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: As You Wish

As You WishTitle: As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

Author: Cary Elwes

Genre: Memoir

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

For: Anyone who loves The Princess Bride and/or is interested in acting and movie making

My brother, my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I once drove on a 17 hour road trip together, and during the last few hours were going a little stir crazy. I’m not sure how it started, but somehow my brother and I started quoting The Princess Bride, and we spent the last leg of the trip quoting it from start to finish while my husband just listened in bewilderment and disbelief. Haha! I think we quoted at least 3/4 of the lines from memory. That just tells you how much our family loves The Princess Bride!

This book will be a delightful read for anyone who is a big fan of the movie. It is written by Cary Elwes—none other than Farm Boy/Wesley/Dread Pirate Roberts—with excerpts from the director, producer, the author of the book The Princess Bride, and almost all of the other main actors in the film. Elwes writes about being cast for his role, meeting the other cast members, the grueling training for the famous duel scene, and some delightful stories from while they were filming (I will never look at some of the scenes the same again!)

This is not a gossipy tale of backstage backstabbing; in fact it’s more of a love letter to the experience of making the movie and the impact it had on their lives. Elwes is unfailingly magnanimous toward his cast mates, who all seem to share genuine admiration and camaraderie, and his tone is humble and generous throughout.

I listened to it on audiobook, which I highly recommend. Elwes’ voice is lovely and it was a treat to hear the other cast members pipe in with their memories.

This isn’t a book that is going to change my life, but it was a delightful and entertaining read that I’d recommend for anyone who loves the movie. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go watch The Princess Bride for the 758th time.

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.

“Books and Chocolate” Party

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I recently celebrated my 30th Birthday, which gave me a perfect excuse to host a party!  I hemmed and hawed over a theme and finally just thought, “What are my favorite things?”  The first things that popped into my mind were books and chocolate, and nothing sounds more delightful to me than sitting around with good friends talking about books and eating chocolate, so a theme was born!  Also, I am constantly looking for book recommendations (seriously…all the time) and I figured this would be a good way to give my friends’ Facebook newsfeeds a rest from seeing me post, “Anyone read anything good lately?” for the 4,682 time.

I used an online invitation site to e-mail invitations.  They said:

 Books and Chocolate Party!

It’s my 30th birthday!  I’d love to celebrate with some of my favorite things: friends, books, and chocolate!

BRING: Please bring a copy of your favorite fiction book (unwrapped) to exchange, along with your favorite chocolate candy or dessert to share. Be ready to give a brief summary of the book and why you love it. No gifts, but cards welcome!

ATTIRE: Wear your favorite party dress!  Cocktail, formal, sundress…whatever you feel beautiful in!

For decorations I decided to continue my “favorite things” theme and decorate with roses, lace, and book pages in a vintage pink and cream color scheme.  I had to pull this party off for as close to a zero-budget as I could, so I had to get creative.  First, I used this tutorial to make these darling paper roses.

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I used pages from a book I purchased at a thrift store two years ago for my Christmas Pinterest party where we made Christmas ornaments.  The pages had gold gilt edges, so in the right light you can see little shimmers of gold in the centers.  So pretty!  I considered buying pink paper for some of the roses so they could match the pink and cream theme, but with a teeny budget for the party I wanted to avoid that if possible.  On a whim I pulled out some red food coloring, put a drop in about half a cup of water, and painted some on a test strip of paper.  It came out the perfect color!  I painted it on thicker on some roses and just a hint on others to give variation and then let them dry completely.  It made the edges wave just a little, which I loved and thought made them look more like real petals.  I hot glued most of them on some twine (leaving a few to scatter on the tables) and strung it on the fireplace.

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Next I raided my bookshelf and my mother’s for hardcover books.  My mom had some beautiful vintage books and I pulled some of mine that had gilt titles.  I stacked them up, putting burgundy ones on top for the pink theme, and wrapped them in some lace.  These pretty little stacks of books made me so happy every time I looked at them; they are some of my favorite stories and looked so perfect!

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I wrapped more of the lace around mason jars to make candle holders and pretty vases and filled them with cream and pink roses (see above for vase).

Books and Chocolate 10For the table runner I found this lovely idea that perfectly combined the lace and books theme.  Unfortunately these decorative paper punches can be pretty expensive, so imagine my joy when I went to the craft store and found the perfect one on clearance!  At $9 it was the most expensive thing I bought for the party—not bad!  All I did was tape the pages together on the back and punch the edges.  The hardest part was figuring out the spacing for the punch.  I used the punch again to make little party favors, which I’ll talk about later.

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For my chocolate dessert I made my favorite chocolate cake and, in keeping with the rose theme, frosted it with roses.  It fit perfectly with the rest of the décor and was mmmmm so decadent.  I think this cake deserves a post of its own, so I won’t say more about it here (leave me a comment if you’d like me to post the recipe!)

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That was it for decorations; now, on to the party!

For an ice breaker I made a list of classic book titles and we played Telestrations.  Telestrations is a combination of pictionary and telephone; basically the first person draws a picture of the book title, passes the pad, and the next person guesses what the title is based on the drawing.  The third person draws a picture of the title the second person guessed (without looking at the first picture), and as you keep passing, drawing, and guessing sometimes the title stays the same and sometimes it changes hilariously.  Showing all the guesses and pictures at the end was so funny!

For the book exchange, first we took turns telling which book we brought, summarized the story, and told why we enjoyed it.  We spent most of the party talking about our books and nibbling on the delicious chocolate treats everyone brought.  It was pure bliss!  And I felt like I got to know my friends even better from hearing them tell about why they loved their favorite books and how they were impacted by them.  Then everyone picked the book they wanted; in theory the person who won Telestrations was supposed to pick first and they we’d go around the circle, but of course no one wanted to be rude so we spent a bunch of time saying, “Are you sure you don’t want this one?  Because there are others I’d like, too!”

These are the books everyone brought:

I had a really hard time deciding what book I wanted to bring for the exchange, so for a little party favor I decided to make a bookmark with a list of my 30 favorite books (since I’m thirty, you know? Smile).  When I went through my “Books I’ve Read” list to narrow it down I came up with 110 favorites on the first try.  Heh.  So, I decided to do my 30 Favorite Fiction Books on one side and 30 Favorite Non-Fiction/Biography books on the other.  I printed them on cardstock, punched the edges with the lace punch,  and made teeny tiny roses for them (those were harder to make than the big ones!)  So, at the end of the party everyone went home with a book and a bookmark.

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It was so much fun to start my fourth decade off being surrounded by some of my favorite things and people!  And the discussion about books was so interesting that I might have to make it a tradition to host a yearly book-themed party!

What book would you bring to a “Books and Chocolate” party?  I’d love to hear; please leave me a comment!  (Yes…that is a thinly-veiled plea for book recommendations. 😉 )