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Happy Valentine’s Day

valentine's day

We had such a nice Valentine’s Day here at our house and I am so grateful for that.  I love my husband and I love our children.  But I just keep thinking about an even greater love.  The love of God that never lets us go.  I don’t have to worry that tomorrow He is going to give up on me or lose patience with me – because He won’t.  He is love, perfect love and no matter how spectacular our Valentine’s Day celebration was – it pales in comparison to the love celebration that will occur when we, the church, the bride of Christ, are united with our Savior.

One of the best books out on how the gospel relates to social justice

A Review of Counter Culture by David Platt
I have read several books over the last few years that dealt with social justice issues. Some have been good, and some have been horribly disappointing (and advocating a social gospel-esque form of faith). In his newest book, David Platt has brought the gospel squarely to bear on what it means to be a Christian and be active in the issues facing us today.
In ten chapters, Platt covers the issues of poverty, abortion, orphans/widows, sex slavery, marriage, sexual morality, ethnicity, religious liberty, and the unreached. However, before you think that this is 373294_1_ftcjust another “Christians should feed the poor” book, you need to take a closer look. Platt’s first chapter grounds everything in the gospel. The greatest offense within Christianity to our culture today does not lie in our opposition to gay marriage or abortion, but in the fundamental nature of the gospel itself. At the end of the day, the gospel states that you either believe what the Bible says about salvation or you go to hell. That is offensive. From this foundation, Platt applies the gospel to each issue mentioned above.

There are two other aspects of the book that I really liked. First, Platt admits that he himself and many Christians have been very selective in how they have applied the Bible to life. He is candid about his own struggle with treating abortion as more than just a political issue. Christians are called to apply the Bible to all aspects of the world we live in. Second, Platt is not trying to make a political statement. He argues for what the Bible teaches. Some of the things he says about abortion will infuriate liberals. Things he says about how we should be treating illegal immigrants will make some conservatives fume. But he is consistent in applying scripture to each situation he works through (to be clear, Platt does not argue for a liberal position on immigration, but rather makes some statements about how Christians should relate to those already living among us).
This book is great. It is practical theology for every Christian. Get it, read it, and then take some of the steps outlined in the book for how taking gospel action can result in the gospel changing people through the power of Christ. Platt’s book is intensely practical, and I would recommend pairing it up with another book like Kevin Deyoung and Greg Gilbert’s What is the Mission of the Church. Reading both books together will give you a pretty comprehensive picture of the Bible, the church, and the social action that the gospel demands.

I give this book five out of five stars.

I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

Check out the trailer for the book here.

Jan Karon Meets CSI

A Review of Mel Starr’s The Abbot’s Agreement
Mel Starr has carved out a nice niche for himself in the Hugh de Singleton series. If you are not familiar with the series and like a good murder mystery, I would encourage you to pick one up and read it. The stories read much like a CSI story, but without the modern technology. Starr also has a style reminiscent of Jan Karon in how he describes life in small English villages and towns. Add in the “Downton Abbey” aspects of these novels, and there’s something for everyone.
In the eighth story in the series, Hugh de Singleton, who serves as bailiff and surgeon at Bampton, encounters a dead b641094ody near a local abbey. After reporting the find, he is commissioned by the Abbot to find the murderer in exchange for a Bible, which Hugh longs for. Hugh’s search digs into the romantic circles of the small town, plunges him into the politics of the local abbey, and finds him being accused of heresy for quoting scripture.
The Abbot’s Agreement is a good read. Starr knows medieval history, and his insight into life during this time period is one of my favorite parts of the books. The storyline does not move particularly quickly, but that is by design. Nothing at this point in history moved that quickly. Because of the language, diving into the personalities of the characters can be difficult. Dialogue can seem a little stiff at times, but once you grow comfortable with the speech, the story comes alive. Another aspect that comes out in only a small way is the fundamental difference between the Catholic Church and the emerging Protestant emphasis of sola scriptura. Hugh de Singleton accused of heresy simply for speculating that if scripture states that Christ has taken the full payment for sin that man should not have to live in fear of purgatory. Overall, it’s a good book, and I enjoyed it.

I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.

 

I received a free copy of this book from Kregel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Some Thoughts on Grief

My husband and I recently learned that the wife of our former pastor was coming to her final days of her long battle with cancer. We were incredibly saddened by the news. In the few short years since we first came here to Indiana, we have never felt such a strong pull to be back in Pennsylvania – to be with them. This couple has meant so much to us as mentors, as friends. We knew we needed to go and see her, to express our thanks, to express our love, and to say goodbye.

It is hard to put into words how much this woman has meant to me through the years that I have known her. I have often heard that stepping into pastoral ministry is the equivalent of putting your family into a fishbowl. Whether or not you believe that to be true, there is no denying that there are special challenges to raising a family while serving in the pastorate. From the time we were practically newlyweds working our way through seminary, we watched this Godly woman and her family maintain privacy and yet balance it with incredible transparency. We grew to love this family and hoped to one day be blessed with a family with the same kind of closeness as theirs. Our pastor’s wife was a beautiful help-meet to her husband, just as God intended.

 

Our mentoring relationship was not the formal kind with scheduled meetings and a specific agenda. It was life touching life, informal but most certainly intentional. I can remember many conversations about marriage, ministry, and raising our children. When we followed God’s leading away from Pennsylvania to our current church in Indiana, I believed that the distance would only dissolve any ties we had with this couple. I came to find out that our friendship was one that was not so easily dropped and could be easily picked up “right where we left off” when time and circumstances allowed us to be reunited. The last such time being last spring when our husbands went to a pastors’ conference together while we spent a few days here in Indiana catching up. The memories of that visit are precious to me.

But that brings me back to the present.

And so our beloved friend and mentor has passed and is now more alive than ever in the presence of her Savior. But those of us left behind struggle with grief, and all its facets. I can’t even imagine the deep loss felt by her dear family. In our house, we have prayed a lot, cried a lot, and held on to our faith, thankful to realize that our Father is in truth the One holding on to us.

And through it all, I have come to a few conclusions.

  • I am incredibly blessed to have had such a Godly mentor and example to follow.
  • The loss of someone near to you brings out emotions, thoughts, and questions that are often overwhelming. The comfort of Jesus found through prayer and the Word is critical paired with the loving support of the body of Christ.
  • God is in control. But not only that — He is good.

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The Newest Berenstain Bears Living Lights Book

Book Review: The Berenstain Bears and Biggest Brag (Living Lights Book) by Mike Berenstain

On the back of the Berenstain Bears Living Lights books it states that these books are intended to “help children learn how God wants them to live every day.”  And anyone with little ones knows that bragging can become a difficult issue to explain (especially with the message in many children’s TV programs that we should be concerned about our self-esteem and promoting ourselves).  How do we teach them a 734790_1_ftchealthy balance?  And how does this fit with the Gospel, because what they ultimately need is Jesus and not just good behavior.

With the help of Brother and Sister Bear, your 4-8 year old will likely get a pretty good idea of what bragging is and why it is no fun to be around someone who brags all the time.  The discussion questions in the back are a great guide for parents to use as well.  I thought the Bible verses included with this story were particularly good (though the word “strife” will likely need to be explained for your child)

I loved the Berenstain Bear books when I was little so I am happy that Mike Berenstain is doing these Christian themed stories. However I wish there would be less of an emphasis on just changing bad behavior and more of an emphasis on the child’s heart by showcasing the grace and love of God.

5 out of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from Zonderkidz as part of the BookLook Blogging program in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book Review: My Little Life of Jesus

Book Review: My Little Life of Jesus

Stop by any local Christian bookstore and you will find a lot of Bible story picture books for children ranging from boring or completely inaccurate to the select few that are beautifully illustrated classics your children will ask you to read over and over again.  I think My Little Life of Jesus falls somewhere in the middle.

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This smaller hardcover book (with a thicker, padded front cover) features full color pages with cute illustrations to go along with very simple highlights form the life of Jesus.  There were some occasions when I think the author could have worded things a bit differently, but I didn’t see any huge inaccuracies. I wish that there would have been something about why Jesus died and rose to life rather than just strictly a retelling of the story.  Many of the pages have a Scripture passage listed on them so you could always read that and discuss it with your child.

 

The book would probably be best suited for preschool aged children because it is so simple.

 

3 out of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from Kregel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Did the Apostle John leave something on Patmos?

It’s worth your time to find out. A review of Davis Bunn’s The Patmos Deception.
I’ve really enjoyed the last few Davis Bunn novels, and The Patmos Deception is no exception. Bunn moves the setting into the world of modern day Greece and Turkey. The economy of Greece is falling apart, unemployment is rampant, and a young American arrives at a new job in Greece only to find out that the place she was to work is shu211393_1_ftct down. But her arrival in the country is fortuitous, as an old friend contacts her with a business proposition that involves tracking down some (believed to be) stolen artifacts.

 

As the story unfolds, the reader is introduced to some sincerely evil characters and some sincerely good ones. But in the middle are those who are fighting to establish how their worldview will affect their life decisions. What is right and wrong? How far can one go in violation of the law in order to provide for his family? One of the disconcerting things about this book is that some of those questions are left unanswered. However, the story moves quickly through the different islands of the Mediterranean, the characters face difficult and challenges situations and decisions, and we get to follow the faith journey of several.

 

One weakness in the book is that while it has strong religious overtones (the whole story revolves around the island of Patmos, where the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation), there is very little explained about the gospel, and even less about repentance and forgiveness. The characters seem to have more “religious experiences” than they do conversions. This could prove to be very confusing for nonreligious readers. I also found the conclusion of the book to be a little disappointing. That being said, it was a good read overall and I would recommend it to anyone who has read and enjoyed Davis Bunn in the past.

 

I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.

 

I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for a fair and honest review.

A Really Solid Devotional That Applies the Gospel to All of Life

A Review of Gospel Formed by J.A. Medders

 

J.A. Medders pastors Redeemer Church in Tomball, Texas. Redeemer is an Acts 29 Network Church. I had never read anything by Medders, and I don’t generally read a lot of devotionals (they seem to consist of a lot of fluff with a sprinkling of Bible verses). But after hitting on a great devotional by John Piper a few months ago, I thought I’d give this one a shot. Medders is no John Piper when it comes to deep 443589_1_ftcmeditations on a text. But we need pastors who can approach the text from different perspectives, and Medders gives readers a great dive into the implications of the gospel in every area of life.

 

The format of the book is made for reading. I am going to pass this one around at church. Each devotional section is about 5 pages long and easy to read. This means that I can hand it to someone and not worry that they are going to replace their time in the word with time in man’s words. The book starts with the gospel itself. It then moves into a long section (ten chapters) on worship. Great section. If you read one of those chapters each day it will change how you worship- not just on Sundays, but on every day. The third section deals with Gospel identity. In six chapters, the author builds a case for who we are in Christ, and what that means in the daily living out of our lives. In part four, he addresses gospel community. Four chapters on the church. Who makes up the church, how should we relate to it, and how should we feel about it? The final section is on the gospel mission. Five chapters on evangelism, missions, and discipleship. It is important to understand that these are not dry and crusty chapters. The theology is deep, but intensely practical, easy to understand, and infused with plenty of humor and wit.

 

It takes only about 5-10 minutes to read each devotional, and with 27 chapters, it would take less than a month to read through. Get it, read it, and meditate on the wonder of the gospel and how it changes everything! I would give it five out of five stars.

 

I received a free copy of this book from Kregel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Christmas Reflections

Christmas reflectionsIt seems like every year during the Christmas season we listen to lots of music of all different styles.  Yeah, we enjoy our fair share of fun songs – I will never quite get over the Grinch song.  Probably most of us have some of those classics memorized. . .Walking in a Winter Wonderland, White Christmas, etc.  Even those of us who despise snow can get into the spirit for a few weeks.  Even our little toddler walks around the house singing, “that’s the jingle bell, that’s the jingle bell, that’s the jingle bell” like a record stuck in the same spot.  These songs just get stuck in our heads so that by the time January 1st rolls around we have had enough of it.

There are a lot of Christmas carols that I like to hear year after year, but I also love hearing some new ones.  This year the one that stands out to me is a new song by Sovereign Grace called Who Would Have Dreamed.  They did a nice video recording of the song on their site if you are interested in watching it.

Here are some of my favorite lines from the song:

Wondrous gift of heaven the Father sends the Son
Planned from time eternal, moved by holy love
He will carry our curse and death He’ll reverse
So we can be daughters and sons

And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan
To save the world

How incredibly mind blowing to consider that the One who created the Universe would become a baby, that we would be able to “hold God in our hands.”  And God would use Jesus to save the world!

 

I hope you have some Christmas songs that have “gotten stuck in your head” and have caused you to stop and consider Christ’s birth in a fresh way this season.

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Making family Christmas memories

We love celebrating Christmas at our house from the time we put up the tree on Thanksgiving, and throughout the season. As we get to do lots of special things as a family that create great memories and form traditions, it is fun to see which things our children remember from year to year and look forward to doing together. One tradition that we have continued is a special trip to Christmas Town at the Creation Museum. We are so blessed to live close enough to have enjoyed this every year that we have been living here in Indiana.

Last weekend they had a special Christmas sing-along featuring Ken Ham and Buddy Davis for families to attend before going through Christmas Town . Our kids are big fans of Buddy Davis, and loved singing Christmas songs with him.

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The weather was really great for this time of year (no rain or snow at least). So after eating in Noah’s Ark Cafe, we went outside to see Christmas Town. One of the main attractions of Christmas Town is the live nativity. . .

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complete with a variety of animals.

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And who could resist petting these cute little shaggy animals. Our daughter is such an animal lover that I think she would have taken it home with her if given the chance.

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The beautiful garden area is a winter wonderland to walk through with all of the lights. This year we didn’t even have to take any strollers, so the munchkins were nice and tired by the time we were done.

 

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And of course, because it is the Creation Museum, there have to be dinosaurs. You don’t see that every day.

 

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I love that we can do something like this as a family that is so fun, and that also reinforces to our children why we celebrate Christmas.

 

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We don’t ever want to lose that sense of awe that God became a man, a helpless baby even, to be born in such humility. Those who first came to worship Him were just simple shepherds. Somehow I feel that when I get to see a live nativity, I see and consider certain aspects of the birth of Jesus that I otherwise may have overlooked. I am reminded of the incredible love of our Savior who would eventually die for us. I hope and pray that our children will see that kind of love reflected in us so that it points them one day to the God who loves them perfectly.

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