Monday, November 30, 2015

My Favorite Advent Reading

Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent. I started my Advent reading a few weeks ago, because I desperately need Christmas this year. I've collected some terrific books over the years. In the past, I've read one or two each season. Choosing just a few from among these treasures has proven difficult, so I'm trying to read them all.

Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation by Joel Beeke. These short devotions are part of my morning quiet time. Starting my day with a reminder of why Jesus came (to receive worship, to call sinners to repentance, to bring great joy) focuses my attention on my need for Christ during a season when the world clamors for my attention.

Behold the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey. I finish the day with these slightly longer readings. This Advent Narrative draws me into the story of God's redemption of His people. Written more like a book than a devotional, this powerful little book is packed with Scripture references that give me much to ponder as my day draws to an end.

I generally read for a little while each evening, which gives me time for more substantial readings. I'm working through three excellent resources one at a time.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas edited by Nancy Guthrie. This collection of essays written by Tim Keller, Martin Luther, and others was my first Advent resource, and remains a favorite.

The Christ of Christmas by James Montgomery Boice. This compilation of Christmas sermons was my first exposure to Boice. I really enjoy his teaching.

The Incarnation in the Gospels (Reformed Expository Commentary) by Daniel Doriani. Another wonderful offering from the Reformed Expository series.

Finally, at the dinner table each evening we celebrate by lighting candles and reading Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Daily Family Devotions for Advent by Nancy Guthrie, which is perfect for families of all ages.

What about you, reader? Do you have any favorite Advent resources you'd like to share with us? We'd love to hear from you!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: The Biggest Story

How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung

The children in your life probably know many of the stories in the Bible. They are likely acquainted with Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David, and been taught to apply the stories to their own lives: “Trust God like David did when he killed the giant,” for instance, or “Don’t disobey like David did when he had Uriah killed.” And there’s nothing wrong with using the Bible’s stories like this, because God intended for them to serve as examples for us (1 Corinthians 10:6).

But the Bible is more than a collection of individual stories with heroes to imitate or villains to avoid imitating. It is one big story comprised of all the smaller stories. It’s the story of God’s work of creation; humankind’s fall, bringing with it the corruption of everything; and God’s work to make it all right again.

Do your children know this story, the biggest one? Do they understand how the stories of the Old and New Testament fit together into a grand narrative of a “snake-crushing King” and “destined-to-die Deliverer” who will bring us back to the garden?

Kevin DeYoung’s purpose for writing this book is to give children the whole picture, the one that connects “the dots from the garden of Eden to Christ’s death on the cross to the new heavens and new earth.” This book started as a Christmas sermon for the families in his church, a sermon written to read like a book. Now, in the Biggest Story, DeYoung's text has been joined with the rich illustrations of Don Clark, illustrations even more evocative (if possible) than the text.

Since it's is an overview of the biblical narrative, the book doesn’t go into the individual stories in detail, but assumes the reader (or listener) already knows them. The child who is familiar with the stories of the Bible, then, will understand more than the one who is unfamiliar with them. But a parent reading aloud can fill in what is missing if a child has questions.

Of course, you can’t tell the big story of the Bible without talking about human sin, and some of the sin included in the Bible is shocking. While he doesn’t minimize sin, DeYoung does explain it in ways that are appropriate for young children. For instance, he writes, “Isaac was sort of a weakling. Jacob was a selfish trickster. And Judah did such dumb stuff, we don’t even want to talk about it.”

There are 121 pages of beautifully illustrated text in 10 short chapters in The Biggest Story. For the younger child, reading a chapter or two at a time would work well, while an older child would easily finish in one sitting. But whether it’s read in one sitting or more, the reader and listener will be left longing for the yet-to-come end of the big story, when the Snake Crusher comes “back again to wipe away all the bad guys and wipe away every tear,” when “there will be nothing but the best days, day after day after day after day. And forever and ever it will be a wonderful time to be God’s children in God’s wonderful world.”

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden is recommended for children aged 5-11, but my 2 and 4 year old grandchildren enjoyed it, too. The illustrations kept the youngest one interested even when he might not understand the story. This would be an excellent Christmas gift for preschool or school aged children.

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He blogs at the Gospel Coalition and has authored or coauthored numerous books.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Thanksgiving Street" by Susannah Spurgeon

"Thanksgiving Street"
"Whoever offers praise glorifies Me."

      "The time of the singing of birds is come," and from early morning until the sun sets, their sweet notes are a constant reminder of the duty and delight of thanksgiving. Out of the joy of their hearts they trill forth their gladness for the sunshine, and the opening flowers, and the unfolding leaves; and I have heard the same tender song when the rain has fallen, and cold winds have blown, and dark clouds have swept across the sky. Many a time have the birds in the garden sung a lesson in my listening ears, and rebuked my dullness or my unbelief, by their gleeful carolings.
   Ah! Dear friends, some of us do not praise our God half enough. We "raise an Ebenezer" now and then; but we pitifully fail to obey the command. "Rejoice in the Lord always." Yet, how much we have to bless Him for, and what sweet encouragement is given to our gratitude by His assurance, "Whoever offers praise glorifies Me!"    How often are we told, in His Word, that He takes delight in our thanksgivings and songs!   The praise we render is dearer to Him than that of angels—for they cannot bless Him for redeeming love, for pardoned sin, and the blessed hope of resurrection glory.

Oh!  Is it not to the eternal praise of a covenant-keeping God, that poor pilgrims, wandering through a wilderness, and having to wage constant war with the world, the flesh, and the devil, should yet be enabled to sing gloriously, as they put their enemies to flight, and overcome by the blood of the Lamb? It is the overcoming ones who learn to praise. The fingers which can most adroitly use the sword, are the most skillful in touching the harp. Each time God gives us the victory over sin, we learn a new song with which to laud and bless His holy Name.

   Does it not make your heart leap to know that your Lord takes pleasure in your praise?   In His ears are ever sounding the eternal symphonies of the universe—that majestic chorus which began "when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy;" but He turns from these to you, and with infinite tenderness and love, bends to listen to the grateful songs of His redeemed ones, as they bless Him for all His benefits.

    The feeble notes uttered on earth by a truly thankful and sanctified heart must, I think, swell into anthems of glorious melody as they rise to the throne of God!"


From "A Basket of Summer Fruit" by Susannah Spurgeon (written after the death of her beloved husband,  C. H. Spurgeon).  Courtesy of Grace Gems

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

In Need of Christmas

Christmas commercials and decorations started popping up on November 1st. The Hallmark Channel soon joined in with non-stop holiday movies. A local radio station began playing Christmas music. The Christmas season seems to come earlier every year, a fact which has troubled me in the past. I adore November, with its days of giving thanks, trees ablaze, and warm aromas. But this year I've already pulled out a favorite Christmas CD. I've thought about decorating. I've started my Advent reading.

I need Christmas this year.

College applications have been finished. The graduation annoucements have been ordered. The Senior portrait has been framed. The days with my girl in our home full-time are waning. Thoughts of watching Christmas specials and driving around town to look at lights ease the pain of seeing her wings unfurl. This is the last Christmas of my girl's childhood. It's beautiful and heart-breaking all at once.

I need Christmas this year.

Relationships strained by the gospel. Hurts and grievances both, unspoken. Wishing and wishing that I could just cry on Mama's shoulder.

I need Christmas this year.

One Thursday in October, we gathered with dear friends to celebrate the life of a father. The next Thursday, we stood beside those same friends in a blur of uniforms and crime scene tape as the coroner drove away with two more loved ones. It was, and is, surreal. I've never felt so completely helpless. I ache for their loss.

Oh! how I need Christmas this year!

A dozen years ago, my husband and I visited a friend in Paris. We walked through the Louvre, looked out from atop the Eiffel Tower, strolled the streets of the beautiful City of Lights. Today those same streets are lit with candles to honor those who lost their lives at the hands of terrorists. People who were enjoying an evening out, not knowing it would be their last.

Yes, I need Christmas this year.

Not the shopping lists or the decorations. Not the holiday movies or music. What I desperately need is the Christ of Christmas. I need to know that my worries of a girl leaving home, my sorrow for broken relationships, my grief for friends (and their much, much deeper grief), and my fears of the evil of this world have all been taken care of by a baby born in a manger. It's the most unlikely tale the world will ever hear, this story of Christmas. It is the best news a weary woman - indeed, a weary world - could receive. And yet even Christians have romanticized Jesus' birth to the point that I wonder if we truly recognize the full wonder of it. The baby heralded by angels and greeted by shepherds changed the fate of the world. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,
When the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords came into this world, he came into a stable. If you do not feel a sense of holy laughter within you, I do not see that you have a right to think that you are a Christian. Thank God, this is gospel, this is salvation. God turning upside down, reversing everything we have ever thought, everything we have taken pride in. The mighty? Why he will pull them down from their seats. He has been doing so. He is still doing so. Let any man arise and say he is going to govern, to be the god of the whole world; you need not be afraid - he will be put down. Every dictator has gone down; they all do. Finally, the devil and all that belong to him will go down to the lake of fire and will be destroyed forever. The Son of God has come into the world to do that. (as quoted here)
Tears fill my eyes as I read those words. Yes, time passes too quickly, those we love often wound us deeply, people die unexpectedly, and our enemy prowls about like a roaring lion (see 1 Peter 5:8), but Jesus' birth and his death give us hope in the midst of this fallen world. This is the truth of the gospel, the reason I need Christmas not just this year, but every year.

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
Galatians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Letters from Seminary

School has been keeping me busy judging from the disheveled condition of my house. On the 31st of October I had a mid-term exam, and on Saturday, I had a class which ran from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. It was a long day, but I found it an energizing day.

I anticipated that seminary would reveal new and exciting things for me. I knew it would be humbling (don't ask about the bibliography assignment I handed in), and I knew it would give me lots of those "aha!" moments. Just when you think you know God, he surprises you and reveals even more. As I sat in class on Saturday, I felt like I was right where I should be.

This semester, I've been taking a survey of the entire bible. It moves at a very fast pace. We're getting a bird's eye view; according to my prof at about 50,000 feet. There isn't a lot of time to stop, but the benefit of going at a faster pace has been to see the connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament. As I have seen the way themes run throughout the Bible, I am struck over and over again at the amazing treasure we have in God's Word.

I wish every woman could have a chance to study like this. I know that not everyone wants to, but I wish that those women who do would be able to. Regularly engaging with the course material and my classmates has made me think so much more, and that has spilled over into other areas of study. Is it possible to sharpen the mind of a 50 year old woman? I think so.

Of course, not every woman can attend school, but there are many women who want deeper study. We are fortunate that we have so many resources available. All that is needed is a little time and some determination. Self-study is a great way to learn. I thought I would offer some suggestions for those would like to study more deeply.


That's where it starts. You can start by reading a book about reading. Maybe this sounds as exciting as watching paint dry, but I have to wonder: in this day and age of online communication which is fast and furious, do we still know how to read well? The book How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler is a good resource. It's kind of dry, but it does the job. I also found The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer helpful.

Find good books to read

Our own Rebecca Stark has an excellent post about Six Books Every Christian Woman Should Read. Start there. And when you read, look at the footnotes and endnotes for more books. Keep a notebook or a binder and make notes about what you read. Write down questions about what you read.

Don't forget the Bible 

I recommend Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart's books How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, and How to Read the Bible Book by Book. All of that theology we read is based on Scripture, so knowing how to study the Bible well is always time well spent. Also, I love the Reformed Expository Commentary Series to read along with bible reading. They are encouraging and helpful volumes. And no, you don't have to buy the whole set at once!

Take advice from others

Nancy Gurthrie had an excellent article recently about 7 Ways Women Can Grow in Studying and Teaching Without Attending Seminary. She has some excellent book recommendations. Kevin DeYoung also has a list of Ten Systematic Theology Resources. Don't be discouraged by some of the more advanced recommendations. There are a few that are very readable.

Study history

Christianity is part of human history, and its own history of worth studying. Check out The Story of Christianity, Vol.1 and Vol. 2., by Justo Gonzales. If you can't stand the thought of more books, have a listen to Dr. Michael Haykin's sermons on Church History at Sermon Audio.

If you can find a study buddy, do so. I have already benefitted so much from the input of my classmates and the knowledge of my professor. My dream is to have a women's study group where we drink tea or coffee and talk about the nerdy books we read. I would love for someone to start a prototype.

Happy studying! The benefits are worth the work.