Book Review – The Barber Who Wanted to Pray

In The Barber Who Wanted to Pray, the story unfolds as we join a family gathered together for family worship.  One of the children asks her father how come he could pray so beautifully.  In answer, the father tells them the true story of how Herr Peter once asked his famous client, Martin Luther, a very similar question.  Luther replies by writing the simple, yet profound classic, A Simple Way to Pray. He emphasizes three things to focus on or pray through: the Lord’s Prayer, the 10 Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed.  In the end, the family clusters together again to practice this new and exciting way of learning to pray.

I love children’s books and love that my children love books.  We were given R.C. Sproul’s book, The Prince’s Poison Cup a few years ago and my children have asked me to read and reread it.  It is a beautiful illustration of how Jesus Christ died willingly, taking God’s punishment for sin on himself and how the “poison” turns to sweet water.

When I received The Barber Who Wanted to Pray, I was expecting the same caliber of storytelling.  Alas, this was not the case.  In The Barber Who Wanted to Pray, I felt like the storyline was too forced and dry.  Much detail is given to the barber’s preparation for Luther’s shave (including a somewhat graphic musing about the possibility of killing Luther by cutting his throat with the razor!).  The opening details of the dad’s family worship routine seem overdone and geared towards providing an illustration of how family worship time could look.  Although I certainly think that such illustrations can be valuable, it felt misplaced in a children’s story.  A true test of a book’s ability to capture a child’s attention is, well, to read it to them.  Unlike The Prince’s Poison Cup, my children had a very hard time sitting through this book.

While the intent of the book (teaching our children how to pray) is very important, the execution of it in this particular book felt rushed and lacking the wonder of many of Sproul’s other children’s books.  The message of the book, especially Luther’s method of praying, is worth learning.  I would recommend those looking for resources on family worship to turn to Luther’s book itself  or to Voddie Bauchum’s book, Family Driven Faith  (a book which has issues of its own, but the chapter on family worship is invaluable.) 2/5 stars

(Thanks to Crossway’s Homeschool Book Review program for providing a review copy of this book.)

Food for thought

“We spend so much energy wishing we were someone else.  Don’t waste your time on that.  Christ has completed the work for us.  We are his and he is ours, and in him we rest in triune love.  Why waste time thinking we are not sufficient and being jealous over those we think are sufficient?  We have already seen that no one is sufficient but Christ, and in him we are brought into union with the Father. That’s enough. What can you add to perfect love?

“The guy who slugs it out at work every day displays the kingdom when he is living for the love of the King.  He is faithful, loves his wife, leads his home, adores his kids and admits when he fails.  You and I will never hear about him, he will never be famous, and some of us would look at his job and think it is not a place you could live with passion.  But Jesus has become the object of his desire, and by the grace of Christ he displays the kingdom of peace, mercy, kindness, faithfulness, joy, and purity in every detail of his life.  He won’t preach a sermon on Sunday, but he will leave a legacy in his home and his workplace, where he did what God made him to do for the love of the King.”

(A Kingdom Called Desire: Confronted By the Love of a Risen King, by Rick McKinley, pp.124-125)

Book Review – Give Them Grace

Are you a parent who wants perfect kids?  Adjust your parenting style to any number of the hundreds of books on parenting currently in print and you’ll be the successful parent you’ve always wanted to be with the successful children you’ve always wanted!

Sadly, this is the message of many parenting books that draw the hopeful and discouraged to their pages with each new publication.  In Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, mother and daughter team Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson want parents to be the best Christian parents they can be, raising Godly children.  So what makes this book any different?  The answer is found in the gospel and grace of Jesus Christ.  The path to successful parenting isn’t found in what parents do or even how children react to what parents do.  Such a method leads only to law and, as the book cover says, the law is “a set of standards that is not only unable to save our children, but also powerless to change them.”  Not only do they take aim at the path to successful parenting, but they offer a rethinking of what it means to be a successful parent.

Much of the book is focused, not on the behavior of the child, but rather the belief system of the parent.  You won’t find very much in the way of the “how-to’s” of child discipline, but rather solid principles intended to have parents examine their own attitudes and understanding of the concept of grace.  Further, this idea of grace is firmly grounded in what believers have been given through Christ’s finished work on the cross in paying God’s penalty for sin and obtaining our right standing before God.  Based on the parents’ understanding of gospel work in their own hearts, the authors then answer the question of successful parenting – that is pointing our children to God by modeling the grace of God in our lives.

There were two chapters that I appreciated the most: one (“The One Good Story) offers wise principles for pointing our children to the grace and love of God in various situations.  For example, the question often comes up (at least it does in my family) of which movies to allow children to watch.  Instead of giving a bulleted list of do’s and don’ts, the authors offer several questions to ask about how that movie (or other entertainment medium) will either point to or prevent them from seeing gospel truths.  In their own words, “Our hope is that if we have taught them how to discern the one good story and judge every other story by it, they’ll be better equipped to answer the wicked Imposter’s lies when they hear them.” (p.120) They also touch on the subject of modesty and, instead of going straight to the obvious question of “is it revealing?” they suggest principles that will get to the heart of the child and not simply outward appearances.

The second chapter I appreciated the most was Chapter 9 (“Weak Parents and Their Strong Savior”) in which the authors gently point out that sometimes, even after all our best efforts and trusting in God, our children may not live as believers.  This chapter dealt with seeming failure as parents.  But even here, the authors point us to the fact that God is honored and glorified in everything.  In what was perhaps the most poignant statement of the chapter, they write “What if he has called us to Jeremiah’s ministry rather than to Daniel’s? Is there room in your parenting paradigm for weakness and failure if weakness and failure glorify God?” (p.149)

Perhaps the one negative aspect of the book is the examples of conversations between parent and child.  The table in Appendix 2 (“Common Problems and the Gospel”) is helpful in keeping our focus on Christ and the gospel in various situations, but the examples of conversations given seem too overblown and forced.  While I certainly want to teach my children the beauty of the gospel and of Christ, it seems more than a little forced to relate losing a baseball game to the suffering of Christ.  There are times when we as parents simply need to be there for our children, encouraging them when they fail/lose and helping them to do better next time.  Does this mean that we are ignoring the gospel and only promoting selfish little bootstrap hoisters?  Absolutely not!  However, the adage “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good” seems to apply here.

Give Them Grace gives us a much needed reminder as parents that changing our children’s hearts and the outcome of our parenting is not dependent on us.  Oh yes, God uses this tool for this change but ultimately it is God who does the changing.  I was encouraged to continually point my children to the love, beauty and grace of God that is ours because of Jesus.  (4/5 stars)

(Thanks to Crossway’s Homeschool Book Review program for providing a review of this book.)

Board Games

I love playing board games and have for as long as I can remember.   When we weren’t playing Legos, my brother, sister & I used to spend hours playing board games in our younger years, sometimes making up our own rules but mostly playing by the original rules.  In addition to the usual ones such as Risk, Clue and Monopoly, there were a few unique ones that were really quite fun.  It’s a little disconcerting that many of these games are now considered VINTAGE!  Here are a few of my favorites in no particular order.

Wildlife (by Spears) 

In this game endorsed by the World Wildlife Fund, players race around the world trying to find specific kinds of animals to fill their zoos.  It was a fun game that subtly taught players different facts about animals including where each type was found in the world.  For example, you could only find the giant panda in China.  Alligators could be picked up in Florida.  You could pick up animals that weren’t specific to your zoo and use them to trade other players for animals that you needed.

London Game

The London Game is what helped me to understand and figure out the London Underground train system long before I ever went to London.  The board is a fairly accurate map of the London subway system, complete with varying colored lines weaving throughout London.  Each player has a certain number of destinations to visit in London and has to figure out the best way to get there.  Destinations include the Tower Bridge, London Zoo, St. Paul’s Cathedral and The War Museum.  The first player to visit all his destinations and return to their starting station wins.  When Sarah and I visited London shortly after we were married, I felt like I already knew where everything was and which station/line to take from years of playing this game.  I was very happy to purchase this one again a few years ago.

Wide World of Travel 

This game, perhaps the oldest one of the lot, was another one that snuck in the educational element. The board was a map of the world with various destinations dotting the globe.  Each player moved his 1950s-style jet airplane/spaceship across the map trying to visit each destination and collecting product cards before the other players reached theirs.  Players learned where Moscow, Peru, Cairo, Turkey and Alaska were.  A transparent weather guide that was placed on over the board in various places could cause lots of havoc since you never knew when it was going to move.

What board games do you like to play?  Do you have any childhood favorites that you’ve rediscovered? Any new ones that you enjoy?

Almost Paradise

Last Saturday, I took Jeremiah, Natalie and Ben with me to the store to get a few various and sundry food items that Sarah needed. (Yes, I know saying “various” and “sundry” is redundant, but you have to admit, it’s fun to say together.) Usually, such a venture is a crapshoot – you never know what’s going to happen, how they’ll behave and whether or not I’ll end up getting the urge to buy a roll of duct tape. Sometimes, it’s an ordeal just getting them to cooperate by riding in the cart. And believe me, I would MUCH rather have them ride in the cart. That way, I know where they are and know where their hands are (“please keep arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.”)

But on Saturday’s excursion, they each did wonderfully. There was no arguing as to who got to ride where, why couldn’t they walk instead and generally refrained from adding things to our cart that didn’t need to be there. Jeremiah, in particular, however offered up some rather funny moments. This should be no surprise since this is also the child whose style of worship leading covers quite the range of music. On the subject of putting things in the cart, Jeremiah quipped “Do you know why we don’t put things in our cart? Because it’s not on our list.” He definitely gets that from his mother.

After getting all of the food items on our list, we went to get some toothpaste. Since the toothpaste is right beside the toy section, we couldn’t possibly NOT go down the toy aisles. Especially since the munchkins had done such a great job in the store. I lifted them out of the cart and they made their way down each aisle, checking out the various and sundry toys [see? You had fun reading that, didn’t you?]. We checked out the pink aisle with all the girlie stuff and the more colorful aisle with the Legos, building block and other learning toys. But then, we rounded the last corner and Jeremiah must have heard angels singing and a bright light shining a path for him. He stopped, stretched out his arms and exclaimed with a sigh, “Ah! The toys with all the buttons!” And that’s exactly what they did – pushed buttons to their hearts’ content.

I told Jeremiah that I felt the same way when I go into a bookstore. He just looked at me like I was nuts.

Book Review – The Organized HomeSchooler

As the principal of the “School of Smooches,” I’m always interested in learning different ways to encourage both my wife and my children in their academic activities.  Even though it’s my wife who does 99.9% of the teaching (and more than earns her title of Director of Family Operations), I try to be on the lookout for ways in which I can help.  When I received Vicki Caruana’s book The Organized Home Schooler from Crossway’s Home School Book Review program, I was very interested in learning how we could be more organized.

In her book, Caruana goes over the importance of organization.  She points out areas where organization could be of benefit such as Thoughts (ch.3), Time (ch.4), Space (ch.5) Supplies and Materials (ch.6),  Paperwork (ch.7) and Family (ch.8).  The chapters dealing with supplies and paperwork contained the most practical information , offering advice on how best to file away your school items.  She offers good suggestions on keeping the organizational system simple (K.I.S.S.) and making sure to involve everyone.  If everyone isn’t on board, the system won’t be as effective.

Sadly, this is the extent of worthwhile nuggets from the book.  The vast majority of the book is spent trying to convince the reader of the importance of an organizational system and comparatively little amount of space actually being organized.  As I read through the book, I felt like saying “Ok, I get it.  You think organization is important.  Now where is the practical advice?”

The worst part of the book, however, was not the browbeating of “you need to be organized” but rather the spiritual implications the author made of NOT being organized and the complete misapplications of Scripture (such as her comments on Proverbs 31) in order to defend her view of organization.  According to this author, an individual who is “anxious, confused, full of despair, fearful, [and] even angry…[is] experiencing the consequences of a disorderly life.” (p.18)  Further, in one of the end-of-chapter Check Lists, Caruana states: “I realize that my children and the success of their homeschool experience depends upon my level of organization.” (p.20)  Caruana ties disorganization together with unbelief and simply not trusting God.  Still further, Caruana gives a list of reasons why someone might not be as organized as they could be in their schedules and in response to these reasons states, “If any of these statements or others like them describe your reaction to the word schedule, I suggest you prayerfully consider your motives for saying them.” (p.48)  Even a person’s choice of “escape” is targeted by Caruana’s misinterpretation of Jesus’ invitation to “come to me and I will give you rest.”  She says, “God asks that we come to Him for rest—not to television or the Internet or even a good book.  This isn’t to say that these things are off-limits, but don’t use them as an escape.  God is our refuge and strength.  When we choose to ‘veg out,’ we leave room for the enemy to corrupt our thinking.  So as you look to rejuvenate, focus on the things above by going to God’s Word.”  (p.108)  Trite comments like these abound throughout the book that the author does not expound on or explain just what this is supposed to look like.  Apparently, the organized homeschooler should only find “rejuvenation” in reading his or her Bible and praying, a concept that I find nowhere in Scripture.

Ultimately, while the book has a few things of value, they are so wrapped up in a warped view of Scripture as to not be worth the time trying to sift them out.  Many homeschool teachers are perhaps so stressed out about having the perfect schooling system, that for them to read this book that ties their spirituality to their lack of organization would certainly do more harm than good.  A much better book on homeschooling would be “Homeschooling for the Rest of Us” by Sonya Haskins.  (1/5 stars)

(Thanks to Crossway’s Homeschool Book Review program for providing a review copy of this book.)

Stop – Hammer time!

Anyone who knows me well enough will know that I have no problems listening to any genre of music.  The Bible does not put limits on what style of music is “acceptable” and what is not.  As Bob Kauflin points out in Worship Matters, “Scripture doesn’t come with an accompanying soundtrack.”  Music as an art form can be and should be enjoyed across many kinds of styles.

Although music is amoral, that certainly doesn’t mean that it cannot affect emotions, attitudes, etc.  In fact, music that DOESN’T affect us in some way isn’t very good music.  The challenge for me comes in trying to teach discernment to my tween-who-thinks-he’s-a-teen.  For awhile now, he’s been into all things “cool” which I suppose is a very subjective category, but apparently includes any kind of music that is fast.  This certainly isn’t a problem in and of itself.  But with the “all things cool” category came the “I’m too cool for you or your kind of music” attitude.  That’s when the music becomes a problem.  I’ve had to take away some privileges like his MP3 player.  But I think we were both getting frustrated because no ground rules had been set up for the music he is allowed to listen to.  This is mainly because I was having a hard time coming up with something that my very non-abstract, linear-thinking son could “get.”  Then I had an idea.

Carlos has started to be interested in working with tools, banging nails, and building things.  Unfortunately, whenever he uses my tools, he has a tendency to leave them outside instead of putting them away.  Monday evening I took him out on a date to Chick-Fil-A, but first we went to Home Depot to buy a hammer.  As we ate, I told him that the hammer was a gift from me.  Then we talked about the proper ways to use and take care of a hammer.  You don’t go around hitting people, windows or cars and you don’t throw the hammer around like a ball.  A hammer is used for building things.  A misuse of his gift might end up with the hammer being taken away.

Then we talked about the gift of music.  I said that God has given us music to enjoy and to use for lots of different things, but mainly to praise Him.  But just like we can misuse the hammer doing things that it shouldn’t be used for, we can also misuse music, even “good” music.  Music can make us proud, unkind, and arrogant if we let it.  We can use it to praise God for the beauty he has created or we can use it to praise ourselves.

We agreed on three ground rules for music that he can listen to (borrowing a little bit from Todd Stocker’s Infinite Playlists);

  • No songs with lyrics that speak unkindly, uses God’s name in vain, or  talks bad about God
  • If I see that any particular music is affecting his attitude or his interactions with others negatively, I’ll remove it from his music collection.  It’s one thing to have a bad day every now and then, but as a dad, I can tell when his attitude starts to go downhill and more often than not, it’s because he is letting his need to be “cool” control him.
  • If he’s not allowed to listen to it, he’s not allowed to talk about it.  This one is a big one for Carlos.  He LOVES to talk about things he perceives as cool and if they are forbidden, he wants to talk about them all the more.   This only adds to the temptation to break the rules.

By the end of our date, I felt like we had made a connection.  Only time will tell how much sank in and I fully expect to have to go over these rules again.  But hopefully Carlos will better understand and be able to make wiser choices about what he allows to affect him, and be able to hear the gospel in songs that we sing while not giving in to the “I’m too cool” attitude.  And of course, I hope I don’t catch him hammering on his siblings.