Monday, April 24, 2017

Journey to the Cross

Journey to the Cross, Will Walker and Kendal Haug

I have read numerous Easter devotionals over the years.   Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross by Nancy Guthrie has been a favourite, with her 25 readings from different thinkers. Similarly, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper makes you stop and ponder the vast depths of the sacrifice that Jesus made.

Journey to the Cross is now added to my collection as a great choice of reading in the lead up to Easter. Walker and Haug have designed a set of readings to cover the Lenten period, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday – 6.5 weeks. Each week focusses on a different theme: repentance, humility, suffering, lament, sacrifice and death.

Each day has a reading that calls to worship, a confessional prayer, a section from Mark’s gospel (starting with Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, to the end) and a prayer of thanksgiving.   Then there is a devotional based on a Scripture passage relevant to the theme.  This ends with some reflection questions and a closing prayer. Each Sunday is a shorter reading, of a hymn or profession of faith, as a way of celebrating the truths of the gospel.

I have benefitted so greatly from this resource. My heart was turned more towards Christ in the lead up to Easter. The sobering themes enabled me to reflect on each for the whole week, enabling more sustained thoughts on things like lament, which I would rarely take the time to do normally.

I found the challenge of how to observe Lent helpful.  Lent is a way of giving up something so that we focus on God.  Not something that draws attention to itself, but something that draws us into fuller dependence on Jesus. Perhaps it is an acknowledgement of that which takes us away from Jesus. So, having never having given up anything for Lent before, I did this year. I gave up Facebook, and it was both remarkably freeing and enabled me to see again how it does not help me in my walk with God.

The prayers throughout were very encouraging, and since I love written prayers I may choose to incorporate some into my own private prayers. Many were sourced from The Worship Sourcebook.

Here are just a few of the observations I found encouraging along the way:
“Ultimately, suffering is about learning to receive whatever God has placed in our hands as his goodness for us today.” (p95)  
“Lament is not about getting things off your chest. It’s about casting your anxieties upon God, and trusting him with them.  Mere complaining indicates a lack of intimacy with God.  Because lament is a form of prayer, it transforms our complaints into worship.  Anyone can complain, Christians can lament.”  (p101)  
“The norm in our culture is to sacrifice whatever we have to get what we want.  The way of true sanctification is to sacrifice everything we want because of what we already have in Christ.  This is the heart of Lent.  We are decluttering our lives, inside and out, testing the vales and habits and desires that have become our acceptable norm. We are considering what Jesus gave up for us, and it is changing us” (p146-7)  
“Repentance, humility, suffering, lament, and sacrifice do not come naturally.  Indulgence and self-righteousness do.” (p157)
It is a sobering way to spend six weeks. Yet it’s also filled with praise and worship and wonder at what Christ has done. In the busyness of first term and the complications of life, this had me dwelling in Jesus and God and their marvellous plan of sacrifice for the whole world.  Time very well spent.

Monday, April 17, 2017


Screenwise, Devorah Heitner

What a great book! Discovered at random at the local library, I’m so glad I picked it up. Heitner’s goal is the clear subtitle of the book: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World.

Anyone currently raising children are raising digital natives – people growing up in the digital world, connected by technology and unaware that there was any other way.  In contrast, we, their parents, are digital migrants – we can clearly recall a childhood without social media, email, a mobile phone or even a computer.   I recall welcoming our first computer into our home (I would have been about 10).  It was a very early Apple and all four of us sat around it playing family games, with no images at all, just descriptive text.   No wonder many parents feel like they are playing catch up today!

Heitner encourages all parents to be mentors to their children.  She reminds us that while our children may have tech savvy, we have wisdom. We should not mistake digital proficiency with good digital citizenship (p2). True screen wisdom is about relationships (p4). 

She encourages parents not to be threatened by the digital issues around us, but to be digitally literate ourselves and to be tech-positive, seeing the benefits of what’s available. She encourages parents to get involved with the tech our children use, helping them to ask questions of it. As a result, we had a very interesting dinner conversation about the good and potentially unhelpful things about Minecraft.  I was also able to have a similar conversation with a goddaughter about her social network apps.

One of her strongest encouragements is to use mentoring over monitoring. Don’t rely on websites, blocking devices and apps to control your children, rather teach them good digital citizenship. Show them how to write emails. Illustrate unhelpful use of texting. Show them how tone can be read wrongly from text. Ask permission before posting any photos of them. Get them to explain why they like an app. Encourage them to consider what about an app might be unhelpful. Ask them what worries them about tech use.  See if they think what their friends do online is worrying or helpful, and why.

Going through various topic areas in detail, she covers how this digital age affects family life, friendship and dating, school life, and the issue none of us ever had to deal with (unless our parents were famous) – growing up in public. These are peppered with sage advice and helpful comments, almost all common sense, but sometimes in the midst of it all we can forget! Things like – when in doubt take it offline (in relating to people), how conflict can be a spectator sport online, that distraction is a major issue now in education (something we are becoming increasingly aware of in this house), and that we must be trying to ensure any content we produce online is positive, constructive and sensitive. As a real challenge – she suggests we ask our children which of our own tech habits are their least favourites. 

This is highly recommended reading for all parents of digital natives.  To get you more interested, you might like to start with her website -

Friday, April 14, 2017

Pete's Dragon

Miss 12, 9.5 and I really enjoyed this lovely movie. Pete, age 5, is on an adventure with his parents in the opening scenes, driving to go camping in the country.  In one of the most sensitive scenes of major loss I have seen, Pete is the only survivor of a major car crash. Wandering into the woods afterwards, he is found by a large, caring and gentle dragon. Named Elliot by Pete (after his favourite book), we then fast-forward six years to find that Pete has lived in the forest all this time with Elliot, in scenes reminiscent of the Jungle Book.

Park ranger Grace has grown up listening to her father’s (Robert Redford) legendary tales of once seeing a dragon in the woods, but she knows these forests and has never seen anything of the type.  Along with her fiancĂ©, Jack, and his daughter Natalie they discover Pete in the woods, at a similar time that local logger Gavin (Jack’s brother) spots the dragon and goes hunting for him.

There are a few mildly scary scenes along the way, mostly when hunters try to capture Elliot, or when he fights back, defending Pete or his home.   

In the end though, it’s a lovely story from many angles.  Elliot is a great protective guardian, Pete finds the joy of human company again, and the Grace’s family realises they can expand to include this lovely lonely boy.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Lost and Found: Losing Religion and Finding Grace

Lost and Found: Losing Religion and Finding Grace, Kendra Fletcher

This short book tells the story of how one family, enmeshed in their own lives of self-righteous faith, came to a fuller, greater understanding of the grace of God for all of us, and that our meaning is found in him, not in what we do for him. 

As key leaders in a strongly patriarchal church community, and with eight home-schooled children, Kendra and Fletch they thought they were pretty good in God’s eyes.   Through the raw, terrifying experience of three major health scares for their children, they were challenged to realise that they trusted in themselves and their faith, rather than in Jesus power alone to save.

It would be easy to read this and fall into the trap of thinking ‘we’re not that extreme’, we’re not in one of ‘those churches’, where people think ‘that way’.   But Pharisees can lurk in all of us, wanting to prove our own worth and justify our own salvation.

Through the lens of the Fletchers’ experience, readers who connect with stories and like experience-based learning could find this book very helpful.   Those who are looking for a more structured, explanation of what they discovered theologically might look elsewhere.   There is real value, though, in stories like these.  They encourage, they correct, they rebuke, sharpen and strengthen.  And this one causes you to ask – where do I put my trust really?