Friday, December 31, 2010

Teaching Our Children Church History

It's interesting to see how God begins to thread things together in my life to help me learn things and to teach my children.  I am continually amazed by how He brings to mind through conversations, articles, or things I've heard about different curriculums for me to use in homeschooling that together meet the unique needs and personalities of my children and me.

One of the subjects I've been puzzling about over the past year is history.  I have to admit that I'm still on the journey, but I'm making progress.  History is my eldest daughter's favorite subject.  She loves to read historical fiction books.  When I was a child, I read the whole set of ValueTales about historical figures.  I found a set of them while I was teaching over 10 years ago and I've saved them all this time.  She started reading them this year and it was so fun to see her enjoy the books I loved when I was a kid.

So, there have been a lot of pieces floating in my head that have started to fit together.

Here's piece number 1:
Last summer, I reviewed a book titled Church History ABCs by Stephen J. Nichols and Ned Bustard.  It made me realize how little I really know about church history and how the history we are taught in schools omits the history of the church.

Piece Number 2:
A few years before I started homeschooling, my mother in law gave me a magazine from the Elijah Company that explained that there are essentially two approaches to teaching children history.  The one that is used in public schools is to teach history from the inside out--via social studies.  And the other approach is to teach history chronologically.

Piece Number 3:
After reading Church History ABCs, I read Pages from Church History by Stephen Nicols and really learned a lot.  These two quotes from the introduction on page 13 struck me, "Hughes becomes aware of the past that has gone before, humbling and encouraging him at the same time.  he is made deeper; his life is enriched because of these connections to the past.  But perhaps the reverse is also true.  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."

Piece Number 4:
This article by Simonetta Carr brought together many of the conclusions I'd started to make--though she articulates them so well.  It is posted on her blog here:  

Piece Number 5:
The book I'm finishing reading about suffering has a few observations that have really struck me.  We expect life to be easy.  And we idealize the past.  But, really people in the past expected life to be hard and it is written in their memoirs (not in most of the fiction that is written about them today).  Another essay in the book noted that our faith must be strong and not conditionally based on what we think God has or hasn't done in our lives.  But, that is where the past can help both us and our children understand how real God is.

So, I've come to several conclusions, but not the full answer yet.  I believe it's important to teach my children about history and include church history.  But, I'm not a unit study kind of teacher.  So, I have begun to search for resources and ways to help my children gain an understanding, knowledge, and appreciation of the past.  I know this will be a search in progress and I'm praying and trusting that God will help me find the right resources for my children.

So far, the resources I've found this year that have been helpful and enjoyable to my children are
History for Little Pilgrims, a great primer on church history for 1st-3rd graders.  The illustrations are reminiscent of the 70s and 80s
Church History ABCs, has brief biographies of people in church history.  Autumn loves the humor or it and she is able to read it without too much trouble.
ValueTales are a set of biographies of people such as Helen Keller, Elizabeth Fry, Jackie Robinson, Louis Pasteur.  Each character has an imaginary friend that helps them along as they tackle the struggles they face and achieve their dreams.
Simonetta Carr's Biographies for Young Readers.  She has written books on Augustine, John Calvin and John Owen.  We have read the book on John Owen.  Ms. Carr does a good job explaining Puritans and that time period.  This is a biography though and not a partially true story like the Value Tales

I intended on starting a timeline earlier this year, but decided to let it go at that time.  I think it is the time now.  We are going to make a wall timeline and I'm also going to let Autumn record people and things that she reads in a timeline book, Sonlight's Book of Time.  One of the things that can be overwhelming in homeschooling is that there are so many resources--rather than too few!  I can spend hours searching.

This website has a picture of a wall timeline that I liked:  It also has pictures of several other options.

I hope that this rambling post makes some sense.  It may or may not--and if it doesn't, I understand!  These pieces are jostling around in my head and I continue to try and find the right spots for them.  I think I've put a few together.  We're starting with the timeline for Autumn's reading and a wall timeline.  We're going to make our way through History for Little Pilgrims and Church History ABCs this spring.  Next year, we're going to read Simonetta Carr's biographies for Young Readers and add the information we learn to our timeline.  My hope is that our timelines--notebook and wall-- will grow over time!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why what parents believe matters

I was driving Eli to the doctor on Tuesday when I pondered the conversation I'd had with my husband just before I left the house.  I know he was concerned with my heart and speaking the truth in love, but at that moment my mind pondered a tangent.  

Why are current ethical and moral issues such a source of consternation to me?  Why does it matter so much to me that I feel compelled to sort out what I believe about these issues?

I realized that it matters so much to me because I am the filter that my children see the world through.  I am the filter that guides what they learn in school since we homeschool.  I am the teacher that explains and helps them understand the world and things they don't understand.  If I don't understand an ethical or moral issue about society, how can I then explain it to my children?

It matters what I believe.  Not only for my own heart and mind--because it guides my actions and words--but also because I am responsible for my children.

I am glad to be able to articulate this because I have been in a quandary this year as to why I get so troubled by ethical and moral issues in our world today.  Now I feel like I understand a little bit better why it matters so much to me.    

I once read that we, as parents, are responsible for protecting our children.  Sheltering has become a bad word in our society.  When, in fact, we are responsible for protecting and sheltering our children from the things that they cannot handle--or shouldn't have to at such young ages.  We all shelter our children, but it looks different in each of our families because of our convictions and beliefs.  

Our beliefs about how much much or how little we should shelter is like the size of the lens and what we believe is the shade or tint on that lens.

Speaking the Truth in Love

I have been pondering many issues this year that have troubled me.  I have found myself often upset.  I've written about several issues over the past few months... homosexuality and Christianity, women in church leadership, submission, Bible translation...  My thought life seems to move from one issue to another.

A few days ago, my husband expressed his concern about what I think and believe.  After much discussion, I explained to him that I am honest with him so that I might sort out and that he might reflect to me where my wrong thinking is.  He is very helpful in this, but it can give him a wrong view of the final conclusions that I come to because he has heard more the of the turmoil than of the conclusion.

This morning he said something to me which I thought was very wise.  He commented that it is important that we not lose sight of loving our neighbors.  It is easy to get derailed and focused on facets of life or parts of church doctrine and become consumed by them.  It is easy to see people who see differently than we do as our foes.  

It was interesting because that day I got a letter from a Christian organization about the war that we are in.   The letter explained that we are in a way with those who believe that the belief of tolerance must trump all absolutist beliefs--the belief in one God being such a view.  In the letter, the word "love" wasn't mentioned.  It was not a mean spirited letter though.  It was simply a matter of fact letter.

Afterwards, the scripture which says "love your enemies" came to my mind.

Matthew 5:43-48 NIV

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Though we disagree with others, we do need to love others that are on the other side.  I think that was what my husband wanted to remind me to keep in mind.  We need to--speak the truth in love.

Ephesians 4:15 NIV

15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

As I've sorted through some of the issues I've pondered and struggled through on this blog this year, I hope that my "voice" has had love and sounded like a resounding gong (I Cor. 13:1).  I know that at times it may not have, but that is not my desire or my heart.  

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Thorn

2 Corinthians 12:6-8 (NIV)

6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

I have a thorn in my flesh that I have struggled with for many years.  Recently, I began reading a book on suffering that I've mentioned.  My hope in reading this book was that it would help me process through this thorn and come to terms with it.

This morning I read an essay in the book by J.I. Packer about this passage.  The passage was addressing first the claim of many Christians that we should pray for healing and that if we are not healed, then we do not have enough faith.  Packer points out that even in Jesus' day, he did not heal all--and it wasn't because they didn't have enough faith.  It was because he healed purposefully--for His purposes.

We expect physical and mental health today.  We expect that such healing should happen this side of heaven, but Scripture tells us otherwise.  It is in heaven that we can expect such healing.

These thorns keep us humble--they thwart our pride, arrogance, conceit, and selfishness.

I can see that my thorn keeps me humble when I accept it.  When I don't accept it, I grumble and stumble.  I am not able to accept the Lord's help and strength to bear it while I'm grumbling.

I have been living in fear the past few weeks of when it would arise again.  I never quite know when it will come again.  That is the wrong attitude for me to have.

There was another story in the book by Corrie Ten Boom in which she tells a story of a conversation she had with her father.  She asks him if she will have the strength she needs.  He asks her about when she goes on a train ride--when will he give her the fare?  Will he give it to her right before or a few weeks ahead?  She answers that only right before will he give it to her so that she won't risk losing it.

So it is with the strength I need to bear my thorn in my flesh.  I have to realize that God will give me the strength to bear it when it is time and anticipating it does me no good, but only steals my joy from today.  These are hard things for me accept and take into my heart, but I know I must.  I hope I can do this and I would appreciate your prayers that I would be able to.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Choosing the Best Things

A friend of mine wrote me an email yesterday and mentioned she is reading Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.  She said that I came to her mind about choosing people instead of my "to do" list.  As I read her very kind note, I felt compunction, guilt.

You see, I struggle.  I often choose people over things that need to get done.  I love to check on people and see how they're doing.  But, my guilt comes because often it comes at the expense of my children.  Sometimes I lose sight of the most important people in my world--the ones that God has given me charge of--to care for every day and night.

This morning I was sitting in church and asked myself what my children will remember about me and whether they will remember what I hope they will.  Will they remember Mom on the phone and the computer?  Or will they remember Mom reading with them?

The other reason I felt compunction is that my friend was writing because she was talking about one of the lies that Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes about:  "We Can Do It All!"  and "We can do it all right!"  I do make time for people and my children, but I smoosh the other tasks I need to do together so--that I can get everything done.  The people that pay the biggest price for my sqeezing is my children.  In my life there hasn't been room for not getting it all done.  There's a lot of factors that go into this that I can't really explain in this post, but whatever the reasons, it isn't okay.

Our pastor talked this morning about Christmas and Jesus.  He said that we celebrate the coronation ceremonies of royalty and politicians with enormous extravagance.  But, Jesus didn't come for a holiday.  He came for you and me--to be a part of our lives every single day.  So, he encouraged us to celebrate Christmas and enjoy our families and friends--but not to make this a party about Jesus.  He doesn't need it.  He didn't come for a party.  He came to be our Saviour.  So many people fret and even grieve over the presents and celebrations that surround Christmas.  Honestly, I haven't always known what to think about it.  But, today I realized that it's good to celebrate Christmas as a time to be thankful for our friends and family to the Lord--to be thankful for the hope that He has given us.  And it's a fun time to enjoy winter, curling up beside a tree full of lights and ornaments with a cup of hot apple cider and spend time with your friends and family.  Enjoy living.  That is a gift from God.

I'm looking forward to enjoying my children this week.  I am going to pray that God will help me sit more with them.  To play games and color.  To set aside my selfishness and my desires.  To get the things done that I need to, but to set aside the things that aren't my responsibilities.  To discern what God wants me to do with my time.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas my friends!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Making God in Our Own Image

"As long as we have only just started on the way to the cross, we fancy ourselves the main object at stake; it is our happiness, our honor, our future--and God added in.  According to our idea we are the center of things, and God is there to make us happy.  The Father is for the sake of the child.  And God's confessed Almightiness is solely and alone to serve our interest.  This is an idea of God which is false through and through, which turns the order around and, taken in its real sense, makes self God, and God our servant." 
                                              Abraham Kuyper in To Be Near Unto God

On Sunday, I reviewed a book on Amazon called Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill.  When I like a book, I'm always curious about the negative reviews.  There was one 2 star review so I read it.  Basically, someone read the book knowing they would disagree with it.  So, they wrote a review to refute the premise of the author.  The author, Wes Wiley, was writing about what it means to live as a celibate gay Christian.  He shares his story both about his faith and about being gay.  Then he shares the reasoning behind his conviction.  From there, he talks about his loneliness and the loneliness of others who have gone before him.

So, I entered into a dialogue with the reviewer and the man who commented on his review and agreed with him.  I suspected that I would end up deleting my comments in the end--and that's what ended up happening.  Because my purpose was not to invite attack, it was to have a discussion.

The two men were basically saying that you can't believe in the whole Bible and that "morality" trumps the Bible.  

I don't know about the legality of quoting them word for word, so I'll try and give a brief summary.  I made a comment about depression--that someone doesn't choose to live with depression, but it is a part of this world because we live in a fallen world.

In response, one reviewer said my analogy was singularly inept.  He felt that homosexuality is not an imperfection (and thus not a sin either).  That only if a homosexual person is unfaithful to their partner would it be morally wrong.

The reviewer believed that homosexual love is just as beautiful and and sacred as heterosexual love.  And that it is immoral to say otherwise or to try and convince homosexual people to change or to commit themselves to living celibate lives.

To top it all off, the reviewer felt that it was ridiculous to let the Bible to be seen as a greater authority than common sense and humanity.

I think this man made his opinions very clear.

Earlier this year, Jennifer Knapp "came out of the closet".  She said that the Bible was mistranslated on Larry King Live.  And that she is the happiest she's ever been in an interview with Christianity Today. 

Shortly after that, I read that Derek Webb, former lead singer for Caedmon's Call, was touring with Jennifer Knapp.  Looking into it on the internet, I discovered that there is a Christian group which includes both Christians who feel they must live celibate lives as gay Christians and who feel it is permissible for them to be in homosexual relationships.  Derek Webb performed at one of their conferences.  I really didn't know what to think.  I didn't understand.

How could someone support Jennifer Knapp, her lifestyle, and her statements that the Bible has been mistranslated?  I struggled with this for a few months.  My husband and I weren't on the same page.  He wasn't sure why it upset me so.  

I kept coming back to the fact that Christian music is what I look to for encouragement and it's important to me that the performer of the songs believes in Jesus and that the Bible is God's Word.  In a movie about Fanny Crosby, a hymn writer in the 1800s, I remember a line about hymns being the theology that people would remember.  Many people couldn't read then and didn't have many books, but hymns stayed with them in their minds and hearts wherever they went.  

In the same way, the worship songs and music we listen to stays in our heads.  So, it concerned me that Ms. Knapp was saying such things and that Derek Webb was supporting her by touring with her.

After many discussions, I came to a conclusion.  How do you help someone see that they are wrong?  How do you help them see the truth of the gospel?  Do you expect them to come to where you are?  Or do you go to where they are?  Did Derek Webb have the opportunity to minister through his music to people who came to hear Jennifer Knapp and don't believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God?  Yes, he did.  Would Derek Webb have more of an opportunity to minister to Jennifer Knapp and point her to the gospel by shunning her or by playing with her?  I cannot speak for him.  But, I feel okay at this point leaving that to God and knowing that Derek Webb's choices and reasons, unless he chooses to talk about them publicly, are between him and God.  There is such a curiosity in our country about many things and I get caught by that curiosity.  I am at peace with this matter and feel it is right for me not to be occupied by it anymore.

If you want to read a good book about Christianity and homosexuality, the one mentioned earlier was really good.   Am I going to listen to Jennifer Knapp's music?  I'll be honest, no.  It is unsettling to me to listen to her music and her music isn't encouraging to me because of her perspective on life, God, and the Word of God.  

The comments on the review of Washed and Waiting on Amazon spoke to me a lot about the world's view of homosexuality today.  I am deeply grieved by the sin in our world.  It can be overwhelming to realize how much we as a culture rationalize our actions and sins.  Something that Jerry Bridges says in Respectable Sins always comes to mind.  He talked about how sins that were seen as sins ten years ago are now seen as acceptable behavior--even among mainline Christian churches.  He feared for what that portends for the future.  I do too.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Being Thankful For My Family

Families are on one hand happy, loving things.  On the other, they can also be full of conflict, struggles, and trials.    Sometimes I get very impatient with mine.  I love my husband and kids, but sometimes I get frustrated.

Four years ago, a friend lost his wife and two kids in a pedestrian accident with a drunk driver.  Every time I think of them, I choke up.  I was friends with his wife and with him.  They were on again off again for several years and then she played hard to get.  She even moved away, I think I heard.  Ultimatum time.  He decided he couldn't live without her, flew out to see her, and proposed.  They married and then had two children who would be the same ages as my oldest two.  It sounds like they had a wonderful marriage and enjoyed their kids a ton.

It's so hard to understand such suffering that this friend has gone through over the past two years.  He's an old friend, so I really have no idea how he's doing.  but, I grieve with him.  And I am reminded to be thankful for my family--my children and my husband.  

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.  My husband is out of town for a few days on a business trip.  I'm surprised by the lessons I'm learning this time.  No matter how much we struggle, I am a better person with him than without him.  Our family isn't the same without him.  Sometimes it's hard to see that in the midst of conflict--how much we all need each other, but we do.  

Thinking back on this family gave me much patience tonight as my little Eli came to the top of the stairs not once or twice, but four times with tears struggling to get to sleep.  I said to Autumn how thankful I was for her tonight and that no matter whether I get upset or not, I always love her and Sami too.  Sami was thrilled tonight when I told her I had ordered her a book that was a very special Sami book just for her.  I am very thankful for them and will be glad when my husband returns to us at the end of the week.   

I also grieve and pray for my friend.  I don't know how he is, but I can only imagine that he has easy days and hard days.  There are no easy words or right words to say.  

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sleep, Or Rather the Lack of It

Psalm 127:2 ESV 
"It is in vain that you rise up early
   and go late to rest, 
eating the bread of anxious toil;
   for he gives to his beloved sleep.

My husband has left for a few days and I was anticipating doing many long put off house projects, meeting with friends I usually don't have time to meet with, and generally being pretty busy.  Along with all of that toil was likely to come much less sleep.  I struggle with sleep anyways.  I haven't slept through the night for more than a night or two since I was pregnant with my oldest daughter eight years ago.  

This morning in my Bible study, Becoming a Woman of Simplicity, Ms. Heald wrote about rest.  The first verses were about resting on the seventh day that we might be refreshed no matter the time of year--Exodus 23:12 and 34:21.  I knew these verses, but the next question and verse took me by surprise.  It was Psalm 127:2 that I've quoted at the beginning of this post.  Ms. Heald shared that "It is hard for me to be patient or calm when I am tired.  If we are to be women with a gentle and quiet spirit, we need to be good stewards of our bodies by getting enough sleep." p.123

I sat and cried, thankful for the Lord's encouragement.  I know that I take things into my own hands feeling like I must continue toiling till all that could possibly be done is done.  Rather, I need to stop, rest, and start again the next day.  Resting is part of trusting God to order my day.  I hadn't quite seen it that way until this morning.  

I just finished this study this morning.  I am thankful for its encouragement and all of the lessons God has taught me through it.  Like the other studies in this series, Ms. Heald encourages the reader to dig into God's Word and sit with them.  In this book, she expounds a bit more than she does in other books, but I enjoyed all the stories she shared.  From the beginning, this study encouraged me because it didn't call me to shun the world or become something I don't think is even possible.  In a search for simplicity, many people shun the world and think that that will bring a sense of peace and rest.  I suppose for some it might.  But, I realize now that a sense of peace and rest comes more from trusting the Lord with our days rather than from simply "doing less".  Ms. Heald explains that the busyness of our world is never going to go away--so how can we live and rest in the Lord each day?  That is the question this study is about.  If you find yourself struggling to find peace with the Lord, I'd definitely recommend this study.  I've loved it.

Please note that I did receive a complimentary copy of this book from NavPress for review.

Friday, December 10, 2010

New Bible Study Curriculum

In my last post, I shared that I'm going to read through the Bible using a curriculum titled The Most Important Thing You'll Ever Study by Starr Meade.  Originally, I requested this curriculum to review because several families in the homeschool networks I'm a part of have been looking for Bible curriculums for middle and high school students.  I've reviewed three other books by Starr Meade this year (Mighty Acts of God, God's Mighty Acts in Creation, and God's Mighty Acts of Salvation).  I've been impressed by Ms. Meade's ability to convey difficult theological concepts at a very age appropriate level for elementary, middle, and high school students.

One of the questions one mom asked me about this study is whether or not it was practical.  I think she wanted to make sure that it was practical, but not solely application.  Here is Ms. Starr's response on pg. 12 to that concern: "Certainly the Bible is not just any book, and our goal is never just to know the information it holds.  God requires us to let his Word affect our hearts; he requires us to change our attitudes and our lifestyles so that we think and do what the Bible tells us to.  But surely we must begin by knowing what it says."  From there, Ms. Starr examines how studying the Bible is similar to studying other books and how it is different.

At the end of the introduction, she cautions students that that studying the Bible isn't easy and that it takes "diligence and work" p. 15.  I agree with her.  What I liked most about this introduction is that it explains to the reader why it is important to study the Bible and the simple truth that "the Bible is God's revelation of himself to us." p. 15  We read the Bible so that we might get to know God better.  The Waltons write in The Bible Story Handbook that "The Bible is God's self-revelation, and, as such, it enables the reader to know God more fully." p. 27 and then on p. 30 write "Relationship is the goal, salvation is the means, and eternity is the scope...Our approach to the stories of the Bible ought to focus on how each one helps us to understand God and his plan better."

So, though this Bible study doesn't fit the mold of what one might call "practical", that is a good thing, I think.  This study fits into a natural progression of books I've read this year for children to grow up into.  The Read Aloud Bible Stories, The Big Picture Bible, and Mighty Acts of God all follow a progression of helping children to see the stories of the Bible not as isolated events but as a big, vast picture--they convey who God is--and how He loves us.

I want to share an example of what I mean because it is hard to explain how this study is practical without being practical.
"No one whom God chooses to bless deserves his blessings.  To drive that point home, Scripture regularly shows us God choosing the most unlikely people to bless or to use.  Jacob is a case in point.  In the first place, he was the younger son, born after his twin brother..." p. 46-47
Though this point isn't directly "practical", it is crucial to our understanding many stories in the Bible and getting to know God.

This study is a set of five books.  Four workbooks and one answer key.  It would easily work for a four year Bible curriculum for homeschool students.  I counted the breakout of weeks for the first book and it could be divided into 39 lessons with 7 tests and 1 final chronological test.  The appropriate age range for this study is 11 or 12-adult.  It is also a very affordable curriculum.  On Amazon, it is only $37 for the full set (it is sold as a complete set of books).

As I was reading through the study and perusing it, I realized that it would be good for me to use this curriculum as my Bible Study for the next year and read through the Bible.  I love that about this study--that both parent and student could go through it together.  It isn't too simplistic for an adult to be encouraged by going through it.  I think many of us struggle to go through the Bible with just a plan of what to read each day. But, having a few questions to answer helps us--or at least it definitely helps me and gives a guide as I make my way through it.  The tricky part is finding a study guide that doesn't read a lot into the Word and make inferences and interpretations for you.  I like this one for that reason.

So, I'm looking forward to winding my way through this Bible Study next year!

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

Reading through the Bible

I once had this impression that a hundred years ago, the preaching of the Word was dry and didn't apply to people's lives.  I think I got that impression from the culture we live in--old is bad and new is good.  Hymns = bad.  Modern worship songs = good.  At least that's what I thought until a few years ago when God placed my husband and in a traditional, hymn singing Presbyterian church.  As we struggled with the style of our worship and our misguided beliefs that what was most important about worship was how we enjoyed it, my mother in law sent us an issue of Moody Magazine.  The August 2002 issue was titled "Is there a Right Way to Worship?"

This is a quote from an article by Rowland Forman from that issue, titled The Rest of the Service.
"Worship is realizing God's supreme worth, followed by a response that reflects His worthiness.  It is declaring, by word or action, what we believe to be true about God.  It means giving God all He's worth...What this means to us as we attend a typical worship service is that we are there to focus on God.  any reading, song, prayer, testimony, or sermon that makes us center on God can potentially elicit heartfelt worship.  That releases us from the need to grade the quality of the music or the style of the songs.  Worship is also the overflow of a grateful heart in response to God's grace in Christ...In this new chapter of my worship life, I am being released from my selfishness and a critical spirit, as I ask, not "what will meet my need?" but "What kind of worship does God delight in?" and "How can I best serve and bless the people around me?""

The article I've quoted from affirmed what I felt God teaching me.  Going to church isn't about me.  It's about God.  It isn't about the right songs or the wrong ones.  That was eight years ago when I read that article.  Just as I should read the Bible not to keep my eyes on myself, but to take them off of myself and put them back on God.

At the time that I felt engulfed by the idea that modern worship songs are the best way to worship, I also saw that evangelicals were moving towards a pragmatic, application oriented service.  The old practice of preaching through the Word was displaced by thematic preaching.  Many books have been written about meeting the needs of people in order to draw them to Christ.

But, it is not us who saves.  It is God who saves.  

That is what I began to see as I drew back from popular Christian culture.  A sense of concern grew in my heart as I watched our culture from afar and saw the shelves of Christian book stores fill with Christian self help books--some that didn't even quote the Bible.  After I read one of the most popular Christian books ten years ago, I realized that only three verses were sited and only one of them was in the text.  It really made me start to think about the books I was reading and question whether the books I was reading were pointing me to God or to myself.

For several years, I struggled with reading Christian books and then I read a book titled Seeing Through Cynicism by Dick Keyes.  It helped me understand what I was struggling with.  It also helped me see that I needed to fight the cynicism that had grown in my mind when it came to Christian books and culture.  So, I came up with a plan.  I would stay out of Christian bookstores and stick to authors that I had found over the previous years that I could trust.  And then...  God had a neat plan.

I started reviewing books.  I started reading again.  A lot.  I was taken by surprise as I began to read a lot of wonderful books that really encouraged me in my walk with the Lord.  Along the way, I also came across some yucky books that weren't edifying.  But, all of them have made me think about what I read and think.

Which leads me to my main point in this post!

A few years ago, I read through the whole Bible.  I can't say that I did it in a year. I think it took me a bit longer than a year actually.  I have been wondering what I would do when I finish reading Becoming a Woman of Simplicity this week and I figured it out yesterday!  I do better with a guide--a plan to hold me accountable.  I just received a copy two weeks ago of The Most Important Thing You'll Ever Study by Starr Meade.  It is a four book Bible study that will take you through the whole Bible.  It is written for Middle and High Schoolers, but it would be great for adults too.  Starr Meade has a way of not talking down to kids.  I've noticed that she's great at distilling the Truth and big theological concepts.  I'm going to write a review of this study in my next post.

Reading the whole Bible can help us see the Big Picture better--and get to know God better.  When we pick and choose and only read our favorite books of the Bible, sometimes we can miss out on the context and misinterpret passages.  

I am looking forward to starting at the beginning again and remembering many of the things that are stuck in the attic in my brain, as my daughter would say.  I find that I forget so many things amidst teaching my kids and all that I have to do each day.  It's good to be reminded of the basic truths of the Bible so that I can better explain and teach my children.  

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lots to think about...

I have had a lot on my mind this afternoon.  I think the biggest thing is that it's easier to keep my mouth shut than to guard what comes out of it.  I second guess myself a lot.  There is a risk in opening my mouth.  A risk that I will say the wrong thing around people it will offend.  Sometimes I am a bit blunt--aren't we all?  Sometimes I am also very opinionated.  When I say something that I'm surprised at, I usually try to think about what the seed of it was.  I think I see in myself how a little seed can grow a big plant and a big idea.  Maybe that's why I'm so concerned about what's being published and the overt and subtle messages of fiction and nonfiction books.

Over the past two years, I've found that there are publishers that I trust more than others.  By that I mean, that I feel safer usually reading a book published by one of these companies.  I've found their books to encourage me more in my walk with the Lord and more enjoyable.  These books fit the scripture for me that says in Philippians 4:8 KJV "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

Our pastor said something to me a few weeks ago that summarized why I think what we read matters.  He commented that we, in our world today, believe what we see and hear.  I agreed--we do!  So, I have found that I really have to be careful about what I put into my ears and eyes.

One example of the lessons God's impressed on my heart about what I read this year has to do with romance novels.  Over the years, I've heard and read several speakers/authors who have likened romance novels to pornography for women.  Please forgive the graphic language, but I think it can be at times a very accurate description.  The content of a novel can lead our minds that it is not good for them to go.  That was the concern I had with one of the books I read a few weeks ago.  I set it down because it was so visually stimulating--in an impure way.  The images conjured by the author throughout the book didn't sit with my soul.  They were unsettling.  I had to make conscious efforts to dispel the book from my mind.  When I was done with it, I put it in the recycling bin--that was not a book I was going to lend or share with anyone.

My mom chuckles at me and how seriously I take my book reading and how deeply I think about what the books I read are saying.  But, she has told me that I'm wired differently.  I'm not really sure why God has wired me this way.  So, I thought I would write which of the publishers I've enjoyed books from the most and my family's favorite books.

My favorite books and publishers this year...

from Crossway Books.  Of the publishers, I've enjoyed Crossway's books the most this year.  It is a nonprofit publisher that publishes the ESV translation of the Bible.  It's been a blessing to me to get to read and review several books published by them this year.

Mighty Acts of God, children's Bible story book for 6-10 year olds from Starr Meade  I was looking for a Bible story book to transition Autumn to help her understand more about the Bible than the simple Bible stories.  I love how this storybook explains difficult ideas like predestination at a child's level.  Later in the year, Mighty Acts of Salvation and Mighty Acts of Creation by Starr Meade were published for middle schoolers that again do a wonderful job of explaining difficult concepts at an age appropriate level.

Be Still, My Soul ed. by Nancy Guthrie  I have struggled with the place of suffering in our lives for a long time.  I battle bitterness.  Much of my battle stems from how my dad raised me and socialized me, but now the responsibility lies with me and my own heart.  I have only just begun to read this book and I've learned to be very cautious about recommending books before I've finished them, but I've already been very encouraged by this one.

The Sword by Brian Litfin  This fictional book is a story of speculative fiction set in a modern dark age.  The writing engaged me and was very out of my comfort zone with what I usually read in fiction.  But, the writing was very good and I loved reading it.  I'm looking forward to the sequel being published in the spring.

from Moody Publishing.  Moody Publishing is the publishing arm of Moody Bible Institute (MBI).  The profits from their publishing pay for the tuition of students attending MBI.

Silent Seduction of Self: Conforming Our Thoughts to the Word of God.  I was taken by surprise at the forthrightness of this author--she spoke candidly to my struggle with my thoughts and speech that I think most women struggle with.

Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild by Mary Kassian  This wasn't a book on my list of books I wanted to read, but it was one that God had for me to read.  In the week after I began reading it, I was hit from multiple sides about how we need to fight the messages and attacks of the world on our hearts as women and as wives.

Growing Grateful Kids  I was encouraged as I read this very easy to read book about parenting and about being a mom. The author states over and over that we can't give our kids something we don't have--so what we give our kids begins with our own hearts.

Dancing with the One You Love  I am so thankful to finally have found a book about submission that resonates with my heart.  Cindy Easley writes not from a legalistic black and white view of submission, but a grace filled one.  

from Navpress.  The Bible studies I've doing this year have been published by Navpress.  Navpress is the publishing arm of the Navigators ministry.  

Becoming a Woman of... series by Cynthia Heald   I have been so thankful for this series this year.  I found my way through A woman of Faith, of Grace, and of Simplicity this year.  Ms. Heald's studies get me into the Word and give me a lot to think about.  I feel as if I'm learning from a much older woman--which I am.  I believe Ms. Heald is now in her early 70s.  

The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges  I read several books by Jerry Bridges this year.  I have been encouraged by Bridges' explanations of what it really means to walk by faith.  He's able to talk both theologically and practically in his books--not leaning too heavily on one side or the other.  I would never call his books self help and I wouldn't say they're intellectual either.

Looking back, I've read a lot of nonfiction books that I've loved this year.  But, I read a lot of Christian fiction, but the only one that stood out to me was The Sword.  Overall, I'm very thankful that I've gotten to read so many good books this year!  Whether good or bad, the books I have read this year have given me a lot to think about!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bible Storybook Audio!

This past November Crossway published a new edition of The Big Picture Bible with 2 audio cds that give a full reading of the text. I loved the original edition so I was very excited that they were making a new edition that would include audio to accompany it. 

My girls are 5 and 7 and enjoyed the recording as we listened to it in the car yesterday. The recording is made to read the story Bible while listening so it has a small bell sound after each page to signal the child to turn the page. I think this Story Bible is best for 4-6 year olds. With the audio, it would be a great nap time diversion for children who need to spend some time in their room while younger siblings nap (like mine do). The voice on the audio is very easy to listen to. At times it almost seems a little slow, but if you are reading along, it's a good tempo. We were listening to it without the book last night, so that was why it seemed a little slow with the beeps for turning the pages. 

The Story Bible gives children a great view of what the Bible is all about--rather than teaching the stories from the Bible as isolated stories. It really helps children understand that the Bible is all about God's plan. A friend just mentioned to me that her pastor preached a sermon about this last week.  I think it's wonderful to help children understand this at such an early age.

The other edition is still available on Amazon without the audio, but I'd really recommend getting the edition with the audio for just a few more dollars instead. 

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

These are our Favorite Story Bibles Per Ages:

Ages 1-3:  Read Aloud Bible Stories by Ella Lindvall (volumes 1-4)
Ages 2-4:  Read and Share Bible (now in 2 volumes with DVDs)
Ages 4-6:  The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm
Ages 6-10:  Mighty Acts of God by Starr Meade

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Too Small

As I grow older I'm more and more aware of the size of books and their print!  Oops!  I'm getting ahead of myself...

I was excited to receive the new Christmas devotional that Tyndale published this year by Nancy Guthrie titled Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room.  I haven't read a Christmas devotional with my kids before so I thought this would be a good year to start.  I didn't glance at the size of this book before I requested it.  It happens to be the size of a 4 x 6 picture (almost to a tee).  It's a little hardback book with tiny print and tiny lines to write on.

The devotionals are fine in and of themselves.  Nothing especially stood out to me.  Each devotional day had a story/thought and two or three verses.  She didn't reference passages to be read, but rather single verses.  Scattered throughout the book there are also reproductions of the music for several Christmas hymns and stories about them.  I enjoyed these stories about the hymns.  Over the past year, I've come more and more to cherish hymns and the stories behind them.

The size of this book is a great obstacle to me.  On one hand, it's very easy to store!  But, it would also be easy to lose.  It would be difficult for anyone to read if they don't have 20/20 vision.  It makes me sad that publishers are choosing to publish such small books instead of charging a little more for a larger paberback copy.  I definitely would pay the extra.  I can write with very tiny print, but the lines provided in the book for writing down reflections aren't even big enough for me.

I'm so sorry to give a book--a Christmas book, of all books, a negative review.  The content of the book is solid and appropriate for a family with children ages 6-12 years old.  If I were looking for a Christmas devotional to read with my family, I honestly wouldn't choose this book.  I would keep searching for another devotional that would be easier to read and hold while you're sitting on the couch with your family.

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