Review: What’s Up?

I absolutely love discipleship. And I love starting discipleship young. But, when it comes to training children, it can often be difficult to know how to cross that bridge from Bible stories to discipleship. That is where material such as What’s Up by Deborah Harrell and Jack Klumpenhower can come in handy.

What’s Up is a highly interactive discipleship course for middle schoolers. It is created to be a group Bible study course with “homework” for the students. Because it is published by New Growth Press, I knew from the get-go that it would be a course designed to challenge and grow students.

Here’s what I love about What’s Up?:

  • The course introduces real theology. Theological terms are used and defined, explained in a way that makes sense to middle schoolers while not watering down the depth. This is incredibly crucial for solid discipleship.
  • The course is not dry and dull. It’s very hands-on and interactive, forcing students to work through their understanding and new knowledge.
  • The teacher’s book has teaching notes integrated directly into the student layout (yet still clearly distinguishable) so the teacher knows exactly what the student sees at all times.
  • Although prep and familiarity with the information is definitely necessary, everything is laid out to make prep as easy as possible. This leaves time for personal, spiritual preparation.

There is really only one thing I dislike about What’s Up? The layout is very busy. While on the one hand this makes it interesting, it also keeps heading and titles from standing out well. It can be difficult to distinguish when a new lesson starts. The busyness will also be more detrimental than helpful to some learning styles.

I do have to add that I have not actually been able to use this course with a group, unfortunately. Why? Well, because it requires homework, and I currently do not teach a group that would be diligent with homework.

I will say that I do not consider that to be a negative. Any measure of discipleship and growth requires a commitment to personal times of study. I would absolutely love to find a group of middle schoolers who would be committed to a study like this.

It is possible to do this course with just one or two students, so I could do it at home with my girls. But, based on my experience as a teacher and discipleship leader, I can easily see that it would not be as effective.

So, I’m hanging on to this curriculum and looking forward to an opportunity to snag a group of middle schoolers to lead through it!

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Review: The Gospel-Centered Community

We are in a Bible study saturated church culture. Every time we turn around, there’s another study ranging anywhere from completely irrelevant fluff to intensive depth that’s hard for a “real life” person to keep up with.

Meanwhile, we are also a buzzword culture, and within the past few years “gospel” has unfortunately become one of those buzzwords. As a result, we have a plethora of books and studies that claim to redirect us to a true centering on the gospel.

With all of that in mind, I will confess that I had mixed feelings about The Gospel-Centered Community. The content description held promise and it was published by New Growth Press, a company that has, thus far, earned and maintained my trust. But I just kept putting this one off. It was tiring to think of yet another buzzword Bible study.

But, The Gospel-Centered Community is not just another buzzword Bible study.

The Gospel-Centered Community is true to its title. It walks participants through what it means to be a community focused more on biblical principles than on cultural expectations.

The Gospel-Centered Community is also not your typical workbook Bible study. The small participant’s guide includes a few pages of reading for each lesson, followed by some exercises to work through as a group. There are no blanks to fill in each week before meeting. There’s just the explanation of what community looks like followed by a chance to practice that community.

I will make this note: I’m evaluating this study strictly on the participant’s guide and the anticipation of what a group study would be like based on past experience in group Bible studies.

Based on that, I look at this study and consider it one I’d like to go through with a group. I know it would be spiritually challenging and would, very often, not be “fun.” But, the format allows this study to fit easily into a growing Christian’s personal study plan rather than forcing a change. I believe it would also be a good growing experience, one that would definitely serve to help participants develop a strong spiritual bond through the discussion and exercises.

So, buzzword title and all, The Gospel-Centered Community is a group study I would recommend.

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My Dwelling Place

Consciousness slowly began to invade my dreams as the morning dawned. Daytime was simply a reminder. A reminder of all of the uncertainty and chaos surrounding my family. But my first thought was not worry. It was not uncertainty. It was not even a list of all of the things I needed to do today, including adjusting my work schedule to compensate for being off schedule this week. No, the first thought that pounded my brain was this:

The LORD is my dwelling place.

You see, the biggest concern on my mind right now is where my family will live as of the first week of June.

For nearly five years, we’ve been blessed with an amazingly wonderful parsonage in a delightful rural town. We have planted fruit trees in the yard and grape vines along the back fence. We have room to spread out – and room to line the walls with bookshelves.

But God is moving us. He worked out every detail flawlessly, guiding us with perfect direction every step of the way. Even though the decision was exceedingly hard emotionally, it was very clear. And we’ve been incredibly supported both by our current church family and our brand new one.

The only thing that has not been clear is the housing solution. There are things we crave – permanence; moving only once; space for our children; a place for the cats (for the kids’ sake…).

But this morning, none of those things invaded my thoughts first. Instead, I was given a Scripture-based reminder.

I’ll confess, I can’t find that exact phrasing in the Bible, but I sure can find support for it. My first thoughts go to Psalm 91, a beautiful song of refuge.

But ultimately, two things occur to me related to this early-morning thought:

  • The Word of God is alive and powerful. Oh, my dear friend, never ever forget that! How we must immerse ourselves in it! How we must know it well! Even the passages not intentionally committed to memory must be viewed and reviewed over and over again until they are so familiar that the Spirit can bring them to mind. But the memorization doesn’t hurt either!

    Scripture is the number one way our Lord, Savior, Father, Master, Creator, Sustainer, Helper, Healer, Comforter…(I could go on and on) communicates with us. Everything we need is right there. And even in those moments when our consciousness is not active, His Word is. It speaks to us. It pours into us. And it gives us just what we need in that moment, if we will listen.

  • The Lord is all we need. Yes, yes, I know that my family still needs physical shelter just a couple of weeks from now. And, we are continually praying that God guides our search and our decision-making process, bringing us to a satisfactory conclusion very soon.

    Ultimately, though, whatever our need – whatever our search – the Lord is the answer. Period. Not a specific house or any other specific provision. Just Him. He is my shelter. My dwelling place. My provision.

Do I want an end to our current uncertainty? Yes. Without question. Do I have specific desires related to how the housing problem gets solved? Definitely! I know what I long to have for my family!

But can I trust the Lord even in the uncertainty? Without a doubt.

There will be hard days, just as there already have been. There will be more days when I cry out in frustration and discouragement because nothing seems to be working out. There will be days when I wonder if I’m just not listening well, thinking that’s why God seems to be silent.

But ultimately I can trust Him. And I will trust Him. And once He gives His answer, I can look back on this day and know that He awakened me this morning with His Word on my heart and His promises on my tongue.

The LORD is my dwelling place.

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Review: Tales from the Circle C Ranch

Last week I reviewed Thick as Thieves from Susan Marlow’s new Circle C Milestones series. This week, I have Andrea Carter’s Tales from the Circle C Ranch. This book of short stories is a sort of companion volume tying all three Circle C series together.

I must admit that I have mixed feelings about Tales from the Circle C Ranch. It’s a cute book. In just a short time, I’ve come to enjoy Andrea Carter and her stories. But, is this little book really worth the expenditure for anyone but the avid Andi Carter fan?

On the one hand, my kids and I read these stories and know, without a doubt, that we are missing a lot. We have never read any books from the Circle C Beginnings or Circle C Adventures series, so the references to adventures from those books are meaningless to us. Certain characters, too, are strangers. So, on the one hand, I would say that this is not necessarily a book for an audience considering a new author.

And yet…

Tales from the Circle C Ranch does offer a great introduction to Susan Marlow and the world of Andrea Carter. The first story gives a little background, and each subsequent tale stands alone with relative strength. Yes, there are missing pieces. But, if you’re really in the market for new books for your children, this little collection might be just what you need to determine whether or not your children want to enter the world of the Carters and Circle C Ranch.

Bottom line: I would recommend Tales from the Circle C Ranch, whether to long-time fans of Andrea Carter or to newcomers who just want to get a feel for Susan Marlow’s stories. Just be warned – you might find yourself wanting more!

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My Certainty

Uncertainty. Don’t you just love it. Never knowing what’s around the next bend? Not being able to plan and anticipate?

Okay, if that excited you and made you say, “Yes! I do love it!” then I will go ahead and admit something right now – I don’t understand you. I may still love you, and I will probably try to draw on your strength and excitement when I’m overwhelmed by uncertainty. But I just cannot understand you.

No, I do not always have to have all of the answers, nor do I insist on a crystal clear path at all times. Admittedly, surprises are fun, and the unexpected keeps life interesting and exciting. But that’s not the same as uncertainty.

Uncertainty is knowing that there is something around the corner – and possibly even knowing what it is – but not really being able to predict how it will impact life. If I know that something uncertain is ahead of me, I want to at least have the chance to do something productive to prepare for the uncertainty.

It’s like knowing that tornado season is coming around. I’m an Arkansan, which means tornado season is a given. I do not know when storms will come, but I know they will. And although I cannot guarantee my family’s safety during a tornado, I can do practical, productive things to prepare. I can make sure that we all know where to go to take cover quickly and smoothly. I can make sure necessities are easy to grab. I can prepare.

The problem comes when I see uncertainty on the horizon and cannot do a thing about it. I can’t prepare. I can’t plan. I can only wait. Wait in the uncertainty.

That’s exactly where the Lord puts me from time to time. Why? Because I’m finding my certainty in activity. In preparation. In doing something. What does He want instead?

He wants to be my certainty.

Oswald Chambers says it quite well in My Utmost from His Highest.

Certainty is the mark of a common-sense life; gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways…

Ouch. I tried to argue with that rationale this week. I hoped that I could look at 1 John 3:2, the focal verse for the devotional, and determine that Chambers was out of context with his deductions. But no, he wasn’t. And I was stuck.

I had been living a common-sense life. The Lord was – and is – calling me to a life filled with Him. A life in which my only certainty is Himself. Not circumstances. Not preparation. Not clear answers or firm direction.

Just Himself.

Where is your certainty today? If it is anywhere but in Christ Himself, He will push you into circumstances that challenge your common-sense life. And it hurts. But it’s worth it.

Will you join me in “gracious uncertainty”? Together, let’s make our Lord and Savior our only certainty.

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Review: Thick as Thieves

For several years now, I have heard friends rave about Susan Marlow’s books. Last year, I snagged a couple of her Goldtown Adventures books for my son, and sure enough, he thoroughly enjoyed them. So, when I had the chance to review two of her Circle C books, I jumped at on it!

This week’s selection is Thick as Thieves, book one in the Circle C Milestones series. This new series follows Andrea Carter, heroine of the Circle C Adventures series, as she enters her teen years.

Thick as Thieves marks my family’s introduction to Andi Carter, as we have not read any of her earlier adventures. That did not make this book any less enjoyable for us, however. References to earlier experiences and relationships were included in Thick as Thieves, but they were not essential to our understanding or enjoyment of this story.

So, who is this story for? I would gladly recommend Thick as Thieves to a wide variety of ages!

Because Andi Carter is a bit of a tomboy, her stories appeal to both boys and girls – yes, even my princess! Also, as an almost fourteen-year-old, Andi’s age in Thick as Thieves keeps her young enough for elementary readers yet old enough for an early teen audience.

Topical content might be the primary reason for parents of young children to peruse Thick as Thieves before handing it to a child. Set in the late 1800’s, this story deals with a cattle rustling family completely lacking moral values. The youngest, a girl Andi’s age, is a hateful bully, while her alcoholic older brothers are downright abusive. Their treatment of Andi and others might raise questions in the minds of younger children.

My eight-year-old son did read and enjoy this book, even though his tender heart was definitely impacted by the bullying and the cruelty of Macy’s family. But, he was equally impacted by the fact that the love of Christ, shining through one of His children, can make a difference, even in a heart as hard as Macy’s.

Bottom line: If Thick as Thieves is a true representation of Susan Marlow’s writing, the rest of her books will definitely be on our library-building list.

Want to give it a try? Click on the image below to grab the e-book for $0.99 this week only!

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Marriage Monday: Play Time!

What do you do for fun?

Many of us start listing the hobbies we love but rarely have time for. Or we talk about spending time with our girlfriends. What mom doesn’t occasionally want a night out with the girls?

But how many of us put things we love to do with our husbands at the top of the list?

I love to read, sew, and knit. I like solving logic problems and reasoning puzzles. Oh, and I enjoy assembling puzzles as well.

My husband does not enjoy most of those activities. He likes reading, but obviously the most “together” we can be while reading is to be sitting together when we read our separate books. Even if we’re both reading the same book (E-books are wonderful, aren’t they? No waiting!), he reads much faster than I do. By the time he’s halfway through the book, I’m just getting into it. So, while we enjoy reading together, we still need to find other ways to be truly interactive.

We definitely need to make sure to take the time to do the things we love individually. But we also need to make sure we intentionally play together. We must find things that energize both of us – and generally lead us to unwind and laugh together.

It’s easy to get caught up in going through life together, supporting one another, that we forget to just play sometimes. Play is not just critical for children. It’s essential for adults as well.

How long has it been since you’ve just let go and played with your spouse? I encourage you to give it a try. It doesn’t have to be overly planned out or strictly scheduled (that tends to defeat the purpose). It can be very simple – a game, a common hobby, a funny TV show that you haven’t seen in a while. Just make it play. Not productive. Not essential. Just pure fun.

How can you play this week?

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