Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior (Book Review)

Hannah More might possibly be the most famous woman I'd never heard of.  She was a poet, a playwright, an ardent abolitionist and educational reformer and a contemporary of William Wilberforce, John Newton, David Garrick, and Dr. Johnson.  Her writing had a profound effect on British culture and influenced the "modern" thinking that produced the Victorian Era with all its reforms on manners and family life. 

Karen Swallow Prior's book is at once academic and approachable.  Each chapter highlights a different aspect of More's remarkable life. We learn about More's extraordinary talent at writing, about her successes in London society and her involvement with the Bluestocking Circle (a group of women writers and intellectuals).  Though Wilberforce is more well known for his tireless work toward abolition of slavery,  Prior contends that More's connections in London society and her wit and talents were just as influential.

Then there's More's involvement in the Clapham Sect, her championing of educational reform for women, her interest in animal welfare,  her contributions to the Sunday School movement, her work in missions. The list of her accomplishments is long and deep.  If she hadn't been maligned by one biographer and swept away in the post-Victorian backlash, her legacy could not have been buried.

This is simply one of the best books I read all year.  Prior's doctoral dissertation provided the research base, but her writing style propels the reader through the story. Each chapter turns up another aspect of More's life and Prior includes the unflattering aspects along with the good ones.  In doing so she presents More as wholly human, but with a fierce spirit that makes her one of my new heroes.

Note: Fierce Convictions is on Christianity Today's list of the best books of 2014. Well deserved.

I received a copy of this book from Book Look Bloggers in return for an honest review.

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist
Karen Swallow Prior
Nelson Books, 2014

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why Are We Here?

A few months ago we stopped attending our church's contemporary service because I questioned some of the content in our congregation's worship music.  There's been a slow drift over the past couple of years toward bringing in popular secular music as a worship response.

Sure it's fun, and you can dance to it, but are we neglecting the gospel?  When I've shared my concerns I get mostly blank stares or half-hearted attempts to justify.  People automatically assume that I don't like contemporary Christian music.  Not true.

I'm not trying to be a spoilsport. It's just that my mouth can't sing "Lean on Me" when my heart, soul, and mind want to sing "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms."

Thus, it saddened me today to see the juxtaposition of Offeratory music between the contemporary and traditional services.  I wasn't at the contemporary service, but a sympathetic friend told me she thought of my decision this morning.  Since I wasn't there, I grabbed a bulletin from the 9:30 service and there it was.

In praise to our glorious Father in Heaven, our contemporary service offered "We are Here" by Alicia Keys (who sang it on the Today Show--so that makes it OK!)

We are here for all of us.
We are here for all of us.
That's why we are here, why we are here.

Good news indeed!

In contrast,  the traditional service responded to the Word of God with   "My Jesus, I Love Thee"

My Jesus I love thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, 'tis now.

What is our purpose?  What is our witness to the world?  Whose gospel do we preach?  What encouragement do we give to believers?  Go ahead and call me out of touch, a traditionalist, or whatever name you will.

I know why I'm here.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The One Year Devotions for Active Boys (book review)

I would really love to get my boys into a devotion book with me. I use the YouVersion app to read my daily devotion and my boys (and I)  love watching any of the What's in the Bible-themed devos (produced by Phil Vischer of Veggie Tales fame), but I have trouble getting them to listen to a written devotional.

The One Year Devotions for Active Boys is my best hope right now as they approach the preteen years.  This devotional is divided into days of the year and each page contains a theme for the day: expressed in a story, a skit, or a passage to read and think about.  This is followed by a puzzle or instructions for an activity, a brief prayer, and a Bible verse.

The passages lend themselves well to being read out loud as a family, the puzzles are fun (but not too challenging), and the activities definitely appeal to my active boys.  April 1 has some harmless pranks; May 6 includes a balloon sword fight. There are jokes and tongue twisters and weird facts about different things.

I like the writing style of the messages: conversational and not too heavy-handed, but with a solid Biblical foundation. The daily activities are fun to try as a family.  I just wish the Bible portion was labeled as that and not as coming from "Life's Guidebook".  I understand where the authors are coming from, just wish they would not shy away from the word Bible.

It's meant to be used as a family, perhaps after school or dinner or during some downtime (not before bed!).   Fun and thought provoking and not a video screen in sight.  Not for preschoolers.  Best for ages 9 and up.

I received this book from the Tyndale Blog Network in return for an honest review.

Brave Mom: Facing and Overcoming Your Real Mom Fears (book review)

Brave Mom by Sherry Surratt
Fear, at the appropriate moment, is a good thing. However, sometimes we let our fears about our children dominate our lives and we can wind up spending much of our time worrying about things that are not likely to happen.

What mom doesn't battle fear at some point:
*  Can I handle being a mom?
*  Is my toddler always going to have behavior problems?
*  Will my child be safe?
*  Will my teenager go astray?
*  Will my adult child succeed?

Sherry Surratt, President and CEO of MOPS International, addresses these fears--and more--in her book Brave Mom: Facing and Overcoming Your Real Mom Fears.

Surratt reveals the havoc that fear, anxiety, and perfectionism can play in our lives. She has us examine some common safety-related fears to see how reasonable and probable they are. She specifically addresses the fears that accompany the life stages of being a mom. Then she addresses how we can face and manage our fears and not only become brave moms, but raise brave children as well.

Surratt loads Brave Mom with anecdotes and advice that is based in faith and common sense. In the tradition of MOPS-related books, it's filled with practical, down-to-earth advice that most women can relate to.  My children are school-aged, but I remember having some of those early fears (that never came to fruition) and I eagerly read the section on teenagers, since that's the stage that's on the horizon.  I feel encouraged by her words and by the words of other women whose contributions Surratt included in this book.

Brief chapters, questions and answers, and end of chapter reflection/discussion questions make this ideal for a mom's group.  Highly recommended!

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers in return for an honest review.

Brave Mom: Facing and Overcoming Your Real Mom Fears
Sherry Surratt
Zondervan, 2014

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book Review: Moses Leads the People (An I Can Read! book)

I just love the I Can Read! book series for beginning readers and I'm happy to find that they have a series of Bible stories from ZonderKidz. 

This book, Moses Leads the People, is based on the Adventure Bible and is rated at "Level 2: Reading with Help".  Level 2 books are meant for children who are beginning to be confident readers, but who still need a little help with unfamiliar words.  Books like Amelia Bedelia and Frog and Toad are Friends also fit in this category.

There are 28 pages of text with large print, 2-4 sentences on each page, and plenty of colorful pictures.  The editors try to be sensitive to difficult subject matter (death of the firstborn shown as mother sitting on an empty bed with face in hands) while staying true to Scripture. 

Because this is meant for children beginning to read longer sentences, they're probably in 1st or 2nd grade and have heard the story of Moses, the 10 plagues, and the Exodus before. However, adults might want to be on hand to answer any questions.

There are a few words kids will need help with: plagues, Pharoah,  Israelites, Egypt.  But there's plenty of repetition so that kids can practice their reading skills.

I love the fill-in-the-blank bookplate inside the front cover that says "Hooray, ________________ can read this book!" What a terrific confidence builder for a young reader. 

This is a  great starting point for kids learning how to read Scripture on their own.

Moses Leads the People  (Adventure Bible)
Zonderkidz/I Can Read! book

I received a review copy of this book from Book Look Bloggers (Thomas Nelson) in return for an honest review.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Book Review: The Spirit-Filled Life by Charles F. Stanley

Once in awhile a book comes along---just at the right time--with a message that I need to hear. This is one of those books.

In The Spirit-Filled Life: Discovering the Joy of Surrendering to the Holy Spirit, Charles Stanley examines contemporary ideas about Christian living (the "Adequate Christian Life") and challenges us to go deeper into a relationship with the Holy Spirit to find peace and joy.

Chapters address who the Spirit is...and isn't.  Stanley discusses the difference between gifts of the Spirit and fruits of the Spirit (everyone has gifts; not everyone bears fruit).  He reminds us of the importance of reading and memorizing principles from Scripture (the sword of the Spirit).  He counsels us in how to recognize the ways that the Spirit speaks to us: Scripture, wisdom, conscience, and peace.

There's so much that I loved about this book, that it's difficult to fit it into a review.  What I liked best was the practicality and the way Stanley's writing ministered to me, particularly in the area of discernment and allowing the Spirit to guide me:
  • Instead of memorizing Scripture promises, learn Scripture principles: truths that can help me take thoughts captive and deal with temptation
  • How to prepare my heart to be neutral while waiting on the Spirit (instead of doing something and asking the Spirit to bless it)
  • Discerning the leading of the Spirit through looking for the markers of peace, wisdom, and Scripture, and allowing the Spirit to use my conscience.
I filled this book with post-it notes. Time to go back with a highlighter, pen and paper.  One read through was not enough.

Highly recommended.

The Spirit-Filled Life: Discover the Joy of Surrendering to the Holy Spirit
by Charles F. Stanley
Thomas Nelson, 2014

I received a review copy of this book from Book Look Bloggers (Thomas Nelson) in return for an honest review.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: Good News for Weary Women

The title of this book grabbed my attention right away; what busy, working mother isn't weary and in need of a little good news?

However, this book doesn't address the sort of general weariness that busy women experience from just getting through the day.  The author is primarily interested in the bondage women face when they're trying to please God through their to-do lists, clean houses, committee meetings and endless other activities.

I count myself fortunate to not have experienced much of the pressures that Elyse Fitzpatrick discusses in this book: the checklists, bad advice, and burdens heaped upon women in order to feel worthy. 

Some of the bad news that women receive include pressure that a godly woman should:
  • Always have a clean, well-decorated house
  • Always have well-behaved (and groomed) children
  • Always be willing and ready to pursue romance and intimacy with her husband
  • Make all their food from scratch
  • Study the Bible and pray every day...without fail
  • Don't speak up or ask too many questions in church
Fitzpatrick counters this with the Good News that a woman's highest calling is to believe: to rest and rejoice in the work that Christ accomplished.  When we seek to earn God's favor--or become "good enough"--through our own actions, we fall into the trap of legalism and heap unnecessary burdens on our shoulders.

Fitzpatrick is careful not to swing far in the other direction (It doesn't matter what you do.) and she acknowledges that women find joy in homemaking and serving.  But she endlessly cautions against pursuing any activity because we believe it will lead to salvation or greater holiness.

I love how she explains that some of our American Christian beliefs are actually closer to Karma than Christ and how we sometimes take something that pleases God (X) and feel that, if we add to it (Y) we somehow make God happier. You don't have to belong to a legalistic church to have heard that.

Each chapter contains question for discussion and reflection and this would make a fantastic book study for a women's group.

Highly recommended for its Scripture-based advice, warm writing style, and thoughtful end-of-chapter questions.

Good News for Weary Women: Escaping the bondage of to-do lists, steps, and bad advice
Elyse M. Fitzpatrick
Tyndale House Publishers

I received a copy of this book from the Tyndale Blog Network in return for an honest review.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Review: Know the Heretics

If you've ever heard of the Gnostics or Pelagius and wondered what they had to do with church history and heresy and how they're relevant today, author Justin Holcomb has written a book for you. 

Each chapter in Know the Heretics provides historical context, why the teaching was heretical, what the orthodox church's response was and how knowing about each heretical theology is relevant today.  Holcomb closes each chapter with discussion questions for a small group and a brief bibliography for learning more.

Chapters include:

By arranging the heresies historically, Holcomb also instructs readers on how the church had to define beliefs on the character of God, the nature of Christ, the persons of the Trinity, and the means of salvation.

This is not an easy subject and this book, though brief, is not a quick read.  However, Holcomb provides enough information to begin a study on each historical heresy.  It's particularly good that he includes a section on contemporary relevance, since some of these heresies refuse to die and persist in modern churches, particularly churches that are moving away from using established church creeds and historical study.  Whether you always agree with Holcomb's conclusions or not, this is the sort of book that makes you think about what you believe, about what your church is teaching, and about the message of contemporary Christianity in light of the historical church.


I received a copy of this free from Book Look Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Book Review: Zondervan Essential Atlas of the Bible

One of the most fascinating classes I took in seminary was Historical Geography of the Bible a.k.a "The Maps Class."  We studied the Bible through the study of the land and the ways that people moved and settled in the Holy Land. It really added a new dimension to my personal Bible study.
This atlas provides a similar service.   The first few chapters of the atlas discuss the geography of the Middle East which is useful for understanding why some of the events unfolded the way they did.   Subsequent chapters take readers through Biblical history with maps and charts detailing the movement of the Patriarchs, the conquest of Canaan, the kingdom united and divided, the time between the Testaments and the time of Jesus and the early church.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of information that Zondervan packed into this 160 page atlas. (It's a bookshelf book that would fit into a tote bag--not a coffee table book.)   Readers have around 200 detailed maps and photographs to examine, plus color charts, tables, and graphs that provide historical context and relevant information for each section. Carl Rasmussen's articles on the different periods of Biblical history are detailed and his writing style is easy for laypeople to follow. He provides ample Biblical citations and explains where archaeologists are still trying to determine location for Biblical events.

This is much more than just an atlas to look up places on maps. The articles are a helpful companion as you study the Bible and the Scripture index helps locate maps and charts relevant to a passage.  

Highly recommended.   An essential reference for anyone who's serious about Bible study.  Also useful for anyone planning a trip to the Holy Land.

I received a copy of this atlas from Booklook Bloggers in return for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Book Review: Schools in Crisis by Nicole Baker Fulgham

Schools in Crisis is one of a series of "Frames" published by the Barna Group. Each of the Barna Frames provides data-driven information about a particular social issue or trend. The Frames are meant to be an overview, a discussion starter, and possibly a springboard to action for a group of interested people.

This particular frame focuses on America's public schools. Barna's research found that 46% of Americans think public schools are on the decline and fewer than half of Americans view public schools favorably.  While more than 77% of Christians believe that they should get involved in public schools, many are unsure how to get involved or feel that schools don't want Christians to be involved.

Author Nicole Baker Fulgham introduces readers to the world of students at low-performing (mostly urban) schools and the need for Christians to take an active role in mentoring, tutoring, and otherwise supporting schools as they work to overcome overwhelming social and educational problems.

The final chapter briefly introduces us to a church in Oregon that has gotten involved and provides advice for finding ways for churches to partner with schools in crisis.

I was interested in this Frame because I work at an urban school that is succeeding, largely through the efforts of dedicated staff and numerous volunteers who support teachers and students.  My own church partners with several local schools to address the needs of children who run the risk of going hungry on the weekend when no school breakfast or lunch is available.

I applaud Nicole Baker Fulgham for her call to Christians to engage this social problem head on.  She invites Christians to get involved directly through volunteering, but also encourages Christians to take on the role of advocate with local school boards and state and local governments to provide better funding and to learn about the social issues that impact the community.

Although Schools in Crisis is brief--a mere 72 pages of discussion--it packs in a good deal of well documented research and personal stories.  I agree with Fulgham; this is an issue that Christians should engage--not to throw stones at public schools, but to help lift up the teachers, staff, and students in at-risk schools.

This is a social issue that impacts everyone in America, whether you have children or not. Highly recommended.

I was provided with a copy of this book by HarperCollins Christian Publishing in return for an honest review.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Review: The Adam Quest

The full title of this ambitious work is The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists Who Held on to a Strong Faith While Wrestling with the Mystery of Human Origins and author Tim Stafford has condensed a tremendous amount of research into a highly accessible book for laypeople.  You won't find an in-depth explanation of the scientific work involved, but you will get the flavor of current research and meet some notable scientists who spend their days researching questions about life on earth.

Stafford, who is Senior Writer for Christianity Today, provides a snapshot of 11 different scientists whose work converges on one of 3 different Christian beliefs about evolution and creation:  young earth creation,  intelligent design, and evolutionary creation.  The scientists disagree with each other on how life has and is developing, but all hold firm to the belief in God as creator.

Some names might be familiar to readers: Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box.  Others might be known more for their discoveries: Mary Schweitzer's discovery of blood vessels in a T. rex bone.  Within the chapters readers discover how these scientists came to faith and how their beliefs clashed with and developed while working alongside well known scientists such as Jack Horner and Stephen Jay Gould.  The men and women Stafford profiles are not lightweights; they're well educated, thoughtful, inquisitive, and articulate.

My main takeaway from this book is a list of names to look for and some additional books to read. As a former science teacher, I've followed this debate and am dismayed--as Stafford and the scientists he interviews are--that too many Christians and scientists feel that faith and science are mutually exclusive. This leads to anti-intellectualism on one side and empty materialism on the other.

One of my favorite sections is where Ard Louis discusses the false notion that science is the arbiter of all truth.  If someone notices a kettle on the stove and asks "why is the water boiling?", a mechanistic explanation provides the pure science involved in transmitting energy and changing the velocity of water molecules.  On the other hand, "why is the water boiling?" can also be answered "I'm making a cup of tea." Both explanations are true. Science will never give us the whole picture and God is not diminished when we examine the wonders of His creation.

I highly recommend this book as an introduction to the different schools of thought on creation and as a book for small group study.  I would like to see a video series or study guide developed to accompany this book.

The Adam Quest
by Tim Stafford
Thomas Nelson

I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in return for an honest review.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Our Lego Problem

At last count we had a bazillion Legos, most of which were once assembled into models, then taken apart and scattered around the house.  Keeping the collection contained became an all consuming passion a couple of years ago.

Stage 1: The Beginning
One of the grandmothers scored a Lego table at a church rummage sale for something like $10 (!) and that was good for building. We kept the blocks in a large container, but nobody wanted to rifle through it to build anything new. Not good.

Stage 2: The Legos must be contained
Summer 2012 found us sorting Lego by color into gallon freezer baggies. This worked OK and more unplanned building occurred, but nobody wanted to clean up after the Legos were dumped out.  Really not good.

By December 2012 I decided that we needed individual boxes for each color.  I discovered Really Useful Boxes at Office Depot and waited for the after-Christmas-get-organized sale.  The 12"x12" boxes are shallow enough to allow the boys to sift through their collection and they can build projects on the lids.  Cleanup is easy, the boxes stack well, and they're very rugged. I'd say unbreakable, but one of the boys managed to chip off a piece of a lid while standing on it.
Lego Headquarters

Stage 3:  The models stay built
With the arrival of the X-wing fighter, one of the boys realized that he wanted this model to stay built. So we needed something on which to store models.  Some older toys were discarded to free up space on a bookshelf.  I also found an IKEA Lack table at Goodwill which became a display center.

But the boys wanted something on which to display their minifigs.  Lego sells a display case for $25, but it didn't hold many.  I searched Pinterest for solutions and found one family that had repurposed a silverware tray and one who had painted a shadowbox white. I can do that!

I went to one of the local Goodwill stores and found a toy cash register tray and a dinged-up wall shelf.  A couple of coats of spray paint later, I had a shelf for small models and a nifty minifig cabinet.  I cut a large Lego flat into strips with a utility knife and used contact cement to glue them to the shelves of the tray. (Thank you Jedi Craft Girl!)

Now that they have easy access, a place to build, and a place to display, the guys are enjoying their Legos again.  I'm happy that the living room doesn't look like a Lego outlet anymore.

Now the guys want a "Lego Closet" in their bedroom.  'Cause who needs clothes anyway....

Shalom y'all!