Hero of the Empire

Candice Millard

Candice Millard is an engaging storyteller of historical events.  She has a riveting history of Theodore Roosevelt’s Amazon journey entitled, The River of Doubt:  Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, his adventure in the rainforest of Brazil when he nearly died.

Now she takes up a slice of the life of the young Winston Churchill, when he fought in the Boer War in South Africa.

He had already fought in wars in India, Sudan and Cuba, and he now he lusted for another battle adventure.

He wanted to make a name for himself that would catapult him into Parliament and eventually the highest offices in the land.

Churchill, like Theodore Roosevelt, with whom he shares a number of traits, was completely fearless in battle.  He felt it was his destiny to be a great leader in England.  He journeyed to South Africa as a war correspondent for a London newspaper, but he wanted to both fight and report on the fighting.  Near the start of his time in South Africa, the train he was traveling in was derailed and ambushed by Boer soldiers.  He led the charge to try to escape, exposing himself to the fire of enemy soldiers.  Eventually Churchill and others were captured and sent to a prison in the capital, Pretoria.  Churchill hated it there, being a captive.  He didn’t want to miss out on the war.  He did not want to be subjugated to the Boers and he continually thought of escape.  A few months into his imprisonment, he scales a fence, drops quietly down, though an enemy guard was near, and begins a dramatic escape that takes him over the next several weeks.

He is in continual danger and the Boer government makes it a priority to recapture their escaped prisoner. When he is desperate for food, shelter, warmth and health, he takes a risk and knocks on a door in a little mining village.  He discovers that the owner is a Brit, who gladly helps him.  For a time he hides him deep in a mine, then several Britishers help him hide on a freight train that makes its way out of the country.  All of England rejoices at his daring escape. Then he goes back to the battle, where he serves as both officer and reporter for several months before he returns to England.  After his return, he runs for election in Parliament and wins, no doubt because of his fame in the Boer War.  His career takes off.

All fans of Winston Churchill will enjoy this book.  Millard is a great storyteller.  However, it feels truncated, only covering such a small slice of his life.  It is good.  It is worth reading.  It is not great.

A Praying Life

Paul Miller

This is one of the best books on prayer that I have read.  I have quite a few in my library and the big important works covering the topic systematically would include the books by Timothy Keller, Philip Yancey and Richard Foster – all three valuable works.  But in some ways this is the most practical book on prayer that I’ve read.  I want to say that it is more practical than profound, but on the other hand, Miller can be very insightful.  He has certainly reflected deeply on prayer.

The book is peppered with stories, mostly from his own family life, with his wife and six children, especially including his autistic daughter, Kimberly.  He is honest, vulnerable and real.

In some ways I think this will change the way I approach intercession for people – more real, and more honest with God about challenges and needs.

Highly recommended.

Into the Silence

Wade Davis

This is an epic book on the attempts of George Mallory and a team of British explorers to conquer Mt. Everest.  They made three attempts – in 1921, a year later in 1922, and two years later in 1924.  As far as we know, none succeeded.

It is a thrilling tale, backed by ten years of research by a gifted writer, Wade Davis.

Davis sets this adventure tale against the backdrop of the devastation of World War I.  Though Britain was on the winning side, no participating country actually won.  The losses and suffering were catastrophic for all the countries, including Britain.  Davis holds that this was an attempt by Britain to reclaim its national glory, that this was ultimately about national redemption.  If Britain could be the first country to conquer Everest, then that would restore the glory of Great Britain and the British Empire. They spared no effort and the entire country followed the thrilling saga.

The teams were carefully selected.  Money was raised.  Plans were prepared, and the team was sent off.  The team was comprised of a number of skilled climbers, most of whom had fought in World War I.  The team of course included Britain’s finest climber, the graceful and agile graduate of Oxford, George Mallory.

The teams would sail and travel by train to northern India, to Darjeeling.  Then they would begin the long trek north into Tibet, and then across southern Tibet to the foothills of Everest.  On the first expedition they surveyed and explored so much of the territory around Everest and then they made their climb, with primitive clothing and equipment by today’s standards.  The climbs themselves were full of fierce winds, bitter cold, altitude sickness, and at times, death.  The Brits were indefatigable in their attempts to reach the summit.

One night they were high on the side of the mountain, with their little tent anchored down on a flat ledge and the wind was so fierce that it sounded like machine gun fire flapping against the tent.  Sleep was impossible in those circumstances because of the noise and because of the concern that the entire team would be blown off the side of the mountain.

On the third expedition, George Mallory and the young Sandy Irvine, another Oxford graduate, left one morning from a camp high on the mountain, never to return.  A case could be made that they reached the summit and died on their way down, but perhaps it is more likely that they died on the ascent not the descent.  When Mallory died he was a national hero and he left behind a loving wife and three young children.  He was only 37.

Wade Davis does a superb job with this book.  Though not as riveting throughout as Jon Krakauer’s class tale “Into Thin Air,” Wade Davis’ book is more thoroughly researched and crafted.  An amazing saga.

Just As I Am

Billy Graham

It has been almost 20 years since Billy Graham published his autobiography entitled Just As I Am.  At that time he was in his late 70s.  Billy Graham is a remarkable man who has lived a remarkable life.  (Incidentally, he is still alive in his late 90s, although I understand suffering quite a bit from Parkinson’s.)

He was raised on a farm in North Carolina, from a Christian family, and when he is 18 years old he commits his life to Christ, attending Florida Bible Institute and later Wheaton College.  There he meets Ruth Bell, who had been raised by missionaries in China.  Soon they will marry and begin a long, strong marriage until her death many years later.

Billy Graham serves for a time as a pastor and with a youth ministry and as a college president of a small Bible college in Minneapolis.  Pretty soon he gives himself wholly to his life’s calling, that of evangelism. 

The watershed tour happened in 1949 when Billy Graham was only 31 years old.  The crowds packed in, the crusade was extended by many weeks, and Billy Graham became a household name in our country.  After that, Billy Graham and his team never looked back, doing crusades across the United States, and then, beginning in 1954 with a crusade in London, on other continents around the world.  He took cities and he took countries by storm.  Or rather, the Spirit of God fell upon him and his preaching and God used it incredibly.

Most of the book was underwhelming in that it became a bit tedious, talking about crusade after crusade – and by no means did he cover every one of the crusades in the book.  But still, it grew tedious and I began to wonder when is he going to share his heart, his life, his soul, his family.  He would drip tidbits here and there, but it was overall a bit superficial until the end, when he includes four chapters of reflections.  He talks about the close teammates that he worked with, many of whom were with him the entire time! 

He also talks about friendship that he had shared across the years.  And then the best chapter yet, on his home and family and heart.

The long autobiography finished well, just as he did in his ministry.

The impact of Billy Graham’s ministry is phenomenal.  They way God used this man.  The thousands upon thousands who came to Christ and made decisions for Christ.  The millions upon millions who heard the gospel through him.  Clearly, God’s hand was upon him in an unmistakable way.  Sovereign grace.  I think this is the most significant fact about him and his ministry, the way God’s hand was upon him.

At the same time, Billy Graham is a deeply godly man, with a deep heart for God.  He is a man of profound and genuine humility.  He is a man of the Scriptures who is faithful to the Word of God.  He is a man of prayer, something that I did not really understand until I read this autobiography.  His crusades were bathed in prayer and he personally was a man of prayer.

Clearly, Billy and Ruth Graham had a wonderful marriage, which is somewhat surprising considering Billy traveled so much.  How he did travel!  Whenever he could he would coax Ruth into joining him on one of his extended trips.  But they also had five children and it was limited how much she could travel with him.  He would be gone for weeks and weeks, and even months and months at a time while his children were small.  He expressed some regrets about being away too much, but when he was home it seems like he was a fully engaged father and loved by his kids.  Two of the five kids, the two boys, had periods of rebellion, but all five became devoted followers of Jesus and the two boys devoted their lives to full-time Christian service.

I was also struck that Billy Graham was not just a great preacher but he was a great leader.  He was an innovator with evangelism and crusades.  He was always behind some innovative step.  He was also a team builder.  It is remarkable the close team that he built and maintained around him.

One of the most surprising things in the book was his relationship with president after president, beginning with Harry Truman and running at least through George W. Bush.  By the time President Obama was in office his Parkinson’s had deteriorated too badly.  But he knew, quite well, most of these presidents.  And he was good friends with some of these presidents – Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, the first President Bush.  Most of these presidents treated him as their pastor.

In addition, it seems like in every country he would go to for a crusade he would at some point meet with the country’s leader.  For example, he probably met over the years with Queen Elizabeth a dozen times.  God raised him up and used him in an unusual way.

Thank God for Billy Graham

Praying Hyde

Basil Miller

John Hyde was a missionary in India from 1892 to 1911.  He was such a man of prayer that he became known during his lifetime and in church history as Praying Hyde.  He had great fruitfulness doing evangelism work in villages in northern India, in what was then called Punjab.  But what he really became known for was his heart for prayer.

The man prayed!  He would pray all night and not that infrequently, and then carry on the next day.  He would get on his knees and pray throughout the day.  He would walk and pray.  When there were important events or services being held, he would not attend them but go to the prayer room next door and seek God in fervent intercession.  He would rather do the work of intercession than the work of preaching.

Hyde had remarkable impact on people in his life.  He understood that prayer was not only the greatest privilege, but prayer was where the power was.

This brief biography will inspire you with the power of prayer.