Friday, October 31, 2008

Book Review: Leading Your Child to Jesus

Leading Your Child to Jesus, David Staal

This is a really helpful book. It helps you to think about how speak to your children about matters of faith, your own faith and conversion, God's plan of salvation, and how to help children pray to God to accept him as their Saviour and Lord.

It is short (122 pg) and only has 6 chapters, all of which are very readable. It is full of stories and anecdotes, as well as a biblical foundation and helpful suggestions and information.

Staal is the director of the Children's Programs at Willow Creek. He starts off by making clear that children can enter into a saving relationship with Jesus (something many would personally testify to) and that as as parents we need to commit to becoming comfortable at speaking simple, personal faith explanations. The rest of the book goes on to give help on how to do this.

Some of the things I found helpful:
  1. It was eminently practical. In Ch 2: Share Your Story, he makes the point that our personal stories of conversion are likely to resonate with our children more than any other. Therefore, we need to be prepared to share them at any time. He then leads you through thinking about your own conversion: what you were like beforehand, what happened to you when you were converted and how your life has changed since then. He helps you to think about how to make it age-appropriate to children, and finally to trim your story down to four sentences. I now feel I could explain my conversion at age 17 to my 5-year old in a way he would understand.
  2. As the previous point suggested, throughout the book, he has exercises to do to practice yourself. I normally never do theses types of exercises in Christian books, they often seem a bit contrived to me. However, I did most of them in this book. And I found a number of them very helpful: such as thinking about what each of your children currently understands about God and Jesus, or how I would explain in a few sentences the key points of the gospel.
  3. It encourages the need for a response from a child to the gospel, in prayer. He gives us (parents) the tools to help our children through this in a simple yet effective way, which he terms the ABC prayer: A (admit sins and ask for forgiveness), B (believe in Jesus and that he died for your sins) and C (choose to follow Jesus the rest of your life). This section also had some helpful guidelines for judging whether your children are really ready to pray such a prayer.
  4. The reminder that children believe what they are told, especially by their parents, so these early years (0-5) give a great opportunity to lay a spiritual foundation. He had a number of tips on how to make the things of God a part of everyday life.
  5. His final chapter acknowledged that some parents reading the book may themselves 'not have a story', that is they themselves have not made a profession of faith, and then addresses the need to look into the things of God themselves and make a decision. I thought this was a really helpful issue to address, rather than assuming that all readers have committed their lives to Christ.
He had a few suggestions towards the end about how to reach young children with the gospel, which were all helpful - talking to them about God, talking about 'God made the animals', etc. We have done this with our children, and it becomes second nature after a while. Some other things we have done to make an obvious God part of our lives are:
  • pray with them even as babies as we carried them to bed, it has set up an expected pattern into childhood that we always pray at the end of the day
  • say grace with them as soon as they are starting solids, our 15 month old puts her hands together now as soon as she gets in her highchair
  • pray for ambulances, fire engines and police cars when they have their sirens on. It always seemed a bit macabre to me to get kids excited about sirens when they actually signify a crisis. We always now pray as we drive when we hear an ambulance.
  • we have made up little photo books called "God loves me" and "God made me", for our children, godchildren and nieces/nephews. The "God loves me" has photos of all family members on consecutive pages, with the writing on the opposite page, "God loves me", "God loves Mummy & Daddy", "God loves Nanna & Grandad", etc. As we live interstate from all family, it has been a wonderful way of teaching the family names to them, but more so, teaching them that God loves everyone. The book ends with "God loves everyone" and John 3:16 printed out. The "God made me" one, has the immediate family and then "God made trees/dogs/birds/flowers, etc", the things that children see regularly. At the end that one has "God made everything" and "God has made me His"
What other things do you do to teach your children about God and Jesus daily?

One question this book raised for me is that he talks more about Jesus, whereas I tend to talk more about God. eg. I say to my children more that "God loves you" rather than "Jesus loves you" - is this a cultural thing do you think or is more going on here? Have you ever thought about this?

Anyway, this is a helpful, easy to read and very practical book - and about a topic very close to many of our hearts.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Children's Bibles

(This post has been updated in 2011, see it here)

What Bibles do you use with your children? We have so many, all of varying quality!

I personally find that most of the bibles for very young children are very average, excluding key parts of the accounts, or just ignoring them. Now, as I shop for bibles I have a mental checklist of things I really would like them to include, they include:
  • Gen 3 - the account of sin. So many ignore this. How can we possibly teach children of their need for a Saviour unless they know that the world needs saving?
  • Abraham and God's promises to him. I am amazing at how many bibles go from Noah straight to the story of Joseph and his coloured coat, skipping over one of the key promises God makes.
  • Some Psalms or Proverbs.
  • Some details post-ascension: the coming of the Holy Spirit, the growth of the Early Church, Paul and his letters, Revelation.
  • In a more detailed bible - to include the account of the plant in Jonah 4, rather than finishing with Jonah saying yes and going to Ninevah.
What are other things you want children's bibles to include?

Here are some of the better bibles we have come across:
  • The Beginner's Bible (Candle Books). Our 3 year old really likes this one, the stories are more detailed, and she can follow them, the pictures are engaging (although not entirely realistic - how often do fish smile happily when they are caught?). We have used this one from ages 3-5.

  • My First Bible (ill. Andrew Gleeson and Sophie Keen; Parragon). This our son enjoys (he is 5). The illustrations are less engaging and colourful, but the stories themselves are good and quite detailed.

  • The Big Picture Story Bible (David Helm, ill. Gail Schoonmaker). This is a great bible for the 4+ age group (as our family only goes to age 5, I can't guess an upper limit!). It is one of the few children's bibles which really pushes the idea of Biblical Theology - that there is one unifying theme through the whole of the bible, God's people under God's rule in God's place. Our son loves it - the illustrations are vivid and often from odd angles, which he enjoys. The individual story units are sometimes very long, so we split them at times.
  • The Jesus Story Book Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name, Sally Lloyd-Jones, ill. Jago. We have just finished this Bible with our 5 year old, and it was great. It draws attention in each story to how Jesus will or does fulfill each part of the bible, Old or New Testament. The illustrations are engaging and enjoyable, they use the occasional full page side oriented layout so you have to turn the book to the side to read certain pages. It does not shy away from some details and some emotion. I think this is the only Bible that made my son actually pause and realise that what happened to Jesus on the cross was truly awful and very sad.

My big question at the moment is: when do you actually just give your children a full bible? And what version? I would love people's input on this, as I don't have much idea.

Fiction Books

I know writing about a list of your favourite fiction books is fraught with danger, as everyone's tastes are so varied.

However, these are my 4 favourite series of all time:
  • Diana Gabaldon, Outlander Series. There are 6 books so far in this historical fiction series. I discovered them when I was pregnant with C and bedridden for about 7 weeks with morning sickness. They are huge and completely draw you in to the story. The premise is that an English woman in 1945 manages to travel back in time 200 years in Scotland and gets caught there (don't worry about the physics of it!). However, she knows what is to come in the future (ie. Culloden). There is (as to be expected) a love story wound through it all. They are very detailed, enjoyable and interesting. If you don't like overly descriptive love-making scenes, you may be put off, but even then I think they are worth the read. I have just downloaded all her podcasts off her website to listen to how she writes, for some listening while I exercise. I am eagerly waiting for books 7 & 8 to be released.
  • Jean Auel, Clan of the Cave Bear Series. Another historical fiction series of 5 books. These ones are set in prehistorical times and the story line is based around a young 5-year old girl (Ayla) losing her family (she is an Early European) and a group of cave-people who adopt her. The differences between the two groups of people (set up as those who become modern people and the pre-historic cave people who eventually die out) is the basis of the story for much of the books, with, in time a love story (of course) thrown in in later books as Ayla grows up. Another aspect of these books that I loved was that while fiction, she explains the way many new discoveries by humans may have come about (eg. flint starting a fire, the taming of animals eg dogs and horses) which I found very interesting. Again, if you do not like overly descriptive sex scenes, you may want to skip bits!
  • James Herriot, Vet Stories - these are published under various titles, including All Creatures Great and Small, or It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet. These are the stories of a vet in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s. They are lovely stories of his early years in vet practice and the people and animals he worked with. It was later turned into a BBC series.
  • William Horwood, Duncton Trilogies. He has written 2 trilogies, I think the first was the best. It is the story of a mole community and how they live. What I really enjoyed about it though it there is an an analogy to the Biblical account. It starts with a pair of moles (Bracken and Rebecca), and while a lot of it is a love story, it always looks forward to a coming of a Messiah-life figure, the Stone Mole. It has been a long time since I have read this series though, I might return to it again soon.

Other good fiction books

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne. A friend recently recommended this book to me. It was excellent and thought-provoking. It's one of thoses books where you don't want to give too much away. But, it is a story about a boy who lives in Berlin, whose father works for 'The Fury' and who is promoted by him so they much move to 'Out-With'.

This is a powerful book which made me think a little more about people and how things are viewed through the eyes of a child.

Of Marriageble Age, Sharon Maas. The story of 3 Indian children as they grow up is followed through this book. It's obvious that their lives will all intersect at some point, but she skilfully takes you through the story so that you are constantly wondering how. I have not read many books set in a Indian culture and I enjoyed learning a bit more also.

The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett. The story is based around the building of a major cathedral in the 12th C and the people who are involved in it. It spans their entire lives. It is a fascinating read of those times.

I know of course that there are many other wonderful books out there, this is just a selection!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Book Review: Disciplines of a Godly Woman

This is edited from a talk I gave a few years ago about this book:
I cannot praise this book highly enough. I first read it two years ago, as part of a book group I am in and we were all very challenged by it.
Barbara’s starts by looking at 1 Tim 4:7 ‘Train yourselves to be godly’. Godliness is something we must work for. It doesn’t just happen. Our lives are spent training ourselves to be godly, like we would train for a marathon. Instead of making me feel overwhelmed by this task, I instead found it an encouragement - that is why it is hard to be godly, because we must work at it - it’s not meant to be easy!
She says if you are willing to eat properly to stay healthy and to exercise to keep your body fit, how much more should we be committed to training to be godly women.
This idea of discipline is then used as the structure from which to look at every aspect of our lives. She starts with submission, saying that as Christians we are called to submit to God in everything. Our entire lives should be lived in submission to Jesus as our Lord. I thought this was a great way to challenge women about their attitude to submission, that is, submitting to God's authority in everything. Too often these days the word submission is only used in regard to marriage relations, which either sends off alarm bells for some and puts others immediately into defensive mode again having to explain what it really means. However, putting everything in the framework of submission, really emphasises that it is a 'whole of life' idea.
Barbara then divides her book into chapters which deal with: the gospel, prayer, worship, our minds, contentment, propriety, perseverance, church, singleness, marriage, nurturing, good deeds, witness and giving and grace. What a list! I could not think of anything she had not covered!
Rather than go through all of these, I will share 5 things that really challenged me. These may not be your issues at the moment, but if you read this book, you will find something that is.
1. The Chapter on our minds. This really challenged me to think about what I spend my free time doing. I like turning on the TV at the end of the day to just chill out a bit. However, I have a bit of an addictive personality, so can watch a show once, and then always want to watch it. I can spend hours doing crosswords and Sudoku puzzles and lots more time quilting.
Instead it is now my personal challenge to put aside 1 hour after the kids have gone to bed, to read my bible, pray and then read from a Christian book. Even in the last week, I have read more than I have in ages. And for me, at this stage in life, 1 hour of uninterrupted silent time is precious!
(This has changed somewhat in recent years, I certainly watch much less TV, but spend much more time online!)
2. Chapter on Marriage. She talks about women and their role as helpers in the marriage. And after reading this chapter, I have decided that I like the term helper and I am happy that my role is to be a helper to Husband.
It also challenged me again to think about how to honour him, rather than joining in the standard ‘bag out your husband’ conversation. I want to work much harder at honouring him whether he is there or not and encouraging others to do the same.
3. Chapter on Singleness
The chapter on singleness is very good. She starts by talking about her granddaughters, saying that we might assume that her prayer is that they meet the right man to marry. But no, instead she prays that each of them will realize that perhaps singleness is a desirable option for their lives, especially in light of the gospel.
She clearly says that singleness is a good thing, and that God has purposely placed each one of us in the position we are in.
4. Chapter on Giving - I am always challenged by anything about giving and how we should share our resources. I have decided our house should be much more minimalist - not only should we give away what we do not use, but not buy it in the first place and give the money away instead. Obviously, this will take work, but we are thinking about it again.
5. Chapter on Nurturing. This is how she addressed our roles as mothers, but she expands it to be much wider than that. So it is applicable to all women. She says that nurturing life is uniquely female and we can use it in so many ways - being mothers ourselves, becoming adoptive or foster carers, looking after troubled kids and youth, and having a friendly and welcoming house that models care of children.
She says that if 1 of 4 Christian families made a decision to adopt or foster children who are in need, what an amazing witness we could have to the community at large. It’s a big challenge, but one which definitely got me thinking.
Overall, as you have probably picked up, I think this book is great.
Throughout, Barbara uses illustrations of her own life, her close family and her friends. Through it not only did I feel I got to know her a bit - but I felt that she was eminently qualified to be writing this book. She has been through a lot, and has come through it a godlier woman. (I have since met her briefly, and still have the same very high opinion!)
I also found this book a good counter to general feminist ideas in the world today. I am so programmed by the world, that I bristle sometimes with the notion that I am a helper, a nurturer and I am to submit. However, it made me stop and think again - what am I as a woman before God? I have again been glad to affirm that I am Husband’s helper and the nurturer of my children, but more than that that I am a child of God, loved by him and therefore willing to submit to Christ as my Lord.
Barbara and her husband Kent have written a number of other books, all of which I recommend. Kent has written a companion book, Disciplines of a Godly Man. In fact these books have become our standard gifts to many we minister to for their 21sts. They have also written Disciplines of a Godly Family, which I also found very helpful. But by far, this one has been the best for me.
Please read this book - you will only benefit!

Book Review: Loving Life as an at-home mom

Loving Life as an at-home mom, Donna Otto

Some more detailed thoughts of this book:
  • it was enjoyable to read, and quite interesting
  • it had a helpful mixture of practical and Christian advice
  • she spends some time trying to convince women of the need to be at-home mothers (which I found a bit unnecessary as I am already convinced). She dwells a lot on financial implications and other things, which are all things women need to think through.
  • it seemed to have a good focus on God and his word and how that should shape us
  • some of her practical advice I found less helpful, eg. how to organise your wardrobe, shop for clothes efficiently and how to organise your house. However, if these were things that one struggled with and wanted advice on, one might find it helpful. I just already have good systems that work for us.
  • she makes finances a major point in a number of areas, which is fine, I just did not find it particularly relevant to my thinking (although, I admit, perhaps this is more relevant for others than for me)
  • she has a number of helpful family mottoes (Otto mottoes) which I liked, which were just phrases they started to use in their family to make a point.
  • it had a very American feel, which does not bother me, but others sometimes do notice.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Book Review: Praying the Scriptures for your Children

Praying the Scriptures for your Children, Jodie Bernt

This is a really helpful book, which helps mothers to think through how to pray for their
children. She divides the book into 5 sections: faith, character, safety, relationship and future. Each of these is then divided into subsections. Each chapter contains numerous bible verses from which to pray for your children. The best thing about this book is that it focuses your prayer life. Instead of vague prayers, such as:

Dear God, please look after A, help him to be safe and to become a Christian

I now pray things like:

- I pray that A will confess with his mouth "Jesus is Lord" and believe in his heart the God raised him from the dead and be saved (Rom 10:9)

- Give A wisdom and understanding. Do not let him forget your words or swerve from them. Cause him to love wisdom and to value it above all worldly desires and accomplishments. (Prov 4:5-7)

- Let A's light shine
shine before men, so that they may see his good deeds and praise you, our Father in heaven (Matt 5:16)

- Show A
that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

- Do not let
any unwholesome talk come out of A’s mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Eph 4:29)

- Help A to
be self-controlled. Let him show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about him. (Titus 2:6-8)

Things I really enjoyed about this book:
  • it was easy to read, lots of anecdotes, well structured, etc
  • made me think about better ways to pray
  • I love the idea of praying straight from the scriptures, but have never been very good at it, so it set me up with some good principles. You know (as long as you are using the bible appropriately) that you are praying in line with God’s word.
  • it challenged me to think about how I pray and how much of my praying can be mechanical and over and done with very quickly.
  • it's ‘ready to go’ - each chapter contains the bible verses at the end to use to pray for your children, great for busy mums
  • a friend also pointed out that it would a helpful book also for new Christians or people that are learning to pray, and could help them get into good habits
Other comments:
  • I do have some hesitation with her use of Scripture at points - when you look up some of her references in context, they don't always seem to fit her use of them. Most of her general principles are biblically accurate though, I just wouldn't choose that verse necessarily. And like any book, if you do the work yourself as well, you can make those judgments as you read it.
  • I felt the scope was too limited. It was great to point out the ways to pray for your children, but the areas for prayer and the prayers themselves could have a much wider application, to my husband, to me, to our friends and others in ministry, for Christians and non-Christians. Therefore, after reading this book, I used her prayers and her layout, and set up a way to do it myself, with a broader scope. In doing so, my goal was to take some of the standard jargon out of my prayer and replace it with scripture, and in so doing, help me to learn more of the bible at the same time. At this point I would say it has been successful.
  • Similarly to above, I thought it was a shame it is so focussed on mothers, because it can restrict the possible audience (what about fathers?).
  • Some concerns with her prayer points were raised by my book group at the time we read this:
  1. She has a quite lot of prayers to pray for your children’s future, including their marriages. However, she does not seem to consider the option of praying for them if they remain single. For example, for contentedness for the parents and the child, or even an acknowledgement that it might be God's plan that they remain single. I don’t want to be closed to that option as a praying parent - rather I pray that my children will make godly and wise choices either in marriage or singleness.
  2. one of our group was offended (understandably, and personally) that Bernt prayed that her children would marry people from unbroken homes. She felt it was holding the sins of the parents against the child.
  3. another of our group thought that her emphasis on Satan was at times unsettling and too strong.
However, having said all that (and note that this is a longer review because I specifically read this as party of a book group who then discussed the books!), I think this is a great book and if it encourages mothers to pray biblically and intelligently for their children, that is a wonderful thing.

Love & Respect

Love & Respect, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs

Note in 2020: 

I originally reviewed this book very favourably in 2008. At the time I thought it had a lot to offer and the concept of men desiring respect and women desiring love made sense. In addition, Husband and I both appreciated it when we read it and it changed some of the ways we did things and related. So, it had value for us at the time. 

However, upon re-reading it, my view has completely changed. A few issues:

- I believe Emerson misuses scripture, grabbing Ephesians 5:33 as his base verse and hanging an entire theory of marriage off of it.

- His premise is that marriage is about needs, and is self-fulfilment based. That is, you meet my needs and I'll meet yours. Not much of service, but more about how I meet your needs in the hope that you'll do the same. 

For example, he actually says to wives: "this is the key to empowerment: you get what you want by giving him what he wants"

- He overplays stereotypes. There is a lot of "all men think...", "all women need...". He refers to men having blue hearing aids and sunglasses while women's are pink, affecting both's hearing and view of things. Almost every difference is broken down along gender lines, with only a vague nod towards those who do not act this way. It alienates men and women who think differently. 

- His representation of headship and submission is unhelpful at best, and could be damaging at worst.
- He discusses sex only from the perspective of men needing it / wanting it, nothing about men serving their wives in this way and women who also desire that physical connection with their husbands. 

- Overall, this is not a book recognising the sin in us all, the grace extended to us in Christ and the way we are called to live godly lives of service, especially in our marriages. It does not start or end with the gospel. 

If you want to explore some of the more extensive critiques of this book in detail, search online. I have decided not to extend more energy on it.

However, I retract my recommendation and now place it on my 'do not read' list. 


I have included sections of my original review below for a little more detail:

His premise is that while men and women both need and want love and respect, women particularly desire their husband's love and men especially crave their wife's respect. Both Husband and I found benefit from it. While we might not talk in the language he uses and Husband was not convinced he needed to hear me say 'I respect you', some of the principles echoed with us. For example, I realised it had never occurred to me to express gratitude that he goes out to work each day to provide for us, and which enables me to stay at home.

He divides the book into three sections, which he calls 'cycles' - which are patterns of behaving.

The Crazy Cycle basically says: without love, she reacts and without respect, he reacts and it just keeps repeating.  When she feels unloved she will not show respect, etc.

The second section, is where you move to when addressing this problem. He calls this the Energizing Cycle - where his love motivates her respect and her respect in turn motivates his love. He then goes through mnemonic devices with detailed chapters each for husbands and wives, to show them ways of showing respect and love. These are cutesy and ended up feeling complex, and divided everything along gender lines.

The third section is the Rewarded Cycle. He loves regardless of her respect and she respects regardless of his love. This is actually where marriage should start, not finish. We do not respect our husbands in order to get love from them. We show unconditional love for our spouses. This is what God has shown us, this is what we are commanded to do and this is we promised in our marriage vows. 

Eggerichs goes on to say later in the chapter - "In the ultimate sense, your marriage has nothing to do with your spouse. It has everything to do with your relationship to Jesus Christ."  Upon reflection, this is one of the most accurate statements about marriage, but the book itself and what it presents does not actually support it. 

Book Review: How to Really Parent Your Child

How to Really Parent Your Child, Ross Campbell

I have just finished this book and I really enjoyed it. Having also read How to Really Love Your Child, I think both are excellent. They cover similar ground in some ways, but I got lots out of both.
His overall ideas are that to parent effectively we must be parenting proactively rather than reactively. So, instead of parenting in a way which is driven by a child's actions (reactive), we parent in a way that is driven by a child's needs (proactive). He states that we must be focusing on long term issues rather on the short-term cutting out of unpleasant behaviour. He states that the 4 needs of children are:
  1. Nullifying Anger
  2. Emotional Fulfillment
  3. Security and Shelter
  4. Training and Discipline
He then goes through each of these in detail, starting with love. Love can be shown with eye contact, touch and focussed attention.

Here is a selection of what I found to be the most helpful points Campbell makes:
  • "One of the great and comforting secrets of parenting is that the most powerful strategy is a simple one: Love your child; show your love wisely" (p. xxii)
  • We must use our behaviour to profess, prove and promote our love
  • "Instead of looking first to your children's behaviour, begin with your own" (p27). We are the ones who set the tone, create atmosphere and establish rules. To put it bluntly, the buck stops with us, we must behave the way we want our children to behave. Seems obvious, but when I think about my behaviour at times, it can be less than exemplary!
  • Before we can achieve family discipline, we must achieve self-discipline. Parents must have control over their households in a way that is firm but fair and loving.
  • We are the ones who are training our children - it is our responsibility to teach them how to manage in this world; "Train your children in mind and character to enable them to become self-controlled and constructive members or society" (p47). He makes the point a number of times throughout that parenting is a sustained exercise in letting go.
  • The Power of Protection chapter was a great one, which covered things like teaching children integrity, how to master their emotions and live by logic, grasping teachable moments, etc. I found it a thought-provoking chapter which reminded me again of the long-term aspects of parenting and character-development in a child.
  • The Anger chapter (Defusing the Anger Explosion) was very helpful - I wrote lots of notes for myself! Campbell states that training in anger management in the most crucial and difficult task that faces you as a parent. While still early on in these years of parenting, I am already getting a glimpse of this for myself at the moment, in training our 5 year old. He has some good ideas on how to respond well to the anger in our children.
The later chapters on the media; coping with fear, anxiety and depression; and motivation were all also helpful.

One of his final comments is that: just as it is hard to live as a Christian by grace, not works, it is just as hard to parent by grace, not works. That is, it is much easier to set up a merit-based, reward/punishment system of parenting than to show our love unconditionally and go from there. I think he has a real point here, which I am continuing to ponder the implications of. So much of parenting can be a reward or punishment system. which in some ways (I think) has to continue - there must be consequences for inappropriate or disobedient behaviour, just as there can be rewards for good behaviour. However, the real challenge (at least for me) is: how do I ensure my children really and truly feel loved by us, no matter who they are or what they do? If his premises and research are true, there does appear to be a lot riding on getting the balance right. Let us all continue to strive to really love and parent our children wisely, and with grace.