Give Them Grace – A Book Review

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I began this book one move, one pregnancy and five summer birthdays ago.  Needless to say, it should have been a quick read but with all we’ve had going on these past six months or so, I wasn’t able to finish it in a timely manner! I’ll begin my review by noting that I have read a lot of parenting books…biblical parenting books, adoptive parenting books, psychological and developmental parenting books and transracial parenting books.  I feel like I have a fairly good grasp on the variety of wisdom that’s out there for today’s Christian parent who wants to think carefully about the way he or she rears their children.  But in all my reading, I had never run across a book that so clearly puts God’s grace as witnessed in the gospel of Jesus at the forefront.  So, from even the first chapter, I was convicted, encouraged, refreshed and intrigued.  I certainly recommend this book as a must-read for parents desiring to daily minister the gospel to their children.  And yet, I would still stand by my conviction that Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart be the first book a new parent (or a parent new to thinking about how to teach their children about Jesus) reads. I know that reading Give Them Grace opened my eyes to see how often I spout out rules to my children without ever really showing them what it means to trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross for my sins. But I don’t feel like I would know how to put these thoughts into the context of the parenting already established in our home (which by God’s grace, He is using to work truth into the hearts of our children) had I not read Shepherding A Child’s Heart so many years ago, which really laid the foundation for where we wanted to go as parents.  In my opinion, the two books compliment each other beautifully and I wish I had been able to read them back-to-back to have been given the full picture of what it means to shepherd my children in the gospel truths while giving them grace as we go.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes or excerpts from the book. Perhaps they’ll help you see why I enjoyed it so much and why I think you would too!

 

Again, that doesn’t mean that we don’t teach our children God’s law. We are commanded to do so but not to make them good. We are commanded to give them the law so that they will be crushed by it and see their need for a Savior. The law won’t make them good. It will make them despair of ever being good enough, and in that way it will make them open to the love, sacrifice and welcome of their Savior, Jesus Christ. p.36

The one encouragement we can always give our children (and one another) is that God is more powerful than our sin, and he’s strong enough to make us want to do the right thing. We can assure them that his help can reach everyone, even them. Our encouragement should always stimulate praise for God’s grace rather than for our goodness. p.43

We are always to do our best, striving to be obedient and to love, nurture and discipline them. But we are to do so with faith in the Lord’s ability to transform hearts, not in our ability to be consistent or faithful. p.53

Most parents know enough to confess their anger to their children. But do we regularly confess our self-righteousness and pride? Saying something like, “I can’t believe you would do something like that!” or a slight coldness followed by a disapproving look, should be followed by, “Please forgive me for forgetting that you and I are just the same. We both sin. When I say things like that, I am being self-righteous and forgetting that Jesus had to die for my sins too. I’m sure that my words were demeaning, but that’s not all they were. They were also against the truth of the gospel. Please forgive me and pray for me that the Lord will help me remember all the ways that I sin too and that he’ll make me humble and thankful for grace. pp. 72-73

In the same way, we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us see our children like he does, with great hope and love. We can ask him to help us be “grace detectives,” to be more aware of the Lord is working in their life than in how they are failing. p. 136

The Church Planting Wife – A Book Review

I love when the Lord brings just the right book along at just the right time.  The Church Planting Wife by Christine Hoover was such a book for me.  While we are not currently church planters (though this may somewhat be a part of our future!), I believe her words of encouragement and experience are helpful for all pastors’ wives or anyone in full-time vocational ministry for that matter.  There were many times throughout the book where as she was describing one of her own past experiences, I felt as if she was inside my head, describing some of the same fears or struggles or hardships.  The book is saturated with God’s Word and how to apply His Word to all of the regular aspects of ministry…from being helpmates to our husbands to not fearing man, but God alone.  I especially loved her perspective on family.  So many pastors today assume that their wives are considered to be staff members of the church as well and place almost impossible expectations on their wives, expectations that take them away from their primary responsibility of serving and caring for the needs of their husbands and children.  Hoover mentions many times the priority she places on her role as a wife and a mother and is careful to make sure that she balances her time in service to the church wisely in order that she does not neglect her family.  Also woven throughout her book is the theme of trusting God with all aspects of our ministry…growth comes from God, financial stability comes from God, the salvation of those we minister to comes from God, leaders come from God.  We must remain dependent on Him for all the things we long to see, which means prayer is of utmost importance and I have been encouraged to more consistently turn to the Lord for the things I desire in our own ministry.  In some ways I felt like this book re-fueled my soul and gave me a fresh wind to press on in ministry, faithfully sharing the gospel, building relationships and making disciples and for that, I’m thankful! Christine Hoover also blogs here if you want to check it out!

For the Children’s Sake – A Book Review

This past year of homeschooling could be summed up in one word…crazy!  We started out great and had a solid six weeks of learning before life got turned upside down.  Between moving in the fall, staying with my parents for six weeks, moving again to Georgia, and then getting settled into a new community and a new church, which has an insanely busy schedule, school became strictly about survival, not about prospering!  During the stay at my parents, however, I had a little more time to evaluate and reflect on our current model of education and it was during this time that God began to give me a discomfort with the direction we were heading.  Our curriculum consisted of pulling together a variety of books, all sources listed in Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well Trained Mind.  Most of the books were great in and of themselves, but the pace and the methods (particularly large amounts of strict memorization) were just not working for Mikias.  He was getting more and more frustrated with school and feeling more and more defeated.  I was feeling more and more disappointed because we spent such large amounts of time just trying to grasp the basics of the information, that we never had any time for the fun extras like history activities and art projects.  Once we got settled in Georgia, I began to seriously pray about what God would have us do next year for school.  I knew something had to change but I wasn’t sure where to start.  But I love when we get to that place of not having a clue what God would have us to do and then He so clearly speaks.  I ran across this post on my friend Tara’s blog.  I had heard of Charlotte Mason before and even looked into her briefly, but I decided I needed to know more.  Funny enough, that same week I had lunch with a new friend from church who also home schools, and she randomly mentioned to me that she was in the process of switching to a complete Charlotte Mason education with her children.  I came home from lunch, e-mailed Tara and she recommended starting with “For the Children’s Sake” by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay to wet my appetite in Charlotte Mason’s educational ways.

I ordered it, and promptly dove in.  Its a book about education, but it focuses largely on the work of a Christian educator named Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) from Ambleside, England.   This post could never contain all of the wonderful ways that Mason thought of children and wrote of the ways in which they best learn.  But I will share the three propositions of her philosophy that have impacted me the most.  First, education is a life.  I need not look at our time in the school room as the only time that I am educating my children.  Instead, when I correct a disagreement and require reconciliation, I am educating my children.  When a child stands beside me with the mixer as we prepare a cake, I am educating my child.  When the children gather around the coffee table to tackle a load of laundry, I am educating my children.  When we discuss the verses of a favorite hymn, I am educating my children.  What a marvelous way to think of our everyday life…even in what seem to be the most mundane of days, my children are still learning and I am their primary source to learn of the world around them and the God who made it all.  But if I want to give them the best, I won’t only offer them great life experiences “but also the best mankind has produced in art, books, music, ideas and many more areas” (p.83).  Secondly, children are born persons.  Obvious, right?  But oh how often I fail to respect them in the individual ways that God has created them and appreciate who they are!

Charlotte Mason was, however, a realist.  She accepted the little child exactly as he was.  She did not romanticize him, but she appreciated him and looked with wonder at what she found (p. 14).

Lastly, and probably what I love most about Charlotte Mason’s method was her use of living books. Living books are whole books of well-written literature which are used in the curriculum instead of standard textbooks.  And typically they will always wet the appetites and tastes of young children far more than a bunch of mumble-jumble facts from a textbook.  So we work our way through good books about history, science, literature and we read fables and stories and poetry.  And, instead of taking a multiple-choice test or completing a worksheet, the children are then required to narrate back or re-tell what they have just heard.  I know…it sounds a bit out there at first, but a few days in and I’m already seeing how the principle works.  Once a child is required to tell back the information they have just heard (whether its a poem about your shadow or the landscape of Ancient Egypt), they have no choice but to train themselves to listen carefully, to internalize what they are hearing and to then make it their own by using their own choice of words to explain what they have just heard.  And once they’ve done that, they most likely won’t forget what they’ve learned.  Of course as they get older, the children will write out their narrations and not do everything orally.  Nevertheless, I’m finding it to be such a more effective way of learning and it especially seems to fit the way God has wired my children.

We are two days in to our 2012-2013 school year and I’m more excited about what we are learning and how we are learning it than I ever have been before.  Just today we spent an hour and a half on a nature trail, exploring whatever we could.  Molly Kate and Miles spent a good majority of the time fascinated with big black carpenter ants and before we left, Molly Kate made an entry in her nature journal with an amazingly accurate drawing of the ant.  During her observation, I gently guided her, encouraging her to see how many legs it had, how many parts he had in his body and told her the names of those parts.  She had the opportunity to watch it and linger over it and truly experience it…and she enjoyed it.  How vastly different from my science education where I was required to read about the ant in a textbook and then memorize and label its parts on a worksheet, never really caring much at all about where the ant lived or how fast he could move or the fact that my all-powerful God created so many different kinds of ants.

If you are considering home schooling your own children, I would highly recommend spending some time considering Charlotte Mason’s philosophies of education and I would recommend this book as a starting point.  I think you’ll find it fascinating and then be asking yourself, much like I did, why haven’t I thought of this before? It makes so much sense!

Discipline: The Glad Surrender – Book Review

I read this book back in the winter months, but for some reason (or maybe 4!), I never got around to publishing a review.  Let me start by saying my thoughts might be a bit biased as I absolutely love Elisabeth Elliott.  I admire the strength in which she pressed on under the most heart breaking trials and her unwavering faith in the Lord through it all.  The beauty of her heart shines forth in all of her writings and this book was no different.  At the particular time I picked this book up, I happened to really be struggling with discipline in all areas of life.  Funny how a newborn and months of sleeplessness can allow discipline to just fly right out the window!  But as I read, I was reminded of why discipline is so vital to being a disciple of Christ.  Christ invited me to follow Him and as His disciple, I am now under His orders.  How selfish I want to be with my life, my time, my body!  Instead of gladly surrendering my “rights” in order to follow the call of my Savior and give myself fully to His will, I foolishly try to hold onto what I deceptively think is “mine” and the result is a joyless, frustrating, meaningless life.  Precisely because this is my struggle, I found this practical book helpful in fighting my own sin in so many ways.  Nevertheless, I think it could be beneficial to any believer at any point in their journey.  Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Salvation is a gift, purely a gift, forever a gift.  It is grace and nothing else that obtains it for us.  Discipline is not my claim on Christ, but the evidence of His claim on me.  p. 28

Awake my soul, and with the sun

Thy daily stage of duty run:

Shake off dull sloth and joyful rise

To pay thy morning sacrifice

(A hymn by Thomas Ken) p. 52

If I am to love the Lord my God with all my mind, there will not be room in it for carnality, for pride, for anxiety, for the love of myself.  How can the mind be filled with the love of the Lord and have space left over for things like that? p. 79

“Lord, when there are interruptions, it seems the disposal of the time I had planned so well has slipped out of my hands.  Help me to then remember that it has not slipped out of Yours.  In Your hands, these unexpected things will be fashioned into an unexpectedly beautiful design.” p. 102

Christianity teaches righteousness, not rights.  It emphasizes honor, not equality.  A Christian’s concern is what is owed to the other, not what is owed to himself.  p. 85

Attaching in Adoption – Book Review

This book has been sitting on my desk for weeks now, waiting for me to review it so that it can take its home back in one of our many bookcases.  To be honest, I’m not sure how to review this one, so I’m going to keep it short.  I’ve been in the adoption community long enough now to know that this is one of those books that receives the praises of many and I agree that it can be extremely helpful, especially with children who have severe attachment disorders.  Thankfully, our boys have attached beautifully and I am quite confident that they feel secure in our family and deeply trust our love for them.  Nevertheless, as I was reading Attaching in Adoption, something one of my former seminary professors once said kept circling in my head.  He said when Christians approach a text, we must filter it through the lenses of Scripture but too often we filter Scripture through the text and thus our beliefs end up being dictated by something other than the Word of God.  When I heard him say this I remember picturing the Bible as a strainer (can you tell I love to cook?) and when you poured a book in, anything that drained through the holes wasn’t worth thinking much about but the stuff that remained in the bowl and aligned rightly with Scripture was worth understanding.

So, when I read a book like Attaching in Adoption, I recognize there is much written that can be of great value to parents learning how to best care for their adopted children.  But because it is not written from a Christian worldview, the ultimate goal of seeing our children come to know Jesus as their Savior is not the backdrop for all of the parenting strategies this book suggests.  For example, the inside jacket says that this book “matches children’s emotional needs and stages with parenting strategies designed to enhance their children’s happiness and emotional health.”  I am certainly not disagreeing that we all want happy, emotional healthy children and that with adopted children, the means of arriving there might be different than those we employ with our biological children.  But as I read Gray’s strategies, it is my duty as a believer to not forget that happy, emotionally healthy children is not my end goal and that all strategies and techniques I choose to use with my children should reflect my over-arching goal (and the goal God has given me) to point my children to their need of a Savior.  Am I making sense?  I hope so…

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again…I would love for a committed, theologically sound believer to write a book on biblical parenting for adopted children.  To date, I haven’t heard of any and if ever given the time and inspiration, I might write one myself!  But as we have sought to navigate the rough waters of bringing an adopted toddler and older child into our family, with the Bible as our ultimate guide, we have seen God do wondrous work in these two little hearts.  And more often times than not, I have chosen to parent them just like I parent my biological children, believing that I am following God’s plan for shepherding their souls, and I really believe that choice is the main reason they have attached so easily.  Well, that and the grace of God in their lives.

Okay…I’m off track.  Should you read this book if you are adopting?  Yes.  Do I think you need to guard your mind and make sure you are filtering her words through our Ultimate Truth?  Most definitely.

The Enemy Within – Book Review

I began Kris Lundgaard’s The Enemy Within: Straight Talk About the Power and Defeat of Sin several months ago, but found myself reading it a bit too quickly and recognized that this was one of those books that I needed to work my way through slowly, thinking more deeply about the concepts and ideas being presented and giving the Holy Spirit more opportunity to work on my soul.  I am so glad I did.

The great thing about digging into a book on sin is the way the Holy Spirit alerts your conscience more quickly to your own sin.  The great thing about dragging out the reading on a book about sin is the way the Holy Spirit begins to uncover deep sin that you may have otherwise been too preoccupied (yes, the flesh is really good at its job) to notice or think about.  Such was the case as I read this book.  God opened my eyes to see several ways the flesh has been gaining ground in my life and in my heart, and I spent many moments grieving the depth of sin in my life as I sorted through Lundgaard’s writings.  I also gained a better appreciation for just how much the flesh wars against God and feel like I have a better grasp on the real tension in my struggle with sin.  Most importantly, I have been refreshed and strengthened to take up arms, keep on guard and not waste any opportunity to put to death the deeds of the flesh, recognizing that it is only because of the Cross that sin no longer has mastery over me.

Favorite quotes:

Believers are the only people who ever find the law of sin at work in them.  Unbelievers can’t feel it.  The law of sin is a raging river, carrying them along; they cannot measure the force of the current, because they have surrendered themselves to it and are borne along by it.  A believer, on the other hand, swims upstream–he meets sin head-on and strains under its strength.  p. 25

If you violently war against your flesh, you’ll win ground.  It will grow weak, and you’ll grow in grace into the image of Christ.  Still, the work has to be endless as long as we’re in this world.  If you cut the flesh any slack, you’ll watch it regroup and revive.  You may even end up worse off than you were before.  p. 40

Sometimes we think of the flesh as our enemy; but it only hates us because God is in us: “The flesh wars against the Spirit” in us (Galatians 5:17)…What the flesh hates is God, so it resists anything that smacks of God–especially communion with him.  p.46

That is, you can only keep the rottenness of sin and the kindness of God in mind if you fix your eyes on the cross.  What shows God’s hatred of sin more than the cross?  What shows God’s love to you more than the cross?  If you want to know exactly what sin deserves, you have to understand the cross.  If you want to know how infinitely deep the rot of sin reaches, you have to think through all the implications of the cross.  If you want to know how far God was willing to go to rescue you from sin, you have to see his precious Son hanging on the cross for you. p. 66

What you are when you are alone with God, that you are–and nothing more. p.119

Practical Theology for Women – Book Review

I originally ran across this book on the Passionate Homemaking site and recommended it for study in our women’s group.  I think all of us thoroughly enjoyed this read, found the material excellent for discussion and were greatly helped in the way we think and study the nature of God.  The author, Wendy Horger Alsup (who has an excellent blog), endured a period of great trials which she describes in detail in the opening introduction.  These trials are what God used to push her into a deeper understanding of God and who He tells us He is in Scripture.  As I read, I couldn’t help but see the parallels in my own life and the trials we’ve endured the last two years.  I could easily affirm with her, that while difficult, the trials have produced beautiful fruit in our lives and I wouldn’t trade the confidence I now have in the Lord as a result.

Some might read the title of this book and think, “Oh, sounds like a dumbed down version of theology because women can’t read a regular theology book.”  There’s nothing “dumbed down” about this book.  She writes of foundational theology as it is presented in Scripture, but does so in a way that relates our theology to the practical parts of our daily lives as women, friends, wives and mothers.  She moves beyond a simple study of theology to helping you connect the dots between your theology (what you believe to be true about the nature of God) and how you live and especially react to your daily life.  I cannot think of a single woman who would not benefit from reading this book…how’s that for a summary?!

Here’s a few favorite quotes:

It’s obvious from these Scriptures [Job 28:28, Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 15:33] that wise, practical daily living is preceded by a knowledge of God that leads to fear, awe, and reverence of him, his power, and his purposes.  In other words, theology is the root, foundation, and framework for practical living that reflects wisdom and understanding. p. 25

During our struggles, we learned to wholeheartedly praise God in the good times and the bad.  Most importantly, we learned that God is every bit as good in the hard times as he is in the times of plenty.  In fact, often he seems more beautiful and sustaining during the trials, perhaps because he has forcefully removed from our line of vision the things that obscure our view of him.  p. 60

Know him, then act like you know him. That is faith.  p. 61

God has planned our salvation since before the earth was created, and despite man’s wickedness, God has never lost control.  I find daily comfort in the knowledge that God chose me for himself before he had even created the world and the he perfectly works out his plan according to his will.  Our Father is truly a rock in the midst of the raging storms of life.  We can cling to his unchanging purposes and uncompromising nature to sustain us when we are battered by the seeming chaos of life. p. 71

Personally, I have to fight the tendency to place the Word of God down in third place on my priority list, after wise counselors and good Christian books.  I find it easier to seek wisdom from people or books rather than from God himself in his Word.  However, this attitude works against me in the very areas I need help.  No Christian book can claim to be the hammer that breaks the heart of stone.  No wise counselor can claim the ability to judge the unspoken attitudes of our hearts.  Only God’s Word has this type of power, and we must avail ourselves of his revelation to us through his written Word.  p. 135