Monday, December 14, 2015

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, Robert C. O'Brien

I read this book myself as a child, and so was excited to find it still available for my kids.  Mr 12 enjoyed it on his own a few years ago (and still enjoys it), and I have just read it to Miss 8 & 10, who also swiftly became fans.

Mr Frisby, a widowed field mouse, lives on a farm with her 4 children.  Her son, Jonathon, falls ill and she seeks help for his safe recovery from another mouse, a crow and finally an owl, who suggests she see the rats and ask for their help.  All the animals on the farm know of the rats, but tend to avoid them.  Bravely facing her fears, she does as instructed and in time comes to hear the story of the rats themselves and how her own husband used to be one of their friends.

It is at a simple level a lovely story of intelligent animals working together and helping one another.  At a deeper level there are comments on laboratory testing and whether animals can be civilised.  Reading it again as an adult, I reflected how it truly represents a humanistic world view – that is  that people (or in this case, rats), when given the chance can develop into something better and become more civilised, more human, as it were.   Of course, this is completely at odds with the Christian view of the depravity of man, and our need for a saviour, rather than having the ability to save ourselves. Mr 12 and I had a brief conversation to that end. 

In the end though, it’s also just a lovely story.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Pray for the World

Pray for the World, Operation World

I was thrilled to discover recently that Operation World have released an edited version of their marvellous resource. Operation World is a detailed analysis of all countries of the world, with population data, details of faith groups and churches and then prayer points for each country. However at times, its detail was its downfall. It was slow to interpret, heavy to carry, and hard to break down into manageable chunks. When our kids became interested in all the countries of the world, we tried to use it, but it was too much information for me to sort out and sift through to make it manageable for after dinner prayers.

Pray for the World came to the rescue! A much more manageable edited version, it now gives you basic stats on each country (population, evangelical Christians, key religious groups) and generally 4-6 prayer points. Each night we can easily find 5 prayer points to cover each each of us.  It's arranged by continents, and we are still going through the 50+ countries of Africa, but thanks to some fun internet quizzes (Jetpunk, referred to here), we all know where they are so everyone has remained interested.

I am so excited Operation World has made this resource so family friendly, it keeps us looking out from ourselves to the rest of the world, realising how different it can be, yet how God works in so many varied ways and places.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


All year a note has been sitting in my 'to do' list that says  'Write new advent material'.  Every month  it has popped up to remind me, and every month I tell it to remind me in another month.  However, thanks to the time I had away earlier this month, I was finally able to put the time aside for this little project.

For 9 years we have been doing one of two options.  We started with a "Genesis to Jesus" advent booklet.  Later we added another option, "The Birth of Jesus".  Both were 25 days of readings, questions, prayers and optional activities/music, etc  (you can see the development of these and how we did them by looking through the advent posts).

For the stages our kids were at they were great.  There were boxes to open, activities to do, craft if one had the energy and always a focus on Jesus and the main point of Christmas.

However, over the last year or so I have felt we needed to change it around a bit.   The activities and craft no longer interested everyone.  Last year no one wanted to draw the pictures.  No one is excited by cheap plastic toys anymore.  They still loved the boxes and the idea of doing the reading each day, but the content and delivery needed to change a bit.  I felt that Mr 12 especially needed something to push him a bit more and that we all could do with some new material to think about and work through.

So this year, we are trying a new set of readings I have developed.  It's called "Who is this man?"

  • There are 24 readings (why did I think we could ever manage a reading/activity, etc on Dec 25!?).  Each bring out an aspect of who Jesus is: such as in the image of God, word become flesh, son of God, creator, unchangeable, light of the world, good shepherd, etc. 
  • At the beginning I thought I would struggle to get 24 different ideas.  In the end, I had to decide which to keep and which to leave out!  There is so much we can learn about Jesus and who he is.
  • There are some questions to think about
  • There are some things to pray about 
  • There are no longer any activities or songs, but of course if we think of things that go along with them we can easily do them.   Part of this is thinking about how to keep an almost teenage son still keen to interact with it.
  • We will still do the boxes, as they are a family tradition now.  We will put a title card in each so we can hang them up to see the progression.
  • The boxes will have lolly treats or an instruction to 'look under the Christmas tree'.  As we did last year, a fair number of gifts are given throughout advent, meaning there will be less presents on Christmas Day, but we have lots to play with and have fun with for the whole month.   Already included is the new Colin Buchanan Christmas CD, which we are all keen to hear - that will be the present for Day 1!  

If you would like to see this new material, it is available on the resources page: Who is this man?   If you use Acrobat Reader, you can print it as a booklet, or however works for you.  I still consider this to be in  draft form until we do it this year and see how it goes.  If you would like to try it, I would love your feedback on how it went, especially if you have also used my other material.

I also felt that the other material could do with a format update.  None of the content has changed, but it just looks a bit better, again accessed by the resources tab:

  • The Birth of Jesus.  This one is better for those with younger children.  It covers the story of the first Christmas.  
  • Genesis to Jesus.  Possible better with older primary children, although we used it with littler ones too.   It covers the story of the Old Testament and then how the promises lead to Jesus.  I have stretched each day's readings over 2 pages, to allow the pictures to be drawn on the pages on the booklet itself if wanted (and to fit it all in better).
I had a great comment from April last year about how she inserts extra blank pages in the booklets so her kids can draw pictures into it and then keep them.   I thought it was a great idea, and you might like to do it too.

I'll let you know how we find "Who is this Man?", but as usual you are welcome to use any of this material for your own families.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Picture Perfect

Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn’t Add Up, Amy Baker

I have been slowly working my way though this book for a number of months now.   It seems I picked it up at just the right time for it to be be very relevant and challenging. I read it on an iPad, so I had no idea how in depth it would be - it turned out to be longer and more detailed than I had expected (still only ~200 pages)

Baker has taken a long, hard look at perfectionism, the dangers it brings and how the gospel of grace saves us from it.

She starts out by analysing different types of perfectionism – such as people who don’t live up their own expectations, people who are always disappointed in others who don’t live up to their expectations, people who have given up trying to meet other’s expectations and people who are trying to meet their idea of God’s expectations.  It’s a good couple of chapters using specific people and situations to set the scene and illustrate her points.   Part 2 starts to think about how change can take place, using Jesus as our standard and how in fact, we are not called to worship the god of perfection, but the perfect God.   Baker is very good at assessing the issues and how all these problems stem from an incorrect knowledge of God.  Her ultimate challenge is to see that you can never be perfect, as God is perfect, yet grace saves us so that we can worship him and live our lives relying on this perfect God.

Part 3 got more applicable, and for this I was appreciative, for up to this point I felt she had diagnosed the issues very well, but I was wondering what I was supposed to do about it.  In these chapters, Baker addresses some of the issues that can be particularly challenging for perfectionists – fear of failure, pride, false humility, shame, guilt, and being able to rest.   Throughout these chapters we are reminded that perfection in found in Christ, that we only fail if we fail to glorify God, and that we are to find pride in His glory, not our own.

What is interesting about this book is that you come to see how perfectionism misplaced, that is, living to any standard other than God’s, is the condition of all humanity.   Unfortunately, some people will never pick up this book to see how relevant it is to them, yet it is applicable to all of us.   It’s worth reading and thinking about.   It made me ponder many aspects of my own character and how they are driven by the wrong motives.   It will challenge you to think about how your life is to be lived for Jesus, not yourself; not because of what you can do, but because of what he has already done.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Man Up

Man Up

We went to the movies last week to see Man Up, a new BBC Films & Studio Canal production.  Starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell, it was a fun story of a mistaken blind date.    Nancy (Bell), a 34-year-old currently despairing at the state of her love life, is standing under a clock holding a book when she is mistaken for Jack’s set up date (a 40-year-old divorcee expecting to meet a 24-year-old triathlete).  Unable to find the words to correct him, they end up spending the day together.   As the truth slowly emerges, it becomes evident both of them have their own past relationship demons to work through, and both need to look forward not back.

Of course, being a modern comedy, there is some swearing, crassness and a fair bit of alcohol, but not over the top.   We liked it, it’s a classic feel-good movie.   There are strong similarities to movies like Love Actually, which I suspect means means it’s possibly not a great movie to see if you are single and dissatisfied.   Of course like all movies it’s unrealistic – who has that range of emotion and development of feeling over a range of about 8-10 hours?

Having said that it has good acting (I do like Simon Pegg, star of Run, Fat Boy, Run), a fun story and a catchy soundtrack.  A nice way to spend a few hours.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood

Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood, David P. Setran & Chris A. Keisling                      

Husband put this one in my hands, and as it is very relevant to his work, I was keen to read it.  Subtitled A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry, you can also see why he recommended it to his whole organisation, those who work with university students.  

It is a detailed analysis of Emerging Adults - a term which has been developed to describe young adults in their 20s when they are finding their way, in study, jobs, life partners, and faith decisions.  It has become almost a full decade of ‘me’ time, characterised strongly by self absorption and self fulfilment.

The authors look at faith, spiritual formation, identity, church, vocation, morality, sexuality, relationships and mentoring.   In each area they review current trends in emerging adults, the risks and opportunities, and the ways those working with them can encourage these young adults to love Jesus, live the gospel and make life choices that will grow them in the faith and grow the kingdom of God.

It was a fascinating read, both the analysis and the proposed ways forward.  Some points that resonated with me:
  • The challenge to address society’s “moralistic therapeutic deism”.  That is, we don’t just follow a God because he gives us a way to live and makes us feel good about it.  Rather we want hearts to be shaped and lives to be formed for the glory of God and to really know God, who he is and what he has done.
  • There were very helpful suggestions for churches to think about how to engage with this age group – though strong teaching, intergenerational fellowship, worship and outreach.
  • Thinking about vocation not through the lens of “Who am I?” but “Whose am I?” and in so doing considering gifts, passions, opportunities and community. 
  • Helpful comments in the relationship section about living through this age as a single and how relationships can develop wisely and well.
  • A strong call to mentor this age group – both those who are parents of them, those who work with them and those who have the opportunity; “Without question, the “mentoring gap” in emerging adulthood is one of the most significant factors blunting spiritual formation in these years” (p212).  This age group need “mentors who guarantee the possibility of a kingdom focussed adult life” (p228)
For those who work with this age group, I suggest this is essential reading.   For those who are parenting or about to parent this age group, I would also recommend it, to help think again about how our role as parents, even when they are young adults, is never finished.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Written in my own Heart's Blood

Written in my own Heart’s Blood, Diana Gabaldon

This eighth book in the Outlander series was released with great anticipation mid last year. I read it straight away but never blogged about it. I bought the book the day I found out my grandmother died, flew to Sydney, led the service and then got on a plane to join my family in Singapore for a week’s holiday. That led to a 3 month break from blogging, so some books were never reviewed. 

However I always planned to re-read this one and finally did so in the last month. Gabaldon’s books in this series are enormous, so it’s no surprise there is a fair wait between volumes. The seventh in the series An Echo in the Bone finished on a cliffhanger in about 3 separate story lines. This eighth book was a 4 year wait, and was well worth it. 

Picking up right where the previous book ended, we are thrown into 18th century America, in the time of the War of Independence. Minor storylines are also continued in 1739 and the 1980s in Scotland. I reflected again that I like these books because Gabaldon portrays strong marriages. Any characters where she includes both the husband and the wife, have a positive marriage: Jamie & Claire, Roger & Brianna, Ian & Rachel, Denzel & Dottie. It’s remarkably refreshing.

It was suggested that this book would be the last in the series and it finished in a satisfying yet hopeful way. However, I am now informed there in a ninth in production – so there is more to look forward to, in about another four years!