Weak as I am

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Accidental photo on a train. Covid essentials!

 

How’s it going?

Some of us are starting to think, “What just happened?” (i.e. where did the last 6 months go and why didn’t I learn any new languages? And incidentally why have I suddenly gone grey?)

Some of us are thinking that the worst is yet to come.

Some of us are still wondering how to cope with Today.

I’m sure there’s a whole mix of feelings about “the current situation” even amongst the readers of this here blog.

If we’re thinking of it as a marathon, I think I set off a bit too fast. Not exactly sprinting (I did have (suspected) Covid-19, after all) but also at a pace I couldn’t sustain. Then, at about Mile 20 I was informed that the marathon wouldn’t stop at Mile 26. I still don’t know where the Finish line is. I’m walking now, by the way, and gradually getting my breath back.

I don’t know if you’re feeling disappointed in the way you’ve handled certain things. Or maybe even disappointed in how things are in your country or the world over. I think most of us are feeling pretty weak now.

The other day I was listening to my pastor talk about the fact that humans are weak. They’re made from the dust:

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.

Is God surprised at how badly I handled such-and-such a situation?
Nope. He knows I am dust.

Is God frowning down at me in the way a personal trainer or an army General would if I tried to do 10 push-ups?
No, he has compassion on me.

Let’s remember that God is sovereign and he is in control even now. And he’s good.

But why would he bring us to a place of such weakness?

In Scripture we see time and again the Lord bringing people to a place of weakness and dependency on him.

Take Babel, for example. There we see humanity trying to be strong; trying to be independent. What does the sovereign Lord do? He confuses their language so that they’ll fail.

In the desert, when the people of Israel are hungry, does God give them the tools to make their own food and be independent? No, he gives them daily manna so they’ll have to keep trusting him.

When Jonah thinks he can run away from God and be his own man, what does God do? He sends a storm to bring him, eventually, to repentance and dependence: “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord.” (He was a bit slow, wasn’t he?)

Jesus’ disciples were accomplished sailors and fishermen. But what did Jesus do? He sent them into storms so that they would need to cry out to him for help (See Matthew 8 and Matthew 14.) Peter was pretty confident in himself, but Jesus taught him to have confidence in Jesus instead:
But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

The Lord allowed a woman to suffer bleeding for 12 years so that she would reach out to Jesus for healing, cleansing and reconciliation.

The Lord brings his people time and again to places of weakness in order to teach us to depend on Him. This is his kindness to us.

And yet so often, when I’m feeling weak, I feel that the Lord is far from me. I feel he disapproves. ‘He’s as disappointed in me as I am.’ But that’s a lie. Unlike me, He knows I’m weak. Not only that, but Christ sympathises with me:

‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who is every respect has been tempted as we are – yet was without sin.’ Hebrews 4:15

Dane Ortlund puts it this way:

‘Our tendency is to feel intuitively that the more difficult life gets, the more alone we are. As we sink further into pain, we sink further into felt isolation. The Bible corrects us. Our pain never outstrips what [Christ] himself shares in. We are never alone. That sorrow that feels so isolating, so unique, was endured by him in the past and is now shouldered by him in the present.’ (Gentle & Lowly, p.48)

So what should we do? Hebrews 4:16 answers that for us. Jesus is moving towards you even as you’re having to distance yourself from others. You can approach him confidently and know that he’ll help you:

‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ 

Interview! Sarah Parker

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It’s time for an interview! Sarah Parker is a mum-of-four who has just written a book called Seek and Find: Old Testament Bible Stories. She lives in London with her husband and children, aged 14, 12, 10 and 8. This book is beautifully creative and my 4-year-old daughter loves it. Truth be told, she loves it slightly too much. We’ve done all the pages many times and she’s showing no signs of boredom. Seriously though, it’s fantastic to have a seek-and-find book that’s based on the Bible. Let’s find out more about Sarah:

Hi Sarah! So, four children… how has Lockdown been going for you and your family?
Lockdown for the Parker household has been full of ups and downs. I have dyslexia, so initially the prospect of homeschooling our four children was daunting to say the least.
That said, we started off full of enthusiasm and even excitement at the challenge. We were doing really well in the two weeks leading up to Easter, but having a two-week break derailed our momentum and routine, and in the last couple of weeks we have really struggled to get back into it. The excitement has definitely worn off and it feels much more like a chore for us all. And of course, these feelings are compounded by not being allowed to leave the house.
Perhaps one of the nicest things about Lockdown is that my husband André has been working from home. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to all come together at lunchtime and eat together. We’ve built lunch Bible time into our routine, where we read a section of the Bible and pray as a family. It’s been really important to show our kids that while this world feels very different to the one we’re used to, we still have the same awesome God—a God who knows us so well and knows that we are prone to feeling anxious and so talks about that in his word. It’s been great to lead our kids to these passages.
 
Same here! More time with Dad is such a blessing.
I love your new book, Seek & Find. How did it come about? 
The idea for the book stemmed from a childhood love of treasure-hunt books. As someone with dyslexia these kinds of books engaged me in a way that other books just didn’t. I then rediscovered my passion for treasure-hunt books after having my own children. I loved the intimacy and the interaction they afforded as you settled down together to spend time in the pages.
This made me wonder if it would be possible to combine a treasure-hunt book with the awesomeness of the Bible. Cogs started to turn and the ideas started to flow. I wanted to captivate young learners with beautiful and engaging artwork while also getting them excited about the Bible and God’s great attributes.
Any top tips for Lockdown with children? (We’re desperate!)
Lockdown hasn’t been all bad. It’s forced us to think outside of the box and get creative. We’ve done things that we wouldn’t have done otherwise.
One night we had a Lockdown party, turning our loft room into a dance floor! The Christmas lights were pulled out and put on flash mode. The kids danced to tunes on the smart speaker at full volume (sorry neighbours) or lounged by the “bar” with a bottle of J2O!
On another evening our girls waited on me and my husband as we had a “date night”. They got dressed up to set the table, serve our meal and pour our drinks.
As a family we love camping. The weather has been great and in different circumstances we’d have definitely gone away for the night. So instead, the kids decided to sleep out in the garden in a tent on a couple of occasions! It was so sweet watching them pack their bags and make preparations.
We’ve had four birthdays over Lockdown so finding ways to make them memorable has been a fun challenge. Our eldest daughter turned 14 – she absolutely loves sushi so we turned our kitchen into a sushi bar for her! Maggie, our youngest daughter turned 10. She’s a keen baker, her life’s ambition being to own a restaurant called the Magpie Café – her Dad’s nickname for her is Magpie! We painted big posters of her logo and again transformed our kitchen, spending the whole day baking with her!
Our youngest son Jacob has a bossy streak and kind of rules the roost. On his birthday we made it official and made him King Jacob for the day – complete with crown and throne! We acted as his humble servants and his every wish was our command. (Within reason, although he was happy to test the limits!) We had a lot of fun and if anything it made the ‘Lockdown birthdays’ more special and definitely memorable!
Wow. That sounds amazingly creative (and slightly intimidating)! We’ve got three birthdays coming up in the next month so you’ve inspired me to try something special. Thank you so much for your book! I hope there’ll be a New Testament one coming soon. Readers, you can pick up a copy for your children and godchildren here. Enjoy!

Naughty

Are you a stay-inside-the-lines person or a rebel? Do you like rules and order or would you prefer anarchy?

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My daughter and I recently went to see Matilda the Musical in London’t West End. It’s the sort of evening out that makes you wonder at what human beings are capable of with enough practise and a generous dose of creativity.

The Brooks family is now very much obsessed with the Matilda soundtrack. If you’re in West London any time soon, you’re likely to hear my children marching the streets singing “The School Song.” As soon as you finish reading this, you should definitely check out some of the Matilda tunes.

At the show’s climax, the children sing a song called “Revolting Children.” It’s not about disgusting children, but about children who are starting a revolt against the tyrannical authority figure, Miss Trunchbull. (“Revolting” is a verb, not an adjective, for fellow grammar geeks.)

Never again will we forget the day
we fought for the right to be a little bit naughty.

One of the tensions in the show is between the evil disciplinarian who sings about staying inside the lines and the anarchic children who want to be free. Of course, the children win in the end.

As Christian parents we spend a lot of time teaching our children obedience. They must respect authority – ultimately God’s authority.  We teach them grace and we also teach them to obey Jesus’ commandments, “Love the Lord your God… and love your neighbour as yourself.”

But as I drive through the streets of London singing “Revolting Children” at the top of my voice, I’m also reminded that as a people group, God’s people are often rebellious. They have to be. I want my children to grow up to serve Christ with such obedience and devotion that they are willing to “be a little bit naughty,” or even a lot naughty, for the gospel and for Christ’s glory.

Jesus didn’t lead a revolt (he even said, “Am I leading a revolt?”) but by bringing God’s Kingdom he brought division, subversion and controversy.

I want our children to see that following Christ is exciting, and will sometimes get them in all kinds of trouble. The trouble itself might not be exciting, but Jesus is worth it. Jesus should never be seen as the well-behaved, insipid option.

With this in mind, I present to you my Top Ten Revolting Role Models for my children. Excitingly, it was hard to pick just ten (ish). And apart from the no. 1 spot, they could be in any order, I’m sure.

10. Rahab of Jericho
She harboured spies; she deceived the king’s men; she’s honoured in the family line of Jesus. She’s a sign to us that God’s salvation has always been first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. (See Joshua 2 and Matthew 1.)

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from the Beginner’s Bible


9. Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, the Oxford Martyrs

English reformers. Burned at the stake during the reign of Queen Mary I:
“Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
Where would we be without these brave men, and many like them, who went before us?

8. Brother Andrew
God’s smuggler. Driving round the Eastern Bloc with a modified VW Beetle full of contraband Bibles. Adventure stories don’t get much better than this!

7. Mary Slessor
My 10-year-old daughter suggested that this courageous Scottish woman be included in our list. When she arrived in Calabar, Nigeria in 1876 (aged 28) she discovered that the people there had certain practices which she felt compelled to rebel against:
“[The baby] has an evil spirit… That’s why its mother died and that’s why nobody else wants it.” Mary began rescuing babies who’d been left out under bushes to die of exposure and starvation. She also discovered another horrifying tradition:
“When twin babies are born one of them is the child of an evil spirit. But as we don’t know which one, they’re both killed.”
… There was no arguing with Mary Slessor.
“I’ll look after the twins,” she said… “The Lord God made them both.”
(Excerpt from Ten Girls who Changed the World by Irene Howat, p. 74-76.)

6. Simon Peter the Fisherman
There’s hope for all of us as Peter, the loud-mouthed, trigger-happy coward became the fearless founder of the early church!
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ Acts 4:18-20. If you haven’t got it already, I do recommend the Diary of a Disciple, Peter and Paul’s Story. Let your children see their forefathers getting into all kinds of scrapes for Jesus.

5. Saul of Tarsus
It seems from reading Acts that most places he went, Saul/Paul was accused of leading a revolt. Take Ephesus for example, where he inadvertently caused a riot because the blokes who made and sold little wooden and silver gods weren’t happy about Saul’s message about One True God. He didn’t ask for trouble, but it did seem to follow him wherever he went:
22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20)

4. Corrie Ten Boom
Corrie and her family were punished most severely for rebelling against the Nazis by hiding Jews in their home. The courage and faithfulness of Corrie and Betsie throughout their time in the hellish Nazi concentration camps is truly miraculous – a work of God’s unfathomable grace and power. Here is a more lighthearted anecdote:
Many Jews were saved because of the ten Boom family but there were some hairy moments. One day the whole family and several ‘guests’ were sitting round the kitchen table when a window cleaner climbed up his ladder and started to clean the outside of the window! One of the Jews thought quickly. ‘Start singing Happy Birthday,’ he whispered, ‘then they’ll think we’re having a party.’ And that’s what they did. They all sang Happy Birthday to Papa ten Boom and they never did find out if the window cleaner had just come to the wrong house or if he was a German spy! (Ten Girls who Changed the World, p. 141.)
Have you ever tried reading aloud to your children about Corrie Ten Boom? Man it’s hard to get through without tears. When my husband read a child-friendly account to my kids, we were both in bits.  If you haven’t read The Hiding Place, I command you to go and do so immediately. Do not pass Go or collect £200.

3. William Tyndale
The heroic Bible translator! Humanly speaking, if it weren’t for him, we English-speakers wouldn’t know Jesus. We give the Lord great thanks that, by the grace of God, Tyndale cared more about peasants (like me) hearing the Word than he did about obeying the rules of the Church or the State. Here are his famous words, spoken to a Catholic scholar:

“I defy the Pope and all his laws. . . . If God spare my life ere many years,
I will cause a boy that driveth the plow,
shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”

2. Daniel the Hebrew
Oh Lord, grant that our children might grow up to be people of whom it can be said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this [man/woman] unless it has something to do with the law of [his/her] God.” (Daniel 6.5). May they say to the world, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did, “… we will not serve your gods.” (Daniel 3.18) Amen!

1. Jesus of Nazareth
Our perfect, peaceful, revolting rebel! He turned the world upside-down, teaching that the first would be last and the last would be first; he touched the leper; he spoke to the Samaritan woman and ate with tax collectors and sinners. His Kingdom is not of this world and if we’re part of His Kingdom then we’re not of this world anymore either.

“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
Luke 12.51

 

Listen While You Work

 

I’m a bit of a technophobe. I never used to be. Once upon a time we were getting along just fine. But then (in about the late nineties) tech overtook me and as I watched it drive beyond the horizon I developed a certain distrust of all things digital. I know that’s a bit weird for a blogger to admit. But it’s true – sorry to disappoint!

It may be this scepticism which prevented me from listening to podcasts earlier. Up until a couple of years ago I didn’t really know I could listen to anything on my phone*. I’d heard other people talk about it, but I figured my phone probably didn’t do that, plus I love CD’s too much.

Now however, I’d hate to be without podcasts. I do love the radio, but I find that listening to my favourite podcasts is really good for my soul. I don’t say that flippantly – I really mean it. So if you’ve never listened to podcasts, or you’ve not tried these ones, I just want to start 2020 by really, really, really recommending my top 3 podcasts to you.**  Here’s why:

(In order of geographical distance from me…)

Faith in Kids
On this feed there are two podcast streams: Faith in Parents and Faith in Kids. The Faith in Parents ones are aimed at parents or anyone involved in or interested in teaching children and young people about Jesus. The hosts, Ed Drew and James Cary, are so down-to-earth, very encouraging, and also pretty silly (more on silliness later). Ed Drew is humble but don’t be fooled – he’s a guru. I can’t tell you how many people I know across the UK who ask him for help with the children’s stuff at their church.  And he’s so keen to help, and very funny, and refreshingly ridiculous. These guys really try to encourage you without – get this – making you feel like a rubbish failure. Amazing! And they do brilliant interviews which have helped me enormously. I’ll keep going back to some of them again and again. Seriously folks, please tune in if you haven’t tried it yet. Otherwise you will quite simply miss out.
Favourite episodes: #8 Talking about the Tough Stuff; #10 Talking through the Tears; #13a&b Lovewise; #15&15b with Sandy Galea.

The Faith in Kids episodes are family devotionals to listen to with your kids. My children love them. There are fun facts, a Bible passage, some questions for different age groups, and a very funny sketch written by James Cary who is actually a sitcom writer. Seriously, our kids don’t know they’re born! These are excellent – we really enjoy listening to them in the car – and there’s a book to go alongside the Easter episodes. (It turns out you can even listen to podcasts in the car. I know, I’m wringing my hands too.)

Cooper & Cary Have Words
One of the ways I got into podcasts was that my brother recommended this one to me. Thanks, bro! And it’s purely coincidence that the Cary on this podcast is the same James Cary as on the Faith in Kids one, although I think it might be because there aren’t really that many Christians and even fewer who know how to make a podcast.
The reason I love this one is that it’s two dry British men (one in Florida and one in Somerset, England) talking honestly and graciously about culture and faith. I’m very behind on culture (as you can tell from my digi-disdain), but I feel that (at least as a parent) I should try to keep up. These guys help with that because they talk with a Christian perspective about current popular stuff, like books, film, TV etc. I’m really grateful to them. And they don’t take themselves too seriously. Barry Cooper says he sounds like Eeyore, which is only a little bit true and is something Eeyore wouldn’t say about himself.+ They make me laugh, which is really an underrated quality.
They’ve introduced me to loads of books and films that I’ve really enjoyed – please do try it out!
Favourite recent episodes: #70 It’s only waffer thin; #67 Do you want to change?; #63 Unlikely converts; #59 I have cancelled the Dalai Lama.

The Brant and Sherri Oddcast
When Brant Hansen appeared as a guest on Cooper & Cary Have Words, I’d never heard of him and I spent the whole time thinking, “What’s his name? Brad? Brent?” Somehow I figured out that it’s Brant, found the “Oddcast,” and within minutes of listening to the first episode I had tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks. I’ve never looked back. They are my new friends (although they don’t know me at all), and I cannot recommend them highly enough.
The Oddcast is (incredibly) an almost-daily digest of a radio programme which Brant and his producer Sherri pre-record for broadcast across the United States. (If you’re reading this from USA, do find out if you can tune in to the radio show.) Brant does two simple things: he talks about Jesus and he makes silly jokes. This combination of Christian encouragement and harmless humour is what has been so, so good for me over the last year or two.  What better way could there be to occupy your mind while folding laundry than to lift your eyes to King Jesus while also have a good chuckle? As adults we really don’t laugh enough, and it’s such a good way to lift the spirits.
There are too many episodes to choose from, but you can find some very funny clips from the show on the Brant Hansen Facebook page.

I know parenting can be lonely, and sometimes you only get to speak to people about nappies and baby food or tantrums and homework. Resources like these are gifts to us because they can get us thinking about wider issues and reminding us of half-forgotten truths. They’ve also helped me to talk to my husband about something other than the school run or who threw what at dinner time. Thanks be to God!

 

*You can listen to these podcasts through your web browser.
**Please note, I’m getting nothing in return for these recommendations, and in fact I’m a little embarrassed that these people might read them.
+I’m almost certain I’ve heard him say that. If he hasn’t, and he reads this, I’m going to be pretty embarrassed.

Repeat the Sounding Joy

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Happy Advent, friends! Are you feeling the pressure? Your social media feed is filling up with pictures of brightly decorated Christmas trees and children sitting on the lap of a stranger in a (fake) beard.  Maybe you’re behind. Maybe you’re hoping to avoid getting a tree. Maybe you’ve got the flu.

I’m reading through Luke’s gospel this Advent. I started early because I’m inadequate so I need extra days. We’re also reading through Luke in our women’s Bible study group, so I’ve got another chance at listening to what God is saying in case I wasn’t paying attention when I read it in the early hours of the morning! What a gracious God.

So I bring you two encouragements from Luke on this grey Sunday morning – one from my Advent devotional and one from my Bible study:

  1. Jesus is coming

Christopher Ash is helping me to look forward to the coming of Jesus. That is, the return of Jesus in his glory. This perfect Jesus, this humble King, this turn-things-upside-down revolutionary is coming back for us. That is good news! As my friend Jason Roach once said in a sermon I loved, “Jesus reigns – and that’s a good thing!” Now that sounds obvious, but as with many simple statements about Jesus, I need to be whacked over the head with it every single day of my life.

I don’t tend to keep up with the news (sorry), but as there is a UK general election coming up in December, even I am trying to keep track of what’s going on. It’s a stressful time and a time when the nation is divided. The thing that causes me the most stress is that I don’t know who I can trust. Politicians say words, but how do we know whose words to believe?

With this backdrop, what glorious news it is that we have a King who reigns eternal. He’s reigning now: he not only knows the outcome of the election but he’s also ruling over it. And one day he will come back and bring us into an eternal, perfect kingdom with the ultimately good leader who will never die. A happy nation! Now that is something to be joyful about:

As we reflect on the Jesus who came as a baby all those centuries ago, let us never forget that we are waiting, longing, yearning, praying for that great day when he will return… The more deeply we understand him in his first Advent, the more passionately we shall long for his return, when we shall see him face to face; and the more joyfully we will celebrate his arrival at the first Christmas. Christopher Ash, Repeat the Sounding Joy, p. 9.

2. Jesus came for losers like me

If Christmas makes you feel inadequate, I’m sure you’re not alone. There’s so much going on and expectations can be all too high. I think we can get it into our heads that Jesus really expects us to be on top of things, and that our children should really not be screaming outside the bedroom door while we write blog posts. They really shouldn’t have tantrums at the Christmas fair. And you definitely shouldn’t be panic-buying on Amazon on 23rd December. He is folding his arms and tutting at us. And even if he isn’t, someone else will be.

Last week some of the women in our church read together the astonishing passage in Luke 4 in which Jesus reads this bit of Isaiah and then says it’s about HIM!

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Now we’re not the sharpest bunch of women in London (ha!), but even we noticed that Jesus says quite clearly here that he came for the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed. So not the rich, the free, the I’m-fine-thank-you-very-much or the look-at-my-pristine-children/tree/tablecloth? No. He came for the needy.

I don’t mean we shouldn’t try to make Christmas a lovely time for our families. I also don’t mean we should resent someone else’s lovely tablecloth (!). But how liberating it is to know that Jesus came for the inadequate. This frees me up to be happy when someone else has done a much better job than I have this Advent. Because I don’t have to prove myself.

The challenge of course here is that I don’t usually think of myself as a poor prisoner or as blind or oppressed. But spiritually, that’s where I’d be without the Lord Jesus coming to save me. That’s why Christmas is worth being excited about.  All the other stuff is just the tinsel or the extra sheep in the nativity play (no offence). Jesus – and his good news to the poor – he’s the main event.

 

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Postscript: By the way, I do regularly feel burdened with a desire to try harder to get more people reading my blog. I’d love to do this because the people who do read it seem to find it encouraging, and I know that many mothers (and others) are in need of encouragement. However, I feel that I’m never going to be able to devote the time needed to “generate more traffic.” I also don’t want to become a commercial blog with dozens of affiliated links. I’m not knocking that at all, but that’s not what this is. It’s not what this will ever be. I just wanted to put that out there, so we’re all clear! Thank you SO much for reading. x

 

Redeeming Advent – Review and Giveaway!

This is exciting – I have a book to recommend and a free copy to give away to one lovely reader.  Brace yourselves, I know it’s still November but this is another festive book – this time by the lovely Lucy Rycroft who blogs at The Hope Filled Family.

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Over the years I’ve recommended several advent resources to you, since I love Christmas and I know it’s an ideal opportunity to get yourself (and your children) excited about Jesus. I mean, in Him all things were made!  And yet He became flesh and lived among us! A mere 2000 years ago!

But let’s be real – Christmas is a hectic time. It’s a time of chaos. It’s a time when you’re short on time. It’s a time when each of your children is in several shows that you can’t miss. It’s a time of wrapping paper and black treacle.

Friends, it’s a time of glitter.

With this in mind, Redeeming Advent is a book that I recommend particularly if you find December pretty overwhelming and you need some help to bring Christ into focus amidst the haze of gingerbread and cinnamon fumes.

Each chapter is a little bit like a blog post – imagine having a lovely new festive blog post to read every day of advent? What a treat. Lucy takes everyday examples from down-to-earth motherhood and helps us to lift our eyes to Christ, who is with us in each ordinary moment of the day.

Lucy’s style is very warm and welcoming. For example,  I’d say that Lucy and I are on about the same page regarding Santa, but she’s much more polite about it than I am. I think it’s because, although she lives in York, she’s not actually northern. And whilst I live in the South, I definitely am (please see evidence here). I have been known to call Santa (on this very blog) a big fat lie who drinks sherry.  Eek.

This would therefore be a book that I’d also happily give to a friend who wouldn’t call herself a Christian, as I think she’d enjoy it and be challenged to think a bit more carefully about this baby in the manger. In fact, if you’re reading this and you’re not sure about Jesus – please do try the book! You might even win a copy – see below.

At the end of each short chapter there’s a suggested prayer – which can be very helpful indeed when your brain isn’t in gear or you’re distracted. Let’s face it, sometimes you can’t remember your own name during advent, so a little help on the prayer front is very much appreciated.

This is a thoughtful, sincere and joy-filled companion to the Christmas season, and if you’d like to win a signed copy, please Like my Facebook page (if you haven’t already) and comment on this post on there.  If you don’t use Facebook you can comment below instead.  I have in the past asked people to comment with the title of their favourite Christmas song but people didn’t seem to want to do that… maybe this year will be different?  I wait in hope. The deadline for the giveaway is midnight on Wednesday 20th November.  If you don’t win (or even if you do), you can buy the book here.

The Gift

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Bear with me, I know it’s early November but we’ve got to get organised, peeps!

Christmas is the only time of year when it’s normal to send your friends and family cards with words about Jesus on them.  We might feel that these words – these miraculous, life-giving words – are falling on blind eyes, buried underneath Amazon parcels and Santa cards. However, I believe that God can use his words to draw people to himself, even amidst the din of Wizzard and (give me strength) Michael Buble.

If you’re looking for a little book to give to loved ones this Christmas to help them think more deeply about life, then I’d love to recommend to you Glen Scrivener’s The Gift. Glen is a fantastic communicator and this is a truly refreshing read. He writes in an accessible, down-to-earth way about Christmas and all the joys and reality-checks it brings, and he presents the good news about Jesus in an attractive way.

This is a book that is Christmassy but not cheesy. I love Christmas, and this helped me get excited about it. (We’re going to bonnie Scotland this year! Can’t wait.) You don’t want a Christmas book that briefly mentions Christmas and then swiftly goes into a six-point bible overview. You also don’t want schmaltz. Well I don’t, anyway. In this book, Glen uses the theme of gifts to describe what God has done for us in sending us the most precious gift imaginable.

I almost forgot to mention that at one point he even (wonder of wonders) quotes Billy Joel! One of my absolute favourites. That man raised me (along with, you know, my actual parents).

There’s a film too! At the end of the book you’re invited to go online and watch a short film called Let Me Go There. I haven’t seen it yet but I’m excited!

Just so you know I’m not just saying all this (not sure why I would!), I’ve now bought 6 copies to send to some lovely friends this Christmas. I’ll be praying that this year they’d choose to enjoy the ultimate Christmas gift.

Book Review: Plugged In

 

Friends, if you’re looking for a good book to read this summer, then I heartily recommend Daniel Strange’s book, Plugged In.  If you’re a parent of young children, you might not think that a book about culture is really relevant to you – especially one that’s written by a clever Dr person who’s the director of a Bible college.  And whilst I don’t want to have an argument with you, I think you’re wrong.

Firstly, let me just reassure that this book is really clear and is definitely pitched at ordinary folk like you and me – even those of us who are distracted and sleep-deprived.  Dan Strange also realises that we might need persuading that culture is an important thing to think about.  As human beings, we create and consume culture.  We can’t avoid it, even if we try.  And guess what?  It’s likely that your children are also human beings.  Which means that they, too, are cultural creatures.  They have a culture, and so does the world around them.

Do we want our children to live for Jesus in this world that’s full of culture?  Do we want to worship Jesus in our families and to engage with our culture in a Jesus-honouring way?  Then this book can help us.  Some of us just need to learn that we can’t escape culture and we don’t need to be afraid of it.  Some of us are thinking through how to guide our children as they come across culture.  Some of us want to know how to speak into our culture and point people to Jesus.  Plugged In addresses these things.

As parents, we do actually need to be plugged in.  Our children are being told stories every day – and so are we!  They’re not all bad, but which bits are true and how can we tell?  I want to help our children to see the world through a gospel lens.  As Dan writes:

“We need to learn to identify where [cultural stories] are suppressing the truth, and to spot where that truth keeps ‘popping up’ like a beach ball.  This is what it means to “engage with culture” – not to swallow its stories hook, line and sinker, but to let it point our own eyes over and over again to the gospel story.” p. 74.

And at the end, there’s a bit about Japanese toilets.

You can buy the book here if you wish.

Swing it, shake it, move it, make it

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I love CBeebies – which is a British TV channel for young children. I’m always impressed by how talented the presenters and cast members are when they perform their annual ‘CBeebies presents…’ show. This year’s was Thumbelina. Nina-of-neurons fame is obviously terrific and did a lovely job.

I did feel sorry for Thumbelina though, because she spent most of the show telling people she didn’t know who she was. How terrifying for her.

I missed a bit – went off to cook the tea – and then saw the finale, which was a song:

“Thumbs up, you can be what you want to be…
I want to be free, I want to be me,
That’s what I’m gonna be.”

This is the doctrine of the young generation:

I can be whoever I want!
You can’t tell me who I am!
I’ll choose who I am!

And by the way… who am I?

After my children watched Thumbelina, we sat down to read the account of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary in Luke Chapter 1.

Imagine if Mary was a young girl now, and listened to the messages of the iGeneration:

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“I am nobody’s servant,” Mary answered. “I won’t let anybody push me around.”

And the famous Magnificat, the song of Mary, would have been more like this:

“My soul magnifies me.
And my spirit rejoices in me: I’m awesome.
From now on all generations will hear me roar!”

I know this is very silly, but just imagine it for a moment, because is is the attitude our children are being encouraged to have. If Mary had said this, she’d have missed out so badly! And she’d have been so wrong! She’d have lived and died in obscurity. Nobody would have heard her roar.

Our children shouldn’t expect an angel to visit them and tell them what their life will be all about. Instead we have God’s word, which gives us clear answers to questions about who we are and why we’re here. Praise God for that! None of us has to wander through life, wondering who we are.

The advent devotion we’re using said this:

The serpent’s lie says, “You won’t be happy unless you are in charge of your life.” (Here I added, “Thumbs up you can be what you want to be!”) The truth is, God is in charge and God is good.  Mary did not demand her own way.  She gladly gave herself to God.  True happiness is ours when we give our lives to our good God.

And the following day read:

The truth is that God made us to love him and live for him… You were made for God… Our dreams are too small compared to God’s purpose for our life.

I’m not going to ban CBeebies, but by God’s grace I’ll try not to sell my children short by telling them they can be what they want to be. Praise God! He has given them, and us, an identity and a purpose. “No human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2v9.

Happy Christmas, friends. X

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*In case you’re not British, or you’re a young whippersnapper, the title of this post refers to a song by the Spice Girls… ‘Who do you think you are?’

What would they like?

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I do at least a double portion of Christmas shopping.  I need to think of gifts for my family and friends, as well as think of what I would like from the kind people who ask me.  (It’s also my Birthday a week before Christmas, but I’ve only myself to blame for that, I suppose.)

But I also need to answer the dreaded question, “what would the children like for Christmas?” If, like me, you find this all quite  a lot to deal with, and your relatives have already started to ask, here is a list that I hope will help.

These are all things I highly recommend.  I’ve been very selective.  If these don’t go down well, you can certainly blame me! And if you do find any of these recommendations helpful, please do comment below.  This will benefit other readers and also encourage me!

If I’ve left any gaps, do ask below as I probably have more ideas.

Pre-schoolers (and above – my older children still like them):

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Toys
For tiny ones, the Galt wooden pop up toy.  Wooden pegs; springs.  A timeless classic.

Magformers – or knock-off equivalent.  I’ve heard Magnatiles are better, but we have Magformers and Magmagic (which are cheaper) and love them.  Amazing toy.  If I had my time again, I would buy fewer toys and be willing to spend more on good quality toys like this.

Melissa and Doug wooden Birthday cake or pizza.  Last year these were cheaper in the Black Friday Amazon sale.  Also the Melissa and Doug ice cream set is popular in our house.

Books
Julia Donaldson audio collection (10 CDs) – available at thebookpeople. This is the best thing that ever happened to our car journeys.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fall in love with the actors.  Please buy it.  (It’s the one with The Gruffalo, What the Ladybird Heard etc.)

The One O’Clock Miracle – this can be a good one for non Christian families too, although you’d need to use your judgement.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Judith Kerr

Music
Anything by Colin Buchanan

Anything by Randall Goodgame, particularly Sing the Bible 1 & 2.  Also, “Under Where?” might work for a non Christian family as it’s a mixture of Christian and silly songs.  We love it, as we are quite silly, and quite Christian.

Primary Schoolers

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Toys/Games
Dobble kids – every family should have this.  It’s particularly handy when you have guests for lunch and your children are looking after them while you’re doing the final preparations.

Ticket to Ride, First Journey

K’Nex – good value and my son adores it.

Lego Spinjitzu spinners – I was surprised at how good these were.  I’m embarrassed to say that I spelt Spinjitzu correctly on the first attempt.

Stomp Rocket – this would work for pre-schoolers as well.  It’s an outdoor toy but as long as it’s not raining you could use it in the winter.  It’s just truly fabulous.  Simple, yet so effective.  We always gather a crowd of curious children when we use it on the beach.

For girls, anything from the shop Smiggle tends to go down well.  As far as I can tell, they always have things in the sale.  Don’t buy anything full price – what a rip-off.

Books
Everything a Child Should Know About God by Kenneth Taylor – extremely simple doctrine book with beautiful illustrations.

The Diary of a Disciple – a Tom Gates style re-telling of Luke’s gospel, and there’s one for Acts as well.  My son loves these.

The Action Bible.  I highly recommend this for around ages 8+, and there is a junior version for younger children (my 5 year old has it), but you’d have to decide whether it’s suitable.

The Ology, Marty Machowski.  A beautiful doctrine book for 6-11 year olds.

Magazines – my son really likes the Aquila magazine.  They frequently sell back copies for £2.50 each, which is excellent value.  I’ve got a stash in the cupboard and every month or so I give him a ‘new’ one.

Music
We’ve recently discovered Jamie Grace, whose album “Ready to Fly” is excellent, particularly for pre-teen girls.  Although my boys love it too.

Also, any of the above music CDs go down well with our older children.

 

Over to you:
What would you highly recommend, please?