Monday, November 28, 2016

Zeal without Burnout

Zeal without Burnout, Christopher Ash

Seven years ago I did a detailed chapter by chapter review on Going the Distance: How to Stay Fit for a Lifetime of Ministry, by Peter Brain.  It is an excellent book, but requires a fair time commitment to read it. 

Christopher Ash has developed this primer which is also excellent in its simplicity, clarity and brevity.   Ash writes to those who can prevent burnout in ministry:
Burnout is a terrible price to pay for Christian zeal.  Sometimes it cannot be avoided.  For some, their circumstances mean there is no other way to live sacrificially for Jesus.But sometimes it can.  For many of us there is a different path.  One that that combines passionate zeal for Jesus with plodding faithfully along year after year.  I want to write about this path.  (p14)

He writes to those in full-time ministry and to those committed lay people who also serve the Lord Jesus faithfully.   
As someone who has spent the last decade training young men and women for Christian service, I have been keen to help them see that the best kinds of ministry are, more often than not, long term and low key.  I have tried to prepare them for a marathon, not a short, energetic sprint.  In other words, to help them have a lifetime of sustainable sacrifice, rather than an energetic but brief ministry that quickly fades in exhaustion. (p20)
This resonated with me as Husband and I often talk about wanting to be in ministry for the long marathon and to manage it in a way so that we can.   He also addresses the truth that “there is a difference between godly sacrifice and needless burnout”, adding that even if it may sound heroic to burn out for Jesus, we do not do it alone.  We take others down in our crashes – spouses, children, colleagues and friends. 

Ash starts with the reminder that we are creatures of dust.   We are mortal and we need sustenance, but God does not.

He then moves through seven keys:
  1. We need sleep and God does not – sleep is both a necessity and a gift.     
  2. We need Sabbath rests and God does not.  Husband and I know this from personal experience – the rest of a day off in seven has been remarkably restorative for us individually and as a couple.
  3. We need friends and God does not.  He adds an extra part here about maintaining intimacy for married couples.
  4.  We need inward renewal and God does not.   We need to find ways to refresh and recharge.
  5. A warning to beware celebrity – for how much of overwork is driven by a desire to please others and be feted?
  6. An encouragement – it’s worth it.  God does not need us, yet this service of the Lord matters.  It may not be able to be measured or counted, but it is worth it.   And any fruit borne, is a gift of God.
  7. A delight – rejoice in grace, not gifts

He concludes with some parting ideas: don’t be soft (ie. don’t go the other way into over protection), don’t despair (you can change patterns, and God still works out his grace), do a self-check and make a resolution (to glory in salvation not anything we can or cannot do).

I read this book with two other ministry wives and we were encouraged and challenged.  I suspect you will be too!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Max & Liz books

Max & Liz books, Jenny L. Cote

Our children discovered Jenny L. Cote’s books a few years ago, and have loved them. It’s an interesting category she has created – a biblical retelling with fictional characters added in - the fictional characters being mostly animals!

In the first book The Ark, The Reed & the Firecloud, you are introduced to Max, a Scottish terrier and Liz, a brilliant French cat. Under the instructions of a goat called Gillamon, who reveals to them the Maker and what he has called them to do, they make their way to Noah as he builds the ark. What I loved about this book was the creative way Cote managed to get all the animals of the world to Noah, and then how they were housed in their native habitats (eg. desert and ice) on the ark. Of course, her interpretation is entirely fictional, but you found yourself thinking it could have happened that way. There is an element of danger in as an evil stowaway threatens the safety of the animals and the continuation of the human race.

At the end of the book, Max & Liz, with their life partners (Kate and Al) are granted immortality, and the chance to live through all time as they see the outworking of the grand plan of the Maker throughout history.

The second book, The Dreamer, the Schemer & the Robe is set in the time of Joseph and again I really liked it, with the details she included as the animals lived among the people of the Genesis accounts.

Now Cote is in the midst of writing The Epic Order of the Seven series, where 7 animals (including these original ones) are going to live out the rest of the history alongside the key events. Book 1: The Prophet, The Shepherd & the Star, begins with Isaiah in his years of prophecy, moves forward to Daniel in Babylon and then finishes in the early days of Jesus’ young life. In this book, Cote masterfully deals with the Old Testament prophecies, constantly showing how they are all fulfilled in the coming of Christ.

Book 2: The Roman, the Twelve & the King, has two concurrent storylines – the time of Handel as he writes “The Messiah” and the adult life and ministry of Jesus. 

Two more books have been written:  The Wind, The Road & The Way (the story of Acts part 1) and The Fire, Revelation and the Fall (Acts part 2). Three more are promised to complete the series, also forming their own trilogy. I have not read these ones.

She is clearly a committed Christian and her writing praises the Maker (God) and how he acts, and sings the praises of the Jesus her Lord and Messiah.   The way she has chosen animals to be part of the story means the same events unfold as in our bibles, but through the animals’ perspective, as they interpret and explain what is happening.  As such, kids are given solid, real biblical truths through creative storytelling. There is always a note of tension, as shadowy forces against the Maker at work: the devil in various forms. Of course, in bringing her interpretation to biblical events, there are some things I felt were overemphasised (eg. there is a very strong emphasis on 7s in The Prophet, The Shepherd & the Star). But overall, I am amazingly impressed at how she has managed to essentially re-write massive parts of the bible into a setting that captures children’s attention and imagination while still remaining very faithful to the biblical account.

At points I’ve had hesitations about how the reader is to know what is factual and what is fictional  I noted upon finishing The Roman, The Twelve & the King, that there is a detailed explanation of which parts were factual and which she embellished. Even more helpful is the opening page of the next book The Wind, The Road & the Way which says “This book contains fact, fiction, fantasy, allegory and truth. For the entire true story, read Acts and the rest of the New Testament.”   

These are long books - all near 500 pages – so while they can be read and understood by ages 9-10+, they need to be committed readers to manage it. Because she has lots of animals with different backgrounds, they all speak with accents and with some foreign words, which can add to the confusion for younger or less capable readers (it’s hard to read a Scottish accent sometimes!).  Having said that, there is always a glossary at the end to explain the terms.  

These are also books adults will get a lot out of. I loved the first two, but have found the Epic Order of the Seven harder going – they are very long and take a reasonable time commitment. But whenever I have read them, I have been encouraged in my faith and reminded of the biblical account.    Mr 13 avidly awaits the new releases, and started reading them at about age 10. Miss 11 has also enjoyed them and has read them all. I am planning to read the two set in Acts over the summer, as part of my thoughts as I prepare some teaching in Acts myself.

If your children want to read Christian books (or you want them to!), these are a great choice.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


It is getting closer to December and therefore Christmas will soon be upon us!

I have blogged before about the Advent material that I have written over the years.  There are three different sets now.  This post will give an brief explanation of each, to assist you in choosing whether you would like to use one of them.  

Each is a set of 24 readings, designed to be used from Dec 1 - 24 (leaving Christmas Day itself free to celebrate in your own way!)   Each day takes no more than 5-10 minutes, although some optional extra activities could take longer.

The Birth of Jesus

This is aimed more at younger children, although still can be used with older ones.  It covers the story of the first Christmas.

Each day has a bible reading, questions to think about, a prayer to say and some optional activities which include a special verse, a picture to draw and sometimes a song to sing (if you have the optional CD:  King of Christmas (Colin Buchanan, 2005). 

Genesis to Jesus

This is possibly better with primary-aged children, although we used it with little ones too.  It covers the story of the Old Testament and then how the promises lead to Jesus.

Each day has a bible reading, questions to think about, a prayer to say and some optional activities which include a special verse, a picture to draw and sometimes a song to sing (if you have the optional CDs:  King of Christmas, Colin Buchanan (Colin Buchanan, 2005) and The King, the Snake and the Promise (Emu Music, 1998).

Who is this Man?

Each reading brings out an aspect of who Jesus is: such as in the image of God, the word become flesh, son of God, creator, unchangeable, light of the world, good shepherd, etc.

We used this last year with our children (aged 12, 10 and 8) and it pushed them all a little bit more.  However we knew people who also used it with much younger children and they also found it helpful.   There are no activities or daily drawing suggestions with this material, but they could be added if wanted.

If you want to see how we have used these three sets of material over the years, reading back through the Advent posts will show you.  We have boxes we open each day, which is a family tradition we now all love - but what goes in the boxes changes over the years.

These three sets of Advent material can all be downloaded via the resources link.

I hope your family enjoys thinking about Jesus over the Christmas season.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Secret Series

The Secret Series, Pseudonymous Bosch

Don’t you love a clever series?  Especially one written for children that gets their attention from page 1, and written by the loveliest pen-name I have come across. 

Book 1: The Name of this Book is Secret starts with a bold black page with the words “Warning: Do not read beyond this page!”  Then there is a warning, “are you sure you want to know this secret?  It might be better not to?”  Then Chapter 1 is written all is x’s:  “xxx!”  xx xxx.   “Xxxxx.   Xxxx.”  Xxxx xxxxx xxx.   Then there is a following apology that chapter 1 gave all the real names and places of the book, so it had to be kept secret.   It’s great.  What a clever way to get your attention.   What then unfolds in the story of Cassandra and Max-Earnest as they uncover a magician’s secret diary and a hundred-year-old mystery.  It’s written in a chatty, let-me-tell-you what happened style, with the author occasionally breaking out of the role of narrator to tell the reader something extra or make a funny comment.  It’s clever, funny and well-told.

Miss 11 devoured all 5 books in The Secret Series very quickly.  I have just enjoyed book 1, I may not bother with the rest myself – but I do think kids will like them.