Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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The Value of Great Books

Leslie Basham: Mark Hamby is thankful for the books God has brought into his life.

Mark Hamby: Every time I get into a situation, God has brought a book into my life to help me to understand how I’m supposed to act, how I’m supposed to think, how I’m supposed to deal with or resolve conflict.

Books have helped me in parenting. They’ve helped me in my marriage. They’ve helped me in my character development, especially the ones that have stories where there’s something somebody has to go through, an incredible obstacle, and they learn to trust God through that situation.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, July 9.

Nancy: Well, today on Revive Our Hearts, we want to talk about one of my personal very favorite subjects, and that is the subject of reading.

Now, I know as soon as I say that, some of our listeners are groaning and thinking, “You love to read?” Well, I really do. From the time I was a little girl, from the time I could read, I was always having my nose in a book.

I’d rather read a good book than do about anything else I can think of.

Our guest today on Revive Our Hearts is not only a reader of good books, but he is helping to get good books into the hands of Christian families, and I know that’s going to make a tremendous impact even on the next generation.

Mark Hamby and his wife, Debbie, have started a ministry called Lamplighter Ministries, and we’re going to learn more about that today. Mark, thank you so much for joining us on the broadcast today.

Mark: Thank you for inviting me.

Nancy: Mark, as we think about reading, you know some would say that reading is a lost art. You hear today that people are so visually oriented, so TV oriented, so computer screen oriented that people are not reading as much.

Does it really matter? Why would we want to work hard to recapture this whole thing of reading good books?

Mark: Well, it’s interesting you ask me that question right now because I just finished a book called Reading Between the Lines. Gene Edward Veeth has written it, and in that book I learned that images have always been the tool to really overtake a culture.

Before God revealed Himself to Moses, for example, He said to Moses, He said to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, "I appeared to them." There was no written record of God. But He said, "To you, Moses, I reveal Myself as Yahweh, and now in written form." So from now on, God is going to reveal Himself through writing, through language.

So what happens is when there’s an image-saturated culture, our view of God is limited and also distorted. That’s why if you look at the pyramids, you see pictures on the walls. If you look at all of the cultures of the past, you have pictures of their gods—stone gods, wood gods; it’s all in images.

That’s why the second commandment is, “Thou shalt not have any graven images before me” ( Exodus 20:4). God was saying there, “From now on, you are going to be able to know the infinite vastness of God through language.”

That’s why faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of God (Romans 10:17). So when I read that in Gene’s book, I said to myself, “You know, this is really amazing, because that’s what’s happening today.”

There is an infiltration, not just of images, but people are now being attracted to sensual images, images that break the aesthetic beauty. In fact, one of the things I learned was that in ancient Greece they would not allow any act of violence in their plays, and they wouldn’t even use the name of God in their plays because they didn’t want to use it in vain.

Even though they were not a moral nation, they still had values in their plays and their media. There was no violence, no sexuality, and no names of God, because they believed that what happened to the audience when they were watching the plays is that there was an aesthetic value throughout there. Once there was violence or sensuality introduced, you broke that aesthetic beauty.

It’s interesting, there’s plenty of violence in the Bible. There’s sensuality in the Bible—look at David and Bathsheba.

But in the way God wrote His Word, and in good, solid literature, they don’t go into details. They don’t make it a sensual scene. It’s a matter of reporting. So the reader is learning about moral values, about consequences to decisions, rather than actually going in and experiencing the situation, which is a positive thing.

In good literature, you vicariously experience the situation. The same thing, though, can happen in bad literature, and the same thing is happening today with the images that are saturating our cultures. People are vicariously involving themselves in sin in the things that they’re hearing and the things that they’re seeing.

God said in 2 Peter that Lot's righteous soul was vexed from day to day by the things he saw and the things he heard. I think that's one of the things we've got to be really careful with—what we read and what we see and what our children read and see.

Nancy: And yet, there can be great power in a good story, in a story that teaches character, that manifests the ways and the heart of God. Scripture, of course, is full of stories that educate us in how God thinks and how He wants us to live.

Mark: Absolutely. In fact, I look at my own life, and here was a young man that was basically characterless. So when God saved me at 22 years of age, there wasn’t a lot to work with.

I had a solid work ethic. I wouldn't call myself a great sinner, even though I was lost, apart from God, but I wasn’t involved in acts of severe immorality. God had saved me from that, but I didn’t really have anything that was of worth.

I look at a life that is worthy, a person that has high moral value—he’s developed his God-given abilities, he’s been useful for the kingdom of God—I didn’t have any of that. So when God saved me, there had to be a rebuilding of my entire character.

That came through challenges and trials. I found in Romans 5 a passage that literally changed my life, but I didn’t really understand it until years later.

It says, “Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope makes us not ashamed” ( Romans 5:3-5). One of the things God has been teaching me through these years is that the more hope you have in trusting Him, that’s really a barometer of the character development taking place in your life.

Are you willing to endure? For example, in my marriage; early on we struggled in our marriage. But because God was allowing me to go through difficult times and endure that, my character started to develop to be more Christ-like, to be more of a servant than one that was more authoritative.

As God started to change my character, the one thing that came was hope. I had hope that God was going to change our marriage. I had hope that God was going to change me as a parent.

And God did that. So I think there’s a great parallel between character development, going through enduring trials, and hope that really changes us, that really sparks in other people. If you have hope in your life, it’s contagious, especially when you get to read about the characters of books like the Lord has allowed me to find.

I read about their lives and what they endured and the hope they had that God was with them, that God designed the situation. They were willing to trust Him. That encourages my faith. If they can do it, I can do it, too.

Nancy: The Lord has allowed you, Mark and Debbie, to find some rare books, some real finds—some would call them classics—that you’ve republished, reprinted, and are making available today. Many of them have to do with these themes of character and endurance and hope.

But how did you get there? How did you come to be interested in great books? Were you a great reader yourself as a child? What got you into this?

Mark: Actually, I enjoyed my mother reading to me when I was a child, but when I got to public school, I hated to read. In fact, I didn’t read a book all through high school. I didn’t read a book all through my first four years of college.

Nancy: Whoa, whoa. Just say that again. High school and four years of college—you didn’t read a book?

Mark: Not a book!

Nancy: How did you get through?

Mark: Um, I did a lot of extra credit, and I’m fairly smart and could pass the tests that I needed to pass. I did a lot of book reports that I’d read the first and last page of every book and make up everything in between.

I think the teachers gave me good grades because I was so creative. But I hated to read. I couldn’t read. The reason I couldn’t read is because after I’d read a sentence, I’d forgotten what I’d read. I’d have to go back and read it again.

So reading to me was like a blur, a dark blur on the page. If you have low comprehension, you don’t enjoy reading.

Nancy: And now you’re a book publisher. Lamplighter Ministries has published over a hundred titles of classic books that are not just your shallow reading that you might find today. How did you develop an interest in serious reading?

Mark: Well, when I came to know Christ as my Savior, there was an insatiable desire to want to know more about this God that had given His life for me. I just couldn’t put the Bible down.

I started memorizing Scripture. I felt like I was a sponge with the Word of God.

Nancy: Like a new baby wanting milk.

Mark: Yes, absolutely. That’s the only way I can describe that. It’s a supernatural thing that happened in my life, but once that happened, I then ended up going to a seminar in Pensacola, Florida.

At the seminar a man chose me out of a crowd of 3,000 people and asked me what great Christian literature I’d been reading in my life.

Nancy: Now, this man, his name was?

Mark: Charlie “Tremendous” Jones.

Nancy: He was actually a friend of my dad’s. My dad loved this man and would quote him, something I think you probably heard him say at that time.

Mark: “You’ll be the same today as you’ll be five years from now except for the people you meet and the books you read.” I heard him say that in this crowd of people.

He goes out into the crowd as he's speaking, and he’s literally, this guy is so big, and he's so dynamic, and he's got such a gruff voice, and he loves Jesus with all his heart, mind, and soul. He also loves great Christian literature. He goes out into the crowd, and he's just kind of rousing people up; you know, “Sit up like a man, you woman.” You know, just kind of rousing people up.

He walks over toward where Debbie and I are sitting. He walks by me, but he just turns around. He looks at me; he grabs me, and he looks at me and says, “What great Christian literature are you reading in your life these days?”

I’m like, “Christian literature? What in the world is Christian literature?” I said, “The Bible, Mr. Jones.”

He grabbed me, and he said, “I want to know what biographies you’re reading, and I want to know what mentors you have in your life.”

The only thing that came to my mind at that moment was, “I like your hat. I don’t like your hat. Go dog go.” Books my mother had read to me.

Nancy: Great, classic literature!

Mark: Yeah! So here was this young man in front of all these people, and this man embarrassing the living daylights out of me, and newly married, and the people are roaring in laughter. At the end of this, I said to my wife, “Listen, I don’t want to have to go by this guy. He’s at the door, and I’m going to just go out a back door.”

He sees me. He grabs me; he lifts me up in front of all these people at the door, and he’s got my arms pinned to my side, and he says, “I love you!” And he gives me this slobbering kiss on my right cheek.

I looked at him, and I said, “Put me down. You’ve ruined my life.” And he says, “I’m not putting you down until I get your address.”

So my wife comes over and gives him our address, and I said, “Debbie, don’t do it. We’ll go back to New York. I’ll meet you there.”

So she gives him the address. He puts me down, and he says, “I’ll see you again.” I looked at him and said, “You’ll never see me again.”

So I get from Florida to New York three days later, and there’s a special delivery box from Charlie “Tremendous” Jones waiting for me at home.

Of course I open it, and inside the box are 12 books—biographies of D. L. Moody, George Mueller, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylward, Abraham Lincoln—and I pick up the first one. It’s D. L. Moody.

I went into a room and read that book, and it changed my life. I’m still praying the prayer I found in that book, 28 years later: “The world has not yet seen what God can do through one man wholly committed unto Him.”

Then I read George Mueller; then I read Hudson Taylor and Amy Carmichael and Gladys Aylward. They had the same affect on my life. I was seeing how their life was living for Christ in a way I’d only dreamed about.

I wanted to be like them. So I’m so inspired now about great Christian literature; and yet, as I’m telling people about it, I’m not really seeing other people experience the same thing I’m experiencing. I want other people to know!

So one day, as I’m sharing about great Christian literature to this group of people, this lady walks up to me in the crowd, and she says, “I have a book that will literally be the best book you’ll ever read in your life.”

She sent it to me about a week later; it was called The Basket of Flowers. I read that book, and literally, God used that to help me see there was a wisdom out there that I needed, a lifestyle, a sacrificial life, that I needed to be Christ-like.

Nancy: So, was the book a story?

Mark: Oh yes. It was a story about a father teaching his daughter all the principles of godliness through his flowers. She’s falsely accused of stealing something, and he teaches her it’s better to die for the truth than to live for a lie, and that the worst pillow to sleep on is the pillow of a guilty conscience.

I was reading it to my daughter at the time, and I’ll never forget . . . I thought she was sleeping, and I’m tiptoeing out of the room. She says, “Don’t you dare stop reading this book!” So, we started reading it together.

Nancy: How old was she at the time?

Mark: She was 12 at the time, but God used that book to help me to see what a father needs to be like. So now I’ve got another mentor in my life to model after.

Books have really been my journey through life. Every time I get into a situation, God has brought a book into my life to help me understand how I’m supposed to act, how I’m supposed to think, how I’m supposed to deal with or resolve conflict.

Books have helped me in parenting. They’ve helped me in my marriage. They’ve helped me in my character development, especially the ones with stories where there’s something somebody has to go through, an incredible obstacle, and they learn to trust God through that situation.

Nancy: I’m thinking as you’re talking, Mark, I was asked not too long ago, “What are the ten greatest influences in your life?” A pastor asked that from the pulpit.

I sat there in church, and on my bulletin I started jotting down some of the things that would be on my Top Ten Influences list. I think first I probably put my parents because that’s been a huge influence in my life.

But I think the next one on my list would have been the books that I have read. I am so thankful that from the time we were very little—now, you have to understand, I grew up in a TV-free home.

So I remember as a little girl, somehow we had in our home a biography—a children’s biography—of J. C. Penney, the man who started the Penney’s corporation.

He was a godly man, and I read that book I don’t know how many times over the years as a little girl. I just loved that book. And then the biographies that you just mentioned: Hudson Taylor and George Mueller and Gladys Aylward, these were my heroes growing up.

I really feel that so much of my heart for the Lord today and my perspective on life and Christianity and ministry was so shaped as a young girl by the reading of those books. They were like friends and teachers that came alongside and taught me things that I really cherish to this day.

I’m a huge fan of families getting their children to read, and I’m so thankful for the books that you and Debbie and Lamplighter Ministries are producing because they’re not fluff; they’re not shallow.

They’re stories that have survived the test of time. Yet I think, as some people hear about these classic stories, they may be thinking, “Well, my children wouldn’t be interested in that kind of story today.”

But you’re going to educational conventions, talking to parents. What are you hearing from the parents who are getting these kinds of books into their homes?

Mark: I hear from parents that their children’s lives will never be the same. That’s what I hear all over. In fact, I’ve received some of these letters. Let me read this one. This 12-year-old writes:

I wanted to express my feelings toward The Hidden Hand, Ishmael, and Self-Raised. The Hidden Hand is the best book I’ve ever read. All the suspense, humor, action, and godliness make it number one on my list.

I was absolutely inspired by this book. I was also captivated by the purity, humbleness, and servant heart of the characters. I could not put it down. These three books have influenced me and my parents greatly. I am sure they will be in the library in Heaven.

PS: I lent The Hidden Hand to my grandfather who is recovering from heart surgery. Reading the book led to a spiritual revival in his life. He has since bought two copies for his brother and sister.

Nancy: Isn’t that amazing, that the same book could impact a 12-year-old and her grandfather and ages in between.

I think that’s one of the things that’s true about many of these stories; they can be read to children or teens but can also be really impacting on adults, as well.

Mark: Yes. In fact, the best and greatest books, according to the editor of Scribner—he wrote to Marjorie Rawlings, the author of The Yearling, that the greatest books are both juvenile and adult.

There was a man at one of the conferences. He didn’t read to his children, but he said, “I’ll try it.” He said this:

I wanted to let you know, I just finished reading The Giant Killer to my children last weekend and started The Basket of Flowers Sunday night. We’ve really enjoyed these books.

Last night my children had the choice watching a half hour of TV, playing video games, or a half hour of me reading an extra half hour to them, and they chose to read a Lamplighter book. They knew I was going to read to them anyway before bedtime, but still they chose reading an extra half hour of story time.

I was so very excited to have my nine, seven, and five-year-old and one of our neighbor’s children, also five, sit around my living room while I read a couple of chapters of The Basket of Flowers. If they could have stayed awake, we would have read until midnight. They love this book, and so do I.

These books are having a tremendously positive effect on my family. Grace is just flourishing in our home.

This was a year ago, and this man is still writing to me, telling me the same thing, that God is changing homes because of the stories they’re reading to children. This book I would have recommended to twelve-to-sixteen-year-olds; he read it to a nine, seven, and five-year-old, and they loved it.

Nancy: What makes these books distinctive, Mark? I know there are a lot of classic children's books, and you can go to the library and find those, and we're not saying some of those aren't worthwhile, but what makes these books really special?

Mark: I think these books bring hope. I think that when children and adults read books where they’re going through real trials that they can identify with; when you read a story that really identifies the character of God in His deliverance, His redemption; I think that is something we all want to be a part of.

We want to experience the same kind of redemption in our lives. I think we have a God of hope. For example, I was just reading this morning in Exodus. The Children of Israel were tested—Exodus 15, 16, and 17. First they were tested by not having water; then they're tested by not having food, and then they're tested by not having water again. They grumble and complain. So God tests us. 

In chapter 17, verse 7, it says, "He called the name of the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarreling of the children of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, 'Is the Lord among us or not?'" It wasn't the problem that they were thirsting for water and were complaining about that. It was because of the question they raised: "Is the Lord among us or not?"

One of the things that happens in these books and stories is that they really build hope in the lives of children and adults to help us understand that God is with us at all times, no matter what we’re going through.

We can trust Him. When you start developing that kind of hope, you start really resting in the Providence of God, that God can do no wrong and that all things really do work together for good.

Nancy: Those are powerful life lessons that will take young people into their adult years and enable them to face whatever may come into their lives.

That’s no small theology you just stated for us there: The Providence of God, the sovereignty of God, the watch care of God—that is what gives hope.

We’re going to talk tomorrow about some of the specific books you’ve published, and some for different age groups—some for adults, some for children, etc. I know our listeners will want to find out more about these books by going to, where they can get a link to Lamplighter Ministries and find out more about some of these beautifully written and, in some cases, beautifully illustrated books that are available.

But you know, Mark, as we’ve been talking, I’ve been thinking about that passage in Deuteronomy chapter 6. I know we have a lot of listeners who are moms, and some dads, single moms, parents who are trying to bring up their children in the ways of God.

They want their children to love God, and the Scripture says it’s so important that parents be intentional about passing on the baton of spiritual truth to the next generation, so they can pass it on to the next generation.

I’m thinking about what Moses said to the Children of Israel as they were getting ready to go into the Promised Land. He talked to them about the character of God, and he said,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart (verse 4)

These were words from God that God had told Moses to write, that God had actually written on these tablets of stone, and said, “These words that I [have given] you shall be on your heart, and you shall teach these words diligently to your children” (verse 7).

How are you to do this? Well, the answer is, all the time and everywhere. “You shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (verse 7). All times of the day.

“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (verses 8-9).

So he says everywhere, at every time, you are to have the Word of God lived out, explained, read to your children. And these stories of people who have understood the ways of God and lived them out, who have experienced hard times, but have endured and have found God to be faithful—these are stories that will help you pass the baton of truth on to your children.

I know that many of our listeners, who may not even be aware that these books exist, will want to go to our website and find there the links to these books.

We’re offering some specific ones as specials through Revive Our Hearts this week, but I want to encourage you, particularly as moms, to get on the website and find just one to get started.

I think once you read one, you’ll be hooked and say, “I want my children to get through these books. I want them to understand and to know these stories.”

My guess is, because these books are beautifully bound, these are books that will be keepers. These aren’t ones your children will toss. They’re probably books they’ll want to save and someday be reading to their children.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with Mark Hamby about the power of good books for children.

He has been discovering some forgotten gems and republishing them for families to enjoy. We are featuring one of these books.

Earlier we heard Mark Hamby describe The Basket of Flowers and explained that it challenged him to be more Christ-like. Reading the story of a dad teaching his daughter through flowers marked a turning point in his life.

We'll send you a copy of The Basket of Flowers so you can experience it for yourself. Just make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts, and we'll send this beautifully bound work that is getting new life among a new generation of readers.

Call with your donation at 1-800-569-5959.

Now, a lot of books were mentioned today, and you probably need a way to keep track of them all. One easy way is to get the transcript of today’s conversation at our website. You can find the transcript there every day.

August has been called the “Turn off the TV month.” Mark Hamby says you shouldn’t fast from TV unless you do something important first. Find out what it is tomorrow, on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.


*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.