Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Jesus Book by Stephen Elkins; ill. by Claudine Gevry

Who is Jesus?
What did he do?
Where did he live?
Why did he die on a cross for me?

Author Stephen Elkins created The Jesus Book "to help teach children about the life of Christ and how to enter into a life-long relationship with him." Gevry's whimsical illustrations lovingly portray Jesus as a man who laughed and cried, while Elkins explores Jesus' humanity and divinity.

Elkins has done his homework. The text is comprehensive, introducing prophecy and theology in a manner that's simple enough for primary grade children to understand. The section entitled, "What Jesus Did" explores Jesus' power over nature, sin, life, and death. The section on "What Jesus Taught" introduces the Lord's prayer, the Golden Rule, and the Great Commission.

Yet it's not simplistic. Elkins's explanations of "ministry," "baptism," and "God's kingdom" are deep enough to inspire parents to use this book to refine their own understanding as they learn along with their children.

The Jesus Book is designed for families to read together. My two preschool children have commandeered the accompanying CD, which contains children singing classic hymns, scripture, and songs about Jesus. As they grow older we'll work into the lessons in the text using it to supplement and support scripture.

This is a delightful book and a great addition to our family bookshelf.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Throwing Rocks

I never realized how rocky the Appalachian mountains were until this week. My boys have hoisted heavy rocks, climbed boulders, and pocketed pebbles. However, their favorite thing to do with rocks is throw them: into the woods, off a ledge, down the slope, into the water. They can't get enough of this.

I was thinking last night about stone throwing in the Bible. David felled Goliath with a stone (at least my guys don't have slingshots--yet). Jesus saved the adulteress from the mob in the Temple, saying "Let him who is without sin among you, cast the first stone." A mob stoned Stephen, while Saul/Paul watched.

Our rock throwing adventures brought to mind something else: a service I attended a few years ago at a local messianic synagogue. Tashlich is a ceremony carried out on the afternoon of Rosh HaShannah or on the following day. Tashlich means "you will cast away" and during the service we symbolically cast off our sins. After a time of reflection and preparation we walked down to Tampa Bay, picking up small stones along the way.* We collected stones to symbolize sins. It was humbling to pocket each stone and feel the weight increase with each new addition. After a time of prayer and repentance we threw our stones into the bay--casting them off as far as we could throw. Those rocks were gone, never coming back, you couldn't have retrieved them from the bottom of the bay if you tried. My pockets felt empty and light.

As we threw our rocks, we remembered that God is faithful to forgive sins, that Jesus (Yeshua) died for our sins, and we meditated on the text for Tashlich: Micah 7:18-20.

Who is a God like You,
Pardoning iniquity
And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?

He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights
in mercy.
19 He will again have compassion on us,
And will subdue our iniquities.

You will cast all our
Into the depths of the sea.

20 You will give truth to Jacob
And mercy to Abraham,
Which You have sworn to our fathers
From days of old.

In all the times of confession, in all the worship services I've ever attended, I don't think I've ever felt as forgiven as I did on the shores of Tampa Bay. So much of our Protestant worship is abstract and emotional. It took the weight and feel of throwing rocks to really imprint one of the basic tenets of our faith.

Vacation's almost over. I'll be thinking about this on our final few rock-throwing days--thanking God and praising His holy name.

Shalom y'all.
*Traditionally bread crumbs are cast into the water, or pockets emptied of lint, but some congregations use stones instead.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Flat Tire on the Shoulder of Life

Our Sunday drive didn't go quite as we'd planned. We were cruising through a construction zone, northbound on I-95, preparing for a quick stop in Brunswick, GA. The boys happily watched Kung Fu Panda on the portable DVD. The snacks were holding out. We only had about an hour to go to our destination--a hotel where we could spend the rest of the afternoon swimming and resting after the first leg of our trip.

We were making excellent time.


BW quickly threaded our minivan through the phalanx of barrels dividing the highway from the shoulder. I got out and looked at the back right tire. No problem there. I turned around and saw our flattened, shredded, smoking right front tire. Somewhere we'd picked up a large nail.

As I spoke with the AAA agent I realized that we were in probably the safest spot we could be in, given our situation: a construction barrier behind us, barrels to the side, a wide shoulder, and the mile marker and exit marker just ahead. We praised God for gently placing our damaged minivan in a barrel-sheltered cove.

A half hour later Joe arrived in his company pickup truck. He had all the necessary tools. He followed us to a gas station to add air to our spare tire. He shepherded us toward the local Sears. He even called me back to make sure we were OK.

3 1/2 hours later our newly aligned vehicle sported 4 new tires and we were on our way. We even made it to Savannah with time to swim. As we continued along the northbound lanes we both noticed that, for many miles, there was no safe place to pull off the road. Had our flat occured elsewhere, my family would have been in danger. Further, Brunswick was the only city where a major retailer was open on Sunday--for 80 miles in either direction. We'd stopped in the only place where our car could be fixed that day.

Skeptics might say that if God were really looking out for us, we'd never have had a flat tire. I disagree.

Nowhere in Scripture are we promised that this world will be easy. Our lives don't always go according to our plans. Unexpected nails flatten us with illness, job loss, death of loved ones, pain, heartache. But we serve a mighty God. When dangers surround and threaten us, he shelters us in the palm of his hand as he ministers and changes us.

I pray that I remember this the next time I'm stuck on the shoulder of life.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Escaping the Dragons' Clutches

August in Florida, did I mention how hot it gets?

Seems the only sensible thing to do is leave. We've joined the Florida summer exodus to the North Carolina mountains. It's 72 degrees outside and should get down into the low 50's tonight.

Broil away you dragons. I know you'll be waiting for me to return.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Dragons of August

The dragons of August have firmly coiled themselves around Florida. Their fiery breath steals the air from my lungs when I step outside to get the morning paper. By noon, their forked tongues have licked all the pavements, turning a barefoot stroll into hopping over hot coals. Their weapons are heat, humidity, and hurricanes. My only defense is air conditioning, the technology that makes bearing Florida summers possible.

August is not for the faint of heart. It stares at me from the calendar, daring me to face it one more time. Run errands early. Drink plenty of fluids. Stay indoors after lunch. Wait for the welcome rumble of afternoon thunder and cooling rains. Venture out cautiously after dinner.

If I survive the standoff, sometime in late September, I'll be rewarded with the first cool tease of (still) far away winter: a refreshing breeze.