong with the Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne; the Freddy the Pig series by Walter Brooks; The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; the collected fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm; or stories about such heroes as Robin Hood and the Knights of the Round Table.

As these kids grow older, toss in C. S. Lewis' Narnia series; Arthur Conan Doyle; Laura Ingalls Wilder; Robert Louis Stevenson; Robinson Crusoe; Peter Pan; Jules Verne; John Buchan; James Herriot; O. Henry; and biographies of missionaries, explorers and warriors.

By the time they are in their mid teens, let's hope they've become acquainted with J.R.R. Tolkien; Randy Alcorn's fiction; G.K. Chesterton's poetry and his Father Brown series; Louisa May Alcott; G.A. Henty; Charles Dickens; Alexandre Dumas; Thor Heyerdahl; Rafael Sabatini; and plenty of history books. In the latter category, please be sure and include Shelby Foote, Samuel Eliot Morrison and Walter Lord.

Happy Christmas shopping. And don't feel bad that you're going to go out and order the books for your kids that you really want to read too! Literature should promote sharing!