A perfect book for graduates, 30-somethings, and probably retirees, too

perfectgraduationgiftMaybe this is how selecting graduation presents goes at your house too.

Me: We need to get a graduation gift for so-and-so.

Josh: OK.

Me: I was thinking…something like…a journal?

Josh: Oh geez, a journal? That’s like the boring tie of graduation gifts. Get something they need.

But what do college students/grad students/young professionals really need? Cheapo Target decor? Caffeinated water? Their heads screwed on straight?

Since there’s really no way to predict where a person’s tastes run when it comes to spangled wall hangings and inflatable couches, and we trust that the aforementioned young person can source their own stimulants, maybe a tool for clear thinking would be in order.

And that is why I think from now on we will gift graduates with a copy of Kevin DeYoung’s excellent book, Just Do Something. I love the alternate title too, “Or: How To Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing In the Sky, Etc.”

As you might guess from the alternate title, Just Do Something is funny and wry. But it’s also incredibly solid, Biblical advice for a culture where a surfeit of possibilities and a deficit of responsibility inclines us to falsely spiritualize indecision.

Yep, I said “us.”

Because, when I first began reading I immediately thought the book would be perfect for graduates, but after a couple of chapters I realized that I was under conviction as a 37-year-old too. And really, the mirror DeYoung holds up in Just Do Something reflects our entire milieu, not just millennials, my nameless generation, Gen X, Baby Boomers, or whatever we’re calling ourselves.

We want to know God’s will, DeYoung says, for all the wrong reasons. We want to know what’s coming next so that we won’t be out of control or uncomfortable. We are obsessed with what house to buy, what job to take, who to marry, and so forth because we think those things are going to make or break us, but the Bible says God is after our sanctification. Instead of being frozen in indecision, DeYoung asks if we’re living 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

“Are you joyful always? Are you praying continually? Are you giving thanks in all circumstances? You ought to be. For this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.”

Basically, DeYoung boils seeking God’s will and looking for your purpose (which he discusses in very helpful detail) down to knowing God, praying for wisdom, and then, as long as our options aren’t unbiblical, just taking the leap so that we don’t waste our lives.

“If we had done something—almost anything, really—faithfully and humbly and for God’s glory for all that time, we could have made quite an impact.”

Because I’m a product of my culture and milieu just like everyone else, I really needed to read this book. I wish I had read it when I was 18/22/28/32 too. So I’ll be buying Just Do Something for graduation presents, but I’d highly recommend it for just about anyone on your list, and for yourself.

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Tools for deeper Biblestudy

To make a short story long, I inadvertently read three books about Biblestudies this summer. Theology is one of my usual reading categories, but this sub-theme did not follow my usual reading plan. In June, I went to a conference and wound up in a break-out session that I thought was going to be about ways to study the Bible in your own personal study time. But it was actually about how to get the women’s ministry at your church into deeply studying Scripture rather than relying on a lot of fluffy “Bible Lite for Girls” type programs. I read a lot on that idea a couple of years ago, so I felt in the wrong place entirely, but having parked the stroller with my (finally) sleeping baby at a point in the room furthest from the door, I couldn’t really slip away.

As it turned out, the session was really challenging and yielded several book recommendations. Through a confluence of circumstances, I wound up buying them and here we are.

dig deeperDig Deeper would be a helpful reference if you’ve never really dug into just reading the Bible for yourself. I found it to be a helpful refresher, but plan to use it more for my children, who are getting to the stage when deeper Biblestudy is the next step.

This would make a great book for a middle school or high school youth group–especially as the methods for study are nicely explained and easily synopsized. Learning to read deeply is not a given in our culture, so learning to do this with the Bible is helpful for faith but also just an all-around good life skill. I’m thinking about taking one of the book’s suggestions and making some sort of laminated card of study tools for the kids to put in their Bibles.

I don’t mean to make it sound like this is a book for children–it’s not. It’s just presented quite clearly so I think it would be helpful for a wider age range. It’s a good resource for close reading of the text.

one to oneOne-to-One Bible Reading takes less of an academic tack and explains how you can just get together with someone one-on-one (as opposed to a highly planned or off-the-shelf study) and read the Bible together. It offers a very simple framework you could use on your own, with a child, or with a very learned person, and still get a lot out of your reading.

I really like this model, especially for our culture of superficial community and runaway busy-ness. I wonder if one-to-one reading might be a great way to make a church more relational and more of a community, and also be a realistic way to answer people who are asking a lot of questions about faith.

I think this method would work really well for a family study–because different people can get different things out of it at their level–but it also might lend itself well to a small group in a situation where people aren’t sure how long they can commit.

There are several copies of One-to-One Bible Reading available on Amazon right now for a penny. I’m not sure why the glut in the market, but this would be a good time to scoop up a copy because this book is a great reference.

unleash the wordIn the past I have led Biblestudies and small groups, but for various reasons (primarily related to pregnancies and scheduling) have not done that recently. So I really didn’t intend to read Karen Soole’s Unleash the Word, although I wrote it down in that break-out session I mentioned. Our library doesn’t have it and it’s published in Britain, but apparently not in the US, so it’s about $40 on my version of Amazon.

(I know, there are SO MANY reasons I should move to England. Readier access to British publishing is only one of the myriad.)

Given the prohibitive price and lack of library availability I planned to skip the book, but while sadly perusing the conference book booths instead of listening to a speaker because Margaret was crying (note to self: do not try to attend cerebral events with an infant in tow), I spotted Unleash the Word on special for $5. So I bought it.

And I’m still not sure how I will use it, but I have to say that the book is quite good. If you’ve ever led or been part of a Biblestudy, you will appreciate Soole’s insights. One thing that I appreciated was her exploration of why canned study materials sometimes don’t work with a group, and how you can evaluate and use them more effectively. Her thoughts on how to handle group dynamics and how to promote deeper relationships while keeping a lid on distracting sidebars were also helpful. Most interesting to me–although this could be a British thing since it’s not the way most groups operate here, at least in my experience–was the idea that application is best done independently. That is, while in the group you read the Bible, discuss it, and pray about what you read, and then everyone goes home to ponder deeper application questions personally. I really, really like that approach, because it would keep people from jumping to quick conclusions and encourage people to really be open to conviction rather than assuming a text doesn’t apply to them based on a cursory reading.

If you lead Biblestudies or small groups I would highly recommend finding a copy of Unleash the Word.

studyOn a related note, Hannah has been working through Starr Meade’s The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study for her Bible reading over the past couple of weeks and I am really impressed with it. I think it’s designed for a middle to high school audience, and is a guided way to read through the entire Bible and really learn to study it. It’s not a quick program, and could easily take several years to complete, but I like the format and it has been a great tool for Hannah (age 10) so far. If you’re interested, you may want to watch the price–I found the set for a solid discount on Amazon this summer, although the price is a little higher now. You might catch it on CBD with a coupon code at some point, but the books are consumable so I doubt you’d get a clean copy used (but you never know!).

Did any of your usual reading categories run away with you a bit this summer?

Speaking of reading categories, here’s a brief update on the Book Atlas. I put together a 19-page ebook explaining the concept and how to set one up, which you can get for free when you sign up for the newsletter. If you’re already a subscriber, you’ll get a link to the ebook in your August newsletter this coming Monday. I’m so interested to hear what you think!

 
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Ordering the rhythms of our tables, calendars, and hearts

a-spirited-mind-1We live in a time in which we are fortunate to have lots of options. You can eat strawberries in November and wear sweaters in July. From where we live to how we eat, even to how we observe or ignore the weather, we pretty much get to chart our own course.

Because we have this freedom, it’s even more important that we pay attention to the underlying framework that drives our choices. I’ve recently been reading and thinking about this in light of seasons and rhythms.

I’m not against the convenience of modern life. I’m writing this post in my air conditioned office while it’s 94 degrees outside. I’ll be putting a can of tomatoes in tonight’s dinner, and I buy everything from books to pajamas to eyeliner on Amazon. But I do see a difference between using modern conveniences as tools and being blindly co-opted by our consumer culture.

As I read I began articulating some impressions of unease I’ve had about how (or if) my life reflects my beliefs on a number of fronts. I’ve made some steps to change our rhythms with things like moving to a term schedule for school (generally six weeks on, one week off), and we’ve always done a Jesse Tree for Advent. Still, in reading thinkers like James K. A. Smith and others, I’ve found myself examining our life looking for the liturgy embedded therein–we all live a liturgy, Smith says, it’s just a matter of what we base it on.

circle of seasonsIn a roundabout fashion this brought me to Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s excellent book The Circle of Seasons. Ireton didn’t grow up in a high church tradition, so her study of the church year as an adult gives her a valuable outsider perspective. Ireton avoids the temptation to create or uphold empty ritual, and digs into the value and symbolism of various church traditions.

For example, in looking at Advent as a season of waiting and preparation for Christ’s birth followed by a twelve day feast of Christmas, Ireton ties in ways Christians can move beyond the commercial Christmas to enjoy a season of peace and then extend joy and love when everyone else is tapped out and suffering a post-holiday slump. What if we had a Christmas party the week after Christmas? What if we invited people over for a Christmas dinner on December 28? How would that impact our family’s ability to enjoy Christmas and be a blessing to others?

Likewise, Lent offers a chance to think about the true purpose of fasting–not self-denial or being absorbed in yourself, but creating space for God to work in and through us.

I appreciated how Ireton thoughtfully examined ways that the church calendar can break us out of our tendency to passively trudge through life, and make us more mindful of our days.

irrational seasonI’ve already mentioned The Irrational Season, but it bears repeating here because in the book Madeleine L’Engle writes her reflections on the year in a way that is informed by and immersed in the church year.

L’Engle did a masterful job of showing how being aware of the church calendar can direct our thoughts and contemplation. Thinking about Jesus’ coming birth during Advent leads to being watchful for His return. Considering the events of our lives in light of Epiphany, Easter, or the Trinity helps us to understand them in a truer light, and orient our own experiences in light of a bigger story.

Reading The Irrational Season won’t be so much a practical primer on how to celebrate the church year as an inspiration for how being aware of seasons and traditions can be a rich avenue for study and contemplation. I’m thinking about this a lot as I structure our school terms for next year.

feastOne of the e-books in a bundle I bought recently turned out to be an interesting resource on the Christian year. Feast! is full of practical tips and recipes for aligning your family culture with church culture.

The first two sections–on Advent and Christmas–were particularly helpful. I liked the ideas for ways to build up to Christmas and make that our focus, but without seeming Scroogey or anti-Christmas. A lot of the tips were ideas that would help to keep December less frantic by spreading out all the things we love about the season into a longer and more relaxed celebration. I’ve always felt that Christmas was this weird abrupt stop after a couple of weeks trying to cram too much in. I really like the idea of a more restful Advent and then a great fun long Christmas with plenty of time to listen to music, make gingerbread houses, and read Christmas books rather than putting everything away. The authors suggest adding to your Jesse Tree until Epiphany, which I remember my mom trying to do for us some years. The Stewarts suggest adding the names of God or attributes of Jesus for those extra twelve ornaments. I have this on my list to try.

I will say that after the Easter ideas the book wasn’t as applicable for me. The authors are Catholic and so they have special saints days they celebrate at different times, which isn’t something we do. But there was enough good food for thought in the other sections to make Feast a worthwhile read for me.

life giving home

Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book The Life-giving Home is arranged around the year too, although I didn’t take as many notes on practical things to do in January versus May or anything like that.  Those ideas are there, but I found the book to be more helpful to me in giving me a stronger vision for the way that my home and life can better express the truth and beauty I believe in, versus specific decorating or menu ideas.

I love the point the Clarkson’s make about how our homes and family cultures are ways to engage with the broader culture and a means to tell the story of what is most important to us. This is true no matter what we believe, and certainly worth serious thought. Are our lives–from our time to our traditions to our decorating aesthetic–telling the story we want them to? Are they restorative and life-giving for our families and friends and neighbors?

jameskasmith-youarewhatyoulove

If you want to dig more deeply into how our lives tell a story of what we love and reveal our vision of the good life, you should certainly check out James K. A. Smith’s latest work, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. This book is powerfully insightful and profoundly challenging.

Smith talks about the way that our worship must incorporate not just our minds, but also our hearts. If we fail to capture and reorder our hearts, our head knowledge will not be enough. “You are what you love,” Smith writes, “because you live toward what you want.”  When we have misdirected loves it’s not because we have bad ideas, but because “our desires have been captivated by rival visions of flourishing. And that happens through practices not propaganda.”

So if we are formed by liturgies whether we admit it or not, we ought to devote careful consideration to what those liturgies are. As a parent and teacher, this gives me a lot to think about. Of course we want to give our children truth and sound ideas, but are we going beyond that to capture their hearts with truth and beauty? Does our worship and our family culture give them a vision for what it means to flourish, or are we giving them second-rate music and sappy stories and then wondering why their palates incline them to cartoons and the mall?

This has so many implications for how we structure our time, our family culture, our schools, our work…while the book may seem the odd one out in this post, it really forms the basis for why and how we follow (or don’t) seasons, rhythms, and traditions–Christian or otherwise.

There is so much in You Are What You Love that I can’t begin to touch on all of it, but I highly recommend it if you’re interested in habits, virtue, the good life, spiritual life…well, really I’d recommend it for anyone.

I haven’t finished thinking all of this through yet, so can’t give you my conclusions, but I’d be interested to know if you’ve considered these things and, if so, how you shape your family’s calendar or traditions as a result?

 
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The Bookmarked Life #15

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

I’m thinking about seasons and rhythms and the original purpose of the liturgical calendar. How might we do Advent and Easter and our school terms differently to renew focus and reduce the way holidays tend to breed frenzy? I like the idea of longer seasons and a contemplative approach to the year. We have to be careful not to get caught up in meaningless rituals, but in our milieu I think maybe there is more danger in meaningless seasons if you hew to the culture than if you follow some version of a church calendar. This is tied up in more thinking and reading about liturgy and habits and may wind up shifting how I schedule the next school year.

…Furnishing My Mind

IMG_5642Margaret was baptized in early May and we celebrated by having a picture that actually included all of us. It turns out that it’s really, really difficult to squeeze a family of seven onto a loveseat.

Related to the loveseat: people often ask why on earth I have white couches when I have so many kids. The truth is, these couches were super cheap at Ikea and the slipcovers are fully removable and washable. They hold up really well–I did not stain treat them and I only wash them 2-3 times a year, sometimes tossing the seat cushions in more frequently. We use the couches all day long and they do sometimes get a little grubby, but nothing a soak in Oxiclean can’t fix. IMG_5558Overall, I feel like they make me happy and are much easier to maintain than a couch you can’t wash.

My parents came to visit for the week of Eliza’s third birthday and Margaret’s baptism, and we had a nice visit as well as a mini-break from school.

IMG_5791Jack turned nine at the end of May and had a “Lego Inventor” party. It was a madhouse but he seemed to enjoy it. He made the cake topper himself, and it was nice to just go with it and not try to do some fantastical thing with fondant. Chocolate cake with lots of chocolate frosting (the Hershey’s recipe is easy and way, way better than any store-bought version) is good regardless.

Jack is very creative, loves to read, and is super intense about everything he does. Parenting him can be a wild ride, but he’s interesting and fun and very affectionate.

 

…Living the Good Life

IMG_5671We joined the Children’s Museum and Zoo this spring and have enjoyed frequent trips to both as I attempt to justify the cost with lower cost-per-visit averages.  🙂 So far we’ve done the museum nine times and the zoo five times. As you can see in the picture, the zoo has a cool exhibit going right now of giant animal sculptures made of Legos.

For some reason it often feels easier to take the five kids out than to stay home. It sort of diffuses the noise and energy! We’ve also been going to more parks and finding interesting new parts of the city to explore (that is a nice way of saying, “Mama often gets lost but then enjoys the scenery.”)

…Teaching

We finished our required 180 days of instruction last week, but don’t tell the kids since we will still be doing school through the rest of June (after a break this week for VBS). It works better for us to take July off and then have more flexibilty throughout the year for term breaks rather than having one long summer break. To the surprise of no one, I have changed some things up this semester, so I’ll do an end-of-year wrap-up later in June.

…Boosting Creativity

IMG_5833

I think it’s so great to be creative in different ways.  Somehow being creative in a totally different medium can help with creativity in my usual tracks.  A couple of times lately a friend of mine has hosted a painting party–a local artist comes to her house and we all learn some techniques and paint a small picture. This one is a sprig of balsam fir.  I really like the way the colors in the background turned out.

When I was reading The Irrational Season, I was struck by Madeleine L’Engle’s schedule–she always made time for a walk outdoors, an hour of study and reading, and an hour of practicing piano in addition to writing and caring for her family and whatever else. She felt that the outdoor exercise, study, and piano were part of her creative process, and she was unabashed at saying that was what she needed for her creative life. I was inspired to pick up some of my old piano music and have been tackling Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor.

…Building Fitness

IMG_5771 We are boldly embarking on hikes! I don’t know what it is about having five children that has made me delve into all of the things there are to do around town. Obviously it’s TONS easier to tote five kids to attractions, right? But in any case we have now met up with a friend and her two kids to do two hikes at state parks nearby. Surprisingly, Eliza (age 3) has been able to walk pretty far. And Margaret does well in the baby carrier. The big kids got these nifty water bottle holders (the friends we hike with introduced us–they are far more outdoorsy than we are!) and are allowed to eat granola bars whilst hiking, so they are all in.

I moved my regular workouts to the evening after the kids go to bed, and am now mostly doing my own circuit of heavy (for me anyway!) weights. I got this idea from Crystal, which led me to this free e-book (salesy, but informative), and so far it’s a nice break from routine.

…Seeking Balance

Work (the paid sort anyway) has been lighter this past couple of weeks, and that has been good in its way. It’s funny how the older kids, while not requiring the same hands-on vigilance as the littles, seem to be in phases that require more time and emotional energy right now, so it has been good to slow down and be able to focus on those needs lately. I’ve been doing more personal writing too, which is restorative and fun. I still have no idea how to work the schedule to include paid work, personal writing, study time, school, and intentional parenting all together. But if I look at things from a weekly or monthly perspective, it does all fit in.

…Listening To

The kids and I are listening to The Chronicles of Narnia books on audio (unabridged, not dramatized) in the car–what a great series to listen to one after the other! This is perfect for summer car trips or just for going around town. Highly recommended!

…Keeping In Mind

“May you treasure wisely this jeweled, gilded time, and cherish each day as an extra grace.” –Andrew Greeley

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

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Devotional books for kids

gods namesI’m always looking around for good books to use for Biblestudy with the kids. God’s Names by Sally Michael (it was recommended in Tapestry of Grace) turned out to be an excellent choice for my elementary aged kids.

The book devotes one section to each of 26 different names of God. The lesson includes Scripture passages (written out in the text, but it also works to ask the kids to find the passages and read them from their own Bibles) that use that name to describe God, explanations of why that name was important in context, and application of how we can think about God and respond to Him based on our new understanding of who He is.

I really liked this approach. In the course of learning the names of God, kids (and adults!) develop a more complete understanding of God’s character–who He is and what He values. It was easy to make strong applications, and the lessons also built on each other, referencing names we had already learned about, so the way that different things work together was simpler to understand.

God’s Names worked well to do together with my group of kids, but you could also use it as an individual study if you have a kid who is ready for an independent approach.  I’d recommend it.

salvationI expected to love Starr Meade’s God’s Mighty Acts in Salvation–after all, we really enjoy her daily study based on the catechism (Training Hearts, Teaching Minds) and continue to use that each morning.

The information in the book is good, but I think the layout didn’t click with our family. Each day gives a passage to read from Galatians, and then has a short, loosely related story or series of thoughts based on one of the themes from the passage.  There are also application questions at the end. I think there were a couple of reasons why this set-up didn’t work for us. First, it didn’t seem like we were studying the passage–I was hoping for more explanation that shed light on the verses, or a structure that helped the kids learn about salvation in general–and the little readings were ok but not fantastic.  I guess overall the book seemed like something we were just reading to get through it, rather than really learning from. It could have been a case of the right book at the wrong time, or just a style preference.  We do still recommend Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, though!

What devotional books have you tried and liked with your family?

 

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Rest Assured

Rest-Assured-CoverIf you’re coming from a place of extreme busyness and you feel that your online life is out of control, you might find good food for thought in Rest Assured: A Recovery Plan for Weary Souls. But if you’ve already thought a lot about this topic and have made good progress in living your priorities, this may not be as rich of a resource.

The author clearly calls out social media use and online time wastage in general, which may be startling for 20-30 somethings. While I thought some of her points came across as biased toward life before ubiquitous internet-enabled devices, she did make a strong case for the fact that thoughtful technology use is now counter-cultural.

Of course, just because something is counter-cultural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. While I personally have cut back substantially on social media and non-work internet use this year, I see that as something I’ve done for my own season of life and out of a need to honestly live my priorities, not a moral imperative others need to follow.

It is interesting to think about how we could develop a coherent theology of technology use, but I think this might be one of those areas where lack of deep thought leads people to take their own methods and try to apply them as universal standards. I think with technology especially there is a lot of grey space where we have to know ourselves and our attitudes and callings and honestly evaluate it for ourselves.  That takes a lot of work, and a checklist would be easier!  I do think this book offers some good points to think about, as long as you can approach them with an eye toward filtering the author’s conclusions through the lens of your own tendencies and personality and situation.

There were a few drawbacks to the book. I had a problem with the tone in several places.  In what seemed like an attempt to be funny the author often put others down in a way that was not actually humorous–it was needlessly mean and catty.  In other places, the author wrote in a way that made suggestions seem like imperatives and it took away from her points.

There is a lot of good material in Rest Assured, so depending on your interest level you might find it worth a read, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite book in this topic area.

 

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Convocation: What it is and why we do it

IMG_5011Convocation just means the time when we convene to start school.  You can see where it fits into my weekly checklist above.  Unlike lots of other families, it doesn’t work for us to do all of our read-alouds, poetry, memory work, singing, artist and composer study, etc etc all at one time.  There is just too much of it.  I’ve found that it works better for us (for my voice and for the quality of our discussion) to break things up throughout the day. So rather than having one catch-all spot, we have Convocation, Table Time, The Reading, and Bedtime Reading/Worship–at the beginning, middle, and end of our days, respectively. This week, I’ll try to give you a brief look at what Convocation includes for us and why, and how it only takes 15 minutes (usually).

First, we pray for our day.  This is brief, maybe 1-2 minutes, asking God to bless our day, give us teachable hearts and good attitudes, make us diligent, and to show us His truth and beauty as we study. If we have any particular concerns going on, we can pray about those too.

Why start with prayer? Prayer reminds us of why we are doing this hard work of education, and helps put our focus on the larger picture of God’s work and how exciting it is that we get to learn about it in all aspects of our day. But most of all, it reminds us (particularly me) that we aren’t in this alone and that we need God’s help and grace.

The next piece rotates by day and can be very quick or take around 5 minutes:

  • Monday – say the Lord’s Prayer (actually we tack this on to the end of our prayer that day)
  • Tuesday – recite the Apostle’s Creed
  • Wednesday – each kid is given a Bible verse to look up (to get faster at finding passages in the Bible and to get practice reading Scripture out loud well)
  • Thursday – recite the books of the Bible
  • Friday – Catechism review

Why do we memorize this stuff? The Lord’s Prayer, Apostle’s Creed, books of the Bible, and catechism are part of historical church practice–we learn them because we are part of the church and God’s work around the world and across the centuries, not just our own little community and place in time. In addition to being time-tested statements of belief, these are beautifully written pieces that use strong vocabulary and excellent structure–all good reasons to have them in our minds!

Then we review our catechism question and answer and do a brief Biblestudy from Starr Meade’s Training Hearts, Teaching Minds.  The book has a short study for each day of the week related to the Scripture proofs for each question and answer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  We just switched back to that book after I realized the kids were too old to keep going through the Children’s Catechism and needed something more.  This takes maybe 5-7 minutes or so.

Why tie Biblestudy to catechism? We don’t always, but I like how this study ties what we believe to why we believe it.  It’s a great springboard for discussions.  And I do allow discussion if it comes up–we aren’t tied to a minute-by-minute schedule and I think it’s important to dig deeply and wrestle with ideas. After all, the purpose of education is not just to check boxes!

After that we recite our review passage of Scripture.  We memorize by chapter for the most part, so I just stack in five things from our memory work and put them on my clipboard for the week. This takes maybe 2-3 minutes.

Why do we memorize scripture by passage? I’ve read a lot about the value of memorizing longer passages instead of (or in addition to) single verses, especially for giving us a sense of how verses fit into the whole flow of scripture. Then there’s literary merit, which is not the primary concern but certainly is a factor!  Again, if we purpose to give our children a taste for truth and beauty, we have to make beautiful language part of their experience.

Finally, we sing a Psalm or hymn.  We have 10 per week–five for morning and five for before bed. This takes a couple of minutes.

Why do we learn hymns and Psalms? Our church sings a mix of traditional music and modern worship songs, and frankly I think the hymns are–for the most part–of more enduring value musically and lyrically.  I don’t have anything against worship tunes in general, but I think there is value to learning more complex pieces so we do more of that at home. And obviously Psalms are scripture and singing is a great way to memorize.

So that’s Convocation.  On paper it sounds like a lot, but in actual practice it does take an average of 15-20 minutes, give or take a discussion or breakfast disaster or two.

I hope that helps–let me know if you have any other questions. I gather ideas from all over the place, so very few of these things are my originals.  I just regroup things into ways it will work for my family, so please don’t feel like I’m saying this is how anyone else should do things!

 

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Cultivating a Devotional Life

women of the wordWomen of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds is a helpful reference for studying the Bible deeply in a group or on your own. Although I was initially leery because I feared the title implied that women should do Biblestudy Lite, it turns out that the author agrees with me that women need theology and deep study and the book title refers to the fact that women do need that depth even if it isn’t what they are used to getting.

The author, Jen Wilkin, provides a great framework for studying the Bible, including ideas that would be helpful even if you’ve been doing this for years. I started using several of her methods in my own study time this year and have found them illuminating.

I got an ESV Single Column Journaling Bible for Christmas and have been using it to combine my daily journal, prayers, and Bible study to great effect. It’s amazing how combining those three things has helped to clarify my thinking, remind me of the truth, and direct my prayer life. I’ve seen lots of references online about using a journaling Bible to paint or make other visual responses to Scripture, but since I’m a words person I’m filling mine with writing and underlining. I can already tell after one month that this is a habit I could keep going for the long-term.

In addition to using the ideas from Women of the Word, I’m also reading through The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. I love the book’s emphasis on praying scripture back to God. Each section is broken down by day (although I’ve read more than one on certain days), with a short piece of teaching that puts the selection in context and spurs deeper reflection, and then an example of how to begin putting the section into your own prayers.  Because the selections are short, you could easily begin now and do an extra day here or there, or just start whenever you start and forget about the dated entries.

If you’re looking for a great resource on devotional life, I still refer back to my notes from Tim Keller’s excellent book Prayer often.

For an example of how to put the ideas found in Women in the Word into practice, you might be interested in downloading Jen Wilkin’s study on Hebrews. I got it, but haven’t begun using it yet.

What devotional resources have you found lately?

 

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A Few Books on Faith

sufferingI have a hard time identifying with the term suffering, because the word seems loaded with comparison. Even when we do feel like we are suffering, it can be hard to talk about it or admit it to others because it seems a little lame compared to the far worse things others deal with.

That’s why I loved Elisabeth Elliot’s book A Path Through Suffering.  She doesn’t mess with platitudes about being glad that at least you aren’t as bad off as so-and-so.  Rather, she defines suffering as “having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.”  Even mild trouble ought to be handled the same way as debilitating and tragic loss, because “if we don’t learn to refer the little thing to God, how shall we learn to refer the big ones?”

The book is simply chock full of convicting, encouraging words on dealing with the discomforts of life in a godly way. There is so much wisdom on how to navigate day-to-day living.  I took copious notes and am using them as I work on my goals for next year.

I may choose A Path Through Suffering as one of my top books of this year.  Highly, highly recommended.

disciplineIn Discipline: The Glad Surrender, Elisabeth Elliot offers an interesting perspective on several disciplines of life.  While she touches on some that probably come to mind, the book tackles these subjects from a different perspective than you usually find.  Rather than prescribing a set of rules, Elliot gets into heart attitudes on topics like controlling your thoughts, being disciplined with your time, and not letting your feelings run away with you.  I found all of the topics extremely helpful and thought-provoking, and would also recommend this volume.  I’m finding it helpful in setting priorities for next year, but it would be a rich resource any time.

savorFor my Bible study in November I worked through Savor & Establish, a study on Philippians with a focus on thankfulness. I thought it was perfect for the month, especially as I feel like I have more than the usual things to be grateful for this season. I’m not sure how long this will be available, but for the time being you can get a copy of the study free when you subscribe to MacKenzie Monroe’s website. It’s well worth it!

worldTheologian R.C. Sproul has a series of short books dealing with critical questions of faith, all of which are free on Kindle. I read How Should I Live in This World?, which is an application of biblical frameworks to popular ethical quandaries.  Sproul succinctly describes how to apply principles from the Bible to these questions, without being blinded by our culture or time period.

The book is very short for the topic it covers.  If you’re interested in really deep exegesis and detailed philosophical application, this might not be the book for you.  But if you just want a quick hit I think it’s a fairly solid choice.

LoveComesNear_8.5x11-Cover-232x300I am so glad I purchased Jenni Keller’s latest book Love Comes Near: An Advent Bible Study. I’ve gotten a lot out of her previous studies, and although this one is structured differently I am really, really enjoying it.

Unlike Keller’s previous work, Love Comes Near doesn’t cover one book of the Bible.  Instead, Keller selected Advent-related passages for each day.  I’m appreciating the reminder to keep my focus on Advent.

But the best part of the study is Keller’s inclusion of a shorter version of each day’s study geared towards kids.  I love this!  It’s a perfect way to get my three big kids more practice looking up Bible passages, plus good kid-level discussion questions, and a passage to copy out each day (sneaky copywork/handwriting practice!!!).  I wish I could find more studies like this for us to do throughout the year.

What books or studies on faith have you enjoyed lately?

 

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Establish Your Heart (a Biblestudy on James)

Establish-Your-Heart-Cover-for-web-228x300Having really enjoyed Jenni Keller’s study on Colossians, I eagerly bought her second book, Establish Your Heart: A Six-week Study of James.  Although the format was a little different and I preferred the Colossians study overall, I still got a lot out of the James study, and would recommend it.

You can get the study two ways: via Amazon or directly from Keller’s website.  I got my copy from her website as a download and printed it out, but in hindsight I would have just gotten it on Amazon because for $2 extra you get a paperback version that doesn’t require your colored ink and is presumably bound versus being a stack of computer paper held together by a binder clip.

Either way, the study is an economical investment that will encourage you to think deeply about the book of James and really study this Scripture.  Like Keller’s previous study, this one doesn’t force feed you any answers–you really do your own study, but feel supported along the way.  I really like that about Keller’s approach.

The study could easily be done with a group or on your own.  If you’re looking for a tool to help you dig more deeply in your Bible study, I’d recommend Establish Your Heart or Complete in Christ, Keller’s study on Colossians (you can read my review of the Colossians study here).

 

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