Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Review: How God Changes People

How God Changes People: Conversion stories from the BibleHow God Changes People by Carine Mackenzie is comprised of 20 conversion stories from the New Testament, each  contained on two facing pages with a full-page illustration to help capture and retain the attention of young readers/listeners. Like many other CF4K titles, this book is printed on colorful, heavy-duty paper that is kid-friendly, aesthetically appealing, and  holds up well to regular reading.

While I typically prefer to read short narratives directly from the Bible, a book of this nature can be advantageous for a number of reasons. How God Changes People accurately re-tells the Biblical account, including additional facts that aid understanding.  For example, Ms. Mackenzie's account of Nathanael, titled "Faith at the Fig Tree", explains: "A fig tree was often a place where devout Jews went to pray" (pg. 6). This helps young readers understand the significance of Christ mentioning that he saw Nathanael under a fig tree.

Furthermore, while many of these accounts are included in other popular children's Bibles, including Ms. Mackenzie's earlier work, 365 Great Bible Stories, How God Changes People highlights them with a special emphasis on how God brings people to a saving knowledge of Himself. For example, following the account of Lydia, Ms. Mackenzie writes:
"Conversion is a work of God's Spirit. God's Spirit worked quietly in Lydia's heart -- enlightening her mind to know Christ Jesus and renewing her will to accept him, as she listened to the gospel being preached. The fruit of the Spirit followed in her life -- showing love to Paul and his friends, kindness, goodness, gentleness -- in her hospitality" (pg. 40).
If you're looking for a simple, yet Biblical book to introduce your young children to God's work in conversion and the fruit that follows, you will likely find How God Changes People very useful. All of my children (ages 11 months to 10 years) enjoyed this book.

Many thanks to Christian Focus Publications and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Book Review: Words About God

Having six children, ten and under, I love books that we can all enjoy together. Words About God to help you worship Him by Nicholas Choy is one such gem. It has been designed to serve children ages 3 to 11, however, even my infant delights in the fun rhymes and vibrant colors on each page.

Words About GodWhat's particularly fantastic about Words About God is that this book, which is just the right size for little hands (and printed on sturdy paper, to boot!), communicates big truths through memorable word pictures; truths that, often, many "grown-ups" have a difficult time fully comprehending. Some of my favorite children’s books make difficult Biblical concepts accessible to my young children while introducing me to something new; Words About God successfully accomplishes this.

Take, for example, the word “Aseity”:

"Ants are not elephants, and nights are not days. But God differs from us in even more ways!...Aseity is the independence of God from the things He created."
 While I was familiar with this truth, Words About God introduced me to a new vocabulary word and provided me with a playful picture (an ant sitting on an elephant's trunk ;) to better understand and retain that truth. I trust it will do the same for my children and many others who will be blessed to encounter this book.

As partially illustrated above, each page of Words About God begins with a word describing God and a short, simple rhyme, followed by a one to two paragraph explanation for readers with longer attention spans, some Scripture references, and related words to explore. (Although it was sometimes a little tricky finding these related words without an index, table of contents, or page numbers.)

Most importantly, the Good News of what God has done for sinners through Christ is the constant refrain in Words About God. Again and again we see that God is different from us (holy, just, etc.), that we fall short of His holy standard, and that we need a Savior which He has graciously provided for all who believe in Him.

Words About God highlights the many aspects of God’s magnificent character that we might all sing praise to His glorious name. One such characteristic is “Faithful”. Of it, Choy writes:
"We may think that the Bible was written to tell us how to be faithful to God. But really, the main story is how God is faithful to us. The God that made promises of blessing to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David is the same God that sent His Son to fulfill that blessing, and the same God who offers new life to you today."
I never tire of recounting God’s faithfulness, for I am unfaithful, and a faithful God is my only hope. May the God who is faithful from generation to generation, be praised as people explore the depths of His infinite character, perfectly displayed in Christ. Choy gives us another awe-inspiring word picture:
"Imagine that an elephant wanted to become friends with ants and shrunk himself so that the ants could see him. When Jesus came to earth He became like us by giving up His godly glory. He took on a human body (incarnate means "in the flesh") so that He could walk with us and teach us about the invisible things of God."
 All of my kids, from infancy to age 10, thoroughly enjoyed Words About God, as did I. The rhymes, word pictures, and solid, Biblical truth make it a pleasure to read to the kids again and again without getting bored. I highly recommend it!

Many thanks to Christian Focus Publications for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review: The Christian Mom's Idea Book

The Christian Mom's Idea BookThe Christian Mom's Idea Book contains a menagerie of counsel from more than 80 mothers in almost 40 categories. The chapters are short and largely consist of a bullet list, so it is easy for the busy mom to pick up and begin reading wherever one might desire a few extra ideas. The book attempts to give suggestions for questions like: "How do I know when to take my child to the doctor?", "When should I keep my child home from school?", "How do I occupy my child(ren) during long car trips?", "How can I enrich my children's lives and/or be involved in their education?", and much more.

Firstly, and most importantly, while there were Scripture references throughout, there was very little Gospel and almost no focus on heart issues. It seemed to me that there was more of an emphasis on externals such as circumstances and behavior modification rather than on the hidden person of the heart (1 Peter 3:3-4). For example, in order to prevent conflict, the author purchased one boxed cereal for each of her four children and put each child's name on their box (pg. 91). Personally, aside from the expense, nutritional aspects, etc., I wouldn't want to do this because I would miss great opportunities to teach conflict resolution, sharing, and considering others' interests as more important than their own, among other things. I want to deal with my kids' hearts, not simply manipulate circumstances to avoid conflict. Furthermore, the Bible teaches us that kids don't "act out" simply because they are tired (pg. 100) or because someone is eating their cereal, but rather, their actions are a direct result of what is in their hearts (Prov. 4:23). A "great mom" trains and disciples her children, and this is hard, heart work that requires much discernment. In The Christian Mom's Idea Book, there are many instances in which the advice suggests an easy way to avoid circumstances that might produce conflict rather than doing this hard, heart work.

There were also lots of suggestions for using rewards and/or incentives like paying kids for everything from folding laundry to reading. While this may not be wrong, in and of itself, I want my kids to learn to serve because it honors God, not because they're going to get something in return. I also want my kids to realize that reading in and of itself is rewarding. Again, I want to be very careful to consider what is going on in my kids' hearts.

In a number of instances, I felt that The Christian Mom's Idea Book was somewhat worldly in its content. For example, with regard to clothing and mothers, one tip says: "Since I don't want my son to be embarrassed to introduce me to his friends, I try to keep up with the latest styles! I was always proud of my mom because she consistently looked nice, and I want to do the same for my family" (pg. 72).  In contrast, the Bible teaches that "man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart" (1 Sam. 16). It isn't necessarily wrong to want to look nice, but the above reasons are not a good reason for keeping up with the latest styles! If my child is embarrassed of me due to the way that I dress, we have much bigger issues to address than my wardrobe!

Other advice was simply not particularly well-suited for our family. This book is clearly geared toward public school moms. Advice such as: read to your child for fifteen minutes each day, help your child with his/her math facts & memory work, visit the library, etc. isn't particularly helpful as it is already a normal part of our regular routine.

While this book did generate a few new ideas and was easy to read, much of it seemed like basic information that I had encountered elsewhere.  For example, one car travel tip was:
"Use seat belts! Our family travels frequently on long trips around the country, and we have very young children. We find there is little commotion when they are safely tucked into one small area of the car. Each child brings a backpack of things to do: crayons, paper, books, tape players, games, etc." (pg. 58).
However, there were also some unique tips:
"Give young children a box or can of assorted Band-Aids and let them customize the back windows of the car. It takes a long time to open them all, and the Band-Aids can be moved around creatively for a long time!" (pg. 59)
While this isn't something I'd be inclined to try, this may be a great suggestion for somebody.

All of that being said, The Christian Mom's Idea Book isn't prescriptive or legalistic and simply offers basic ideas, tips, and activities that may or may not be taken. Some folks may love it. (Tim Challies, for whom I have a lot of respect, recommended it.) However, I can honestly say, this isn't a book I would purchase.

*Many thanks to Crossway for sending me this book in exchange for my honest opinion! You can visit their blog to see what others thought of this title.