In Praise of My Wife

heart

Proverbs 31:10 says, “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels” (ESV).

Well, I found an excellent wife.  And she is, indeed, more precious than jewels.

My wife headed off today to a training several hours away from here, and she will not be back for about 4 days.  They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and it is certainly true.

I am blessed indeed!  Here I am with both of my children, trying to do everything that Chrissy and I normally share in terms of chores.  I don’t think I usually realize just how much she does until she is not here to do it.

I realize she is only gone for a few days, and many people have to go away far longer.  I have the utmost respect, for example, for those in the military who deploy for long periods of time and in some cases very frequently.  To those in the military, thank you for your sacrifice!

Still, while she has only been away for several hours at this point, I miss her terribly.  I miss her smile.  I miss her laugh.  I miss her voice.  I miss talking with her and sharing life with her in general.  She truly is my other (and much better!) half.

I realized this morning I don’t thank her enough.  I don’t feel that I show my love nearly enough.  I definitely fall way short of the biblical mandate to love her as Christ loved the church!

Chrissy sacrifices so much for our family.  She sacrifices money, time, and energy nearly every day to help me and the children.  She is strong when I am weak.  She is a constant source of encouragement to me.  There is no doubt that she loves us with everything inside her.

Proverbs 31:28-29 goes on to say, “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:’Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.'” (ESV).  How absolutely true of my wonderful bride!

Thank you, Chrissy, for all you do.  I love you more than words can say.

Book Review – ESV Family Devotional Bible

ESV family devo

I am always trying to find ways to make the Bible accessible for my children.  I have also been trying to find ways to do family devotions with more fidelity in my household.  I requested to review the ESV Family Devotional Bible as a way to find more tools to help with that.

I received the hardcover edition from Crossway.  It measures about 5.4 inches wide by 8.6 inches high.  It has a sewn binding, which enables it to lay flat from beginning to end, with one brown ribbon bookmark.

The text itself is in black 9-point font.  Section headings, chapter numbers, page numbers, and scripture references at the top corners of each page are in a blue font.  The words of Christ are in black.  The pages are about normal thickness for most Bibles, meaning there is some ghosting of text.  If you were to write in it, it would probably show through at least a little.

Devo 6

Throughout the Family Devotional Bible, you will find 130 stories from the Bible, retold in an easy-to-understand way.  I read through all the entries from Genesis and Matthew and found them faithful to the text.  Each story includes a beautifully illustrated picture to go with the story, as well as the text reference the story is based off of.  There are three “Questions for the Family” with every story.  Usually, two questions are text related, to guide readers through thinking about the stories themselves, and one question is more application driven, helping readers to apply God’s word to their lives.  This can vary occasionally, but that is the overall pattern.  There is also a key verse that could be used as a memory verse for each story.  (I apologize for the blurry pictures.  I am still working with my phone camera to get things clearer.)

Devo 2

 

Devo 3

Devo 4

The Bible includes an Index of Devotions in the back, to help locate the devotions throughout.  It should be noted that while the devotions cover the big picture of the Bible, quite a bit is left out, as it is not narrative.  The following books have devotions in them, with some having more than others: Genesis (20 devotions), Exodus (8 devotions), Numbers (2 devotions), Joshua (3 devotions), Judges (3 devotions), Ruth (1 devotion), 1 Samuel (6 devotions), 2 Samuel (2 devotions), 1 Kings (4 devotions), 2 Kings (3 devotions), 2 Chronicles (1 devotion), Esther (1 devotion), Jeremiah (1 devotion), Daniel (2 devotions), Jonah (1 devotion), Matthew (13 devotions), Mark (10 devotions), Luke (20 devotions), John (13 devotions), Acts (14 devotions), Philemon (1 devotion), and Revelation (1 devotion).

Obviously, if a family plans on just reading the devotions and not the text of Scripture, most of the New Testament will not be covered, and quite a bit of the Old Testament.  I do understand that the epistles, being letters and not narrative, would be very difficult to cover.  I wonder if they could have had various pictures of Paul or Peter writing with a summary of main points of the epistles and questions to ask?  True, it wouldn’t hold a child’s attention like a story, but even as an adult I find myself having to reread the epistles multiple times to understand where they are coming from.  I wonder if they had been introduced to me in summary form as a child if I would have had a better grasp on them as I grew into adulthood?

There are 9 maps included in the back.  One distinct feature of these maps is the inclusion of icons to represent small cities, large cities, springs, mountains, and ports.

Devo 5

There is no concordance or dictionary in the back, nor is there a reading plan that I could find.  This is interesting since the flyleaf that came with the Bible says the goal of this Bible is “guiding your family through the entirely of God’s Word.”  The Crossway page for this item goes even further saying that it does so “over the course of a year.”  Usually, if something is geared toward guiding a reader through the Bible in a set time, some type of reading plan to break it down and keep readers on track is included.  I think it could have been helpful to have that in this Bible.

As I was looking at the pictures and reading through some of the devotions, I kept feeling like it was familiar to me.  I remembered that my young daughter bought an ESV Seek and Find Bible for her children’s church.  I pulled it out and looked and, sure enough, the pictures are identical from the ones I looked at (one was flipped, however).  The devotional writing was nearly identical, with a few changes here and there, and the questions were also nearly identical, with some replaced with new questions.  The Seek and Find Bible, however, also included “Related Bible Readings” with each devotion, something the Family Devotional Bible does not do, although the product page states that it includes “suggestions for additional reading.”  It does tell readers where to find the next devotional reading, but that doesn’t seem to fit the description.

Overall, I do like the Family Devotional Bible.  I can definitely see using its devotions as a way of helping my children understand key Bible stories.  I really like the questions that are included with each reading.  I wish I had questions like that for every chapter of the Bible (or nearly every chapter).

If you are looking for a Bible to help break down key stories to relate to your family, this is a great choice.  If you already have the Seek and Find Bible, however, you  may want to pass on this one, as there are very few differences between the two.

*I was provided with a complimentary copy of this Bible from Crossway in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review – “Blotch” by Andy Addis

Blotch

Trying to determine the best way to explain the gospel to my children has been an ongoing question for me.  I want to be sure that they are accurately understanding what happened when Christ died on the cross for their sins, especially if it seems they are wanting to give their lives to Him.

That is why I was excited when I heard about Blotch: A Tale of Forgiveness and Grace by Andy Addis from B&H Publishing Group.

The book traces the story of Blotch, a boy who has spots on his skin, as does everyone around him.  The spots increase as people do more things they shouldn’t.  He goes on mini quest to try to determine how to get rid of the spots.  In the process,  he meets several different groups of people: the Hiders try to cover up their spots, the Pretenders act as if the spots do not exist, and the Pointers blame others for their spots.  Obviously, none of these groups help Blotch get rid of his spots.  Finally, he meets the King, who explains that he is able to take away the spots if only Blotch will acknowledge his wrong and believe that the King can help him.  He does, his spots appear on the King while disappearing from himself, and he goes on to tell others that their spots can be taken away if the go to the King in belief. As he is leaving, he looks back and the spots that were on the King are now gone as well.

I thought it was a great story, and a great way to present substitutionary atonement in a way young children can understand.

The back of the book has a recommended family discussion guide.  It recommends taking 5 days to read the book (one chapter a day).  Each day’s discussion includes an activity to make the meaning of the story stand out to children, as well as questions to discuss with them.  For example, the first day it has the family crumple paper into balls to throw at a basket, yelling “hit” or sadly saying “miss” depending on whether someone makes it or not.  This is then tied into the idea of sin meaning to “miss the mark” of God’s standards.  There is a section on “A Parent’s Guide for Leading a Child to Christ,” to walk them through the gospel and pray a sample prayer, if your child decides he or she is ready to turn to Jesus.  It also includes follow up items for after a child decides to repent and trust Jesus.

There are great illustrations by Tatio Viana throughout this 64-page hardcover book.

While I have not read the book yet with my children, I look forward to doing so.  If you are looking for a book to help explain the meaning forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice, I strongly suggest you consider Blotch.

*Note:  I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  

Book Review – “Unstuffed” by Ruth Soukup

unstuffed

There comes a tipping point in our lives. A point at which we realize things have to change. Sometimes it is a good revelation. Sometimes it is a hard revelation. Sometimes it is both.

In the past few months, I have slowly had one of these revelations. My wife actually had it before I did. It’s catching on now. We have too much stuff. Our otherwise nice home is overtaken by things. Our kids’ toys. Clothes. And . . . this pains me to admit . . . my books. I am still of the mind that having a lot of books is a good things. Studies have shown that children who grow up surrounded by physical books achieve more. I will never be book free, at least I don’t foresee that right now, but I do need to cut back.

In an effort to help with this, I have been reading more books on minimalism and decluttering.

I knew my wife had picked up Ruth Soukup’s book Living Well, Spending Less before, and she really enjoyed reading it. When I saw that she had released a new book, Unstuffed, I really wanted to check it out. I was not disappointed.

Soukup’s book is like many books on minimalism in that it strives to help us break free of our need to collect and keep more and more things. It is different, however, in that it does not stop there. The subtitle of the book is “Decluttering Your Home, Mind & Soul,” and the book strives to show us how to “unstuff” all three areas of our life.

The first part focuses on the same aspects as many minimalist books: Cleaning up the house. Soukup encourages us to create a vision for what we want to see in our home, and then to do whatever it takes to make that vision a reality. She encourages us to realize that more storage is not the answer, purging is. She also focuses on one aspect that is probably the most difficult for many minimalists, reducing the stuff the kids have and get.

But here is where the book took a nice turn. The next section focuses on decluttering one’s mind. She encourages readers to cut back on what we do by paring back our schedules, by reducing the amount of paperwork we have to wade through, and by learning how to reduce the guilt of getting rid of things that people have given us. This last part is very difficult, as we attach memories to things so that we feel that if we get rid of the stuff, we get rid of the memories that go along with it. Soukup encourages us to realize that the memories will remain long after the things are gone.

The final area Soukup focuses on is unstuffing our soul. She starts by encouraging us to declutter our friendships by focusing our time on developing a few deep friendships as opposed to spreading ourselves very thin in all of our friendships. This is not to say we have no acquaintances and aren’t friendly to everyone, but we cannot have an infinite number of deep friendships. She then moves on to unstuffing our lives to support our wellness. By focusing on sleep, exercise, and taking down time, we can drastically improve our overall wellness of life. Finally, in the last chapter, Soukup focuses on unstuffing spiritually by relying on grace and realizing we are a work in progress. I really liked that last chapter, as many minimalism books seems to come from an “I’ve arrived, so why haven’t you” perspective. Soukup, however, is very clear that she is still growing and has obstacles to overcome, as will we all if we embark on this journey to unstuff.

Perhaps other books on minimalizing have some of these same concepts and I just haven’t read them yet, but this book struck me as very well-rounded.

Throughout the book there are gray boxes with practical tips on how to apply the information in the book itself. The first one, for example, is “five easy decluttering projects that will transform your living space,” and the projects include creating a collection zone, clearing the counters, sweeping the surfaces, pitching the pillows, and managing the media (pp. 17-19). These practical steps are nice, as they take the information from ideas into real-life projects. As my wife and I work on cutting back on stuff, we will go back to these tips often.

The book also provides an address to a site to take the information further, and she mentions an app to download to help spur the process along.

One of the things I liked most was how the author kept tying in the concepts with examples from her own life of how she faced and overcame (or is in the process of overcoming) the very struggles she is writing about. This made the book feel much more personal than some other books and articles I have read on the subject.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking to declutter, minimalize, and “unstuff” their lives all around. Unstuffed is a good and encouraging guide in the process.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from Zondervan publishers through the BookLook Bloggers review program in exchange for my honest review.

 

Family Worship

family praying

One area I have really done a poor job on is being the spiritual leader of my family.  While I read the Bible and study a lot for my personal edification, I have never really done well at reading it with my family.  For a while, we used The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, and I loved it, but it was very hit-or-miss.  I also have not done a good job at praying with my family.

This is something that has convicted me for quite some time.  I wanted to remedy it, but I was not sure how.

A week or so ago, Crossway Publishers posted a link to sign up to receive emails for a five-day mini-video series by Don Whitney on family worship.  I immediately signed up.  The videos are around 5 minutes long each, and provide a basic overview of family worship.  I would recommend others sign up for it if they are able. (I posted a hyperlink in the text above to make it easier for those interested.)

The three aspects of worship that Whitney encourages families to practice are Scripture reading, prayer, and singing.

So far, we have read the Bible and prayed together briefly every day for the past week and a half or so, with only one missed evening.  For us, this is a huge step!

I decided to read through the gospel of Mark with my wife and children.  So far, we have read through four chapters of the gospel in the ESV.  I try to stop and explain the Scriptures as we go.  This has also been eye opening as I realize how many things I either don’t know or never thought about in such a way as to be able to explain it to a 6-year-old and 4-year-old child.

I then ask everyone if there is anything they would like us to pray for, and we take a couple of minutes to pray together.

We have not yet tried singing together (more than one time with just my children and me, but that didn’t go so well).  I hope to try to add that soon.

I’m also working on memorizing a little with my children.  I am starting with the Lord’s prayer from Matthew 6.  That, too, has been more sporadic than the reading and praying, but I am taking baby steps.

Honestly, this still feels a bit unnatural and uncomfortable.  I hate that I have to type those words, but it’s true.  I believe that with time, it will be an expected and natural part of our family life.  I was encouraged the one night we missed the time of family worship when, as I was tucking my son into bed, he reminded me that we didn’t read the Bible.  I apologized to him and told him we would the next day.  The fact that he asked was exciting, as it showed that it is becoming routine to him.

My prayer is that my children will grow up knowing and believing God’s word.  That they will learn to pray from me, and will desire to talk to God on their own.  That they will feel comfortable asking me questions on the Scriptures, and that I will be able to help them wade through those questions in a way that is faithful to the Bible.  And that ultimately they will carry on this tradition with their own families in the future.

If you have not set up a time for family worship, I would strongly encourage you to do so.  We need Christ to be central in our home, and what better way to start than to set aside a time every day to learn about and talk to Him as a family?

If you already have a time of family worship, I would love for you to comment and let me know what you do.  Since we are just getting started on this endeavor, I am open to ideas and suggestions!

Blessings!