Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

Stationery Card
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In case you weren't on our snail-mail list or we never actually mailed you your card (oops!), here's our holiday wishes from our home to yours! Merry Christmas to all today!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Book Review - Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church

The genre of daily devotional reading is one with an overwhelming number of entries of varying quality, but in Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church, James Stuart Bell (with Patrick J. Kelly) provides a unique and edifying offering. As the title indicates, Bell has assembled 366 readings from the Early Church Fathers, discussing a variety of topics related to the Christian life. In addition to providing short daily expositions on the Scriptures, Awakening Faith serves to introduce readers to the writings of some of the earliest Christian thinkers and leaders.    

Each daily entry begins with a Bible verse (or two), followed by a reading from a Church Father that either references/alludes or has a thematic connection to the Scriptural passage. The selections have been updated into modern language for improved readability. The selection of authors is diverse, ranging from the highly-esteemed, such as Athanasius and Augustine, to the unknown, such as Pseudo-Chrysostom and the author of The Letter to Diognetus. Some of the included authors, such as Origen and Commodianus, are known for having problematic teachings, but as Bell notes in his introduction, the selected readings were chosen to "showcase those things they emphasize that today's evangelicals do not, generally to our detriment." At the end, the book contains brief biographical notes for each of the included authors. Many of the book's readings focus on Christian virtues and personal holiness, often in the form of exhortation. Each passage is limited to a single page (though some extended passages are split over multiple days), which makes for a short but substantive read.

Overall, I found Awakening Faith to be a very useful devotional collection. In the introduction, Bell makes a brief but cogent argument for why modern evangelicals should make a point to familiarize themselves with the wisdom of Christians from eras past. For those with limited (or even non-existent) knowledge of the Church Fathers, this book would serve as a great point of introduction. And even for those with previous experience reading the Fathers, these readings are both encouraging and convicting. As Bell observes, these writers were committed to the Scriptures, and their works overflow with explanations and applications of the Bible. That grasp of Scripture, combined with the exhortation to piety and holiness, provides a model that modern readers would do well to emulate.  I also appreciated how the Fathers had a completely different outlook than I do, and I often found myself stopping to ponder their words in ways I might not have if they were modern authors discussing similar topics.

I had no real complaints about the book, although a couple of improvements could be made. First, the book identifies only the author of each selection; it would have been helpful to include the specific work from which it was taken (even if relegated to an appendix). Although the selections are meant to stand alone, there were several times when I wished I could have looked up the surrounding context. Secondly, the heading for each page lists the topic addressed, such as "Holiness" or "The Church"; it would have been useful to have an index of all the topics and associated selections, as there was for readings by specific author. That said, neither of these omissions detract from the overall quality of the book.     

In sum, if you are looking to pick up a book of daily devotional reading, are interested in learning more about the early Church, or both, Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church is highly recommended.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for providing an unbiased review.)

Friday, November 22, 2013

C.S. Lewis, on Death

As others remember the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley, I remember the death of C.S. Lewis, through whom I discovered many new worlds.

C.S. Lewis Gravemarker
image from

"And that brings us again to the paradox. Of all men, we hope most of death; yet nothing will reconcile us to---well, its unnaturalness. We know that we were not made for it; we know how it crept into our destiny as an intruder, and we know Who has defeated it. Because Our Lord is risen we know that on one level it is an enemy already disarmed; but because we know that the natural level also is God's creation we cannot cease to fight against the death that mars it, as against all those other blemishes upon it, against pain and poverty, barbarism and ignorance. Because we love something else more than this world,we love even this world better than those who know no other."

And this...

“On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more. On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call “ambivalent.” It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.”

Both above quotes from Miracles.

And finally...

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” -- from The Last Battle

Thanks to my husband for giving me The Quotable Lewis way back in 2001. It has certainly come in handy, dear.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Four Albums for a Healing Heart

This time last September, my Dad was recovering at home from his first hip replacement surgery. My mom was with him, of course, and I spoke to her almost daily on the phone, checking in. They told us not to worry, to have fun on our little anniversary trip, which had been scheduled since March. So we went and said we'd visit in a few weeks, in October.

This time last September, Gaines and I were spending a long weekend in Nashville at an annual retreat called Hutchmoot, a conference of sorts for like-minded (though not at all alike) music-lovers, artists, writers, storytellers and songsmiths. Where do we fit in? I suppose we are just appreciators, connoisseurs. We were certainly soaking it all in that weekend, enjoying the conversations and the company.

This time last September, on Saturday, we found ourselves sitting on folding chairs under a tent outside the church where a large crowd had gathered. On a sun-soaked, crisp afternoon, the dappled leaves on the trees around us just beginning to be touched by fall, we relaxed and relished in the stories and heartfelt songs of one of our favorite musicians: Eric Peters. An impromptu concert, one of the many "sessions" available for our attendance, would become one of the highlights of our weekend. He took requests, he fumbled and tuned and told stories. He was so honest about his struggles, sharing more than I had realized about a hard year he'd had. Little did I know, I was about to have one of my own.

Less than two and a half weeks after that September Saturday in 2012, my mother passed away from a heart attack. Into this sudden void I poured the music that had most recently touched me: Andrew Peterson, Eric Peters, Andrew Osenga, Matthew Smith. I suppose I should tell you about them. Not their stories, exactly, for they belong to them, but more of mine. About how particular moments in their music have become balms for my soul. Within those two weeks before my mother's death we had seen them all live, in concert, the last show just days before she died. Apparently, I needed these fellow travelers to speak into my life more than I realized. But the Lord knew that.

And so, I want to share them all with you, one at a time, stopping along the way and asking you to listen. I suppose this is my way of saying thank you to them.

For now, I'm just going to share a list, with links. Peruse as you will.
Andrew Peterson's Light for the Lost Boy
Eric Peters' Birds of Relocation
Andrew Osenga's Leonard the Lonely Astronaut
Matthew Smith's  Watch the Rising Day

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Two years ago...

This awesomesauce kid named Calvin was born. Right. on. time.

All 10 pounds and 9 ounces of him.

He still hates having his head rubbed.

Last year he was eating cake.

Putting up with his goofy brothers. (Wait, he still does that!)

And us.

And taking one last picture with my Mom. (I'm so glad I have this one!) 

And now he's a turning two!

Happy 2nd birthday, Calvin!

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Book Review: Anselm of Canterbury

A beautifully bound children's book arrived on our doorstep a few weeks ago. The boys were immediately captivated by the images and began thumbing through the pages before I could even sit down to read it with them! Soon we were all captivated by the story and spent one lovely, rainy afternoon learning about a most important figure in the history of the church.

Written by Simonetta Carr and illustrated by Matt Abraxas, Anselm of Canterbury is the first book we have read in the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series, but it will not be the last.

Anselm, a Benedictine monk and theologian who lived in the 11th century, is famous for his answer to the question: "Why did God become man?" Carr's biography deftly weaves Anselm's theological instruction into the fascinating story of his life in Europe in the early Middle Ages. He was much-loved as a teacher, and his popularity leads him to humbly gain positions of leadership in the church, finally accepting his highest honor as Archbishop of Canterbury.

The writing, execution, illustrations, and organization of this book are of excellent quality, and I know we will treasure this biography in our home library. Carr presents the narrative well: the chapters are just the right length for reading aloud, while also providing a thorough, interesting tale that will captivate even the adults. My children kept pleading with me to read "Just one more chapter, please!" The illustrations include maps, reproductions of illuminated manuscripts, original sketches, and photographs, which provide a rich background for the text and kept even my youngest child's attention. I especially appreciated their quality and tone as they fit the story well and refrained from being cartoonish.

Compared to some other books I have read recently that present history to young children (and even some for adults), this fares much better, as Carr refrains from talking down to young readers and gives great attention to providing the context and setting of Anselm's life. Carr not only describes the physical location of his birth, but also the cultural, religious, and social atmosphere surrounding the life of this great figure in church history. She also depicts the peculiarities of that time -- monasteries and the papal office and the disagreements between kings and church leadership-- and relates them to our own lives as Christians today.

In the "Did you know?" section at the end, Carr explains how Anselm and other teachers of his time believed that "we can understand God's Word better and better if we see how Christians of the past have explained it." That idea is exactly why we need books like this one which help us and our children understand the life and views of Christians throughout the ages, as we "stand on the shoulders of giants."

The timing could not be more perfect for our family, as we will be studying the Middle Ages this year in our homeschooling curriculum.  I plan to use this as a supplement, and will look for more books in this series that also fit with our timeline. I would recommend this to all parents as an excellent series to add to your collection.

We are grateful to Reformation Heritage Books for sending us a copy to review. The opinions expressed in this review are solely my own.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Puddle Jumping

Things I want to remember from Friday, June 7, 2013:

(It only took me two weeks to upload the photos. Sheesh.)


Calvin gleefully splashing in puddles in the driveway in his bare feet after a thunderstorm

His brothers coming up behind him and holding up their shorts as they ran through the puddles so they wouldn't get their clothes wet!

Jacob so proud of making it back up the hill on his bike (still with training wheels) without having to get off to push

Ethan swimming so proudly with his bright green puddlejumpers on

Getting caught in the rain at the swimming pool -- a nice, warm summer rain. Except for the thunder.

Calvin delighting in the water so much that when we have to leave due to inclement weather he screams "Baby pool!" over and over until he finally realizes that everyone else has to leave, too.

How kind Ethan was to the little toddler girl in the pool

Jacob being so attentive to his youngest brother Calvin when they were playing outside and how he watched out for him so he didn't go in the street

Getting frustrated and then almost immediately apologizing. I wish I hadn't yelled so much -- it was never, ever ever necessary.

Splitting two hot dogs and drinks at Costco between the four of us, with leftovers. Not to mention the free samples.

Jacob getting so excited about his history book that he read ahead to the next chapter. Also, he asked to take the math placement test that we did together the day before again (!)

Two out of three boys asleep before their Daddy even cames home from work. They slept until almost 7 the next morning.

Taking Jacob out by himself to go shopping for cards and presents for some friends' parties. His love language must be picking out gifts for others.

Ethan's creative attempts to make a fishing boat out of Legos -- complete with an oar and outboard motor.

Taking pictures on the front porch steps (before breakfast!) of the boys' Lego creations to get the best light

Discovering the new running jokes on Arrested Development season 4 with Gaines (after the boys were all in bed, of course)

And....I saved the best for last:Purchasing our neighbor's swing set for a song and setting it up in the backyard.

Summer bliss!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A New Beginning

Back in May, we discovered a haphazard nest in one of the eaves of our carport. Gaines climbed a ladder to inspect it and found a handful of eggs. Once they hatched, he began taking pictures to document the baby birds we hoped to watch grow and develop and fly away.

Then we noticed something odd -- one of these things is not like the other:

Do you see it, there in the back? One bird's a little taller, larger, with a different colored beak. An uglybird.

A cowbird, technically. He took over our nest of wrens. We're not sure what happened exactly, but we figured he hatched early and duped the parents into bringing him food. Lousy parasite.

A few weeks later, he's all that's left:

Look at that plump, smug, pompous sass of a bird, taking up the entire nest. Probably smothered the poor little wrens, eliminating his adoptive siblings and eating them out of house and home. I hope it wasn't literal. We never did see him fly away; we just noticed one day that the nest was empty.

Now, in June, the mother and father wren have returned to clean out the nest and start fresh. Thankfully, they often lay two sets of eggs in a season. They are fragile things, those incubators of life. We pray these new little ones survive to find freedom.

Much like those parent wrens, my efforts at writing over the past several years have been getting smothered. I've been paying too much attention to everyone else's words and failing to produce any lasting ones of my own. (The cowbird in my analogy is the "save" button. Hundreds of drafts that may never see the light.) Of course, I've also felt another kind of uglybird smothering me: the heavy, feathered weight of grief. It's still there, but lifted slightly. I can breathe again.

And so, this summer, I'm clearing out and starting over. (You may have noticed I christened our humble blog with a new template.) It's still the same nest, just slightly neater, with a fresh covering of twigs.

I read a post recently that encouraged me to do something, one thing, anything well. Yes, I love my children well. I may not discipline them well or teach them well or feed them well or pray for them as well or as often as I would like. I've come to realize I will never be the perfect "me" in my head that can memorize an entire chapter of Scripture, have a house full of clean floors, prepare nine servings of vegetables, read five books aloud, bake homemade sandwich bread, and put away seventeen freshly folded piles of laundry all on the same day. But I can write about the imperfect me. The one that spills and slips, yells, crashes, and yes,  even reads and sings and lets my children paint.

They are fragile things, these children and these words that incubate our life. I hope to tend them well, to post often and much, first thing, before those other birds catch my attention with their pretty feathers. Also, to keep away any uglybirds.

Here's to a new beginning.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mother's Day 2013

They let me sleep past 7:30 am.

I woke up, strangely refreshed, to Calvin toddling into my room babbling away. He was singing something intelligible, but adorable, while holding a crayon out in front of his face like a microphone. Best alarm ever.

Ethan ran down the hall holding his handmade card -- he was so eager to show it to me he almost tripped! Plus, he wrote me an original song right there at the breakfast table:

 Jacob couldn't wait until I made it to the kitchen to see the beautiful flowers he'd picked out for me -- including a hydrangea, and a huge card that just kept getting bigger...

At church, I sat in on the best Sunday school class ever, but perhaps I'm a bit biased due to my relationship with the teacher.

During the service, the older boys sang "Honor Your Parents" and "Love, Love, Love." Ethan was so excited about singing he came in a tad early, and Jacob clasped his hands over his brother's mouth to quiet him. It was all I could do not to guffaw. But one the song began they both sang so well -- last time the children performed, Ethan had a royal meltdown in the narthex and I ended up missing it completely, so this was a vast improvement.

Our lunch plans were probably my most brilliant move ever, if I do say so myself. When we walked in we heard: "Welcome to Moe's!" The place was empty! (Yes, I'm a cheap date! But we go out to eat so very rarely that I will gladly go out to a place where kids eat free and refills are unlimited. Plus, queso. Need I say more?) We laughed at those waiting in hour-long lines across the street for a fancier restaurant. Lunch was actually restful -- I didn't have to cook or clean up!

After lunch there was time for a short nap before going out for a little afternoon excursion with only one kid, which was like a vacation in itself. My goal was to get my out-of-commission iPod touch repaired. Normally, I hate the mall and avoid it like the plague, but today's trip was surprisingly pleasant. Even though I couldn't get it repaired just yet, since I want to get some data off first, I wasn't fazed. Two months without it, what's another week or two? Calvin came with me and we enjoyed people-watching together. I can't remember the last time I went window-shopping. I even tried on some dresses. It was the first time in years I think I went into a store without a particular "mission" and just enjoyed myself. And all it cost was the gas to get there -- I didn't buy anything!

We did complete one errand -- getting the oil changed in the van. How exciting, yes?! Well, let me tell you, getting to look at a People magazine for all of five minutes WAS actually pretty good. Just long enough for me to realize why I don't really care about celebrities.

Came home and helped the boys finish building THE LEGO MINE. *Hallelujah Chorus* The boys pooled all of their birthday money together so they could buy this and have been waiting patiently to be able to put it together. They have been keeping the Lego room-er, Living room clean for almost a week and this was their reward.

We ended the evening with a leisurely dinner, some long chatty family phone calls, a couple of episodes of Arrested Development, and book time before bed.

I'm almost finished reading The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. This may be my favorite book of the year so far, if only for the emotional catharsis. Reading it on this first Mother's day after losing my own mom, who was a similar light for my small hometown, was a balm. If nothing else, it made me long for Home.

Me, Mom and J-man in Geneva, October 2007

Monday, April 22, 2013

Holding Myself Accountable

We dubbed April "decluttering month" at our house. But-- I haven't been on top of things at all. I know I will not get my entire month-long task list completed in a week, but I can at least do a thorough cleaning and try to reestablish a semblance of order from all the chaos. I'm posting this here so I know that I've got others looking over my shoulder, hopefully cheering me on.

Monday (Laundry Day):
  • Wash and dry at least two loads
  • Put winter clothes in basement
  • Fold and put away all clean laundry
 Tuesday (Bathrooms):
  • Organize bathroom drawers
  • Clean tub and floors
  • Replace shower curtain liner 
Wednesday (Bedrooms):
  • Clear off all dressers & pick up items off of floor
  • Organize at least one closet
  • Vacuum
 Thursday (Kitchen)
  • Clean out refrigerator
  • Clean outside of cabinets/appliances while boys clean the windows
  • Mop floor
Friday (Living Areas)
  • Remove all clutter
  • Organize toys and books
  • Vacuum/sweep floors

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Review: John Newton (Bitesize Biographies)

Before reading this concise biography, I knew almost nothing about John Newton's life. I was aware, of course, that he wrote "Amazing Grace" and had a sordid past as a slave trader. The story of how God redeemed him from miscreant to minister is fascinating, and I am thankful for this brief book because it has instilled in me a desire to read about Newton in his own words. I did not realize so many of his works and letters were published during his lifetime, and I look forward to reading his Narrative and Cardiphonia,  as well as some other modern biographies recommended by the author.

What I gained from this book is the utter joy and benevolence that Newton received from his relationship with Christ. Though he barely recognized God's Providences at the time, once united with his Savior he was able to look back on his wayward young life with thanksgiving. The author does an excellent job of celebrating the graces repeatedly bestowed upon Newton, and he shares numerous examples of God orchestrating events and people to spare Newton's life and bring him into a relationship with Christ.

From the very first pages I was struck by the remarkable impact of Newton's mother on his life. Though she died when he was only seven, in her brief time with Newton she taught him to read, introduced him to Latin, and instructed him in Scripture and catechism memorization. She exposed her son to the great hymns of the day, including those by the notable Isaac Watts, which must have influenced his love of music. Though the author downplays her influence and describes it as "fading from Newton's heart" once he turns to more wicked ways, I believe her instruction was sustained through his love of books and learning and manifested later, upon his renewal, in his diligence to teach himself the original languages of Scripture.

Of particular delight to me were the snippets about Newton's home life with his wife Polly -- how they excelled in hospitality and opened their home multiple times during the week to parishioners, visiting pastors, and guests in order to share fellowship and prayer and theological discussion.

The section concerning Newton's friendship with the poet and hymn-writer William Cowper remains particularly touching. Newton displayed a true and genuine affection for this oft-troubled companion, and their devotion and partnership in the Lord are inspiring. I would hope that I could love a friend as well as Newton loved Cowper during his long bouts of depression. Their collaboration -- The Olney Hymns -- displays their immense talent and shared creative effort to convey Spiritual truths through song.

Indeed, my favorite chapter of the entire book is titled "The Songs of the Soul," which offers fresh insights into the complete original text of "Amazing Grace," as well as other famous hymns such as "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" and "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds."   I was introduced to the latter two hymns through the popular modern movement Indelible Grace and was delighted to discover more about their origins and explanations.

The final chapter summarized the main themes of Newton's prolific correspondence and was of particular interest to me as one who struggles against fast and easy electronic communication. One of the archaic definitions of the word "prolific" means to cause abundant growth, generation, or reproduction, and this would certainly be true of Newton's letter-writing ministry. Through his communication with noblemen, other clergymen and laypeople, Newton often shared glorious truths of the gospel and built lasting relationships.

Overall, it was a quick introduction to the compelling life story of John Newton, but was sometimes difficult to read because of the writer's distracting style. The short bursts of information might be better served as teachable sections instead of one continuous, flowing narrative. Although I gained many great insights through reading this short work, I must admit I found the author's excessive use of exclamation points and abrupt or unclear transitions irksome. At times the author's enthusiasm and extraneous commentary only served to divert the reader from the actual story. The plot itself, though, was riveting enough to hold my attention.

Despite these minor quibbles, I found the passion and purpose of this short biography to be enthralling. I would recommend this book as a brief introduction to John Newton's life and works, with the caveat that it may entice you to further study! The discussion of his hymns and letters at the end is worth the asking price.

(Disclaimer: I received this book free from CrossFocused Reviews. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

I Know Not How

Six months ago today was also a Tuesday. Partly cloudy, but with sun enough. A mild fall.

October had just begun and there was promise of a new month. "I will do better, be better." Yet I sat at that computer in the afternoon, inside, in the dark, as I do now. Typing. Writing. Browsing. Escaping.

The phone rang. Startled me out of my stupor.

It was my Dad's cell, not my Mom's. And I knew before I even answered--something was wrong. While he was talking, I started packing anyway, a frantic attempt to do something useful. To go. To drive. To get there in time. In time for what? To see her one last time? Dad would not tell me what to do.

Somehow I found myself talking with a nurse at the hospital, who wasn't much help. I kept asking questions and kept getting no answers. How long had they been doing CPR? I was a bit hysterical, admittedly. No one had confirmed yet that she was dead. No one confirmed anything.

This time, the phone was passed to another nurse, someone I knew. And so I walked outside the front door, leaving my children inside the house, so that I might breathe alone and better hear the words of my childhood friend.

My friend Kacie, someone I'd known since I was three, was working as a nurse at the hospital that day. Thank Providence for that! Her words calmed me. She kept me from jumping in the van and driving the five hours alone with the boys, and for that I am grateful.

I stood outside our house, pacing in front of the walkway. I looked at the turning trees and the patchy grass and the leaves starting to fall, but I didn't really see. I was already somewhere else.

When I finally talked to my Dad again, I knew. I looked out the window and saw the deer standing outside the window and I knew.

My mother was gone and so was I. Part of me, at least.

For six months I have been somewhere else. Like the deer. Hiding. It has been a long winter.

I feel like I've been buried, too.

Today, spring is appearing. It's another Tuesday. The second of the month, yet again. Life goes on around us, little green shoots push their way up through the ground, buds begin to burst forth, dirt thaws.

The sun is shining. And I am starting to emerge.

The trees out front still look mostly bare. The Bradfords have bloomed, but only just. The yard fills up with flowering weeds. The deer have returned.

The forsythia struggles. I hacked at it in a fit of something last fall and chopped off most of the branches. But even it, once devastated, still bursts forth.

This afternoon, we planted seeds. Wildflowers and tomatoes, cucumbers and chrysanthemums. Watermelons. The boys chose a mix --whatever was in the box from last year. We covered our gifted mint and thyme seedlings with water and soil. We pray there will be no more frost.

I poke my head out. The sun? It's still there? Yes.

Easter has come. The Kingdom with it, slowly breaking through.

Looking outside, I see the signs. The Seed sprouts and grows, I know not how. It dies and gets up again. I know not how.

I just hope and wait.

Daily we will tend and water, watching expectantly for new life. For resurrection.

I have been told that the tiniest of seeds will grow into a mustard tree so large that all the birds of the air will come rest in its branches.

I know not how, only that it will be. And I am thankful.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review - Galatians For You

Galatians For You by Tim Keller, is the first installment in the God's Word For You series from The Good Book Company. Per the Series Preface, the series aims to provide expository studies of Biblical books for a broad audience in a manner that is "Bible centered, Christ glorifying, relevantly applied, and easily readable." Each volume is written with three different purposes/audiences in mind: "Read," as a guide to the contents of the book; "Feed," as a daily devotional, and "Lead," as a resource for preaching and teaching through the book. The books aren't intended to be commentaries, and the reader is not expected to have understanding of the Biblical languages or even a high level of Scriptural knowledge. Keller approaches the material verse-by-verse, providing historical context, links with other Biblical texts, insights from other theologians and scholars, and personal application (including reflection questions). There's also a Glossary of key terms, an Appendix on recent scholarship on Galatians, and a Bibliography for further study. Throughout his study of the epistle, Keller continually connects the text back to the overarching theme of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the freedom it brings to those trust in him.

To be honest, I pity the authors who have to write subsequent volumes in the series, because Keller has set the bar pretty high. I was initially skeptical about the Read-Feed-Lead format, but the book weaves together the different purposes and audiences quite well. In less skillful hands, a book with such a wide intended audience could easily degenerate into an appeal to the lowest common denominator, but not so here. Even in writing for enquirers and new believers, it is apparent that Keller wants to encourage readers to stretch and grow in their knowledge of the text, and ultimately of the Lord who gave it. And his questions for reflection are hardly fluff, but are actually quite thoughtful and even convicting. An example picked at random: from the chapter on Galatians 2:1-10, "Both personally and as part of your church, do you tend to over-adapt or under-adapt the gospel for the culture around you?" My only caveat is that I'm not sure that Keller's book by itself is enough to handle to Lead aspect (i.e., leading a Bible Study on Galatians, or preaching through it), but there is a companion study guide that is tailored for small group study.

The book's greatest strength lies in the way that Keller clearly articulates and emphasizes the theme of the Gospel of grace throughout his treatment of the epistle. From the very start, Keller stresses the need for Christians to truly understand the grace of Christ and to never underestimate their need for it. In fact, in his second chapter he writes:  
You might think: We covered this in Chapter One of this book! And we did - but this letter, in its structure as well as its content, shows us that the gospel of grace underpins every step of the Christian life. Paul will keep coming back to it; so should we, in our lives, our prayers, our thoughts, our preaching and teaching.
Grace is not only the means of gaining the salvation achieved by Christ's death and resurrection, it is also the means of living the Christian life. In discussing everything from the error of the Judaizers, to the work of the Spirit, to the role of the Law, to the profundity of the believer being adopted as a child of God, Keller ties it all back to the complete sufficiency of Christ's work and the utter folly of trying to improve upon. As Keller memorably puts it, "you can't add to Christ without subtracting Christ. He is either all [our] value or He is without value." Furthermore, Keller does a great job of translating the situation of Galatians, which revolves around discussions of potentially unfamiliar subjects such as circumcision and food laws, into terms more accessible to a modern audience, such as the threats posed by social/racial divisions in the church or the dangers of unflinching adherence to non-essential cultural and theological distinctives. On the latter, Keller does not hesitate to sound a word of caution for his own Reformed tribe, observing that championing justification by faith alone does not always protect against relying on good doctrine as a source of salvation. In Keller's treatment, Galatians is hardly relegated to the record of religious debate from millennia past; rather, it is supremely practical and relevant to readers in our own day (and all others).          

The few quibbles I had about the book did little to detract from its overall value. As mentioned above, despite its usefulness, I'm not sure it succeeds as a one-stop shop for preaching/teaching. Individuals seeking to lead a Bible Study or preach through Galatians would be advised to use Keller's book in conjunction with other resources. One other aspect of the book that nagged at me was the way that Keller glosses over Paul's references to people being cursed/condemned. To be fair, Keller makes it clear that Paul sees the right understanding of the Gospel as a matter of eternal life and death. But when discussing "the curse" or "condemnation", Keller devotes much more time to the subjective, present experience of his audience, such as the anxiety and insecurity of the person who constantly fails to live up to whatever standard of works-righteousness they have adopted. True as that is, I don't think Keller's emphasis on the subjective aspects of deviating from the Gospel do justice to Paul's concerns. In general, I'm not a fan of "turn or burn" type preaching and teaching, but given the sharp tone and language of Paul's letter to the Galatians, I wish Keller would have focused more on the big picture of what is truly at stake when the Gospel is corrupted. Nevertheless, this omission did not significantly interfere with my enjoyment of the book.  

In summary, Galatians For You is highly recommended for anyone seeking to better understand Paul's epistle, whether as a new believer or as a lifelong student of the Scriptures. Although the book is not overly-long, Keller has packed enough insight and application between its covers to keep the thoughtful reader engaged for quite some time.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for writing a review, though without any stipulations on its content.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

 Behold! The LEGO City police station. Our kids have been talking about this particular set for MONTHS. They have been poring over tiny pictures on the backs of other, smaller sets they received for Christmas. Running to catch glimpses of it every time we are in Target near the toy aisles. Wishing. Hoping. And now, thanks to Nana and Papa, their dreams have come true!

 And we got to spend last Sunday evening putting it together.
This kid. He poses now. Love him.

 The box was big. It came with lots of stuff. Like plates. And four sets of instructions. Four sets! I've never had anything like this in all of my childhood. My Barbie dream house with the elevator didn't have that many instructions. Or maybe it did, but I didn't have to put it together!

Nine bags. Secretly, Gaines and I were enjoying this way too much. We split up the work. The older boys each helped build the cars and Gaines and I helped work on the construction of the actual buildings.

 Jacob putting the finishing touches on a police van.

 Ethan proudly showing off a new police cruiser.

Ethan and Daddy constructing the garage with doors that slide up and down.

The police officer can ride on the ladder on top of the truck. Why?!

A glorified parking garage...but this is going somewhere, I promise!

First floor of the command center. (Hey! I built something!)

Level two.

Calvin really wanted to help, but for him that means just grabbing everything in reach. Thankfully, bedtime was fast approaching so we said good night to the littlest Redd.

Jacob discussing all the cool features and how the police are going to use them to catch the bad guys.


And the third floor is done!

Ethan showing off his police officer. A red-headed Redd!

 The best thing about these city police sets is that they are made to be played with -- openings in the sides and back let you move the figures around and use the furniture and gadgets inside.

See this? They included a little Lego height chart for taking mug shots!

Here's how it all fits together --notice the large screen TV and a swivel chair on the first floor. Also, a doggie door on the back for the K-9 unit.

Gaines showing off the cool sliding jail doors.

 And ta-da! We have a completed police station!

 Adding on the helicopter Ethan received makes it a fully functioning metro crime-fighting machine!

 A close-up to show you how the bad guys escape from their cells using the toilets that secretly flip out of the wall and jump to a strategically-placed handrail. Quite useful, those.

Team Redd accomplishes their most daunting Lego mission to date. To protect and serve!