Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Book Review: Filling up the Afflictions of Christ

"Few things inspire me to live radically for Christ more than the story of those who did. I pray that this will be the effect on you as well. The nations are in desperate need. And Christ is a great Savior" (pg. 10).
Filling Up the Afflictions of ChristFilling up the Afflictions of Christ is a book about three men who took seriously the command to take up their cross daily and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). In it, Piper contends that "...suffering is part of God's strategy for making known to the world who Christ is, how he loves, and how much he is worth" (pg. 14). He seeks to explain, through the Scriptures, what it means to fill up the afflictions of Christ and to exemplify his primary thesis, "...that missionary sufferings are a strategic part of God's plan to reach the nations" (pg. 19), through the lives of William Tyndale, John Paton, and Adoniram Judson.

Piper draws heavily from well-written, classic biographies including: WilliamTyndale: A Biography by David Danielle, John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography Edited by His Brother, and To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson. In doing so, he whets the appetite of his reader to digest these 440 to 530-page tomes. However, for those who are limited by time, Filling up the Afflictions of Christ is a concise, easy-to-read, thought-provoking, and encouraging summary of the lives and ministries of these men.

Piper highlights God's providence and the importance of theology and doctrine. He includes relevant warnings for our day. Furthermore, the reader will be encouraged to count the cost of following Christ and to persevere in the midst of criticism and opposition, regardless of whether fruitfulness is readily apparent.

Perhaps one of the most rewarding themes throughout Filling up the Afflictions of Christ is that Piper demonstrates how theology shapes practice. Of John G. Paton, Piper writes: "The courage to risk the loss was remarkable. But the courage to experience the loss and press on alone was supernatural" (pg. 60). He then quotes Paton's autobiography to give the reader a "...glimpse of the theology that we will see underneath this man's massive courage and toil" (pg. 60):
"I felt her [his wife's] loss beyond all conception or description, in that dark land. It was very difficult to be resigned, left alone, and in sorrowful circumstances; but feeling immovably assured that my God and father was too wise and loving to err in anything that He does or permits, I looked up to the Lord for help, and struggled on in his work" (pg. 60-61).
Again, Piper illustrates how theology informed Paton's practice resulting in a peaceful demeanor in the midst of harrowing journeys and significant trials. He writes: "The peace God gave him in these crises was not the peace of sure escape but the peace that God is good and wise and omnipotent and will do all things well" (pg. 78). Piper continues to quote Paton's autobiography, allowing Paton to "speak" for himself.

Likewise, Adoniram Judson's theology informed his practice during times of suffering. Piper purposes " stress that this deep confidence in God's overarching providence through all calamity and misery sustained him [Judson] to the end" and quotes Judson to drive home the point:
"If I had not felt certain that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings" (pg 87).
In spite of the fact that bringing the Gospel to the Nations cost Judson several wives and children, Piper confirms that "...a rock-solid confidence that God is sovereign and God is good" sustained him. Judson recognized that "...all things come from his [God's] hand for the good--sometimes the incredibly painful good--of his children"(pg. 88).

Filling up the Afflictions of Christ is faith building. As Piper recounts the life stories of Tyndale, Paton, and Judson, we see "...that 'the blood of the martyrs is seed,' the seed of new life in Christ spreading through the world (pg. 25). We readily see God's faithfulness as we examine the fruitful results of the sacrifices of these men. We are encouraged as we see again and again that the Gospel is powerful and effective; it "...can and does transform the most unlikely people and their societies" (pg. 68). Additionally, studying the lives of the saints who have gone before us allows us to witness some of the benefits of trials, further building our faith for the trials we are sure to encounter. Piper quotes Paton to reveal how opposition drove him close to God in prayer (pg. 59). Paton's faith stirs my own. Reflecting on a time when he sought refuge in a tree while being pursued by cannibals, Paton writes:
"Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior's spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship" (pg. 82).
Filling up the Afflictions of Christ is filled with helpful and inspiring words. It shows the influence of godly parents who are devoted to prayer, models prayers of faith, and reminds the reader that there is much more to life than comfort and ease. And yet, Tyndale, Paton, Judson, and the women in their lives were just ordinary men and women. It was encouraging to read that they had doctrinal and emotional struggles, darkness of the soul, and second-guessed the motives of their hearts during times of trouble. Piper successfully relays the story of each of these lives in such a way that the reader is able to identify and relate and therefore, be greatly encouraged.

Piper closes with a reminder that "life is fleeting" and a plea to "be a part of what Judson and Christ died for" (pg. 106). He writes:
"Are you sure that God wants you to keep doing what you are doing? For most of you, he probably does. Your calling is radical obedience for the glory of Christ right where you are. But for many of you, the stories in this book are among the hundred things God is using to loosen your roots and plant you in another place. Some of you he is calling to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, to fall like a grain of wheat into some distant ground and die, to hate your life in this world and so to keep it forever and bear much fruit...The question is not whether we will die, but whether we will die in a way that bears much fruit" (pg. 106-107)
 While Filling up the Afflictions of Christ contains a challenge and call to evaluate our lives, it is also so much more. It is an encouragement to run the race that is set before us, as the author of Hebrews so eloquently writes:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV).
"If we must suffer along the way to put Christ's sacrificial love on display, it will be a small price for the inheritance to come" (pg. 117).

I highly commend Filling up the Afflictions of Christ for your edification and the building up of the Body of Christ!

*Many thanks to Crossway for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book Review: God's Great Plan

God's Great Plan
"Read it again, Mommy! I like this story!!"

These are the words that have greeted my ears every time I have read God's Great Plan to my three-year-old, even after we'd read it four times in a row! So, we've read it again and again and again and again, and it hasn't gotten old yet because this story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation NEVER gets old! Melissa Cutrera has creatively written the Good News in rhyme to produce an engaging book for young children.

Like the Apostle Paul, Melissa Cutrera delivers to little ones what is "of first importance...that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures..." (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, ESV). She also accurately introduces theological concepts, incorporating the roles of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, including how each member of the Trinity helps believers now. God has set apart a people for Himself for whom Christ intercedes and the Holy Spirit transforms. Furthermore, she communicates the fact that Jesus Christ is preparing a place for those who believe in Him. God's Great Plan is a theologically rich, yet simply written book.

God's Great Plan is also beautifully illustrated and includes artistic renditions of Biblical scenes that will be recognized by those who are acquainted with the Scriptures. The book would likely benefit from the additional of an appendix containing Scripture references for those who are newer to the Bible. (One could make his/her own insert to place in the back of the book if giving as a gift. Or perhaps the Publisher could make a printable insert for those of us wishing to send these as Christmas gifts. :)

I am grateful that Shepherd Press has produced a high quality book with thick, glossy pages which will hold up to frequent handling by young children because this Biblically faithful, well-written book is sure to be a favorite among the pre-reader crowd!! I highly recommend this delightful, Gospel-centered book for families and people with young children in their midst!!

Shepherd Press has produced a video reading of this book so that you can enjoy this lovely story with your family too! God's Great Plan is for sale on the Shepherd Press website and is currently 50% off (as of 10/16/13).

*Many thanks to Shepherd Press and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a complimentary copy of God's Great Plan in exchange for my honest opinion!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Book Review: Children's Atlas of God's World

Did you know that the Hindi word for bear is bhalu? According to Craig Froman, "This word was the inspiration for the name of the bear in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book" (pg. 59). Are you aware that the smallest island in the world is only large enough for a lighthouse that is over 160 feet tall (pg. 28)? (Do you know where it is?) Have you ever noted that the Eiffel Tower "was designed based on the formation of the human femur or thighbone" which efficiently supports our weight, by God's design (pg. 37). Craig Froman highlights these and many other fascinating facts in his Children's Atlas of God's World.

While there are many interesting tidbits throughout this Atlas, what notably sets the Children's Atlas of God's World apart from similar resources is its emphasis on God as Creator and the fact that it highlights information about Christian history, people of faith, and Christian traditions around the world. For example, the pages concerning Germany relay details about Gutenberg, Luther, Bach, and Handel. Pages portraying Kenya, remind the reader of the Ethiopian eunuch and introduce one to Dr. Johann Ludwig Krapf who "founded the first Christian mission in 1846...and translated the Bible into Swahili" (pg. 52).

Additionally, the Children's Atlas of God's World contains a number of user-friendly qualities that make this an excellent choice for young people who may be new to navigating this type of research tool. Some of these features are noted in the "Table of Contents" and include:

- Grid references;
- Green Highlights throughout the text for cities or sites to be located on the map;
- Red, numbered pins marking landmarks, rivers, or other geographic locations;
- Lettered, green flags denoting special "World Heritage Sites" recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

Each of the above tools make it easier to encourage children to spot the location of the various details about which you are reading together. Each map designates important cities, without providing an overwhelming amount of information.

Numerous, over-sized photos throughout the Children's Atlas of the World make places "come to life" and captivate the reader. Crisp, bright colors contribute to the visual appeal making it hard not to be drawn to this book.

The Children's Atlas of the World also showcases "Biomes of the World", explaining each habitat and what makes it unique by God's design. It contains a "Glossary" of (mostly) geographic terminology with which the young reader may not yet be familiar, as well as, an explanation of various systems of government, a listing of "Holidays Around the World", and an index (which helpfully explains how to use the grid references included on the maps).

Children of all ages (and their parents) will likely find the Children's Atlas of the World a helpful and  informative reference tool for investigating "the wondrous diversity of God's creatures, from killer caterpillars to the longest snakes hiding in the jungle" (from the back cover) and for discovering God's redemptive work in these 22 countries among the seven continents.

If you are interested, you can view many of the fabulous features mentioned above in the following promotional video:

*Many thanks to the Publisher, Master Books (a division of New Leaf Publishing Group), for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Review: Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter Guide

Hawthorne's <i>The Scarlet Letter</i>From the Publisher:
Each book:
  • Includes an introduction to the author and work
  • Explains the cultural context
  • Incorporates published criticism
  • Contains discussion questions at the end of each unit of the text
  • Defines key literary terms
  • Includes brief bibliographies for further study
  • Evaluates the classic text from a Christian worldview through analytic commentary

This guide opens up the signature book of American literature, Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, and unpacks its universal themes of sin, guilt, and redemption." (Elsewhere, this sentence concludes with: "...unpacks its universal themes of sin, knowledge, and the human condition."
My Take:

Ryken begins this guide with a one-page analysis on each of the following topics: "The Nature and Function of Literature", "Why the Classics Matter", "How to Read a Story", and "The Author and His Faith". This introductory matter also includes a two-page, "Book at a Glance" spread, which functions as a basic overview of the entire book. Each chapter of Ryken's guide to The Scarlet Letter includes a plot summary, commentary, reflection/discussion questions, and additional  published commentary. This material aims at explaining the story to aid the reader in thinking critically and exercising discernment as he/she reads. As such, first-time readers will likely want to enjoy The Scarlet Letter, and then, return to this guide for a more detailed analysis lest their reading experience be spoiled.

Ryken seeks to help his reader recognize and evaluate the many religious themes (sin, guilt, confession, salvation) as well as the rich symbolism within The Scarlet Letter. According to Ryken, one of the major contrasts throughout The Scarlet Letter centers between the Romantic worldview and the Christian worldview. In the former, "evil is external and societal", whereas in the latter, there is a "spiritual torment" for the guilty sinner (pg. 50). Ryken notes that these two worldviews differ in their diagnosis of the problem and thus, in their solutions.

While there is much to ponder in this material, one must ask, "Does Hawthorne's novel accurately represent a truly "Christian worldview" or merely a religious mindset?" Although Hawthorne mentions God, forgiveness, mercy, and salvation, he never mentions or alludes to Christ who is the way, truth, and life. The first (and only) mention of "Christ" in this study guide is on Page 67. Ryken writes:
"The very last sentences of Dimmesdale's final, farewell speech are particularly filled with theological and biblical meaning. After cataloging the agonies that Dimmesdale paradoxically claims were part of God's mercy to him, he asserts that if any 'of these agonies had been wanting, I had been lost forever.' To be lost is a loaded theological word that denotes being without salvation in Christ and therefore to be condemned eternally in hell" (pg. 67).
 In spite of the fact that Dimmesdale goes to God for forgiveness, one must ask, "Where is Christ?" There is no mention of the perfect life that He lived, the death He died in the place of sinners, etc. In short, Hawthorne's novel contains no Gospel. So, how does Hawthorne truly represent a "Christian worldview" as Ryken asserts throughout this entire guide? [ex. "Dimmesdale will achieve the salvation of his soul" (pg. 48).] Everything in Scripture points to Christ. Hawthorne fails to accomplish this.

That being said, I think there are many themes that make The Scarlet Letter a thought-provoking novel worth reading. For starters, Hawthorne sees sin as sin, depicts the danger of concealed sin (just like David) and vengeance, and truthfully portrays sexual sin as sin against the soul (without going into any nitty-gritty details). Ryken's guide does a decent job of bringing out some of the significant themes in The Scarlet Letter. Ultimately, Hawthorne and Ryken accurately represent the truth that unconfessed sin causes one to waste away just as it resulted in the demise and death of Dimmesdale.

Additional questions that might have made this guide more helpful include: "What caused Dimmesdale and Hester to commit this sin? Why did Hester confess her sin? Was she repentant?" To some extent, Ryken looks at this as he represents Hester's Romanticist worldview. However, he fails to consider why Dimmesdale never confessed his sin. Ultimately, it seems to be because he feared man rather than God. There is a lesson to be learned here. We must fear God who can cast our souls into Hell rather than man who can merely harm our physical bodies. Most importantly, salvation is to be found in Christ alone, not in merely confessing our sin. The message in these books is sketchy. Scripture says, "If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." How does this happen? We must turn from our sin and toward Christ. This is where Hawthorne and Ryken seem to miss the boat. Ryken analyzes what Hawthorne wrote and labels Hawthorne's message as representing a "Christian worldview", but how can it be a Christian worldview without clearly representing Christ as Savior and Lord? All-in-all, this guide is useful for analyzing themes, but one must bring discernment to Ryken's message as well as the novel.

Other books in the "Christian Guides to the Classics" series include:

Homer's "The Odyssey"
Milton's "Paradise Lost"
Shakespeare's "Macbeth"

Expected in Spring 2014:

Dicken's "Great Expectations"
Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress"

*Many thanks to Crossway for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Book Review: Rain Forest Adventures

Rain Forest AdventuresRain Forest Adventures is comprised of short, two to three page stories that are interesting and informative, depicting the habitat and behaviors of many rain forest creatures. These stories can be read in approximately five to ten minutes or less, and, like other books in this series, each chapter concludes with a short spiritual lesson. Children will likely benefit from further discussion following these lessons as it is somewhat difficult to convey the context and meaning of a Scripture in a few, short sentences.

There were a number of times when Banner's theology seemed ambiguous. For example, he wrote:

"There is nothing at all a caterpillar can do about its future state. It either becomes a butterfly or a moth, according to its kind. It cannot choose between light and darkness. We can. We can be good or bad. We can obey God or disobey Him. We can be saved or lost. And it is for us to choose...Deuteronomy 30:19, 20" (pg 51).

Later, we read:

"It is clear to me that there are two natures common to all men. If we are honest with ourselves we can recognize their presence in our own hearts. We can see them at work in our children. In young and old alike is the conflict between good and bad. Few will dare say that they are all good, yet none will denounce themselves as wholly bad...There is a way, not only to get away from sin but also to keep away. Paul gives us the answer: 'I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.' " at which point Banner quotes James 4:7, 8 (pg. 54).

There were also unclear statements such as "nature" provided emus with long necks (pg. 8) and "As they [termites] contact Mother Earth, they shed their flimsy wings…" (pg. 89).

Ultimately, Banner writes to encourage children to lay up treasures in heaven, to follow Christ who is "the Way", and to fight the good fight of faith. Readers will find themselves challenged to count the cost of following Christ and to persevere during hardship. Along the way, children will also learn many surprising facts about rain forest life. With detailed descriptions of hunting expeditions and forest dangers, Rain Forest Adventures will likely capture the attention of many children (around ages 7-12), especially those particularly interested in wildlife, hunting, and/or the rain forest habitat.

(Note: Several stories are probably not best suited for the sensitive at heart. There is a description of an anaconda attacking a disobedient boy in the river (complete with sketch), as well as, numerous references to killer piranha fish  that only attack where there is bleeding, not to mention wild boars and boa constrictors.)

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: Antarctic Adventures

"The Antarctic is a world of snow and ice. It is a cold and inhospitable place to live but many animals including the impressive Emperor penguin live and breed there. Fur seals and albatrosses are also native to this icy land. However, it is one of the smallest creatures of all - the Krill - that is of vital importance to life there. Find out about the natural habitat, the history of the explorers and the people who are today doing their utmost to protect this sensitive environment. Throughout it all you will see the beauty of creation as well as learning what God can teach you about himself through his world and his word."
 According to my ten-year-old daughter, Antarctic Adventures is interesting and informative. I agree. Ms. Hill's writing is sure to appeal to a wide variety of youngsters, aged 7-12, as she weaves stories of explorers, scientists, and their expeditions with information about the habitat and creatures of the Antarctic. Some may not necessarily agree with all of the author's assertions (ex. man-made global warming), however, her exhortations (ex. be a good steward of God's creation) are no less relevant.

Each chapter of Antarctic Adventures concludes with a spiritual lesson. The lessons would be my only hesitation with this book as they seemed to be somewhat weak (especially when compared to other Christian Focus titles). For example, in the third story, Ms. Hill shares about a scientist who failed to reach his goals but who still contributed valuable research through his failed expedition. She, then, reminds us of Joseph and the trials in his life. She writes:
"...he never complained. He did the work he was asked to do and he did it the best way he could. When things went wrong for him he didn't ask 'why', rather he thought 'what shall I do now?' People learnt to trust him and in the end he became the Pharaoh's trusted right hand man, a position of great honour in Egypt. You may sometimes think that something is 'not fair', that you have done your best, but no one appreciates it. All that matters is that God knows you can be trusted to do the very best you can" (pg. 22).
While it is Biblical that one "do the very best" he/she can (1 Cor. 10:31), this is certainly not "all that matters". Furthermore, it seems to miss the more valuable lesson that God, in His sovereignty, sent Joseph before his brothers to preserve a remnant for Himself (Gen. 45). "All that matters" is that we trust this sovereign God who sent His Son to die on the cross in the place of sinful man that a remnant might come to Him. It matters little if "God knows you can be trusted..."; He is faithful, even when His people are not. There are many other similar examples throughout this book. Ultimately, Antarctic Adventures did not present a clear Gospel message as do other Christian Focus titles. Although this would be expected from a more scientific work, it was disappointing nonetheless given the more than fifteen "spiritual lessons" throughout the book. :(

All-in-all, Antarctic Adventures is a fascinating read. It includes exciting information about scientists racing to the South Pole; helpful scientific explanations (ex. the difference between the fixed South Pole and the Magnetic South Pole and its role with respect to southern lights); unexpected traveling companions; useful inventions; a map, quiz, and more. Antarctic Adventures gives its reader a taste of the subject matter and encourages him/her to do additional research. Young people who are interested in this topic should find it a useful introductory resource. However, one might want to discuss the spiritual applications further.

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Review: A Neglected Grace

"...we cannot speak about the Christian faith impacting our world, our country, or our community if it is not first impacting our homes…" (Jason Helopoulos, A Neglected Grace, Chapter 9).

A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian HomeEveryone lives for something. This something shapes our daily activities.

In A Neglected Grace, Jason Helopoulos offers a thoughtful reflection worthy of consideration:
"A few Christians living under the same roof does not make a place a Christian home any more than two or three bankers living in a house makes it a bank. A Christian home will seek to be centered upon Christ, and if it is centered upon Christ, then it will be filled with worship."
Worship is the end for which we have been created. So, why do we fail to live worship filled lives? In Chapter 1 of A Neglected Grace, Jason Helopoulos answers this question simply and Biblically: sin has resulted in a shift of our object of worship. He writes: "The great sin of the Garden of Eden is fundamentally an exchange in the object of worship" and  explains that Adam and Eve went from worshiping God to worshiping self. Unfortunately, we do the same thing daily.

However, Christians were saved and recreated "to the praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:12). As a result, the Christian family will engage in family worship which, as Helopoulos explains:
" nothing more than our response in the home to God's magnificent and infinite grace. And it is by that grace that we gather together with our family members to delight in His excellent goodness and eternal glory. Family worship is not something we have to do. Our right standing before God is not impacted whether we lead our families in worship or not. Christ has already accomplished all for our salvation. Rather, family worship, like other spiritual disciplines, becomes something we want to do."
A Neglected Grace has been written by Jason Helopoulos "to encourage you and your family to introduce family worship in your home or to persevere in it" and to do so in a way that shows the benefits of family worship without weighing the reader down by guilt. In order to accomplish this, Helopoulos includes a number of quotes from Christians of previous generations such as: Richard Baxter, Jonathan Edwards, John Knox, Charles Spurgeon, and Matthew Henry. He wisely notes:
"In the history of the church and the history of God's people in Scripture, there have always been three clearly defined spheres of worship: secret worship, corporate worship, and family worship."
 Helopoulos gives evidence for and briefly expounds upon each sphere and then, continues to explain how each of the spheres are "related, informed, and encouraged by one another".

In Chapter 2, Helopoulos seeks to lay a Biblical foundation for family worship, highlighting the fact that family worship is not merely a duty but a joyful responsibility.  He asks the reader:
"Do you see yourselves as key figures in the redemptive story?...If we understand the importance of what has been handed down to us then we cannot keep it to ourselves. We must share it."
He reminds us that God's works are to be proclaimed from generation to generation "So that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments." He challenges the husbands to lead their wives and children in the pursuit of God citing First Timothy 5:8 and contending that the "provision" therein is not simply physical since wives and children are not merely physical bodies but have eternal souls for which must husbands must also diligently care. Helopoulos also appeals to mothers throughout the book to pick up this joyful responsibility should the husband be unwilling or unable to do so. "If the father is absent, either physically or spiritually, then this joyful responsibility falls upon the mother."

Chapter 3 of A Neglected Grace outlines a number of other practical reasons to pursue family worship while Chapter 4 details various elements for consideration. Helopoulos writes: "A family that prays together, reads the Bible together, and sings together is a family which is placing itself in the way of God's grace." Interestingly, he calculated:
"If you introduce one new hymn to your family a month...over the course of ten years they will have learned one-hundred-and-twenty hymns." Furthermore, "If your family memorized one verse every two weeks for fifteen years, your children (and you!) will have memorized 390 verses!"
Helopoulos cites many additional blessings of memorization and notes helpful suggestions for making it fun.

In Chapter 5, Helopoulos considers "Our Manner of Worship". Perhaps most challenging for the average family is to strive for regular, consistent times of family worship.  He writes: "...there is nothing that will dilute the benefits and effects of family worship more than family worship that is sporadically practiced."

Helopoulos expounds upon "What Family Worship is Not" in Chapter 6. Among the topics considered, we are reminded that family worship is not a time to rebuke family members but a time to "fix a family's eyes upon Christ above all else and not upon the sins of one another." He also reminds us that family worship is not a guarantee that children will come to a saving faith in Christ (thought it might be a tool).

Helps for the journey are listed in Chapter 7 and common challenges are considered in Chapter 8, including the fact that conviction does not always lead to action. Chapter 9 shares encouraging testimonies "of God's work in the lives of others". Appendices include: "Sample Family Worship Structures"; "Simple Beginnings with Scripture and Prayer" (basic questions to ask of various ages); "Recommended Resources", "Sample Responsive Readings"; and "Catechisms and Creeds".

I trust that many folks will find A Neglected Grace an edifying and God-glorifying read. Jason Helopoulos does families a great service by bringing this much needed, fresh exhortation to pursue God together as families. May many families be encouraged to introduce their families to or persevere in family worship through this helpful resource!!

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: Wondrous Works of God

Wondrous Works of God: A Family Bible Story BookWhen I first saw an online retailer advertising Mighty Acts of God by Starr Meade a few years ago, I thought to myself, "Seriously! Do we really neeeeed another children's Bible? Why shouldn't we just read God's living and active Word to our children?" However, providentially, I came across one of these Bibles, and I have to say, "Mighty Acts of God is one of my favorite children's Bibles!!!" As a result I was extremely excited when Starr Meade authored a second Bible story book, Wondrous Works of God, to share even more of the Bible with young people. What makes these two volumes unique? Why would I urge every Christian parent to read these books to their children?
Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book

There is much to love about Wondrous Works of God and Mighty Acts of God. I love how Starr Meade consistently makes doctrinal concepts accessible to young people (and to me!). These Bible story books are clearly coming from the Reformed camp which makes them unique.  Children will read: that God created all things to show his glory (pg. 18), that "...the love between a husband and wife gives us a picture of the love Christ has for his Church" (pg. 19), what sin is, about God's character (He is merciful, gracious, holy, faithful, etc.), that God "sees every wicked thing done in secret" (pg. 22), and that "God's power and wisdom are so much greater than our own that we can trust him, even when what he does seems wrong to us" (pg. 25). Starr Meade explains what a covenant is, how Abraham was able to intercede for Lot, and how Christ intercedes for us. She also highlights doctrinal concepts like God's providence and sovereignty, perseverance of the saints, and the like. Clearly, Meade emphasizes God's character in a way that is unique among children's story Bibles.

Like several other Bible story books, Meade's Mighty Acts of God and Wondrous Works of God  keep the focus on the grand narrative of the  Redemptive story line of the Bible throughout both volumes. For example, in the account of Korah's rebellion, we read that "Sinners cannot approach a holy God without a priest to offer sacrifices to pay for their sin, and that priest must be the one God has appointed…" After reading about Aaron being God's chosen priest during the time of Moses, Meade writes about our Great High Priest: "The Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect High Priest appointed by God. The only way to God is through Christ" (pg. 59).

Wondrous Works of God and Mighty Acts of God aren't sanitized, dumbed-down story Bibles; they have depth!!! Starr Meade does not merely introduce our kids to good role models nor does she shy away from the truth of God's Word; she tells the hard stories! In each account, we learn something of God's character, something of our nature, and/or something about what God has done for us in Christ. We read about wicked Ahab, Jezebel, and Naboth and see that life in this world is not fair but that there will be a judgment day at which point every evil deed will be punished. We learn to count the cost of following Christ, and we are reminded that God promises His children a future far better than any that might be lost in this world. We read about Hosea and Gomer and learn about our unfaithfulness, God's love and grace, and the promised new covenant. Again and again, we see that God carries out His purposes for His glory because He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. A moralistic story Bible holds out no hope for our shortcomings. However, this is NOT what you will find here. Starr Meade is honest about God's holiness, our sin and need of a Savior, and about Christ. She shows her reader a great God.

There is some overlap between Mighty Acts of God and Wondrous Works of God, allowing them to stand alone or to be used as a complement to one another. Some topics, such as the Passover, are mentioned briefly in Mighty Acts of God (essentially Volume 1), but are covered more thoroughly in Wondrous Works of God (and vice versa). In this example of the Passover, Starr Meade does an excellent job showing how the Passover points forward to Christ in a way that would not have been immediately obvious to a child reading the account in Exodus with no additional commentary.

The Publisher recommends these books for children, ages 4-10. My four-year-old has a rather short attention span and prefers the story-telling format of The Jesus Storybook Bible, however, my six and up crew really love Mighty Acts of God and Wondrous Works of God. Westminster Books and Amazon have lengthy samples which will give you an idea of what to expect from these excellent Bible story books. I like to have my kids begin reading from God's Word as soon as they are able, but I still read story Bibles to them because I think that the additional commentary is beneficial to aid their understanding, assist them as they make connections between passages and concepts, etc. Bible story books should never be a substitute for reading God's Word, however, I think they are valuable in helping our children comprehend Scripture more deeply. I love Meade's Mighty Acts of God and Wondrous Works of God for their unsurpassed theological depth.  It is such a joy to have such God-glorifying, Biblical resources available to aid young people in understanding God's character and work!!

*Many thanks to Crossway for providing me with a complimentary copy of Wondrous Works of God in exchange for my honest opinion! I've been enjoying Mighty Acts of God for quite some time now, and it is exciting to be able to expand the content! :)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Review: Glimpses of Grace





Again and again, God used Glimpses of Grace to remind me that my experience is simply ordinary; and that's a good thing! My struggles, trials, and challenges aren't all that unique; they are, in fact, common to human existence. Some days ARE hard. Some seasons ARE lonely. Sometimes, we hide in the closet and let the tears flow freely. It's all normal in a broken world. It's okay. God has given us grace in Christ and continues to supply all that we need.

Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your HomeGloria Furman and I have been reading a lot of the same authors. The influence of John Piper, Milton Vincent, Wendy Alsup, D.A. Carson, John Calvin, Jeremiah Burroughs and many others was evident throughout Glimpses of Grace. Gloria isn't uncovering new truths in  her book but simply restating the one, essential truth about what God has done for us in Christ again and again and again. She faithfully applies this Biblical truth to home life with a conversational tone and sense of humor that helps her reader treasure God, savor the beauty of Jesus, and keep her eyes on the Gospel by which we can behold the glory of God (pg. 67). She reminds her reader of the importance of taking "...pains 'to study Christ.' We study Christ because we've been saved for the purpose of being transformed into his image, and in our beholding, the work of transformation occurs" (pg. 68).

Reminiscent of John Piper's book, Future Grace, Gloria Furman reminds us to look back and to look forward (pg. 85) and persevere:
"Faith looks backward to the cross and believes that Jesus has purchased every spiritual blessing for us with his blood (Eph. 1:3). Faith also looks forward to the reward of all that God has for us in Christ. This is the kind of faith that changes the way you live today and makes you into a homemaker whose goal and delight is in God and in being conformed to his image" (pg. 165).
I'm not sure if it was my "mommy brain" reading the book, Gloria's "mommy brain" writing the book, or some combination of the two, but there were several times that I had difficulty following Gloria's train of thought. This doesn't necessarily diminish the content of Glimpses of Grace; it just made me feel a little scatterbrained at times as I tried to wrap my mind around what the author was trying to communicate. It sort of reminded me of walking in on the middle of something; I wasn't always sure where it started or how I got quite where I was, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

Gloria sees and communicates the Gospel clearly in many little life moments and shares these anecdotes with her readers. These chapters are encouraging to those who are seeking to "preach" the Gospel truth to themselves again. This is not a practical "how to" book, but an example of how one mom seeks to apply Gospel truth on a daily basis in her home. I think Glimpses of Grace will prove an edifying read to all who desire to savor the beauty of Christ afresh (pg. 58).

*Many thanks to Crossway for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book Review: Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm of Canterbury (Illustrated Christian Biographies for Young Readers)Long time readers of this blog need no introduction to Simonetta Carr or her "Christian Biographies for Young Readers".  Ms. Carr is one of my favorite children's authors due, in large part, to her commitment to "...go beyond the simple story of someone's life by teaching young readers the historical and theological relevance of each character" (from the Copyright Page). There is a purpose and depth to Simonetta's writing which exceeds that found in much of written material for children today.

In her latest title, Anselm of Canterbury, the big question before the reader is, "Why did God have to become man? If God can do anything, couldn't He have saved His people some other way?" With clarity and simplicity, Simonetta Carr presents Anselm's Biblical answer to this question in a way that children can easily comprehend, without over-simplifying the concept. Being a gifted author, Simonetta conveys these truths as she relays the captivating story of Anselm's life without being "preachy" (as some might say).

Like the other books in the "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" series, Anselm of Canterbury is carefully researched, informative, and interesting.  Ms. Carr includes a map, photos, and a timeline to aid understanding. Additionally, the detailed artwork by Matt Abraxas serves to further draw one into the story of Anselm's life. Ms. Carr includes appropriate, well-chosen quotes to accompany her writing. One will also find a clear Gospel presentation throughout Anselm of Canterbury.

As we've come to expect from the "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" series, Anselm of Canterbury is a high quality, hardcover book with thick pages and a sewn binding making it sturdier than many books published today. This makes it a collectible title that will hold up well to many years of use.

Christian Biographies for Young Readers 5 Book SetI highly recommend Anselm of Canterbury and pray that many will grow in their understanding of the necessity of the incarnation and of the importance and value of studying church history as a result of this fine work!!

You can find out more about Simonetta Carr's "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" here, including activity pages for several existing titles (Augustine of Hippo and John Calvin) and a study guide for John Owen.

*Many thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books for providing me with a complimentary copy of Anselm of Canterbury in exchange for my honest opinion!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book Review: Torn to Heal

Torn to Heal is a self-proclaimed "bare bones theology of suffering". In it, Mike Leake is faithful to God's Word, down-to-earth, honest, and Gospel-centered. He has a sense of humor which permeates his writing, making the book an enjoyable read. Leake successfully shows something of the beauty of suffering, the good gift that it is, and how gracious it is of God to allow us to suffer. Although suffering doesn't feel good, there are things that we learn through suffering that would likely never be learned apart from it. In Leake's words: "...sometimes the only possible path to greater joy is the path of suffering" (pg. 37).

One of the most helpful and encouraging facets of Torn to Heal is the way that Leake highlights some of the many benefits of suffering. For example, Job developed a "depth to his relationship with Yahweh [the LORD] he had not enjoyed before the calamity" (pg. 45). Samuel Rutherford also knew something of this, as evidenced when he wrote: "And sure I am, it is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bed-side, and draw aside the curtains, and say, 'Courage, I am thy salvation,' than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong, and never to be visited by God" (pg. 77).

Furthermore, Leake employs numerous word pictures to help the reader better understand the benefits of suffering. One such illustration revolves around playing sports: practices, endless drills, and grueling "suffering"...all discipline that enabled his team to run circles around the opposing team. He then explains what we read in Romans 5:3-4, namely, that suffering is meant to build endurance and perseverance in us (pg. 49). Understanding these truths allows believers to rejoice in suffering.

Another beneficial word picture conveys well that: "Tearing is often the means to healing. Suffering paves the road to eternal joy" (pg. 51). Leake writes about a life-saving surgery that his Dad needed to have, how his dad "had to be radically and deeply wounded in order to be made well" (pg. 36). Afterwards, he explains that we, too, must be deeply wounded in order to be made well. He refers to this as, "Suffering from without promoting holiness from within" (pg. 50).

Throughout Torn to Heal, Leake covers a lot of ground. He makes important distinctions between divine punishment and divine discipline; he examines enemies of our souls with regard to suffering: comfortable dualism & stoic indifference;  and he helps his readers to understand what the apostles knew so well: "Jesus is so precious that the cost of growing closer to him is nearly irrelevant--the price is worth it" (pg. 78). Part of the reason the apostles could count it all joy when they experienced suffering was because they new how desperately they needed it...for...their...souls. Torn to Heal assists the reader in seeing the value of suffering that they too may count it all joy.  "Our loving Father uses the furnace of suffering to separate from us anything that will not lead to our ultimate delight. Though painful at the time, there is a good purpose of God in our suffering" (pg. 86).

BUT...Leake doesn't leave us there. For believers in Christ, our sufferings are temporary. Leake reminds us that Christians are filled with hope because we know the outcome.  In this world we will have troubles, but Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33). Leake meditates upon the fact that our present suffering is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us in the future  (Ro. 8:18). In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes: "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…" (2 Corinthians 4:17, ESV). Additionally, Revelation 21 informs us that there will be an end to suffering for believers. In the meantime, we can have hope, joy, and peace, as we reflect upon God's good purpose in our present suffering and in the knowledge that things will not always be this way. Torn to Heal is an excellent means to that end. I highly recommend it!

*Many thanks to Cruciform Press for providing me with a complimentary copy of Torn to Heal in exchange for my honest opinion!

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!!