Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Mystery of Christ and His Church

Yesterday was Josh's littlest sister's wedding. It was fun, of course, and precious to be a part of. All day, I reflected on the beautiful mystery of marriage -- this amazing institution that God designed to be a picture to us of Christ and His church.

Laura was a beautiful bride. She spent a good deal of time making herself and everything at the wedding beautiful. She wanted to be beautiful as she presented herself to her groom. That is a natural desire, of course. However, my mind was overwhelmed with the idea that Christ presents his bride to himself. He chooses her. He purifies and washes her. She does not make herself acceptable to Him, He makes her so.

Jake is a great guy -- and I'm thrilled to have him for a new brother-in-law. He loves Laura, of course. He wants to lead her and care for her. He wants to do her all the kindnesses he is capable of in his finite being. He is just a shadow, a glimpse of the Great Bridegroom who leads and cares for His bride, buying her with a high price, giving himself for her.

Jake's love for Laura is understandable, to a great degree. She is lovable. She is lovely. For the most part, she makes it easy for him to love her. Not so with Christ and His bride. This Kinsman-Redeemer chose a bride for Himself that did not love Him, did not seek Him and was an enemy, deserving the wrath of the Father. Christ showed His selfless love for the church by laying His life down and dying a gruesome death.

What a glorious picture! How marvelous that God has given us this earthly picture of the heavenly mystery. How could Christ love the Church? That the glory of his love might be made manifest. Meditate on these things, dear church. Think of your bridegroom, and recall how you do not deserve the love he gives.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

ESV Illustrated Family Bible looks to be a classic

Crossway has hit another home run with the ESV Illustrated Family Bible, illustrated by Zbigniew Freus. I was immediately taken with the idea of this niche Bible -- to provide families a Bible to share with their non-reading, or early-reading children. I love some of the great story Bibles out there, but obviously, they are Bible stories, not Scripture. How to jump your toddler from storybook Bible to full-length Bible? Most publishers have focused on the attractiveness of the Bible to the child, formatting them to resemble a fairy-princess purse, a treasure chest or a toy of some sort, rather than focusing on how to make the Scripture itself most accessible to young readers. Crossway has come up with a way to do just that.

The Illustrated Family Bible contains 270 carefully-selected passages of Scripture -- from Genesis to Revelation, focusing heavily on the life and death of Christ. The passages are presented in a stunning format with full-page color illustrations, which excellently accent the given passage. I love the prophetic praise song of Hannah of I Samuel 1-2 illustrated with a beautiful young Hannah and her young child. About half of the book is the New Testament, largely depicting the life of Jesus. Freus does a masterful job depicting the Christ. The passion account is woven together from all 4 gospels, one right after the other, in one seamless storyline. It's outstanding. As an adult who has read these passages many times, I was gripped by both the text and pictures, compelled to read on.

The book concludes with John 20 "Now Jesus did many other signs. . . which are not written in this book", which seems to me a most fitting conclusion for a Bible of this sort. Our hope in reading Bible stories, and selected passages to our children is that a hunger will be created in them for more of Christ! I highly recommend this outstanding Bible to all Christians -- reading it will build your love for the Word.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

American Girl Movie

Any little girl age 4-14 knows that I love American Girl stuff: reading and discussing the books, taking trips to the store, fixing the dolls' hair, etc. I've also enjoyed the American Girl movies, which so far have been made only for television, but were excellent at capturing the heart of what I love about American Girls. The Samantha and Felicity movies never cease to be tearjerkers for me, though the Molly movie, done by Disney Channel, left quite a bit to be desired, at least for true fans who know the stories well (but I digress). At any rate, I have high hopes for the upcoming Kit movie, which is the first AG film to debut in theatres!

World Magazine got in on the AG action by offering a review of the Kit movie in an article titled "Beauty in Hardship" by Megan Basham, and I was encouraged to read what this conservative Christian magazine had to say about the movie I have high hopes for. The link I put here won't let you read the entire article, but what stood out to me was the emphasis the film puts on hardship in life (Kit lives during the Great Depression). Basham contrasts the glittering wealth-focused world of "Hannah Montana" (a popular Disney Channel show about a rich young rock star) with the make-do mentality of Kit's world, and points out how helpful that mentality will be for girls living today. Isn't it true that so much of what we see on television and in the movies makes us discontent and prone to greed? I'm thrilled to hear that the American Girl movie will be doing what it can to help our girls (and us) fight that sin!

That said, who wants to make a movie trip on July 2nd?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

George MacDonald

After a bit of an absence, I'm ready to write again -- about books! I've been meaning to post a review for a while now, about a book recommended to me by a girl in our youth group, Beth Bloom. The book, The Marquis' Secret, is the sequel to The Fisherman's Lady, so I found both of these out of print books on Book Mooch, and took Beth up on her recommendation.

Originally, these books were published under the titles Malcolm and The Marquis of Lossie, but have since been reissued and edited by Michael Phillips, who updated the Scottish-speak that might be difficult to maneuver through for the modern American reader. I've heard that the originals are quite worth it, but someone who has read them will have to speak up on that point, because I've only read these modernized versions. The books have not lost their classic Gothic feel through all the editing. You may still shiver at the wicked Barbara Catanach, who is the local midwife (or is she a witch?), thoroughly endear yourself to Duncan MacPhail, the blind piper who wakes the village each morning by the clock he keeps in his head with the loud wail of his bagpipes, and become smitten with Malcolm, the main character of both books.

Malcolm is really the wonderful part of these books. MacDonald makes his hero so honest, so true, so steadfast, that he is not really real, but better than real -- ideal. I have often said that I love a book where at least one character is set forth as truly good and noble, because our hearts long for true goodness just as we long for Christ, and his true goodness. Malcolm is truly good -- not that MacDonald is writing an analogy with Malcolm as the Christ character -- but a worthy hero nonetheless.

I do not know what MacDonald believed about Reformed theology, but in a couple accounts, it seems to indicate that he saw the old "Calvanists" to be narrow-minded and unloving (perhaps that can be true too often!). Malcolm has a dear friend, Alexander Graham, who is an ex-preacher, and now teaches school. It is not entirely clear why Graham has been forced to quit his parish, but it seems to be because he had theological differences with the strict parishioners. Graham is Malcolm's truest companion and guiding force, and seems to speak for the author in matters of faith.

C.S. Lewis says "I never wrote a book in which I did not quote George MacDonald." Try out these old Gothic romances and see for yourself why Lewis loved him so! Great recommendations, Beth!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

VBS Time!

So this week, I'm anticipating being rather absent from the blogosphere. We have VBS at church this week, and I'm the co-director. Josh is leading a tribe, so preparing lessons and so forth. I am running the opening and closing gatherings, helping with songs, etc. We are pretty much just going to work and then living, eating, breathing and sleeping VBS. I'm so stoked! This was one of the best weeks of my summer last year. We've sort of gone with a "Build your own" VBS. Here's what we're doing:

Theme: Group's Galilee by the Sea (okay, yes, we bought last year's curriculum off e-bay to save money!)
Lessons: Our gifted members at Clifton wrote lessons to use that are gospel-centered and Jesus-focused. We are focusing on the life and ministry of Jesus (hence, Galilee -- last year was Bethlehem and next year will be Jerusalem).
Music: Getty music's "Songs Jesus Said". These kid songs are upbeat and fun, but all written based on a passage of Scripture. Lots of fun.
Outreach: We send a van to a nearby low-income neighborhood that we've heavily advertised in, and shuttle kiddos by the dozens down to the church. We're anticipating 100-120 kids total.

So, that's what we're doing. Maybe at some point this week, I'll have a spare moment to post some photos, but until then, let me know what you're doing for VBS this summer at your church! What is your theme, your role in the program? Do you do week-long VBS or stretch it all summer on Wednesday nights? How does your church focus on reaching the community with VBS? Has your church found they can work with what is out there, or do you "build your own" as well?

Let's talk VBS on Gret-Reads-247 this week!

***Edit: The Lord gave us 128 kids on our opening night! WOW! What a blessing!

*** Edit #2: I think we've topped out at 148 kids, I can't really imagine where else we could put more. We've been so blessed with faithful volunteers who show up night after night to love those kids for Jesus' sake! I've only got 1 picture so far, but these 2 girls were so adorable. We've been packing them in on the vans, so we had to overhaul the "van plan" if you will. We now have 6 pick up vehicles, 12 leaders, 250 color coded wristbands and a lot of energy by a lot of kind people. Praise the Lord!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Reading Roundabout

I came across this splendid idea of a "Reading Roundabout" on Elaine's MummyMac blog. This North Ireland woman loves books and reading, and puts that love to work by encouraging the women in her church in a practical way. A reading roundabout is a new twist on a book club, and I can see how it works better with books that spur on our growth in Christ. Elaine chooses only theological works, solid devotional books or Christian biographies for the ladies in the roundabout to read. She is very intentional about her choices.

Why not put together a roundabout for your church, or a group of your friends? Elaine advises buying one book per member of the roundabout, (12 ladies, 12 books, 12 months is the simplest, obviously, but any would do) and mixing the books up so you won't get 2 of the same genre 2 months in a row. Elaine says "We don't put any pressure on the ladies to show that they have read all the books. Not every lady reads every book but they do receive one each month and generally all are read. The Roundabout is a tool to help others not only to read, but to read a wider range of books than they may choose to read themselves. We discuss the book during private conversation and also informally during our ladies nights at church."

Include in each book a list of guidelines, such as: pass the book on at the end of the month, even if you have not completed it, use the roundabout as a tool for edifying conversation with the other women, give the books back to the leader at the end so she can donate them to the church library. I really liked the idea that you are to use what you are reading as a source for edifying conversation with the women in your group. This could truly become a source of growth and Christian encouragement for you! Consider putting together a reading roundabout using some of the books I recommend here, or something from the suggestions Elaine has accumulated over on her blog.

Don't you love her clever idea?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chrissy's Reading List

Another one of my dear Junior highers asked for a summer reading list. Chrissy tells me that she mostly enjoys reading stories, so I gave her a variety of fiction and biography. Sorry it took me so long, Chrissy! I know you're getting ready to go on vacation, so I hope this helps you, little sister. We'll miss you during VBS, but take some books along on your trip.

1. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (this is on my summer reading list, too!)

2. The Princess and Curdy by George MacDonald (the sequel)

3. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (if you haven't already read it)

4. Tramp for the Lord by Corrie Ten Boom (such an inspiring sequel)

5. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (I gave this one to Caitlin, too!)

6. Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles (I promise you will CRY, but you will LOVE it! -- this is one of the best summer reading books ever, in my opinion)

7. The Cross-Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney (this book has changed my life, and it's really short, so it's the only non-STORY I gave you!)

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Titus 2 Need

I have been getting quite a bit of feedback from young women who are saying how much they wish they could have a Titus 2 relationship with an older woman in their life. Perhaps they are discouraged because the older women in their church gossip instead of teach, and or some candidates cannot be trusted. Others have admitted that they are selfishly hesitant to accept input from the older women they know, perhaps because they feel like they don't have anything to teach them, or that perhaps hearing what they will say is too hard to hear.

We need to work through this mindset. It may very well be true that godly, theologically informed older women are few and far between. Gretchen Wrights don't grow on trees. But we certainly don't all have to have the wife of a seminary professor to guide us in ou
r walk with Christ (as nice as that would be!). Allow me to make some suggestions that might help us, as younger women, to do what we can to fill that Titus 2 need.

1. Initiate. Open your eyes and look around and prayerfully consider the older women in your local church. How well do you know them? Have you ever initiated a friendship with them? Have you invited them to tea, or dropped by with hands to help and an ear to listen? Consider how the Lord would use you to bless another woman's life and then ask Him to guide you to a special woman who you can glean wisdom from. And don't be discouraged or give up if those plans don't seem to come to fruition. It's certainly not a mistake to bless others even if they don't respond in kind. Perhaps you may sort of mentor them, in some ways, by encouraging their walk with Christ, and their growing in grace through your conversations. You might certainly learn practical wisdom that comes with years lived out, and trials endured. I heard a speaker remark that in her church there were so many godly young women who had sort of co-mentoring relationships with the older women they knew. The younger women had the theological training and the passion to give, and the older women had experience and wisdom to pass on. You may very well unearth a gold mine. Who can tell?

2. Band together. What friends spur you on the most? Plan time with them! Is there a younger woman in your church that seems to desire to walk with Christ? Seek her out, and engage her in conversation. A younger friend, or someone close to your age can serve as a sort of mentor, walking together with you. You may not have all the answers for one another, but you can listen, and pray. You may not have the life experience to advise the best plan of action, but you can search the Scriptures together. Such friends can be God's tools for your sanctification no matter what their age.

3. Read. Honestly, dear friends, we are shutting ourselves away from wonderful godly wisdom, truth and encouragement if we do not read good books by faithful women. Choose a woman whose writings have influenced you, or that you have enjoyed the most,
and read everything she has written. I am reading everything by Elisabeth Elliot, Helen Roseveare, Corrie Ten Boom and Carolyn Mahaney. How much their words have guided me through the years, I cannot begin to say! Be discerning about your reading choices. Of course I support reading just for pleasure, but be sure to consider authors who can be spiritual mothers to you. What a blessing those women can be!

Finally, older sisters: I know you're out there. You are serving in your church, your families, your ministries or your work. Perhaps you may feel the pull from every direction, and it seems there simply is no time left to invest in your younger sisters. Perhaps you humbly feel there is nothing you are equipped to teach, so you have avoided those sort of relationships. Can I encourage you to seek the Lord in prayer and ask Him to guide you to young women with whom you can share your life? Often just spending time together, life upon life, is the best teaching tool there is! Do you have a free afternoon? Ask a younger girl to come over for coffee. I promise she won't mind the laundry sitting in the basket -- maybe she'll even help you fold it!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

7 Years!

This is a few days late, but better late than never!

Grow old with me!
The best is yet to be
The last of life, for which the first was made.
Our times are in his hand.

~Robert Browning