Book Review: Show Them Jesus

show-them-jesusShow Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Children

Author: Jack Klumpenhower

Star Rating (out of 5): *****

For: parents, teachers, anyone who considers the Bible their guide for life.

 

This is a life-changing book that put into words so many things that have nagged at the back of my mind about the way we teach the Bible to children. It seems far too many picture Bibles, Sunday school curricula, and parenting books boil the Bible down to “This Bible character did this. You should do/not do this.” You could completely remove God and Christ from some of these books/methods and the application would not change: be good. Likewise, as a parent it’s too easy to simply use Bible stories as a way to try to manipulate our kids’ behavior.

To begin with, trying to “be good” without understanding our new life in Christ and the Holy Spirit’s enablement is completely futile. This focus on morality apart from the Gospel also helps explain why many church kids grow up and leave the church. If all church gave them was a list of how to behave, but they never truly fell in love with Jesus and understand all he did for them, why stay in church?

Klumpenhower maintains that “The cross of Jesus—not principles of good living—is the engine of the Christian life.” The gist of this book is that more than anything, kids need to be shown God’s character, Jesus’ work, and the Holy Spirit’s enabling. This, more than any moral lesson, will be what transforms them. “We make a mistake if we think kids are saved by hearing the good news and trusting Jesus, but then grow as Christians some other way.”  While the Bible does give useful examples, if kids “get Samuel the good listener without first appreciating God the Great Speaker, they’re liable to end up relating to God only in an anxious, what-I-must-do way.”

The book gives practical advice for how to teach the Word in a way that points to Jesus and not our own efforts. For example, when teaching Old Testament stories he recommends asking:

“1) What is God doing for his people in this story? 2) Good News! How does God do the same for us—only better—in Jesus? 3) Believe it! How does believing this good news change how we live?”

Here is an example from teaching about Moses:
“What is God doing for his people in this story? He arranges events to protect baby Moses and give the Israelites a leader who will rescue them from Egypt. Good News! How does God do the same for us—only better—in Jesus? He has provided a Leader and Savior who rescues us from sin and death. Believe it! How does believing this good news change how we live? Even when it’s hard to see, we can trust that God is working out his plan to complete our salvation.”

Another great example is how he recommends addressing sin: the surface sin we can see (example: dancing to lewd music), the selfish fear underneath (ex: afraid friends won’t like or accept me), and the root unbelief (ex: not believing Jesus gives me God’s approval).

I’m just scratching the surface of this book. Chapter after chapter is filled with wonderful truth about how the grace given in the Gospel impacts every area of our lives and about how our identity in Christ is what transforms us. I recommend it to anyone who wants to use the Bible as their foundation for living, teaching, and parenting. It’s that good. Go read it! If you’re intrigued but not sure you can read the whole thing, download the free Kindle sample and at least read the introduction and first chapter; it will give you a good overview. And then you’ll probably want to read the rest!

Book Review: The Horse and His Boy

Horse and His Boy

Title: The Horse and His Boy

Author: C.S. Lewis

Genre: Christian Fantasy, Children’s Literature

Star Rating (out of 5): *****

One night, an orphaned boy named Shasta overhears the man who took him in preparing to sell him as a slave. He slips off to the stables, where the rich man who was bartering to buy him had left his horse, and is shocked when the horse talks to him. The horse reveals that he is a talking horse from Narnia who has been kidnapped, and suggests that he and the boy escape together. “To Narnia and the North!”

I adore this book. Lewis’ words are spare but every one evokes wonderful imagery or emotion (or both). For example, this description of Aslan is one of my favorite quotes from the book and gives me chills:

“Who are you?” asked Shasta.
“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay; and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it. p. 176

It’s so exquisitely simple yet profound: instead of preaching about who God is, it’s just a few words that evoke the sense of God’s strength, joy, presence, and comfort. And also I feel like it’s a hint at the trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit.

I think my favorite thing about the book is that Aslan seems absent through most of it, and then at the end you see how he was always there and played an important role in so many of the difficult circumstances. It’s such a beautiful reminder, especially in the times in life when God seems silent.

There is also wonderful character development of all the main characters. Shasta develops bravery and learns he is capable of more than he ever thought possible, Aravis learns compassion, Bree learns humility, and Hwyn learns to speak up and trust her instincts.

There are many lessons in this book, but they are all told simply, interestingly, and without preaching. I loved it as a child and I’ve loved it more every time I’ve re-read it as an adult.

Book Review: Snuggle Time Prayers

Snuggle TimeTitle: Snuggle Time Prayers

Author: Glenys Nellist

Illustrated by: Cee Biscoe

Star rating (out of 5): **

This is a cute book, but I can’t say it really captured my little ones’ attention. Each spread is a prayer based off a Bible verse. Some I think are pretty solid, like the one talking about how God always loves us and reminding us to talk to him when we’re alone or sad. Some were pretty wishy-washy, like the one comparing God’s love to a warm and cozy blanket that makes everything feel right.

The one that I was the most concerned about says God is IN the sunshine/breeze/clouds/etc. It’s an unfortunate word choice since there is a difference between God being present everywhere and the unbiblical idea that there is a bit of God in everything around us. I remember one dinnertime when I was a little girl asking my dad “If God is everywhere, does that mean he’s in my potato chip?” (And if so how could I eat it??) This is the type of language that adds to that sort or confusion, I feel.

The illustrations are very pretty, with gentle pastel colors and sweet animals.

I feel like books in this format (prayers that talk about a concept) don’t catch kids’ attention as much as a story illustrating the concept would.  The book has some redeeming qualities, but I probably don’t love it enough to give it a permanent spot on our family shelves.

Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Book Review: I Am – 40 Reasons to Trust God

I AmTitle: I Am: 40 Reasons to Trust God

Author: Diane Stortz

Illustrated by: Diane Le Feyer

For: children ages 3+

Star rating (out of 5): *****

I love the premise of this picture Bible: forty stories that illustrate the character of God. One of my main complaints about much of Christian children’s literature is that it boils the Bible down to lessons in morality that parents can use to encourage children to “be good.” While it is obviously important that we obey God, children need to first understand that it is only because God came to rescue us through Jesus’ death and resurrection and the Spirit’s enabling that they can obey at all! This book points every story not just toward a moral lesson, but to God and what he has revealed about himself in the stories. THEN it explains how that aspect of God’s character impacts our lives and actions.

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Another thing I love about this Bible is that each story has multiple parts which parents can use to customize the lesson for their child’s age and spiritual maturity, or even the amount of time they have to read right then:

  • A name of God (ex: “Creator: Elohim”)
  • A story from the Bible that illustrates that aspect of God’s character (ex: the creation story)
  • A key takeaway from the story (ex: “We live in a colorful, wonderful world with amazing sights and sounds. Someone powerful and loving made it all!”)
  • A “What Does It Mean” section that draws an example from everyday life (ex: making crafts or baking) and helps apply the story to life
  • One or two verses quoted directly from the Bible. The translations vary; many are from the English Standard Version (ESV), and others are Amplified, God’s Word, the International Children’s Bible, and the New Living Translation.
  • A “Learn More” section suggesting another Bible passage parents could read to their kids to further explain the name of God. This is a great resource to go deeper with older kids
  • A short “What Happened Next” paragraph either summarizing events that happen between the story and the next story, or introducing the next story
  • A short prayer thanking God for what the story reveals about him (ex: “Dear God, thank you for making the world. Thank You for making me, my pets, and the people I love! You are my powerful, strong Creator. I love you, God. Amen.”

 

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For young children (around 2-5 years old), I think the story and “What Does It Mean” sections are the perfect length and depth, and the other sections are fantastic to go a little deeper with older children or even adults!

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The illustrations in this book are STUNNING. I literally caught my breath several times when I turned the page and saw the next beautiful spread. The colors are vibrant and beautifully gradated, and the detail in many of the pictures is just exceptional. Diane Le Feyer deserves an award for this work; it is absolutely lovely.

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I read pretty carefully looking for any particular doctrinal positions (Calvinism/Armenianism, Dispensationalism/Covenant Theology, Lordship Salvation/Free Grace, etc), particularly in the “What Does It Mean” sections, and nothing in particular stood out to me. Because the book focuses on what the Bible stories reveal about God’s names and character, there really isn’t much in here that I feel would be controversial.

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I appreciated that the book includes some lesser-known stories that are not often included in children’s Bibles, such as Jacob’s dream, manna from heaven, Solomon asking for wisdom, and the day of Pentecost. The stories are all definitely “G-rated.” For example, Joseph’s story doesn’t specifically explain that he was a slave or talk about Potiphar’s wife trying to seduce him or the baker who dies. It focuses on “The Lord My Rock” and how God turns our problems into something good. The crucifixion is also not explained in detail, beyond saying that Jesus’ hands and feet were nailed to a cross and he died. Parents can of course add more detail to the stories as they believe it is appropriate.

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We own many children’s Bibles, but I think this one has catapulted to the top of my list of favorites. I love the focus on who God is and on how we can rely on Jesus and his enabling, not just our own efforts to “be good.” And the illustrations are by far the most beautiful that I have seen in a children’s Bible. This is a fantastic picture Bible that I highly recommend.

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(Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

Book Review: The Great Gatsby

GatsbyTitle: The Great Gatsby

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Star Rating (out of 5): ****

For: Fans of beautiful prose, psychological insight, classics, tragedies

This is a sad cautionary tale of obsession, infidelity, and the emptiness of excess and immorality. I feel like I would have hated it if it wasn’t for the gorgeous, affecting prose, and Fitzgerald’s sharp insight into the way insecurity can make us turn accomplishments, wealth, or people into idols that eventually destroy us. So, I’d say read it if you’re looking for some fabulous writing, but skip it if you’re looking for an uplifting plot.

Here are two of my favorite quotes:
“The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens — finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart on the front porch.”

“[Gatsby] smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished.”

Book Review: The Secret Chord

Secret ChordTitle: The Secret Chord

Author: Geraldine Brooks

Genre: Historical Fiction

Star Rating (out of 5): ***

This is clearly well-researched, with most of the events coming directly from the Biblical account of King David. It was interesting to read the events played out in more detail and imagine the emotions and motivations of the characters. However, in some ways the book felt flat. Large sections of David’s life are summarized as dialogue as people tell Nathan about David’s life so he could write his account, which makes them feel more remote. And some scenes really miss the massive amounts of emotion I think the individuals involved must have felt. It’s odd, because Brooks is a talented writer.

David, to me, is a hard character to understand. He is such a mix of wonderful and horrible choices, profound insight and complete blindness. Brooks doesn’t glorify him or gloss over his faults. The book is not PG rated any more than the Biblical account, which includes rape, incest, murder, adultery, and war. Tamar’s rape was especially painful to read. It is also worth noting that Brooks includes a homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan, which would have been a clear violation of Old Testament law.

Perhaps the saddest part of the book, however, is how absent God is from the narrative. There is no real exploration of how David was a “man after God’s own heart” or how his faith impacted his decisions.

So, while this book was a worthwhile read in helping visualize the events of David’s life, I’m afraid it fell flat for me in more areas than it succeeded.

Book Review: The House at Tyneford

House at TynefordTitle: The House at Tyneford

Author: Natasha Solomons

Genre: Historical Fiction

Star Rating (out of 5): ****

For: Fans of Kate Morton, Kristin Hannah, Downton Abbey

In the turmoil of 1938, 19-year-old Elise Landau’s Jewish parents determine it is not safe for her to remain in Vienna. In her broken English, Elise sends out an advertisement looking for a position as a housemaid, promising to “Cook your goose.” She is offered a position at a grand house in England, where the sparkling gaiety of her well-to-do life in Vienna quickly fades as she takes up her responsibilities as a lowly maid. Her parents have promised to send for her as soon as they can obtain visas to go to America, but as the days turn into weeks and months, Elise slowly realizes she may be trapped in her new status as an invisible servant and refugee.

The sedate pace of the household is rocked when the landowner’s son, Kit, returns. He offers to tutor Elise in English, and they strike up a friendship. When Kit enlists in the air force and the war begins to rage in the air above their once-quiet village, life at Tyneford begins an irrevocable change.

 

This book is beautifully written, with musical prose and fantastic character development. There is a scene near the end where the author describes a symphony written to commemorate a family that fell victim to the Holocaust–it is a spectacular piece of prose that showed the author’s obvious understanding of music’s ability to move our souls. As a musician myself, I felt the book was worth the read just for that scene.

The book has a sad but beautiful ache to it that resonated with me as the characters lives are irrevocably shaped by the events of WWII. Not everyone will like the ending, but I did.

One disclaimer: this is not a Christian book, and there is some premarital sex and descriptions of sexual fantasies that pushed the boundaries for me. Also some significant swearing. Really disappointing in what was otherwise a wonderful read.