Sunday, November 25, 2018

Summer Shutdown

Musings will be on holidays for the summer. I'll be back with more thoughts and book reviews from February.

Hope you have a Christ-filled Christmas and a joyous New Year.

Thanks for reading this year.


Friday, November 23, 2018


Dry, Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

What happens to a community when the water runs out? Do people work together, turn against each other, find ways to turn it to their advantage, or just seek to survive? This is the premise of Dry, by Neal Shusterman and his son Jarrod.

After years of drought, water restrictions and warnings, the water in Southern California is running out. Key farming areas have turns to dustbowls, states upriver have taken the water for themselves and stopped the flow downstream. What was once called a drought, then called the flow crisis, is now the ‘Tap Out’, where all water flow has ceased.

The book unfolds over five days, starting from the Tap Out and shows quickly and realistically what could happen to a population with no water.

Alyssa’s family are oblivious at the beginning, assuming the authorities will fix the problem quickly. Taking a few hours to respond, they soon realise all the shops have been emptied of bottled water. A bathtub full of melted ice can only last so long. Once there is absolutely no water, what do you do? Their parents head off to find water leaving Alyssa (16) with her brother Garrett (10).

Next door neighbors, Kelton (16) and his family, have been preparing for something like this for years. Having set up their house to be fully off -grid with high levels of security, they are ready for anything. All of a sudden, the end-of-the-world loony neighbours aren’t so crazy anymore. But what happens when the rest of the neighborhood is unprepared and comes looking for help?

Within days the whole region has come to a standstill. The sewerage system cannot work without water, the electricity goes down, and as the chapter heading suggests, it takes only three days for humans to start behaving like animals. The worst behavior comes out very quickly – mobs moving together, destroying water machinery that might have helped them, profiteers who trade water for people’s most valuable possessions, and those violently fighting over the last water supplies. At the same time, there are glimpses of hope as some people work together, share supplies, use ingenuity to solve their problems and care for those most in need.

As Alyssa, Garett and Kelton realise they cannot stay in their homes, they head out and pick up Jacqui (an unpredictable 19-year old loner) and teen Henry (always looking out only for himself) along the way. The interplay between all of them shows a depth to the characters and the realistic ways that people work together (or don’t) in a crisis.

In many ways, this is a highly frightening book about something we all suspect could happen. Shusterman's Scythe was fascinating, but not likely to occur. Everything you read about in Dry certainly could, and in our lifetime. The Shustermans have a very real insight into human nature and the various ways people can behave under pressure. Like Scythe, it’s a great story, but requires some level of maturity from the reader. Some younger readers could find it quite distressing, and it will stay with you for some time as you consider the implications of such an event. At the same time, it’s good for our youth to be challenged to think through the impacts of environmental change and policy on society, and how they might behave when really put to the test. Recommended reading for about 14 years and up.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Child Proof

Child Proof, Julie Lowe

Many parents seek a one-size-fits-all solution. We want simple answers to complicated problems and we want them to work every time.

Yet each family is different, each child is different, each circumstance is different. Our personalities vary, our temperaments differ. Each parent has their own sins, gifts and tendencies, and each child has their own sins, gifts and tendencies.

We fool ourselves into thinking there could be the same solution for every problem.
“It’s what all parents want, right? Safety and a guaranteed good outcome. We want that so much that we are easily persuaded to reach for a parenting formula or recipe—Do this! Don’t do that!—that promises to “childproof” our homes. But parenting formulas not only don’t deliver the promised outcome (safe, happy, never-in-trouble kids), they keep us from parenting by faith. So we miss out on a rich life of trusting God to guide us in knowing and loving our children and guiding them toward love for God and others in ways that are specific to their unique gifts and needs.”
Thankfully Julie Lowe has come to the same realization and shared it with us in her book Child Proof. Lowe is a counsellor with the CCEF, and a mother of six. Right away you feel she knows what she’s talking about and she comes at parenting from a slightly different angle: she first fostered two children when single, fostered two more once married, and then later two more were added to their family.

The book is broken into two parts, the first is where the principles lie: The Foundations for Parenting by Faith.

She starts by freeing parents from the trap of thinking there is only one right way to parent:
“The thing to remember is that, while the biblical principles remain universal and unchanging, the way they are applied in specific ways is unique to each family’s personalities, gifts, difficulties, and circumstances. The way God has structured it, there is much more liberty in how we live out godly principles in marriage and family life than we often give ourselves.”
In fact, what God calls us to is not a formula but faith:
“The answer we need as parents is not a formula for our families. I believe we should be looking at something far more challenging. Instead of providing a parenting recipe, God calls parents to think biblically, wisely, and carefully about what love looks like in their unique family. This calling requires an absolute dependence on godly wisdom, on spiritual discernment regarding my family, and on personal holiness to be what my family needs me to be. The goal is a home centered on Christ.” 
“This means that my ultimate goal is not even the good desires I have for our family, things like peace and quiet and obedient, moral children. My ultimate desire is to be a parent whose life rests on what has been graciously been given to me by the Father, modeled to me in Christ Jesus, and supplied to me by his Spirit.”
We are called to love God and love our children and that will impact the way we parent more than any structure, routine, guideline or expectation:
“But when we are motivated by a love for God and our children, our parenting choices are no longer driven by our need to attain particular results. My parenting is no longer controlled by my personal motives, agenda, fears, or hopes, even when those desired outcomes are good things. When we focus on what our role should be in our children’s lives and on knowing them personally, we focus less on their behavioral improvements and more on how the Lord is calling us to shepherd them.”
She calls us to consider what our families could be like:
“Instead, envision a family where there are imperfect people, many trials, and unwavering love. Imagine a home where brokenness and hope, temptations and forgiveness coexist. Where failures meet mercies that are new every morning. Where all members are in equal need and receive an equal measure of grace.”
There is so much gold in this first chapter. To whet your appetite, it is available online
via the New Growth Press website. Give it a try, I can almost guarantee you will want to continue reading the rest of the book.

The rest of this section addresses how we need to parent centering on Christ – cultivating his character and love in our family life, with the assurance that what he calls us to can never be accomplished by sheer human determination:
“A Christ-centered home means that we are emptying our home of personal agendas, striving to image the Lord before our children. We are striving to love sacrificially, to engage with one another meaningfully, and to pour forth God’s character in all we say and do. It does not mean perfection; it means humility in weakness. It means we give ourselves to him, and his strength is made perfect in our weakness. We become a channel of his life to others.”
Following chapters talk about becoming an expert on your family:
“God has established you as your child’s counselor, educator, discipler, and mentor. As a parent, you are perfectly positioned for this task. Although outside help and professionals can be useful, you are the expert.”
We are to study and understand our children: their skills, gifts, tendencies, weaknesses, fears, behaviors and areas requiring growth.
“It is not enough that we commit to knowing them well. We also want to help them know themselves. We want them to grow in understanding their own heart, their motives, their temptations and tendencies, their strengths, weaknesses, aptitudes, giftedness. We want children to know themselves, to know how to live well before God, and to trust him as Savior, Lord, and helper.”
She addresses how to parent according to the needs of your family: both knowing our children and their situations and how God’s word speaks to that. Discipline and rules are covered and she gives helpful principles for forgiveness, disciplining, and establishing the difference between moral rules and rules that teach life skills. We want to help our children develop discernment and character. Finally, we need to prioritise building bridges to our children and strengthening our relationship with them:
“This means we laugh with our children, we play with them, and look to affirm them and show that we like them. We demonstrate that we know them well and help them to know themselves. We point out their gifts and strengths, and the things we love seeing in their lives. And we gently, graciously show them their weaknesses, sins, and blind spots that they might see their need to depend on Christ. It is always our responsibility to build these bridges; we should never assume that it should fall on the child. They lack the position, the maturity, and the sense of purpose to do so.”
The final section: Parenting by Faith Applied, deals with particular situations, some which will only apply to some, and some to all. She covers:

  • Parenting a Difficult Child. This chapter finished with some excellent encouragement for parents from God’s word.
  • Parenting an Anxious Child. This chapter closes with thirteen ways to help comfort children from God’s promises.
  • Parenting a Child with Disabilities.
  • When Your Child Says, “I Don’t Know”. An excellent chapter dealing with an issue I had never fully identified, but face regularly: “children learn that this response keeps them from having to do the hard work of critical thinking or personal self-reflection. They may even avoid accountability, honesty, and vulnerability.” She has some great ideas to encourage conversation when kids claim, “I don’t know”, with the very first being: “Well, if you did know, what would your answer be?”!
  • When Your Child Says, “I Am Bored”
  • When Your Child Isn’t Thankful
  • The Importance of Role Playing and Practice
  • Technology and Your Child
  • When Your Child Breaks Your Heart

The real benefit of this book will be seen in how we choose to apply it. You could read it, think, “that’s great” and move on to the next book of wisdom that is released. Or, you could stop, work through her instructive questions and suggestions at the end of each chapter, and in God’s grace and wisdom, consider how to parent your children by faith in God and his good plans, despite our sins and weaknesses. That’s where I will turn next – figuring out ways to put some of these principles into practice in my own family.

I received an e-copy of this book from New Growth Press in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition

Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition, Andrew Purves

This is one of those rather specific books that won’t have a large audience, but those who persist will find treasure within. It is highly recommended for pastors who long to see how a strong theology links with their pastoral care. In addition, there would be great benefit for students of both theology and biblical counselling to appreciate their history and the importance of having a strong understanding of both disciplines.

Purves writes to show the strong historical link between theology and Christian pastoral care. They should not be divided, and it is only in recent times that they have been. In the past, the strongest pastor was a theologian and a counsellor. Pastoral work has a specific Christian identity,
“for the grace of God in Christ for us exposes the depth of the human condition in its separation from God in a way that no human science can. This same grace offers a remedy which leads to healing, blessings, and salvation to eternal life in union with Christ. The strongest possible connection exists between pulpit and counseling room, and between the study of Christian theology and the practice of pastoral care.” (p2)
Purves has selected five men of history and examines their pastoral and theological teaching and draws links for the reader today. There is some original source material included, but much of it is Purves’ explanation of the person’s work and thinking, with some application. As such, it is really a primer on the subject, but it is all most of us need to whet our appetite considering the teaching of these figures of the past who were committed to holistic Christian soul care with some modern implications.

Please note that this book was required reading for a recent CCEF course (Counseling in the Local Church) and some of my reflections will show that it was read for that purpose. (We were meant to consider how the reading changed how we think about our life within the body of Christ).

With Gregory of Nazianzus, there was a strong reminder of the seriousness of the call to ministry and the acknowledgment that we should feel ill equipped to do it well. We should feel the burden of the souls under our care and that God will hold us to account. Husband & I view our ministry as a joint vocation: we’re both committed to serving God together, and I take the warnings to those in ministry as applicable to myself as well. I recall with clarity his ordination in 2004 and the weight of responsibility I felt as he made promises before God and others to care for the people of God and to maintain his own life with integrity.

But I also think that while we should expect a high standard in ministry, we need to allow for experience and wisdom that continues to grow. Real wisdom to help the people of God comes after formal training, years of bible study and teaching, and experience in ministry. We should ask those we minister to forgive us for our mistakes as we learn, and emphasize that we’re always learning. We’re not sinless and need to ensure our congregations know that as well. It’s also true that people are responsible for their own choices and lives. We have a God-given duty to model, teach, exhort and encourage, but they ultimately make their own decisions before Him.

I appreciated the summary of the difficulties of pastoral work and particularly the reminder the people are different and require different approaches. This is a challenge: to recall details of people’s lives, their situations and struggles, and to speak in a way that’s helpful. Some need encouragement, some correction, some thrive under a gentle word, others need a bold exhortation. The wisdom to discern requires skill, and so it can be tempting to avoid hard topics and conversations.

The chapter on John Chrysostom highlighted the danger of separating the word of God from counselling, for preaching and teaching has a central place in the care of souls. Much counselling today does not give eternal help, but rather stop-gap solutions to survive this life. Theological conviction needs to go hand in hand with pastoral care. Yet often the two are divided: we think, here is the pastor who preaches well and here is the pastor who counsels well. They should be one and the same. Much study, devotion, time and energy is required to grow both in the things of God and our understanding of people.

The suggestion that theological training needs to include moral formation as well as spiritual formation was very apt. It is so saddening to see moral failure take apart a ministry.

Gregory the Great’s main message was that there needs to be a balance between the life of inner contemplation and outer activity. A pastor must have both, and avoid neither. It is his responsibility to tend to his own spiritual, moral and theological maturity. So, we are led to consider, which of these three am I likely to avoid?

Much of pastoral ministry is a matter of balance. Where do we tend to be unbalanced? Perhaps it is too much compassion and so avoiding speaking truth. We want to remain compassionate and caring, and willing to listen, but also explore ways of gently pointing people to God’s truth and promises, rather than just agreeing or seemingly to tacitly approve their statements.

The chapter on Martin Bucer gave the challenge for our pastoral care to be overtly Christian, for if the way I speak would just echo the words of pagan counsel, how am I helping eternally? If our ultimate goal is growth in Christ, we must be speaking Christ, both knowledgeably and with confidence. Sin must be addressed, for if we do not acknowledge sin, we never grasp the true need for our saviour. In addition, we are to see pastoral care as evangelism, bringing the truth of Christ to those who do not have hope.

Richard Baxter reminded that the pastor’s relationship with God is crucial. Purves notes that warnings today are more likely to be about pastors’ mental health, and while we do need to be aware of mental health, spiritual health is also key.

Purves’ conclusion does a masterful job of drawing all the threads together and he gives the reader several propositional statements which are explained and considered, these include:

  • Pastoral theology is a discipline, and pastoral care is a practice, deeply rooted at all points in the study of the bible.
  • God will hold pastors accountable for the exercise of the pastoral office and the care of God’s people.
  • Pastoral work demands taking heed to oneself to the end that he or she is theologically, spiritually, and ethically a mature person.
  • Pastoral ministry is contextual and situational

This book is a helpful and instructive read about the history of some men highly committed to both a strong theology and teaching of the word and high view of pastoral care of people. It should help anyone in any type of pastoral ministry to identify areas they should consider more strongly and how to unite their theology of God with their practice of care.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Good News for Little Hearts

The faculty of CCEF have teamed up with New Growth Press to produce a series of children’s books which deal with the heart issues that affect us all: anger, pride and fear. Aimed at children aged 5-10, each is edited by David Powlison or Edward Welch, both authors of excellent books for adults. The story creation for each is attributed to Jocelyn Flenders as her first published work for children.

All three books are beautifully illustrated by Joe Hox, who brings animals engagingly to life in situations we all can understand. Children will love to see the captivating touches that Hox has woven in: families live in houses with buttons and stamps for wall hangings, rulers for skirting boards, tables with clothes pegs for legs, and mini pot plants or corks for chairs.

In Buster’s Ears Trip Him Up (When you fail), Buster is super excited about camp and the big running race. Last year he won and he’s keeps telling everyone he will be the fastest again this year. As the family get ready for camp, Mama bunny leads the family in prayer, asking that all the family will come to know God better in the week ahead. On race day, to his great embarrassment, Buster’s ears cover his eyes and he falls flat on his face (literally discovering how pride comes before a fall!). Big sister Ivy takes him to one side and tells him a story about her own failure in a school project, showing that even when we fail, God’s love never fails. She explains pride got in her way, just like it did with Buster, and that sometimes we have to fail before we can understand how much we need God’s help.
“Before you did anything right, God loved you. God doesn’t love you because you win a race. He loves you because you belong to him.”
They pray together before they go back to camp and Buster learns to laugh at his failure.

In Zoe’s Hiding Place (When you are anxious), little Zoe mouse always has her head in a book failing to hear what is going on around her. Upon hearing of a school excursion where she got lost last time, Zoe is filled with fear and worry. Mama brings these words of wisdom: “Worry wants you to believe that you are all alone and God isn’t with you protect you. But that’s not true. Jesus is with you. He cares for you.” She advises Zoe to turn each fear into a prayer. When Zoe ends up getting lost again on the excursion, she remembers Mama’s words, pulls out a note from Papa which says “The Lord is near” and prays for help know what to do.

In Jax’s Tail Twitches (When you are angry), it’s acorn gathering day for the squirrel families. Jax gets angry at his brother for always being first, Papa gets angry at the neighbours who gather their acorns, and Mama gets angry when the dinner burns. The whole family makes mistakes in this one, as Papa says:
"'When I am angry, I need God to help me. I need Jesus to forgive me and show me where I am wrong too. The Great Book says that God is always there to help in times of trouble. Let’s ask God to help us now." And right then and there, the whole Squirrel family bowed their heads, folded their paws and asked God to forgive and help them.'

They go on to apologise to each other, and also to their neighbours for how they behaved.

Each book contains notes and guidance to help parents as they teach children about managing fear, failure and anger, which many parents will appreciate and hopefully realise to apply to themselves as well. There are also tear out bible verses for kids to keep in their pocket to remember God’s truths (families may have to figure out how to share these as well!)

One great feature of these books is the strong parental figures. They guide their children in the truth, acknowledge their own faults and listen well (Zoe’s mama “had good listening ears”). They bring their children back to God’s word as they guide and instruct, and are corrected by it themselves.

This is an excellent new series for children helping them to see that anger, fear and failure are things we all struggle with, yet we can trust God for his help as we do so, by his grace.

I received an e-copy of these books from New Growth Press in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 5, 2018

God Counts

God Counts, Irene Sun

What type of counting books do you read with your little ones? Usually books count animals or people or trains or colours. If they are faith-based books, they might count the numbers of animals in Noah’s ark or the flowers in the field that Jesus speaks about. Those are all fine, but they don’t really teach much except numbers.

This new book (released today) by Irene Sun, God Counts, proactively teaches children about God and his character while also teaching about numbers.

With soft, engaging, detailed illustrations by Alex Foster, Sun links each number to an overarching statement about God and his redemptive plan, providing a bit more detail with a bible reference.

It starts with:
“In the beginning God created numbers. Numbers declare the glory of God.
One tells us that God is the first and best”
With the smaller writing saying:
“The Lord, he is God, there is no others. God is the one and only, the only one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Later there is:
Three tells us God is love.
God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
Three in one, one in three,
They love one another, like a family.”

Other ways numbers are used include: “Nine tells us to be like God” and then lists the nine fruits of the spirit.

“Eleven tells us God forgives us” and then shows how 11 of the disciples came back to Jesus after leaving him.

It’s both instructional and thought-provoking for young ones that she does not just stop at number 12, but also includes infinity. “Infinity is a symbol for something that has no end. God is infinite. He is beyond numbers, beyond time, beyond space.”

And finally, she finishes with a wonderful encouragement to little children:
“God Counts…
God counts every hair on your head, every tear you cry.
God counts all of your steps until you walk with him side by side.
God counts all of your days until you see him face to face. God created numbers to declare his glory."
We always enjoyed counting books when we had pre-schoolers, everyone liked reading them. I would have loved to have had this one so that the counting also taught about God. If you have little ones, get this book. It will expand their minds to know God better while they learn the early numbers.

I received an e-copy of this book from New Growth Press in exchange for an honest review.