Thursday, July 11, 2013

Starting A New Year (Sort of)

A friend of mine called on Wednesday and asked me how our school year had ended.  I told her then that we had just started back the day before.  Sort of.  

We start back with math and finish up the Explode the Code book they were working on at the end of the year.  But, it's just one math lesson a day instead of 2 like they normally do during the school year.  Starting this way takes a little pressure off the rest of our year.  I also noticed that the kids and I both needed a little more structure.  One full month of playing was enough for them.  

So, we've begun.

This year is a little different.  Eli starts kindergarten, Sami's in 2nd, and Autumn's in 5th.  Usually my room is already to go before the other year ends.  Not so this year!  We started Tuesday with my room in chaos.  Still we pulled out math and just did math.  I have a lot of work to do this week.  Notebooks to get in order. New materials to organize (and old ones to get in order too!).  I feel a bit overwhelmed.  

So, I work a bit on things and then take a break.  Today on my agenda is making Eli's planner page, binding his handwriting workbook, compiling Sami and Autumn's materials, organizing what's in the basement, and then trying to organize the work from last year.  There's actually no way that all of this will get done today.  I know it.  So, I'll start at the top of the list and work from there.

My husband asked me last weekend how I feel about this upcoming year.  I'm not sure.  Excited.  I don't if I"ll know until we get into it.  I feel quite overwhelmed.  Period.  There's a lot to do.  I am starting to think that's just the way life is--there's always more to do.  

So, what then?  How do I cope with feeling overwhelmed?  I'm not sure.  I think the first step is keeping my priorities straight--meals, school, laundry...  then extras fit in after that.  That's where I get caught.  There's so many things I want to do.  

I read an essay this past weekend that watered some seeds in my heart that God planted a lot time ago.  I'm still reading Who Loves Thee, Little Lamb? by Walt Wangerin, Jr.  One of the essays is on Motherhood.  He explains that every mom sacrifices a core part of herself for her children while they need her.  When it is voluntary it is a sacrifice, but when it forced upon a mom--it is oppression.  Oppression leads to bitterness and resentment.  I see such resentment in my heart at times when my motives aren't right.

My prayer this year is that the Lord would help me each day to sacrifice voluntarily so that I can give my kids what they need--me.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Thinking More Deeply

Common Grace is the idea that there is a measure of grace extended to everyone--common to all.  Wikipedia defines it this way:   "It is “common” because its benefits are experienced by, or intended for, the whole human race without distinction between one person and another. It is "grace" because it is undeserved and sovereignly bestowed by God. In this sense, it is distinguished from the Calvinistic understanding of "special" or "saving" grace, which extends only to those whom God has chosen to redeem." Source:

Last fall, a friend of my husband's recommended that he read Abraham Kuyper's book on Common Grace.  So, I was excited to come across a new translation from Christian's Library Press titled Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art.  Kuyper's book De Gemene Gratie was actually a large three volume work.  There aren't any full translations of Kuyper's book into English, but the Acton Institute (which published this book) has embarked upon a project to fully translate this book.  Wisdom and Wonder is the first selection from this project--it is two sections that were mistakenly omitted from the first edition of De Gemene Gratie and were added to a later edition.

Abraham Kuyper lived from 1837-1920.  He founded a university and political party in the Netherlands.  He also served as prime minister of that country for four years from 1901-1905.  He believed strongly in the role and responsibility of Christians to be involved in the culture they live in.  

Kuyper saw common Grace ..."(as) God's preserving work in the created order." Pg. 25  Interestingly, "Common grace is God's restraint of the full effects of sin after the Fall, preservation and maintenance of the created order, and distribution of talents to human beings." pg. 26 in the Introduction.  

I believe it is very important to engage with the culture we live in--to not run away from science and art.  Kuyper operated from a view of science that is different than our culture holds today.  "Kuyper understood science in a broad sense to refer to something belonging to creation, something God made, to which the Creator assigned a unique calling." Pg. 20  Science came into being because of God, in Kuyper's view.  How different that is than how we view it today!  It is very easy to become cynical today and feel that what we do makes no difference in this world.  But, we have to guard against cynicism.  We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and for many that means being called to public service, the study of science, or the arts.  We can glorify God in these occupations and in all our involvement in political and cultural domains.  The goal of the translator and editors of this book is that it would whet people's appetites to care and engage with our culture.  

So, I have to stop here and make a confession.  I understood the Introduction and am so glad that I read it.  I began reading Part One on Science, but stopped.  It is too dense for me.  My husband, though, read most of the book.   My husband would say it isn't to dense for me--that I just need to work harder to understand it.  I know he sincerely believes that I could process the writing in this book.  But, God gives each of us different gifts and capabilities.  I am thankful that when he reads a book like this one it makes a lot of sense to him and he retains the information.  The problem for me is that in the midst of juggling all of my responsibilities to my family I don't have enough space, peace, and quiet to focus long enough to process this book and the deep theological and philosophical underpinnings and outworkings of the concept of common grace.  This book is very dense, because Kuyper was a deep thinker who had a lot of valuable thoughts to share.  

If you are interested in Kuyper's ideas and want to learn more, I'd suggest you read a preview of the book on Amazon.  I do think this book is more readable than a lot of theology books I've tried.  

I am glad the Acton Institute cares about our culture and is actively seeking to promote the ideas that will give people ammunition to fight the growing cynicism of our culture towards helping others and engaging with the political and cultural realms of where they live.  If you would like to learn more about the Acton Institute, please go HERE.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Christian's Library Press.

Death for the Christian

Three seemingly random thoughts...

1)  My middle daughter loves to read Revelation.  Revelation?  Really?  Yes, really.  I'm not exactly sure why, but it may have something to do with how much she loves the Chronicles of Narnia, if I were to wager a guess.  

2)  A friend of mine told me that her mom's pastor doesn't believe in Hell and preaches that if you are a good person, you'll go to heaven.  My friend was concerned about new believers who hear this message.

3)  A few years ago, Rob Bell wrote Love Wins created quite a stir by proclaiming that God would not send people to hell, or at least only a very few.  He proclaimed that a loving God would not send people to Hell.  What he actually believes is difficult to pinpoint, because he is known for making unclear and evasive statements.

Three thoughts that all link together because of a common thread--hell and death.  Is there really a hell?  What does it look like?  What does the Bible say about it?  Everyone has questions.  Some people I know leave them at the Lord's feet and trust God with what they don't understand.  Some people I know dig into the Word to find what it says about hell and death.  Some people like me, simply feel puzzled.

Because of my quandary and uncertainty of how to explain death to my children, I was interested in a new book a friend recommended to me, written by Michael Allen Rogers.  The title of the book is 
What Happens After I Die?  The book is the compilation of a sermon series that he preached to the congregation of Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  

This is a pretty deep book.  I learned a lot from it, though.  This book is a sound response to the liberal theology of Rob Bell and others that is getting a lot of press.  Rogers begins by examining the Old Testament idea of hell and then moves on to what the New Testament says.  He examines the claims of folks who believe there is no hell or that hell is not everlasting--that there is a one time punishment (annihilation).    Finally, he examines what the Bible says about children and hell.  

For me, this is a reference book.  I have so much going on that it is difficult for me to sit and process all of the information in it.  For this reason, it has taken me several months to get around to reading it.  I finally got through a large portion of it on our two most recent road trips.  Reading keeps my quiet and my husband gets to drive in peace without me constantly talking.  So, it works for both of us.  

There was one particular point that he makes early in the book that was very interesting to me.  He explains in the book that the Old Testament is very vague about hell, or sheol.  As a result, Jews have looked to God primarily for protection and provision--in this life.  Their emphasis is on the quality of life--in this life.  In Contrast, Christians focus on what Christ did on the cross for them.  He died.  For us.  Why?  To save us from Hell.  As sinners, we would go to hell if we aren't forgiven.  So, for Christians, the emphasis of their faith is on God's protection, provision, and salvation  

I appreciated Rogers connecting each chapter to current illustrations.  He makes it personal and helps the reader understand why all of this examination matters.  Because it does matter quite a lot.  

I was quite concerned when I heard about Rob Bell's book and I am thankful to have a resource that has all the theological support I need to discuss Bell's ideas in an intelligent manner.  I tend to get into such discussions in random and unlikely places.  

If you have been confronted by another Christian's claims that there is no hell, I'd recommend this book.  You don't have to read the whole book, though it would make more sense read as a whole.  You can jump around and still get the gist of the theological underpinnings of a biblical idea of hell.  

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

The Next One

Last year, I read a Christian Fiction book that I really enjoyed, A Change of Fortune by Jen Turano.  It was a melodrama, which is apropriate--I think--for historical fiction.  Why I liked it was that it was funny.  There were a few scenes that genuinely made me laugh.  I have found this to be rare in Christian fiction.  Because of this, I looked forward to reading the second book in the series.  

The second book is titled A Most Peculiar Circumstance.  This story focuses
on Miss Arabella Beckett, the sister in law of the main character from A Change of Fortune, Eliza.  She is in trouble at the beginning of the story and Mr. Theodore Wilder rescues her and returns her to her family.  The remainder of the story focuses on the chemistry between these two characters and threats to Miss Beckett's safety.  

The verdict?
The writing is fine.  It isn't unusually good, but it's fine.  I didn't laugh the way I had hoped I might again.  This story felt even more melodramatic than the first novel.  The plot keeps moving.  It is very unexpected.  It followed similar patterns of action as the first, which made it feel less unique.  I liked Arabella Beckett's character, but strangely enough really didn't like Eliza as much as I had in the first book.  She was a bit too sappy!

If you're looking for a melodramatic historical fiction that you can sit down to read over a cup of tea, then this book would work just fine...

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

Monday, July 1, 2013

Engaging in Reality

This past week my husband and I went to a Christian camp full of junior high kids.  Our kids went along with us.  We split the counseling duties.  I went to everything in the mornings and my husband went in the afternoon / evenings.  There were a lot of interesting things that I noticed and thought about, but one of them was the constant presence of the internet and cell phones--even at a Christian retreat.  I didn't expect this, because our kids had been asked to not bring anything electronic and I didn't see them using anything at any of the meetings or carrying any phones.  But, the two college counselors did have their phones and we did too, in case we needed to find each other or get a message to each other.

At one point in the week, I thought about my summers that I spent on staff at Quaker Meadow Camp in the Sequoia National Forest in my 20s.  There was a phone in the staff lounge, but people didn't have cell phones back then.  We still used pay phones when we needed them.  I wondered if it would be different there now.  But, I realized it probably wouldn't.  The camp was remote and couldn't get television reception.  I'm sure cell phone coverage is also spotty at best.  Or at least I hope so.  The point of camp is to get away.  But, I think it's harder today than it was fifteen years ago, because of the internet and cell phones.

I don't normally turn on my cell phone.  It's a seven year old prepaid phone that I use for emergencies and rare phone calls while I'm out and about.  I have put off texting as long as I could.  I can honestly say that I had never texted before this week.  But, I took the plunge this week and sent my first text.  I sent a few texts and made three or four phone calls to check in with my mom who was caring for our dog.  As we approached our home after the week, I pressed the off button on my phone.  I was glad to do it.  So, that's me and the phone in my life this week.  But, it looked a little different around camp.

The role phones played in people's lives around the camp surprised me.  My husband watched as one of the other counselors texted during a worship song.  I watched as counselors texted through the evening activities, not even realizing that the texting steals their attention from the kids they've come to love on.  I watched as my daughters played games on the phone of a little friend who had very kindly let them play on her phone.  After a few minutes, I told Autumn to give the phone back and enjoy the time with her friends.  I wanted her to be present and enjoy reality.  

Was it all necessary?  Was it good?  What gets lost when the phones and ipods turn on?  These are the things I often think about.  I want my kids to understand the value of really focusing on people and giving them the gift of their attention.  I fear that this gift is going to become even rarer in the years to come.

I wish I could stand on a mountain top and shout, "Turn off your phone!" or "Turn off your phone and listen!" or "Turn off your phone and be still!"  But, there's no mountain for me to stand on.  All I can do is turn off my phone, listen to people, and teach my kids to listen.  I hope they will be strong enough to fight the battles that will wage against them, trying to divide their attention and focus.