Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kids' Devotional Books Full of Truth

In August, I noticed that two new devotional books were going to be published by Crossway in September.  One is entitled God's Mighty Acts in Creation and the other is God's Mighty Acts in Salvation, both by Starr Meade.  I was very curious what these two books would be like.  I've read many books for kids that try to engage kids by either watering down the truth or simplifying concepts so that much of the Bible's truth is missed.

God's Mighty Acts in Creation is about how all of Creation points to God.  In our culture, children are inundated with the belief that man has made everything that we have created our own world.  Science sets out to prove that God doesn't exist.  As parents, we need to help our children see God in the world around us.  Rather than proving that God doesn't exist, science points to all that we don't know and the amazing complexity of His Creation, our world.  But, we need to help them see this.  This devotional is a wonderful way to help children learn to open their eyes.

When I first began reading God's Mighty Acts in Creation, my family was traveling on a long trip to my brother's wedding.  I read the second entry to my husband that includes a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  When I finished reading, he commented on how impressed he was at how the author was able to explain the poem at a kid's level.  My husband is not easily impressed.  I was impressed as well.  Honestly, I hadn't read the poem before and Ms. Meade's explanation helped me understand it.

All that said, though, this book will probably still surprise you.  It is not simply a book about light and darkness, plants, animals, and people.  It is a book about seeing God.  One of the entries about plants talks about how life changes, but that the things that really matter don't--God and His Word.  Knowing and remembering this can help us accept the changes in our life and seek what really matters.  Many important spiritual truths are woven into this book.

The second book is God's Mighty Acts in Salvation.  This devotion is based on a collection of talks she gave to the children at her church while her pastor was preaching from Galatians.  She addresses a variety or points from Galatians including who wrote Galatians and to who, Paul's authority, freedom in Christ, salvation plus nothing, faith producing works, and real fruit.  I loved the entry that she wrote about Abraham and Sarah and how Sarah thought God needed help in keeping the promise He made about them having a child.  It is in reference to Galatians 4:28.  This entry addresses the false teacher that Galatians were listening to that they had to work to enjoy God's favor.  

Very rarely as I read these books, I did come across an example that was not exactly the way I would have put it to my children.  The example that comes to my mind from the book about Salvation was just a little more blunt than the way I have been teaching my children to say things.  I know I sometimes am particularly sensitive to blunt speech, often to a fault I think.  Starr Meade's heart is very apparent through all of her talks and there is love and grace in the entries in this book.  

I highly recommend these two books.  I think that they would be most appropriate for 8-12 year olds.  The truths are definitely relevant for a 13 year old and 7 year old as well, so if you are wondering if they would be right for your family, you can read samples from these books on Amazon.

It is such an encouragement to me as a parent to find good books that I look forward to reading with my children that I know will help them understand the truths that I so dearly want them to know in their hearts.  

Please note that I was given complimentary copies of these two books for review by Crossway Books.

So much to learn about our past...

This summer I reviewed a Children's book about church history by Stephen J. Nichols and Ned Bustard.  Reading that book made me realize how little I understood about church history and how much I really did want to know and understand.  So often names come up in conversations with my husband that I know who they are, but can't seem to keep straight.  So, I started looking for a book to help me fill in the blanks.

In college, I took a class called the History of Christianity.  It was absolutely boring and the textbook was dry.  That's why I thought the history of the church wasn't something I wanted to know anything more about.   But, my mind has changed about that.  

This summer I started reading another book by Stephen J. Nichols titled Pages From Church History.  The book starts with an introduction about why we should care about history.  I love this quote on page 13-14 "Without meaningful connections to the past, the soul does not grow deep, but constricts, growing more and more shallow.  As many have observed, our age tends to be consumed with the present, the new, and even the future...There also lurks, however, a downside, as this tendency can lead to a certain ahistoricism, a sentiment that tells us the past is of little relevance and may be handily brushed aside." On page 14-15 Nichols then goes on to write, "Studying the past offers meaningful connections with our legacy.  We are enriched through our study of the past, simultaneously humbled by testimonies of courage and emboldened by reflections of God's grace and faithfulness..Church history not only inspires, it also instructs."

There is a verse that often comes to mind when people claim to be original and that the past doesn't matter.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV

9 What has been will be again,
       what has been done will be done again;
       there is nothing new under the sun.

It was humbling to read what people in the history of the church did with their lives and who they were.  We are to learn from the past for so many reasons.  But, as Nichols expresses in his book--we would do well not to forget those who have come before us.

From the introduction, Nichols begins the first chapter with a brief look at church history.  Though brief, it is packed full of information and food for thought.  After the first chapter, there are twelve chapters about different figures that are significant in the history of the church.  Some of them I knew and others I didn't.  But, even if I knew the name of the person, I learned as I read the chapters how much I truly didn't understand about that person and their place in history.

One of the reasons I felt the need to really understand church history is that I have been struck this year how the history of the world is taught absent God.  The deist perspective is that God created the world and then simply checked out.  Man was left to his own devices.  Even if people don't believe in the big bang, evolution is so prevalent that the default many people come to believe, I think, is that of the deist perspective.  I want to understand church history so that I can integrate it with what I teach my children through the years about history.  I want them to understand and have a humble perspective of who they are, but recognize that God created them and that they have a place in the big picture--a place that God has planned for them.

I leave this book in my car and read a few pages at a time and discuss them with my husband.  It is very meaty and has so many details in it.  It is a book that my husband could sit down and easily read straight through.  But, my concentration isn't quite as strong right now amidst the craziness of my life with 3 kids and homeschooling.  Still, I am able to pick it up and truly enjoy a few pages at a time.  I learn something every time I read this book.  I am beginning to understand the Catholic church more than I ever have before as I learn where the roots of their traditions and beliefs come from.

If you find yourself looking for a wonderful, interesting, and engaging book about church history, I would highly recommend this book.  It would be great also for a high schooler who is being homeschooled.  You'd definitely want to discuss it and read it together, but this book is very easy to understand.

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book from P&R Publishing for review.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Good Hot Chocolate Reading

It is difficult to find fun fiction to read that I feel good about reading.  But, I picked two books up recently and enjoyed them both.  They were light hearted.  I got to escape--in a good way--for a little while and simply enjoy the good stories.

The first is In Every Heartbeat by Kim Vogel Sawyer. 
Storyline:  The storyline is about three young adults heading off to college from an orphanage where they've grown up together in 1914.  They all have different stories and hurts.  As the book progresses, the story centers around the family of one of the three and what happens when finds them.

Writing:  The writing is good and easy to read.  It isn't very distinct, but it is enjoyable.

Plot:  The plot works.  There are twists and turns that make the story interesting and fun to read.  Honestly, this book is what I expect of historical fiction.  What I liked best about it was that the romance didn't overtake the story.  Because of there is romance involved in the story.  It was a part of the characters' lives, but it was woven in gently.

If you're looking for a fun historical Christian fiction read, I'd definitely recommend it!

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review by Bethany House Publishers.


A month ago or so, I reviewed a devotional.  One of the entries addressed trials and suffering.  At the time, I couldn't articulate as well as I wanted to why one of the entries didn't seem biblical.  The author wrote that the purpose of suffering is so that we will be more happy.  The author went on to say that we have hope--though it wasn't exactly clear that the hope she was speaking of is our hope that we have in Christ--in heaven.  Please forgive my paraphrasing, I do not have the book in front of me.

This morning I read this quote by Jerry Bridges in The Fruitful Life and it expressed much better what I think the author of the other book meant...
"In His infinite wisdom, God allows trials in order to develop perseverance in us and cause us to fix our hopes on the glory that is yet to be revealed...Our faith and perseverance can grow only under the pain of trial." p. 79.

In the midst of daily trials and struggles, I often lose sight of the why of everything and when I do, I feel lost.  Truly, I need to fix my eyes on Jesus and trust him in each moment rather than giving in to myself.

Movies Worth Watching

I have often been disappointed in movies that I have seen, but as is often the case--the bad makes you appreciate the good all the more.  My husband and I have been talking a lot lately about what movies we'd like to show our kids next.  We are having to admit to ourselves that they are growing up and won't be content with Curious George forever.

This week I watched a new movie coming out by Lionsgate, The Least Among You.  It is inspired by a true story.  Inspired can mean many things, but at the very least it has given the producers of the movie the idea for the movie's story.  I tried to research what the truth is of this movie to no avail, so I'm not sure how factual it is.

My plain and simple view of this movie is that it's good--actually, it's very good.  The acting and script hold your attention from the beginning.  It never feels too slow or too fast.  There are several recognizable actors in it including Louis Gossett, Jr., William Devane and Lauren Holly.  This is a movie you can feel good about watching with your high schoolers.  Because of the story theme and content, I wouldn't recommend it for children under 11 or 12 years old.

The story of this movie is of a young black man who gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time during the Watts Riots of 1965.  As probation, he goes to an all-white seminary.  The movie centers on his struggles for acceptance and what he does in those struggles.  His journey to faith in God is very interesting and well handled. He comes to faith amidst the hypocrisy of others around him as they claim to be Christians.  This struggle is one we all live with and I think struggle with in this age of cynicism.

Then this morning I watched a sweet movie while I was catching up on email and such--I realize I foster a sense of distraction in my own life by doing it, but it is one of the few ways I can watch movies these days and I love a good story.  The movie I watched this morning was called An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving.  It is a sweet retelling of  Louisa May Alcott short story.  It would be appropriate to show your kids when you're comfortable showing them Little Women or Little House on the Prairie.  It is a sweet and innocent movie that I look forward to watching with my girls.

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of The Least Among You by Thomas Nelson Publishing for review.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Much More than the Typical Book About Marriage and Family

About two years ago, a friend of my husband's asked if I had ever read God, Marriage, and Family by Andreas Kostenberger.  At the time, I hadn't.  I looked it up and it sounded interesting.  When a revised edition was published this summer, I was excited to read and review it. 

Mark Driscoll recommended this book some time ago in a sermon series that he did at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  I can understand why.  It seems as if our convictions about marriage and family as believers are attacked every day--whether through television, or what we experience at work or school, or by what we overhear at the grocery store.  We have to be prepared to defend them.  We need to know what we believe and why or else it will be easy for false teachers who twist the truth and the world we live in to convince us otherwise.

That is where this book comes in.  From the first page of this book, it is very clear that it is different than other Christian books about marriage and family.  The premise, as the authors put it is to "seek to determine...what the bible teaches on the various components of human relationships in an integrative manner:  the nature of, and special issues related to, marriage and the family, childrearing, singleness, as well as homosexuality and divorce and remarriage." p. 19  All of these issues are important to every Christian.  We need to have a solid understanding about what the Bible says about these issues--and what it doesn't say.

There are several issues that I was particularly interested in.  The first was infertility and contraception.  I have been concerned because as Dr. Paul Mc Hugh said in "The Mind has Mountains" that just because we can do something (medically) doesn't mean we should.  That statement has come to my mind many times over the past few years as I've considered whether or not something is ethically right for a Christian to consider pursuing.  I cannot do the book's discussion of either of these issues justice in a few sentences, so if these are two issues that you have pondered I would encourage you to read this book.

The next set of issues that I've seen become issues in the church today are singleness, homosexuality, divorce, and complimentary view of marriage (as opposed to submission).  This summer I had to explain to my girls that my parents are divorced and what that means.  It came up again when we read Matthew and we read that Joseph had it in his mind to divorce Mary quietly!  Divorce is the one area that I had wished the others had talked about more thoroughly, specifically in light of abuse.  It is mentioned, but I found myself still left with some questions after I read what the authors had written.  I did agree with what they said, but I had hoped for a more in-depth discussion of what abuse is.  In the book, only physical abuse was considered abuse worthy of marital separation.  Perhaps, the information I desire would be more of a chapter that examines the beliefs of Christian feminists.

The preface to the second edition explains the differences between the first and second editions.  Specifically, there's a new chapter on marriage, family and the church (family worship), discussions of current debates about homosexuality, singleness, divorce, and remarriage, and more discussion about teens.  Often I am faced with the question when I'm buying a book whether I should buy the new updated edition or a less expensive used copy of a book.  In the case of this book, I would definitely recommend the updated edition.

Truly our marriages and families are under attack.  If you haven't examined before what the Bible says about any of the issues I've mentioned above, I'd encourage you to read this book.  It is a great resource.  One quick warning though--it is more of a reference book and isn't a light hearted easy read.  But, I think it's a good book for any family to have on their bookshelf so that they can answer questions that come up--whether from friends or from your own children.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Crossway Books for review.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Life Application Bible Studies: 2 Corinthians New Living Translation

Though there are Life Application Study Bibles for the NLT, NIV, and KJV, the Life Application Bible Studies are specific to the NLT translation.

Over the past two years, I've posted several times about Bible translations.  It was this Bible study that challenged me to really examine what the differences in the NLT are and discuss them with the person I most trust when it comes to discussing translation--my husband.  He has wisdom about the Bible that I don't have and he has much better retention of information that he has learned than I do.  He's like my back up drive for the computer in my head.  I know that I've learned things, but often I can't find them in my head so then I go to him for the back up. =)

At the beginning of this study, there are several pages that first explain the New Living Translation.  Next, there are several pages that explain the Life Application Bible content and structure.  Then, comes the text from 2 Corinthians and then the Bible study.

If you haven't read the NLT before or the Life Application Bible, it would be really helpful to read these first few pages.  I need to be honest.  I have had some concerns in the past about both.  And after reading and discussing them, I still am not fully at peace about them, but I do feel a lot better about them.  I understand now that the NLT was translated using fully legitimate translation methods and that the Life Application Bible makes the Bible very accessible for people who have not read the Bible a lot, but I am still cautious.  I am cautious because as a culture, we are so tempted to want things spelled out for us, to have our ears tickled rather than rebuked, and for everything to be easy to understand.  I say this knowing these things about myself and my own heart.  I want to read books that are easy to read and which at the end of the day, I can enjoy without too much effort.  But, that isn't always the best thing for me.  Most often, actually, it's not.  But, let me get back to this study...

This study is a good one.  It is very practical and includes both practical questions to encourage you to reflect on how the Bible relates to you and your life and also practical footnotes to learn what the Bible says.  Since this study is written for the NLT, which is different than other translations, it is important that you answer the questions using the excerpted book from the Bible in the study.

For me, it is not what I would normally choose for a Bible study.  It is almost too practical for me.  There is a temptation, I think, when we focus so much on how God's Word applies to our own lives and what it means to us to lose sight of God and that the Bible is really about HIM and Not About US.  I remember several years ago discussing a story from the Bible with my husband and the point came up that what is included in the Bible is what God wants there.  The details that are included are the ones that are needed to point us to Him, rather than to point us to the people in the stories.

I asked my husband about all of these things I was thinking about this study and he brought up some very good points to me.  He pointed out that I've been reading the Bible and attending church for many years.  I've listened to many sermons and have attended Bible studies.  For someone who has just come to know the Lord, the NLT, the Life Application Study Bible, and this Bible study series is a great place to start!  He pointed this out to me and I think he's right.  The notes on the passages in the Bible are like mini sermon summaries.  They give you the meat you need in compact bites. 

So, in the end, would I recommend this Bible study?  Yes.  It is a great Bible study for a new believer or for someone who desires a very conversational, easy to read Bible (the NLT) or Bible study. 

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review by Tyndale Publishing.  

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Yesterday, when I was driving in the car, I had the chance to listen to part of Dan Rodrick's midday show.  He was interviewing Bill Clegg, who wrote a book called Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man (which I have not read).  It was very interesting to me to hear his definition of what an addiction is.

I'm paraphrasing this from my memory, but basically, the author said that an addiction is something that you crave and desire to satisfy so much that you sacrifice all else in the quest to satisfy that desire--that which you are addicted to.  At the expense of an addiction, one's enjoyment of other things wanes and it is even difficult to engage and enjoy the other things in your life.

That may sound like a very strong definition, but I stepped back and brought it to a lower level.  We can become addicted to anything--tv, chocolate, talking on the phone, exercise, etc.  These are not bad things in and of themselves (unlike cocaine), but when they become addictions they are harmful to us.  

I have been worn out emotionally this summer and the past week was especially busy for me.  Throw a couple of unexpected things onto the pile and my week got amped up a couple of levels.  So, when I had the chance this past week, I just wanted to turn on the computer (since our tv is broken) and watch television--and turn off my thinking and emotional brain.  This isn't that bad once in a while, but if I do it every day and I put off playing with my kids because I want to finish watching a show.  Then, it's definitely not okay.  

The show gave me some food for thought.  Am I choosing something that isn't the best for me at the expense of other things that are good for me?  Definitely worth thought and pondering and worth holding myself accountable on.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Choosing to See

One of the best books that I've read in the past two years is Love in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker.  It is a memoir about adopting a girl in zimbabwe, the foreign press, racism in America, biracial marriage, and many other things.  It opened my eyes about why we should care about Africa.  Before I read that book, I was very ignorant about why the United States helps Africa to the extent that we do.  I am thankful that God helped open my eyes with that book.

Since reading that book, I've read several more memoirs hoping for a similar eye opening experience.  I enjoy reading about people's lives and what they've learned along the way.  Sadly, I have read several disheartening memoirs since that first one.  But, I've still held out hope that I'd find another enjoyable one to read.

And I did.

Two weeks ago, I sat down with Choosing to See, written by Mary Beth Chapman with Ellen Vaughn.  Two years ago, the Chapmans youngest child Maria died when a car ran over her which was driven by one of their teenage sons.  This memoir is the story of primarily that event and her life (and her family's life) sine Maria's death.  The story begins by sharing Mary Beth's life story before Maria.

The title "Choosing to See" is essentially about how we must choose to "SEE" God amidst our sorrow and pain--amidst the hard things in life.  I began reading this book on a particularly discouraging day.  Her story encouraged me and God used it to help me lift my eyes up.  There is one particular passage that I know I will come back to again and again...

"If we keep our heads down, either out of defeat or loss or shame or tiredness...whatever the reason, we are going to miss the beautiful Sun (and Son!) that is right there in front of us, shining its warmth on our faces and our souls!
We need to understand down to the depths of our souls that whether He is quietly behind a storm cloud or blazing obviously in the bright blue sky right in our faces, Jesus, the Son, is always,--not sometimes--present.  No matter what the circumstance.
As we walk with chins up, faces directed toward the Son, we won't see or have to deal with the pettiness of life, represented by the hundreds of seashells I was so fixated on.  As we focus on Him, the things of life can be stepped over like those shells.  (I know, easier said than done.  Trust me I'm trying to preach to the choir here...ME!)  Is it possible that some of those seashells of life will just go away?  I think so!"   from pg. 224-225 of Choosing to See

The passage goes on.  I appreciate so much Mary Beth's honesty with herself and the reader.  It is clear from the tone of the book that she isn't preaching at anyone--she's speaking as much to herself as anyone else.  I think this is a very good book for anyone who has lost a child or sibling to read.  It is also a very good book to read if you or a loved one lives with depression.  Depression is tiptoed around inside the church and many people don't understand it.  This makes it difficult when people you love live with depression.  My father lives with depression though he doesn't admit it, as does my brother who does.  I have my own battles and post partum depression has been a part of my life.  I did not take medication, but I feel I should have after the birth of my last child.  I understand.  Mary Beth's story is an important one.  What spoke to me about her story was how God has used this struggle in her life.

One of the aspects of depression is a zest for something--for with downs always come the ups.  Mary Beth's passion is for adoption.  It was encouraging to read about how God gave her this passion and has used it in her life, the lives of her family, and in the lives of her friends and in ministry.  What a blessing!  Truly in our weakness we are made strong.  God works in all things.  It is always good to be reminded of this.

This is one of the best books I've read in a long time.  Once you pick it up, it will be hard to put down.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Revell Publishing.

Someday My Prince Will Come....

My girls crack me up.  We have many interesting conversations.  Sometimes Autumn tells me that she doesn't want to become a Mommy when she grows up because it's too much work.  I explain to her that being an adult is work.  Being a Mommy is a good thing.  Sami then asked what surgery you can have so you won't have children.  I asked her why?  She said that she wants to be a construction worker and she can't have children if she does that.  I explained to her that she could, but that she'd have to take a break while she is pregnant.  So, then the conversation switched to who they would marry.

Sami said she would someday marry her brother Eli.  I explained to her that she couldn't.  She asked why.  Well, because you can't.  You're not supposed to.  It's wrong.  None of those explanations worked.  So, finally I said.  "Because God didn't plan it that way.  He has another man for you to marry someday."  That finally satisfied her.

So, then the conversation switched (at Autumn's prompting) to what the name of that man would be.  Autumn decided she likes the names Max, Rick and Eric.  At one point, she (with a big laugh) said she liked the name Rick Monster.  he he he....   Sami said that she likes the names Rick and Eric.

Wouldn't it be funny if one of them actually married someone with one of those names?  Well, maybe not "Rick Monster"....

I'm not sure if I answered all their questions very well, but they were satisfied with my answers.