Books: Captive in Iran

July 4, 2014

I vaguely remember having heard about Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh when they were in the news so much a few years ago. When I first saw a headline (on the internet) about two single women arrested for distributing Bibles in Iran, I first assumed they were missionaries from another country, perhaps from the U.S.

Then I learned that they were Iranian themselves, and that the charges against them were also about apostasy. It is not illegal in Iran to be a Christian, but it is a capital offense to convert from Islam to Christianity. I suppose I may have wondered how they came to faith in Christ. But I really don’t think I paid a lot of attention to their story at that time.

When I recently reviewed Tyndale Summer Reading Program book list for this year, I decided that Captive in Iran: A Remarkable True Story of Hope and Triumph amid the Horror of Tehran’s Brutal Evin Prison would be one of the first books I would read. I spend much of last week reading it, and I am still trying to sort out my reactions to it.

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Mustard seeds

May 10, 2014

Among my kitchen spices I have a small container of mustard seeds. I’m fairly certain I bought it by accident, intending to buy mustard powder and not paying enough attention to the label. I’ve never used any recipe, as far as I can remember, that called for mustard seeds, although logically there must be some since the seeds are sold in the spice aisle rather than the garden center. (Maybe they’re in the garden center too; I’ve never looked.)

The one time I have used that container of mustard seeds was when I was doing the children’s sermon at church and the passage was one of those that referenced mustard seeds. I don’t remember which one – it could have been the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13, Mark 4, or Luke 13). Or it might have been Matthew 17 or Luke 17, where Jesus speaks of having faith like a grain of mustard seed.

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Books: Confident Faith

November 23, 2013

After reading five books in Tyndale’s Summer Reading program, I was entitled to receive one book free from the same reading list. I had some trouble coming up with five books I was interested in reading, though I did end up finding all five worth reading. I had borrowed them from the library, however, and had no interest in acquiring my own copy.

I finally settled on Mark Mittelberg’s Confident Faith: Building a Firm Foundation for Your Beliefs. The reviews I read at were very positive, and Lee Strobel (whose books The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ I had previously read and found helpful) calls it an “invaluable guide” which he wishes he had had when he was looking for the truth about the Christian faith.

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Books: Gilead

October 12, 2013

When a friend on facebook mentioned Gilead, I made a mental note of it. Then Carolyn Weber blogged about it on, and I decided I definitely needed to read this book. Sometime.

But during the summer I was reading books in the Tyndale Summer Reading program. And at a used book sale, I picked up a 3-in-1 volume containing mysteries by Elizabeth Peters (whose books I have enjoyed), John D. McDonald (whose books a one-time friend had enjoyed but I had never read), and another author I’d never heard of. Then more recently, I found some books I hadn’t read before by Brandon Sanderson and Jasper Fforde. And of course there’s the book club that meets once a month at the library.

Most of that was pretty light reading. One day when I was at the library recently (I’m there every week for Toastmasters, and occasionally in between to return or pick up books), I decided I was ready to tackle some more serious books, including some on my list from reading The End of Your Life Book Club. Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner was not on the shelf, but I did find Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.

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Books: Borders of the Heart

August 9, 2013

I picked this book to read because it is part of Tyndale’s Summer Reading Program. The previous three books I read were from the non-fiction list, and I had liked all of them, even though none were books I would probably have read otherwise. So I decided to try some books from the fiction list.

I selected Borders of the Heart in large part because it is by Chris Fabry. I had not read any of his novels previously (but planned to read one sooner or later), but I had read three of his humor/inspirational books. I bought Spiritually Correct Bedtime Stories to go with the very humorous Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner and Legally Correct Bedtime Stories by David Fisher.

I don’t think it was quite as funny as the books by Garner or Fisher, but I enjoyed it enough to also buy Away With the Manger and The 77 Habits of Highly Ineffective Christians. I have to admit I didn’t enjoy them as much, but I was interested in seeing what Fabry did with fiction.

I was particularly interested in seeing a novel tackle the issue of illegal immigration, especially from a Christian perspective. As it turns out, however, the main characters are not actually dealing with a case of illegal immigration but with a drug cartel. (That is also an important issue, and one that has significant ramifications for how the whole border issue is handled.)

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Books: Undaunted

June 19, 2013

One of the books that changed me is More Than a Carpenter, by Josh McDowell. I’ve read it and reread it over the years, but I really never thought about what sort of person the author might be. Someone sure of his faith, clearly. I probably would have guessed that he was someone with a strong Christian foundation since early childhood. And considering that he had also written Evidence That Demands a Verdict, probably a bookish person, more comfortable doing research than sitting around chatting.

I’d have been wrong on the latter two guesses. Undaunted: One Man’s Real-Life Journey from Unspeakable Memories to Unbelievable Grace is Josh McDowell’s story, from early childhood through college. He longed for love from his alcoholic father but received none; he detested the sexual attentions of a farmhand but could not avoid them. There was no spiritual foundation, and by age twelve he hated God almost as much as he hated his father.

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The meaning of salvation (part 2)

December 21, 2012

One of the first things I was told I needed to do as a new Christian was share my faith. Since I preferred the company of books to people, and I rarely expressed my thoughts to anyone if I didn’t have to, this was very difficult for me.

One of the first and most difficult conversations was telling my mother about my new beliefs, as I knew my parents had a pretty low opinion of fundamentalist Christians. (I don’t remember telling my father anything; I assume my mother told him about it.) They had always insisted that my sister and I were to make our own choices, however, and they were surprisingly accepting of my going over to the fundamentalist “side”, if not exactly supportive.

In his comment on my previous post, modestypress says he “would feel less aversion to Christianity (or other religious beliefs) if there were less obsession with guilt (about our imaginary original sin Adam and Eve ancestors) and with an imaginary Hell, and with condemnation of people who do no harm (e. g. non-believers and homosexuals).” I’m sure my mother’s aversion to the fundamentalist version of Christianity was for much the same reasons.

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The meaning of salvation (part 1)

December 18, 2012

One day in eighth grade, our English teacher wrote a list of eighteen “values” on the blackboard. While I certainly don’t remember most of the list, it was probably something like the list of “terminal values” in the second column of this document. Our assignment was to rank these different values, from the highest at 1 to the lowest at 18, according to our personal views.

(If that sounds like it had little to do with English class, no, it didn’t. Our teacher did teach us some grammar, and we read and discussed Call of the Wild and various short stories in our reading textbook. But he was more interested in getting us to think deeply about life than whether we mastered the idiosyncrasies of the English language.)

As I looked over the list, my initial inclination was to assign number 18 to “salvation.” It wasn’t a word in my active vocabulary, as the church I had attended since I was a baby didn’t talk about it. I knew some churches did think salvation was important – whatever it was, but at that point I was an agnostic about both the existence of God and life after death.

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Articles worth reading

October 20, 2012

I hadn’t visited First Thoughts recently, between Internet problems, being busy with work and church, and not feeling well lately. But I stopped by this morning and found links to two excellent articles.

Putting Health in Perspective” addresses the issue of healthcare from the perspective of what priority we put on health compared to other aspects of life. All the debates about healthcare (so prominent in the current political climate), Yuval Levin points out, focus on how to make the system more efficient, but share the assumption that health is an overriding priority.

Our society – not just in the U.S. but modern Western society in general – values freedom from pain very highly. I remember, when I was young, reading about people who did not take aspirin for a headache unless it was very severe, and being astonished that anyone would put up with pain if there were an easy way to avoid it.

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One verse to work on

October 6, 2012

One of the speakers at the Wee Kirk conference talked about the persecuted Church in Iran (his homeland) and other lands. There was a lot of meat in his talk, but what especially struck me was when he talked about the danger of learning truth faster than you can live it.

He was telling about somewhere, I don’t remember in what country, where new Christians had no Bibles. Someone was able, however, to write down Bible verses on stones, each of which he gave to one of the new Christians, instructing him to pass it along to someone else after he had learned it. When he later returned with more stones and more verses, the people had a deep understanding of Christian truth – far deeper than many Christians who have the entire Bible at their disposal.

I have always heard about how the faith of Christians under persecution is much stronger than that of those who practice their faith freely. I have always understood this to be because people who follow Christ in conditions of persecution have to choose to “count the cost.” I’m sure this is part of the explanation, but the speaker pointed out other factors I had not considered.

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