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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Winston Churchill: Christian Encounters

I was excited to receive this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers for free, with the understanding that I would write a review. Winston Churchill: Christian Encounters, a brief biography by John Perry, explores the great statesman’s life primarily from the aspect of religion. While not dwelling on any area of Churchill’s life in great detail, the book does provide a decent cursory view of the great man’s actions.

Winston Churchill: Christian Encounters has a good balance of quotations and scholarly analysis. The style is easy to understand, and informative. From both the author’s conclusions and Churchill’s own words, I do not see evidence that he was a born again Christian. Instead, Winston Churchill seems to center on man’s abilities more than God’s providence, and to only have a hazy understanding of an Almighty Being.

The many references to God, the Almighty, and Scripture found in Churchill’s writings and speeches may seem at first to evidence a belief in Christ, but after digging deeper, a much more humanistic approach to life is seen.

All in all, Winston Churchill: Christian Encounters presents a unique perspective, and is written well. I would recommend this book to those either interested in his spiritual life or desirous of a brief overview of his career and achievements.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Vision Forum Spring Clearance Sale

Vision Forum is having a phenomenal spring clearance sale, with up 70% off a huge selection of products! As you should know by now, my whole family loves Vision Forum products. Here are a few of our favorites:



A series of films recently released by Franklin Springs Media, centering around key homemaking skills such as bread-making, gardening, sewing, and more! I’ve watched several of the DVD’s, and have enjoyed them tremendously. Hosted by the four West ladies, these films would be a wonderful addition to your home economics curriculum.




My son appreciates the light-weight but durable quality of these swords, which are made to last during the fiercest of jousts. There’s no fear of your boys getting cut or slashed by these heavy-duty plastic weapons!









Jeff has given many of these books to men who are seeking to lead their families in a biblical manner. Setting the foundation for spiritual headship, Family Man, Family Leader provides encouragement and direction.

~Dorys

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Washington's Spies


Not much has been said about American secret intelligence during the War of Independence. Entre, Alexander Rose. After completing extensive research in newly found documents and sources, he has compiled Washington's Spies. This book is really a groundbreaking look into the secret side of colonial armed forces.

Rose gives a great premise to his book. In the 1800's, there were primarily two kinds of spies. One, military officers would sneak across enemy lines for a day or two, gather as much information as possible, then sneak back over and report. Two, shady characters of questionable allegiances would be permanently implanted inside enemy lines.

Most people are familiar with Nathan Hale as a hero of the Revolutionary War. In reality, he wasn't very smart. An officer in the Continental Army, he volunteered for the detested work of military surveillance. Disguising himself as a Dutch merchant, He was rowed across the Sound to Long Island, the main setting of the book. Here he strolled along, gathering intelligence about troop numbers and movements. Suspicious of this curious merchant, a shady British commander named Robert Rogers tricked him into revealing his mission. Summarily dragged before General Clinton, he was condemned to die, and hanged accordingly. Most remember him along with his supposed famous last words, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." This line, taken from a play, was imported to him by friends years after his death who were not at his hanging.

Washington was disappointed that this avenue had failed, but he wished to continue searching for reliable intelligence. Therefore, he appointed Nathaniel Sackett to recruit agents. To second him, Benjamin Tallmadge of the Second Continental Light Dragoons was appointed. Tallmadge was a dashing young officer who had been enlisted for a time, but had not been involved in much combat. He had also been good friends with Nathan Hale before the spy’s death.

Sackett was successful for a time and recruited several temporary agents, but he was not the man who Washington needed long-term. He soon retired, leaving Washington again void of spies. He did have a few connections established, though, such as with a whaleboat man named Caleb Brewster, who would be highly involved later on in carrying letters across the Sound in his boat. General Charles Scott was appointed to handle Brewster, and to come up with other agents. Again, Benjamin Tallmadge was his second.

With Scott more interested in his regular duties, most of the espionage arrangements fell to young Tallmadge, who enjoyed the secret work. He quickly came up with a contact. His name was Abraham Woodhull. Tallmadge assured Washington that his man was reliable, interested in the cause, and best of all, did not want pay, only his expenses covered. Relations between Scott and his second deteriorated, until at last the general resigned.

Woodhull was immediately prepared for work, and was planted in Setauket, from which he made visits every several weeks to New York to gather information, then returned and wrote down what he had found in letters delivered to Brewster who took them across the Sounds. From thence they were taken by courier to Tallmadge, who read them and added commentary. After this, they finally reached Washington. For secrecy, Woodhull needed a code name. From thence forward communication was conducted with Samuel Culper, first member of the Culper Ring.

Secrecy was so important, that Washington procured from a chemist a special ink which, unknown to the public, was invisible and would not be revealed by heat. Only a special counteractive chemical could bring the writing out. Although this worked well, supplies of the ink were small, and hard to replenish. calling for other measures. For this cause, Tallmadge created a code in which he compiled a long list of words and names most essential to the intelligence, and wrote a corresponding number next to them in his notebook. A copy were given to Woodhull, who was incredibly compulsive about protecting his identity. In fact, all of those who would be involved in the Culper Ring were so secretive that until a short time ago, none were aware that they did anything abnormal during the Revolutionary War.

Woodhull secured himself a safe house in New York at the home of Amos Underhill, but what Washington needed was a permanent agent in the occupied city. At last they found him in Robert Townsend, alias Samuel Culper Jr.. He was a hard to understand man, a bachelor who was subject to deep bouts of melancholy, but who got the job done. His job was to secure information in New York, pass it on in letter to form to Austin Roe, a courier who took it to Woodhull and from thence across the Sound as before.

During the years in which the Culper Ring operated, they secured much useful information for Washington, which he was able to use to foil the enemy's plans. The work was so stressful to the agent's nerves, that some times they were forced to retire for a time from espionage, after which they would again join the Ring. There are many fascinating stories covered in the book, which I cannot address here due to limitations, but another subject was the defection of Benedict Arnold and the capture of his contact, Major Andre.

Washington's Spies is intriguing, it is fun and easy to read, it often applies to source documents giving actual quotes from the written letters, and it brings to light a portion of the Revolution which I had never discovered before. I also found helpful Rose's explanation of codes, and how they work. I would recommend this for anyone to read.

~John

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Some Thoughts on R. M. Ballantyne


The books written by R. M. Ballantyne, considered to be one of the greatest novelists of his day, have been devoured by generations of young men. Ballantyne wrote exciting and fascinating stories, lived a tremendously adventurous life, and through all, walked humbly before the Lord.

Many of R. M. Ballantyne’s books took place in exotic locations around the world. He loved writing about unique geographical places, such as South America, or the Arctic. In order to have reliable information about the area, he often traveled to the countries in which his stories occurred, conducting on-the-spot research. Another common action for Ballantyne was to center his plot around an important cause or movement. Subjects such as lifeboats, the London fire brigade, or a ministry to soldiers would be combined with an exciting plot of adventure and intrigue. R. M. B. was careful to weave into his story the facts necessary to increase public awareness of the central theme.

R. M. Ballantyne’s own life was quite as adventurous as some of his fictional characters. At age sixteen he joined the Hudson’s Bay Company and spent the next six years as a clerk in the wilds of North America. His first two books, Hudson’s Bay and The Young Fur Traders, were both based on his time in North America. Later in life, because of his determination to visit the locations about which he wrote, he experienced many diverse and exciting adventures. While writing The Pirate City in Algiers, Ballantyne disguised himself and went unnoticed into the Muslim quarter, which would have put him in danger had he been discovered. He also participated in other activities which included firefighting, underwater diving, and train driving. Ballantyne truly was a tough and hardy man, much different from many fiction authors.

Although physically strong and sturdy, R. M. Ballantyne was spiritually meek and humble, living an earnest Christian life. An elder of the Free Kirk of Scotland, Ballantyne kept active in church life, fulfilling his responsibilities solemnly but with great joy. Records also show that he gave generously to the various causes supported by the Free Kirk. Throughout his books, a strong gospel message is firmly endorsed. Ballantyne encouraged his young readers to love the Lord, and give their lives to Him. So strongly did he emphasize this point, that after his death, some publishers would take these references out of his books, while still leaving the adventure. At the time that Ballantyne wrote, however, Christian principles were accepted throughout the nations, and parents were glad for their children to be reading such material. They were also glad that their children’s’ “role model” led such a biblically sound life.

For many years, R. M. Ballantyne’s books almost disappeared from the literary field. Recently, however, they have begun to slowly push their way back into the light of day, strongly recommended to Christian parents because of the steadfast life of the author. In a generation where demonic sorcery and vampire thrillers are accepted as good literature, Ballantyne’s books are a breath of fresh air, reminding readers what true spirituality is, and of the noble actions and principles of days gone by.

To find out more about R. M. Ballantyne, visit BallantyneTheBrave.com.

~John

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What's in a Word? by Webb Garrison

Recently, Thomas Nelson Publishers sent me a brand-new book for free to review. What’s in a Word? presents a fascinating look at the etymology and origins of more than 350 common words and phrases. I really enjoyed this book, which is easy to read and nicely formatted. Most of the words and phrases have origins so unique that I never would have guessed a connection!

“Make no bones about it,” I have a “hunch” that reading What’s in a Word? will be a “cinch” for you. It’s “hands-down” a great read, and many other etymology books can’t “hold a candle” to this one. Whether you “got up on the wrong side of the bed,” narrowly escaped “by the skin of your teeth,” or maybe just have “too many irons in the fire,” this book will be interesting, humorous, and insightful!

I found it amazing how many of our common phrases have either evolved from old English terms, or become abbreviations of their inventors’ proponents’ names. Some meanings have changed so much from their original definitions that they now mean something opposite. If you enjoy etymology, or simply like knowing the origin of the words you commonly say, then get this book!

~John

A Father Rejoices in the Engagement of His Son



An Ode to Engagement

Two lives were connected some years ago
In the quaint, tiny town of old Shiloh;
Where families gathered with strong desire
To worship the King, the Lord, their Sire.

Tim was a Horn, and Lauren a Davis,
Who could have known that one day they'd save us
From the routine of an everyyear spring
A season now blessed where we laugh and sing.

Sober and serious, yet with a smile,
Tim pursued Lauren o'er many a mile.
Determined, persistent, full speed ahead,
His courtship was marked with flowers so red.

Lauren showed laughter and full zest for life,
Discussing issues with which Tim was rife.
Careful always to look to her father
For guidance, wisdom, his imprimatur.

With joy look we now for the day to come,
When Tim and Lauren will two become one.
To 'stablish a household where Christ is the King
And truth is proclaimed through all their offspring.

~Jeff

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Wanted!

A group of young men we know are currently working on a dramatic short movie, set in the western town of Bandera. After viewing the trailer, I'm really looking forward to seeing the completed product!

Wanted Teaser Trailer from Conquest Productions on Vimeo.

If you liked the trailer, show it to your friends. Let's get the word out!

~John

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Advice For Mothers

Recently, my children asked if I would start writing on our family blog. They seem to enjoy giving me assignments for a change! As I have often instructed them to write from personal experience, I've decided to try and do the same.

Having entered our twenty-first year of “official” home education and being Vision Forum affiliates, it seems a good fit for me to discuss from time to time some products I would recommend from the Vision Forum website. One of my personal favorites is the CD set for home schooling mothers recorded by Victoria Botkin.

Victoria , mother of 7 and precious wife to Geoffrey Botkin, has put together 2 CD’s which is a compilation of her home educating experience. Having had the opportunity to meet Victoria and “taste” of the fruit of her labors through her endearing family, I could not wait to listen to these CD’s. I was not disappointed! Entitled Curriculum Advice and produced in a two volume set, these CD’s offer insight, practical help and refreshment to mothers.

Volume One centers on the early years, ages 3 through 8. Victoria not only helps the listener to choose material and develop a plan for this beginning stage, but also how to create a home environment which encourages creativity and discovery. Volume Two further develops these areas but also shows a mother how to recognize the different giftings of her children and how to encourage independent learning. Frugal mothers will appreciate this product as Victoria does not believe home education needs to be costly and her ideas are very practical.

What I found unique about Curriculum Advice is the sharing by the Botkin children on how their mother has impacted their lives with her wisdom and creativity. For mothers just beginning this home educating process, and for moms in need of some “fresh oil” as they carry on this important endeavor, the words of these young people will be life giving.

If you need some encouragement or know someone who does, or if you are just beginning this home educating journey, I would highly recommend this CD set. I have even given these as baby gifts to new mothers desiring to walk the home educating path. As far as I am concerned, it is never too early to prepare for training our children.

Grab a cup of coffee or tea, cuddle up with a little one or share an hour or two with your husband and listen to Curriculum Advice. You will be blessed.

~DL