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Ever attempting to "stay on target." Whatever that means.



Updated: 2017-10-25T05:09:09.992-04:00

 



Book Review -- Ulrich Zwingli (Bitesize Biographies)

2015-05-25T16:59:33.709-04:00

Ulrich Zwingli's contributions to the Reformation are generally overshadowed by those of Luther and Calvin. Surveys of Reformation history typically mention Zwingli, but often serving as a comparison/contrast with Luther or as a forerunner of Calvin. As William Boekestein observes in his biography of Zwingli, the Zurich reformer's career was intense but relatively short-lived (around twelve years), and as a result, his written works have not had the same lasting impact as his fellow reformers. Nevertheless, Zwingli played an important role in the founding of the Reformed Churches, and the story of his life is intrinsically connected to the story of the Reformation in Switzerland.Boekestein's volume is part of the Bitesize Biographies Collection published by EP Books. Intended for a general audience, this brief work (~160 pages) provides an overview of Zwingli's life and ministry; additionally, Boekestein, a Reformed pastor, offers a theological perspective on Zwingli that transcends a mere recounting of historical fact. Boekestein begins his account with a description of the Swiss context into which Zwingli was born, describing the political structure and religious backdrop which would shape the reformer. From there, the biography proceeds chronologically through the major events of Zwingli's life, from his early days as a promising student and young priest, through his emergence as a renowned scholar and career as reformer in Zurich, and ending with his death in battle at Kappel. Boekestein concludes with a chapter assessing Zwingli's legacy, observing that later centuries of Christians have honored him "more for his reform efforts than his theology," specifically commending Zwingli's love for the church, for the Gospel, for the Bible, and for his Lord.Several features of Boekestein's biography deserve mention. Notably, Zwingli's commitment to the Scriptures is a major theme throughout the book. As a young priest influenced by humanists such as Erasmus, Zwingli developed a passion for the detailed study of the New Testament in its original Greek. Upon becoming pastor of the most influential church in Zurich, Zwingli re-introduced the long-forgotten practice of expository preaching through the Scriptures (instead of using lectionary readings prescribed by the Church). Erasmus' writings also led him to question whether certain practices and teachings of the Church could be supported by the biblical texts, and Zwingli soon began questioning and even denouncing those practices from the pulpit. Interestingly, Zwingli's pursuit of reform resulted in criticism from both conservatives and radicals. The latter, most notably the Anabaptists, had taken Zwingli's own insistence on Biblical fidelity to its extreme conclusion, and Zwingli was forced to respond to his own arguments (or perversions thereof) by staking out a moderating position that promoted reform while still upholding the Scriptural admonitions to submit to governing authorities. Nevertheless, Zwingli's insistence on Scriptural authority led to an all-encompassing program of reform in Zurich, extending beyond the church walls into civil affairs.            Another commendable aspect of the book is that Boekestein praises without resorting to hagiography. Although Zwingli's scholarship and preaching were undoubtedly persuasive, the concerns of the Zurich magistrates were far more than theological. Indeed, even before the break with Rome, Zwingli's push for reform provided the city leadership with an opportunity to exert independence from the Church and to increase control over their own affairs. Also, the biography does not shrink from addressing Zwingli's personal failings, such as his secret marriage to Anna Reinhart, his likely approval (at least tacitly) of the severe persecution of the Anabaptists, and his ill-fated attempts at diplomacy which resulted in the Protestant-Catholic conflict in which he died. The inclusion of these aspects help provide a fuller picture of Zwingli, whose failings are often as instructive as his successes.A[...]



Book Review -- A Study Commentary on The Acts of the Apostles

2015-04-07T00:46:43.339-04:00

"Why one more?" asks Guy Prentiss Waters in the Preface to his A Study Commentary on the Acts of Apostles, noting the proliferation of publications on this book of the Bible. "What will this commentary contribute to the burgeoning literature?" As Waters explains, he intends his commentary to be 1) brief and clear, 2) geared towards the exposition of the text, and 3) distinctively Reformed in orientation. Waters is successful in each of these three areas, providing a commentary that is both readable and useful for serious students of the Bible.

Waters' commentary is published by EP Books as part of the EP Study Commentary series, which is intended for a general audience and written from a Reformed perspective. Due to its length, Acts has tended to produce commentaries of ever-increasing length (consider Craig Keener's soon-to-be-completed four volume monster), but Waters' volume clocks in at just over 600 pages of reasonably-sized type. In his Introduction, Waters briefly surveys the standard questions of authorship, date, title, genre and purpose, arguing that Luke has written Acts to edify Christians by highlighting "the continued word and deeds of the exalted Jesus through his apostles." He then divides the text into 18 major sections, with further subdivisions under each. After providing his own English translation of the text, Waters walks verse-by-verse through the pertinent exegetical details and interacts with the secondary literature. The volume is well-researched, with copious footnotes provided for further study, yet Waters never lets the main commentary get bogged down with extraneous details or arcane technical discussions. For example, Waters often highlights significant details from the Greek text, but in such a way that readers need not be students of Greek to grasp Waters' arguments. In addition to examining Acts itself, Waters also focuses on connections with other Scriptures, such as the use of the Old Testament in Acts and its links with the Gospel of Luke.

Another key feature of Waters' commentary is that the exegetical analysis of each subdivision of the text is followed by several paragraphs of Application. In these sections, Waters demonstrates how the Scriptural texts inform the lives of Christians today. These sections are very much pastoral in nature, and address many of the practical questions that naturally arise from reading Acts, such as the nature of the continued role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, the fact of conflict inside the church, and the reality of opposition to the Gospel from outside, just to name a few. In these sections Waters often makes use of Calvin or the Westminster Standards to integrate the text with a broader Reformed perspective.

All in all, Waters does an admirable job of providing a detailed yet readable commentary on Acts. The depth of engagement makes the book ideal for use in preparing sermons or Bible study lessons, yet anyone interested in growing in their faith through studying the Acts of the Apostles would benefit from this commentary.

(Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book in exchange for providing a review, with no obligations as to its content.)






2014 Family Christmas Card

2014-12-23T12:51:17.345-05:00

Merry Christmas to all our friends and family far and wide! 
I wish we could mail this to all of you.
with love, Team Redd



Book Review: Jonathan Edwards (Christian Biographies for Young Readers)

2014-10-19T22:20:31.605-04:00

A few years ago, from 2005-2007, we spent our Fourth of July weekends in Annapolis, Maryland, at something called the JEI conference. Lots of speakers, books, good food, strolling around the lovely historic city, and fireworks. It was sponsored by the Jonathan Edwards Institute, which existed to promote Edwards' ideas for a modern audience and "foster a God-entranced worldview.". And we loved it (because we're nerds like that).Fast-forward almost ten years later and though the JEI Institute no longer exists, we are finding opportunities to share some of these same passions with our kids. One way is through a great series of biographies from Simonetta Carr. This particular biography came to us most timely, as we are actually studying American History this year and have been reading quite a few accounts of early colonists.Carr's latest contribution to her Christian Biographies for Young Readers series, Jonathan Edwards, exceeds my expectations. Though I thought I knew much about Edwards' writings, I realized by reading this book how few details I really knew about his life. All of the books in this series are of excellent quality, hardback and sturdy and with exceptional content, but this one especially has some fascinating facts, photographs and illustrations. In this biography, Carr shares details of his life (1703-1758) from his time as an inquisitive youth to his death at a relatively young age due to illness, when he was then president of Princeton. If all you know of Edwards is the classic sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," you will be most surprised and encouraged by reading about his whole life's work. His delight in Creation and wonder at the glory of God are evident throughout his story. Even as a child he was interested in science, and observed creatures like the infamous spider and marveled at their unique qualities. There's even an original sketch by Edwards included in the book. His time at Yale brought him into contact with contemporary philosophers and thinkers like Isaac Netwon and Voltaire. As he struggled and wrestled with these new ideas, he always checked them against the Truth he found in Scripture. And so he became captivated by the excellency and wisdom of his Creator. So much so, that Carr writes: "Often, Edwards felt so impressed by God's glory and beauty that he started to sing." What a fantastic picture of a man whose heart chased after God!There is a good amount of information about his life's work as a preacher, of course, including the first Great Awakening. But Carr also examines his struggles as his beliefs conflicted with his congregation. There is an excellent chapter on his friendship with David Brainerd, missionary to the Native Americans, which later inspired him to move his own family to Stockbridge and become a missionary himself. His interactions with the Indians and his desire for their well-being, fair treatment, and the education of their children in a school alongside his own is much to be praised, and is quite unlike many of the other accounts we have been reading in our American History studies this year.I highly recommend this biography to anyone interested in learning more about Edward's life. Carr includes a helpful map, timeline, and an appendix with facts about the time period as well as a letter from Edwards to one of his children. As always, the illustrations are rich and well-done, perfectly suited to the text. Reading this has provided our family with an excellent model of what it means to live one's life out faithfully, to "discover God as He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures" and not try to "match the Bible to our own ideas." Many of the chapters offer frameworks for understanding the cultural context in which Edwards lived and offer up ideas for discussion, growth and further reading. This is a wonderful addition to any family library.If you are interested in any of Jonathan Edwards' writings, I would recommend the Edwards Center at Yale Un[...]



Book Review -- Songs of a Suffering King: The Grand Christ Hymn of Psalms 1–8

2014-10-17T02:01:20.011-04:00

"The book of Psalms ... is the biggest book in the Bible, but for many in the church its contents are largely mysterious and out of sight," laments J. V. Fesko in the Introduction to his latest book, Songs of a Suffering King: The Grand Christ Hymn of Psalms 1-8. To remedy this deficiency, Fesko aims to convince his readers of two important characteristics of the Psalter: 1) that it is focused on the person and work of Christ -- not just in certain "christological psalms" but in its entirety; and 2) that it is not a randomly-arranged collection of poetry but, rather, is a deliberately-organized work with an overarching story. By focusing on the first 8 Psalms, Fesko is able to demonstrate both these characteristics in the text as well as lay out an approach for studying the entire Psalter.Fesko's book is explicitly "a devotional exploration of the first eight Psalms" and is intended for the edification of Christian readers. Each chapter focuses on a different Psalm, tracing its significance from its original context to its fulfillment in Christ to its continued application for Christians. Each chapter includes a list of questions for further reflection and study. And, since the Psalms were intended to be sung, the book includes metrical versions of each of the studied psalms, as well as resources for obtaining sheet music and audio versions of the tunes.Overall, Fesko does an admirable job of demonstrating the aforementioned important characteristics of the Psalter from his chosen texts and from the Scripture as a whole. The notion that certain Psalms are Christ-focused is readily established by looking at how the New Testament authors connect the Psalms to Jesus, such as the citation of Psalm 2 in Acts 4. But Fesko's argument is not just that certain Psalm texts point to Christ, but that in fact, the entire Psalter does. He notes Jesus' own words in Luke 24, that "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms," indicating that the Old Testament Scriptures anticipate the coming of the Christ in their entirety, not just in isolated proof-texts or prophecies. In his exploration of Psalms 1-8, Fesko then identifies specific connections between the texts and the person and work of Christ, frequently demonstrating how the life of David serves as a type that was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. Thus, the righteous man of Psalm 1 is best understood to be the truly Righteous One, the true Anointed One of Psalm 2. However, just as Psalms 3-7 express the hardships and afflictions that God's chosen king David endured at the hands of the wicked, these Psalms also point forward to the undeserved suffering of David's greater son. Yet despite these tribulations, Psalm 8 offers words of praise and worship to God, specifically for the blessings given to man, best interpreted as the majesty bestowed on the Son of Man.Another strength of Fesko's book is how he draws personal applications out of the Psalms and their focus on Christ. For example, Psalm 1 paints a vivid contrast between the prosperity of the righteous man and the ultimate destruction of the wicked. Yet the application is not simply that people will prosper so long as they act righteously (as if that were possible); rather, Jesus alone is the truly Righteous One, and those who seek refuge in him will be nurtured by him and bear fruit like a tree planted by the streams. Similarly, Fesko sees cries for deliverance from enemies, such as those in Psalm 3, as pointing to the deliverance found only in Christ, a deliverance not only from the wrath to come but also into eternal rest. I especially appreciated Fesko's appeal that the church not neglect the portions of the Psalms that address suffering and lament. The Psalms express the full range of human experience and emotion, and we deprive ourselves of rich resources if we limit our focus to Psalms of rejoicing and gladness. If I had any r[...]



Why I Love Laura Ingalls Wilder

2014-10-14T20:18:32.881-04:00

Describing a scene for her sister, who has gone blind from scarlet fever:
Laura let out her breath. "Oh, Mary! The snow white horse and the tall, brown man, with such a black head and bright red shirt! The brown prarie all around--and they rode right into the sun as it was going down. They'll go on in the sun around the world."

Mary thought a moment. Then she said, "Laura, you know he couldn't ride into the sun. He's just riding along on the ground like anybody."

But Laura did not feel that she had told a lie. What she had said was true, too. Somehow that moment when the beautiful, free pony and the wild man rode into the sun would last forever.

By the Shores of Silver Lake, pg. 65



Book Review -- 1 Samuel for You

2014-09-01T22:55:25.245-04:00

1 Samuel For You by Tim Chester is the fifth installment in the God's Word for You series published by The Good Book Company. As noted in the Preface, the series is intended to provide expository Biblical studies 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 Biblical book; "Feed," as a daily devotional, and "Lead," as a resource for preaching and teaching through the Biblical text. The series isn't intended to provide scholarly commentary, and the reader is not expected to have understanding of the Biblical languages or even a high level of Scriptural knowledge. 1 Samuel For You begins with a brief introduction to the book's themes and historical/canonical background, and each subsequent chapter focuses on a 1-2 chapter block of the Biblical text. In addition to examining the details of the specific text, Chester highlights points of connection with other sections of Scripture (both Old and New Testament) and applications for the Christian reader. Each chapter contains questions for further reflection, and the book contains a glossary and Appendices. In my review of the series' initial volume (Galatians For You), I noted that author Timothy Keller had set an extremely high bar for the series and that I even pitied authors of subsequent installments. But 1 Samuel For You is every bit as good, and Tim Chester does a magnificent job working within the Read/Feed/Lead format of the series. By far the book's biggest strength is Chester's command of the Biblical text itself. Although the series is intended for a broader audience, Chester does a tremendous job of analyzing the text: not only does he focus on technical details such as uses of chiastic structure or plays on words in the original Hebrew, but he also communicates their significance so as to remain accessible to the layperson. Furthermore, he connects the details in individual verses to the larger context of 1 Samuel. For example, in his opening chapter, Chester argues that the account of Hannah in in 1 Samuel 1-2 is not a mere example of faith in the midst of adversity (as some treat it); instead, this account, especially through Hannah's prayer, introduces the theme of reversals that runs throughout the book, whereby God "humbles and exalts" (2:7), lifting up the poor and needy while silencing the wicked (2:8-9). Throughout the narrative, Chester demonstrates recurrences of this theme, culminating in the tragic fall of the asked-for king Saul and the unexpected ascent of the shepherd boy David to the throne.    Chester also excels in connecting 1 Samuel to the larger canon of Scripture. For example, he demonstrates how the early chapters of the book present a continuation of the cycle established in the book of Judges, whereby Israel's sin leads to God's judgment, and their repentance results in God sending a deliverer - in this case, Samuel. Furthermore, the repeated refrain in Judges that the people were in disarray because "in those days Israel had no king" at first seems headed towards a positive resolution with Saul, whose ascent to the throne is described with several allusions back to Judges. Yet Saul, despite his kingly station, proves every bit as fallible as previous judges of Israel. More importantly, Chester highlights how the failure of Saul sets the stage for the rise of David to the throne. 1 Samuel, as he notes, is not really about the transition of Israel from the reign of Saul to that of David; rather, it is about the shift from no monarchy to monarchy. Moses had anticipated that Israel would one day have a king (see Deuteronomy 17) -- the question is whether they would choose a king like those of the nations or one of God's choosing. 1 Samuel portra[...]



Book Review -- Worshipping With Calvin: Recovering the Historic Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism

2014-06-23T01:02:41.637-04:00

“Our sense of urgency is profound as we survey the ecclesiastical landscape,” states Terry L. Johnson in the opening chapter of Worshipping With Calvin, as he recounts the rapid decline of American Evangelical Christians’ fidelity to historic Christian beliefs, morals and piety. Invoking the maxim lex orandi, lex credenda, lex vivendi (“The law of prayer is the law of faith is the law of life”), Johnson asserts that public worship is too often overlooked as a major factor influencing whether or not Christians remain committed to their faith. Furthermore, he argues that many recent innovations to public worship have directly contributed to the overall decline of American Evangelicalism. Johnson’s appeal is for Christians, especially those among the neo-Calvinists of the “young, restless, reformed” movement to “recover the historic ministry and worship of Reformed Protestantism,” in hopes that it would prove just as beneficial to their Christian faith and practice as it has for generations of Christians who have gone before.After the introductory chapter, Johnson lays out a two-pronged case advocating Reformed Worship and Ministry. The first line of argumentation is along exegetical and historical grounds. Drawing significantly from the work of Hughes Oliphant Old (to whom the book is dedicated), Johnson demonstrates the many ways in which the Reformers sought to base their liturgical reforms primarily on the Scriptures, and then secondarily on the practices of the early church. Instead of manmade traditions, they attempted to pattern the elements of Christian worship after the ways described Bible itself, such as lectio continua reading of the Scriptures, manifold types of prayers, singing of psalms and hymns, and the understanding of the sacraments as visible, covenantal signs. Next, Johnson makes the case for Reformed worship along theological grounds, demonstrating how the Reformers applied the 5 Sola mottoes of the Reformation – sola scriptura, solus Christus, sola fide, sola gratia, and soli Deo Gloria – directly to their liturgical reforms. For example, the principle of sola scriptura gave rise to the Reformed regulative principle of worship, which limits worship practices to only those specified in the Bible. As Johnson argues, both the theological applications of the Reformers and their exegetical/historical research converge to make a persuasive case for the liturgical reforms enacted by the Protestant Reformers.In the next section of the book, Johnson lays out the following five strengths of Reformed Worship (and compares them with corresponding weaknesses in other approaches to worship): “It is God-centered” – the focus of Christian corporate gathering on the Lord’s Day is to worship God. Believers may be edified by the service, and non-believers may be evangelized, but these are by-products of worship and not the intended purpose. “It is Bible-Filled” - Christian worship is to be saturated with the Bible. The Scriptures should be read publicly and taught. Furthermore, the content of prayers, singing and preaching should all draw heavily from the Scriptures. Lastly, Christian worship should make diligent use of the “visible Word,” the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, which sign and seal the proclamations of the Scriptures. “It is Gospel-Structured” – Christian worship should focus on Christ, re-presenting to us the work of redemption he accomplished. Both in its content and arrangement, Christian worship should clearly portray the gospel and underscore our reliance on Christ not only for forgiveness of sins but for life itself. “It is Church-Aware” – Christian worship should consider the catholicity and traditions of the church. As a result, forms of worship that are innovations or are geared towards a limited niche should be pas[...]



Music Review: The Mantis and the Moon

2014-04-23T08:38:27.968-04:00

About six months ago, I received a copy of an EP called The Mantis and the Moon in my mailbox. In my relatively short life, I've heard a number of indie artists. Some friends, some friends of friends. Some completely unknown to me. (Full disclosure: I've met Chris Slaten, the man behind Son of Laughter, because we've known his wife since our early concert-going days.) But I've never listened to a batch of songs that so completely and pleasantly surprised me as this one.From the Simonesque opening to the final lovely fade, I was completely captivated by both the music and the images his words evoke. As his opening stanza of "Cricket in a Jar" so poignantly expresses:Catch the moment. The moment has passed!This is a law of loveliness: we love what never lasts.Try and hold it; it slips right through.Before you know the garden's grown. There's nothing left to do. I am unable to recreate the euphoria of the first time I heard those words sung. Sheer joy. Parenthood is the intended target, but anything ethereal is covered here.Bolstered by Ben Shive's excellent production, the music is made all the richer by the added instrumentation. The subtle percussion and catchy hooks help congeal Slaten's songs into your brain long after you stop listening.The EP ended up in my car CD player and it hasn't left. It's still the first thing I turn to when I tire of NPR. Or the Classical Conversations Cycle 2 songs. (Which is often.) An added bonus: my kids love it.Slaten is above all a talented wordsmith, and the lyrics only get richer with repeated listens. His mad-scientist combinations of allusions and metaphors floored me.Drawing inspiration from (among other sources) an African folktale, a nature documentary, and the Grimm's version of Cinderella, these songs are all deeply rooted in Story. The Story. Whether he is waxing poetic about a musician in the middle of rush hour or the mating habits of a feathered friend, these small details turn into ardent Truths.These songs struck me hard, and I still haven't recovered from the shock. "What trophies, degrees, or hyperboles do you line upon your shelf?" It took me this many months to write this simple review because I was afraid I wouldn't do it justice. Well, I still haven't, but here you are.If there is any drawback, it may be the placement of the final song, which after the more upbeat offerings early on the EP left me wanting more, and it took me weeks to finally listen to all of "Partington Cove" without wanting to skip back to the beginning to hear "Grace is Gold" again. Still, once I let the lyrics sink in, I was rewarded with a beautiful rendering that perfectly captured that time when Gaines and I were only just beginning to date, often roadtripping to concerts:Sitting side by sideon the long car rides,we opened our souls by the seamsand married our dreams. Now, I do know a little of the Slatens' history and how it mirrors our own, but knowing these things only made the songs more glorious. A mild-mannered English teacher by day, Chris' superpower with words is revealed and made evident in his music.Catch him (without a cape) at a concert near you -- he'll be touring over the next few months and especially into the summer. We were blessed to be able to hear him live as part of Hutchmoot 2013, and I can say his music translates equally well through an acoustic solo act on stage. Blown away, I was!I am grateful to have gotten a copy for review, and I request you purchase one (or twenty-three) wherever hidden gems like this are sold. Try The Rabbit Room store first, if you please. And enjoy![...]



Seven Stanzas at Easter

2014-04-20T06:00:01.690-04:00

“Seven Stanzas at Easter” from Telephone Poles and Other Poems
by John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.


The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.



Heaven IS for Real

2014-04-07T16:30:35.017-04:00

At my 10-year high school reunion, as we all sat on the stage in my hometown school auditorium that Friday morning, a few of our classmates read a report from each alum, papers that list what we've done since high school and what we're doing now. Since there were only about 70 members in our graduating class, they actually read them out loud, right there, for everyone in the audience, along with the current crop of high school seniors, to hear.One of my best friends from high school, sitting right behind me on the stage, had listed as his hobbies things like hiking, photography, and, finally, "cynicism." I about fell out of my chair. I think the reader didn't quite get the joke, because she just moved on to the next report. I thought it was hilarious, mostly because I tend to have those cynical tendencies as well.Mostly, I'm cynical about goods labeled as "Christian," books and movies and products marketed as spiritual. Especially popular ones. Bestsellers. Books on Oprah. Especially books about the afterlife. Because, really, we just don't know all that much.After my Mom died, someone gave my Dad a copy of a little book called Heaven is for Real. You've probably heard of it. I secretly rolled my eyes. But he told me it meant a lot to him, so sometime last year when I was visiting my hometown, I borrowed it. Well, it has sat on my bedside table and been shuffled around and moved covered up and uncovered and never really put on a shelf. I've ignored it for ages, sure it was just some marketing ploy or one of those sensational stories you hear about on the Today Show all the time, a near-death experience of white lights and people as angels. Well, there is probably a little of those first things in this, as in all publishers who want their books to sell. But, as I've come to discover, there is also Truth.Last Sunday afternoon, as I was attempting to clean off some of the skyscraper-like stacks of books that were threatening to topple over onto us as we slept, I found the small yellow paperback with the picture of that goofy, smiling preschooler on it. And I read it. From front to back, in about an hour and a half.And I cried.People, I don't care if you read this book. I really don't. Maybe you're cynical like me. Maybe, though, you've already read it and you liked it. Good. Then you might understand what I'm about to say, or perhaps this will offer fresh insights. For everyone else, maybe you'll end this post with some books to add to your rainy day pile.Three things that struck me as true about this little boy's story: 1. Naming unborn babies.For the longest time it was just understood that my Mom would outlive my Dad. They planned for that, in a way. Everything was in her name, they were planning to move closer to her best friends from childhood, she was (we thought) in better health. When she passed away so suddenly in October of 2012, while my Dad was just 2 weeks out recovering from hip surgery, I sat with the questions for many months. Reading this book finally gave me peace about the "Why?" and now, I do not have to ask. I do not know the mind of God and cannot understand or fathom His ways, or why my Mom is no longer with us here, but I know He is Good.The little boy in the book, Colton, recounted that in his "vision" or "dream" or whatever you want to call his experience, he got to meet his older sister, whom his parents had lost to miscarriage before he was even born, and he had never been told about it. (He was still a preschooler at the time of his accident.) She had no name, yet. And he told of another mother who had been reunited with her unborn child and been able to choose her name.The story he told broke me. I can just imagine my Mother arriving suddenly, being embraced by all these children running up to her a[...]



There Will Be Butterflies

2014-04-04T15:54:13.321-04:00

A friend of a friend is losing her unborn baby girl today. Another friend is watching cancer eat away at her little boy, though he is putting up a strong fight. I have relatives and friends struggling with loss and pain and grief. Those who are hurting and wondering how to face such a tragedy. The answer? With more Life.After my Mom died, almost immediately, I began noticing the butterflies. It was October, so is that even the right season? Maybe. No matter, there they were. Little yellow ones. Gorgeous blue and black ones. Monarchs. Mostly the small ones, yellow or white, and I noticed them especially at the grave site. Butterflies have traditionally been a Christian symbol of the resurrection, and so I was comforted. Death is not the end. Where, O Death, is your Victory? Where is your sting?And then I found this wonderful quote in ND Wilson's book Death by Living: Every soul waits in the wings. Every life taken in age, tired and ready, taken in youth, in shock and sorrow, taken in pain or taken in peace, every needle now hidden in shadow waits in eager silence. I see my cousin. My nephew. Many faces, forgotten by those who followed behind, known always by the Author who needs no stone reminders. He is the best of all possible audiences, the only Audience to see every scene, the Author who became a Character and heaped every shadow on Himself.To His eyes, you never leave the stage. You do not cease to exist. It is a chapter ending, an act, not the play itself. Look to Him. Walk toward Him. The cocoon is a death, but not a final death. The coffin can be a tragedy, but not for long. There will be butterflies.My parents were planning to retire to a home in Auburn. This past winter, my Dad finally sold the house, and so I went there to remove the last of the items before the closing. I found some especially precious objects to keep: a collection of three brass butterflies that were my mother's, and an exquisite lamp, handed down to my mother by an older relative, covered in rainbow-colored, hand-painted, gilded butterflies.They are displayed in our den, near the family sofa, a daily reminder to me of the Things to Come.[...]



Book Review: John Knox (Christian Biographies for Young Readers)

2014-03-16T23:12:50.948-04:00

Simonetta Carr has created a wonderful series of biographies that highlight faithful personages from church history, and this is the second of her books we have been able to review. This latest volume is based on the life of John Knox.I have to admit I knew very little about the Scottish reformer before reading this book; I had only a general idea of his positions and his importance within the greater Reformation and was greatly impressed and surprised by all that I learned.Knox's narrative is naturally exciting, from his early adventures as a prisoner at sea to his later confrontations with Scottish and British royals. Carr has created an easily readable account set in a detailed historical context, which included many of the names and places we have been learning about in our medieval to modern history studies. It is apparent that for this book, as with others in this series, careful research goes into writing such a thorough account, yet the author manages to keep it from being too tedious and even makes it enjoyable.Knox's first days as a reluctant preacher through his rise as a prominent (and disparaged) reformer to his interactions with John Calvin in Geneva and his collaboration with other Scottish Protestants in crafting the Scots Confession make for a captivating read. Our oldest son is now seven, and this was the first time I have been able to read a book like this with him in one sitting. In fact, he was so fascinated he begged me to finish it rather than ending at one of the chapter breaks, as we had done in the past when reading about Anselm or Calvin.I also appreciated the more personal aspects Carr included: Knox's doubts about becoming a preacher, his devotion to his wife even though they were often separated for months or years, how he led daily family devotions in his home for his family and guests, and how he remained committed to the preaching of God's Word to the end of his life, even in his weakened, dying state. Stories such as this encourage believers today to continue in the work of the Lord despite persecution and hardship.This beautifully bound hardback series has always included excellent artistic representations and this edition is no exception. The picture-book quality is enhanced by colorful maps, portraits of prominent persons, photographs of key locations, and hand-drawn illustrations of important moments. I also appreciated that Carr includes quotations from many letters, publications, and friends of Knox in order to provide personality and context for the story. At the end of the book, the publisher has reprinted the first four articles from the Scots Confession that Knox helped write. I was, however, disappointed that there were no excerpts from any of Knox's "fiery sermons" for which he was so famous. Perhaps there are no written accounts!Overall, I found this an excellent biography for all ages, but especially for younger elementary children who are just beginning to read longer chapter books, because it still feels like a "picture book," yet offers a slightly challenging read and provides a wealth of information. Her acknowledgements even include some possibilities for further reading, which I might delve into in the future.We are grateful to Reformation Heritage Books for sending us a copy to review. The opinions expressed in this review are solely my own. [...]



Ten Year Blogiversary Boot Camp

2015-07-16T09:43:40.638-04:00

Exactly one day plus one decade ago we started one of these newfangled things called an online weblog. We were reading quite a few famous and not-so-famous blogs at the time, so we decided to join in the fun. The whole thing slowed down significantly once we had kids and sadly has been going in fits and starts ever since. If nothing else, you can expect a year-end list of books we've read over the past twelve months. Exciting, I know. But I just can't kill it yet...

Exactly a year ago, on this date in January  2013, I got myself out of bed at 5:30 am on a morning so cold I could see my breath but couldn't feel my fingers, and I gathered my new mat and dumbbells and a bottle of water and drove to a parking lot across from a large church. There was a lighted pavilion and two trainers barking orders for a warm-up. "THAT was just the warm-up?!" That morning, I attempted to run a mile for the first time in 20 years. I failed.

I had won a month of free boot camp sessions and was determined to make a change in my lifestyle. By the end of January, I was hooked. I began working out three times a week, and the combination of varied workouts, personal training, and a collection of people who missed me when I slept in has kept me going steady all year. Sometime this fall, I beat my personal best and ran a mile in under 9 minutes (don't ask me to do it this week, though!). I'm in much better shape now, less tired, stronger, faster, tougher -- all those things I never thought I'd be if you'd asked me in December of 2012 about my new year's resolutions. I still get up willingly at 5:30am while it is still dark, dress in as many layers as I can and brave freezing temperatures for someone to force me to do "just one more minute" of burpees or squats or whatever exercise is currently kicking my behind.

Well, this year, in 2014, I want to exercise my writing muscles right here on this blog. Like boot camp, you will never know what to expect. Also like boot camp, I plan to post something at least three times a week (M, W, F) with an occasional extra day thrown in for kicks. I have quite a few things waiting in the wings -- half a dozen book and album reviews, some "catch up on our family posts" and thoughts on whatever latest hot topic is traveling around the internet these days. It is quite funny to look at our archives and see how far we've come. Some things never change, though, so always expect a list of what we're currently reading on the right sidebar (I usually have at least three books going at once).

Welcome to Team Redd's writing boot camp. This was just the warm-up!

(Update July 2015: Hahahahaha! I laugh at myself. I have no discipline. I haven't even written a "books I read" post and it's already July a year and a half later!)









Merry Christmas 2013

2014-01-13T09:54:17.743-05:00

Stationery Card
View the entire collection of cards.
 
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!



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

2013-11-24T22:24:17.075-05:00

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 Devotio[...]



C.S. Lewis, on Death

2014-01-13T09:54:34.117-05:00

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.

(image)
image from cslewisinstitue.org

"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.



Four Albums for a Healing Heart

2013-09-22T22:49:45.243-04:00





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




Two years ago...

2013-09-22T22:53:05.617-04:00

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![...]



Book Review: Anselm of Canterbury

2013-07-07T22:47:12.497-04:00

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.[...]



Puddle Jumping

2013-06-26T00:24:55.898-04:00

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 thunderstormHis 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 pushEthan swimming so proudly with his bright green puddlejumpers onGetting 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 poolJacob 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 streetGetting 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![...]



A New Beginning

2013-06-23T01:20:57.095-04:00

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.[...]