Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Praying for Girls - Review

I've fallen behind on my reading. This is in large part due to the fact that I started keeping all three girls at home on my days off. I'm not going to stress about it though, because I want reading, even nonfiction, to be enjoyable. When it becomes something I "have to" do then I get less out of it. My July/August nonfiction book was Praying for Girls by Teri Lynne Underwood.

This book was so incredibly practical. Raising kids is so wonderfully hard, and each gender comes with its own set of challenges. Since we have three girls, having applicable scripture-based prayers to say over my daughters is invaluable to me. Praying for Girls works through five main areas of a girl's life: her identity, her heart, her mind, her relationships, and her purpose. Each part is broken up into different aspects of the main areas with Biblical truths, Scripture-based prayers (for both daughters and mothers), and creative ways to talk to daughters about those truths. Combined they form effective tools to help us, as parents, guide our daughters into becoming godly women.

I already prayed for my kids every day, but having very specific prayers that address circumstances they'll face in life, and suggested ways to talk to them about those circumstances (based on their age) was a huge blessing. This is a book I feel like I need to continuously work through over and over again to guide me through praying for my kids. It's easy to feel overwhelmed with the prospect of raising children in today's society, but prayer is the best way to help us in that feat. Ultimately, we have to come to a place where we realize that there's only so much we can do, and God is in control. Wonderfully, He loves our kids abundantly more than we every could. It says in the book, "We don't have to be perfect prayers, nor do our prayers have to be perfect, because the God who hears us and loves us - and our girls - is perfect and perfectly able." What an amazingly comforting thought.

If you have girls, I couldn't more strongly recommend this book. I believe it has helped make my prayers more focused and effective, and it has given me ideas of how to talk to my kids now, and in the future about what it means to be a Christ-follower. I pray it has a similar impact on your family as well.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book to review. All opinions, however, are my own.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Women Who Move Mountains - Review

So, even though I'm just now writing the review, my June nonfiction book was Women Who Move Mountains: Praying with Confidence, Boldness, and Grace by Sue Detweiler.

This book is essentially broken into two chapter sections. The odd numbered chapters give both biblical and modern examples of women whose prayer lives made lasting effects on God's kingdom. The even chapters provide discussion/reflection questions to aid in application. We all know prayer is important, but have you experienced its power? Do you truly believe it makes a difference.

Sue shares some very valuable insight on how to develop a rich and meaningful prayer life. The Bible is full of examples of prayer warriors, and I really enjoyed the modern examples she shared as well. If we recognize who we are because of our position in Christ, then prayer is a natural part of our relationship with God. But we don't have to be perfect or pray perfect prayers. God often uses prayer as a tool for perfecting us. I thought the questions in the even numbered chapters did a good job of getting you to think through your own prayer life and how it can be improved. Those chapters also contained common lies we believe as well as truths found in Scripture. Overall, it is very practical but encouraging at the same time.

While, I didn't necessarily agree with all of Sue's theology (minor things), I think she did a very good job of breaking down important aspects of prayer to make it seem possible to have a solid prayer life. I will admit, I didn't know going into it that half the chapters were going to be discussion questions. I was just planning on reading through it and marking things I found useful. It's difficult for me to find time to answer 20+ questions, especially since those questions are accompanied by Scripture that sometimes bounces around the Bible. I do think it would be a good book for a Bible study or book club, but it's not necessarily something you would just sit down and read. Definitely a good book, but know what it is going into it.

So if you have the time to really dig into the book and journal the applications, or if you're wanting to do a book club about prayer with other women, then this is definitely a good option. Check it out!

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book to review. All opinions, however, are my own.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

With You Always - Christian Fiction Review

My fiction book for June was With You Always (Orphan Train Book #1) by Jody Hedlund. I've read several of Jody Hedlund's books before (including this one) and I've always really enjoyed them. I knew this one would be no different.

With You Always is a historical fiction set during the financial crisis of 1857. Elise Neumann, her two younger sisters and two young orphans are all taken in by the Seventh Street Mission after their parents die and they end up on the streets. Due to the decreasing number of jobs in New York City, Elise is forced to leave her younger sisters behind and ride the orphan train with other young women to one of the developing cities along the rail line in order to find a job. Thornton Quincy is a part of a wealthy family and he learns he has to fulfill two obligations in order to inherit his dying father's company instead of his twin brother. He has to build a more successful town along the rail line and he has to marry for love...in 6 months. He's never beaten his brother in anything, will this time be any different?

Elise and Thornton meet for the first time during a dangerous riot in the streets. Many months later they meet up again on the train. Elise doesn't know that Thornton is part of one of the wealthiest families in the country or that he's practically engaged. All Thornton knows is that he wants to get better acquainted with Elise so he uses his influence to make sure she gets a job in his town. Obviously, Elise is upset when she finds out, and she's also upset by the living and working conditions in this new town. Can she help him see success is not built on fear and the bottom line, and a marriage isn't built on the approval of others?

I really disliked Thornton at the beginning. He's stuck up and selfish. He only cares about beating his brother and gaining his father's approval. Elise, however, is kind and compassionate. In spite of their rocky beginning she sets out to change how Thornton uses his great influence on others. Over time Thornton became a much more likable character. Elise was a wonderful, well-developed character from the beginning. Hedlund also writes very good supporting characters, and I look forward to seeing more of them in future books. I really enjoyed the plot, but some parts of it seemed a bit contrived. Also, there was a bit too much setup for the next book. It took some of the focus off the main story. Overall it was a very interesting concept with complex characters. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

My Take on Prayer Journaling

Since I shared about how I read my Bible during my daily personal study, I thought I'd also share how I spend time in prayer. Now, this is not the only time I pray throughout the day. It's important to pray when a need arises, before you go to bed, you know, continually. However, I do find that having an organized way of praying with my study helps keep me accountable and I feel more effective. I'm not a superfluous prayer so my method is pretty straight forward (which also helps me to not get distracted). So here it is.

What I Write In
I've had this particular journal cover since December 24, 2008. How do I know the exact date? Because it's how my husband proposed to me. I've had several blank journal refills inside it over the years, but obviously this cover has sentimental value for me. I don't want to have to continue to buy a nice new journal every time I finish one, although some people like to do that. This has worked pretty well for me.

How I Write In It
I've used several methods for prayer journaling over the years. I used to write out my prayers like a letter to God. I still will on occasion, especially if something big is weighing on my mind. Obviously, this can take quite a bit of time. Currently I just used bulleted lists of what I want to pray about as a guide and then I pray through them like normal. A conversation with God. It's probably not "journaling" in the strictest sense, but it helps me keep track of my prayers and it helps me stay focused.

What I Write About
My prayer is broken up into 3 main sections:
One section is where I pull out something I've learned from the Scripture I'm currently reading. For example, today I read Isaiah 52. Verse 7 says, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'" So I prayed to be those feet and to be given an opportunity to share the good news with someone today. Essentially, this is where I pray Scripture back to God. I don't write it down, but this is also when I pray for God to forgive my sins. It's important to be specific, but I don't write them down because once He's forgiven me, I (try to) move past them.
The next section contains my prayer requests. One thing I like to do is focus on something different each day. Now that's not all I can pray about that day, but it helps my prayer time to not be so rambling. I pray for my immediate family every day and anything else that feels urgent, but a lot of the time I spend praying is focused on these categories.

The final section contains praises for what God has done. This is one benefit of journaling. I can look back through my past prayer requests and see how God has answered them. God has done so much for me, and this helps remind me of that.

Once I've written everything down I just pray through my list. Sometimes stuff pops into my mind which of course I'll pray about then, but this focused time of prayer has really made my time with the Lord so much better. What about you? How do you pray during your quiet times?

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Most Misused Stories in the Bible - Book Review

My May non-fiction book was The Most Misused Stories In the Bible by Eric J. Bargerhuff. This book goes through 13 passages of Scripture which are sometimes misunderstood. It discusses the error some people believe and then walks through the actual meaning according to Scripture. Some of the Bible stories include David and Goliath, Jonah and the big fish, the betrayal of Judas and many more. 

Not all of these stories are "misused" exactly, but they might be misunderstood or misinterpreted. That might sound like splitting hairs, but there is a subtle difference. For some stories the focus is taken off the main idea. For example, with Jonah and the big fish, a lot of people focus on Jonah or the big fish (especially with kids). Really, God should be the main focus of the story. The same with the story of Zacchaeus. Some of the stories are taught incorrectly like Gideon and the fleece. Some use this story as justification for testing God when in reality it should be the opposite. While sometimes it can seem like splitting hairs, misunderstanding Scripture can have serious consequences. 

I will say that as I read through the book I was glad that I had a correct understanding of all the stories Bargerhuff wrote about. That wasn't always the case though. I was definitely one to think there were only three wise men and that they visited baby Jesus in the manger. I also had been a Christian for many years before I heard a correct interpretation of Cain and Abel's offerings as well as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. For some of these stories, a simple reading of the Scripture will take care of any misunderstandings. Others are more complex. It's so, so important to be students of Scripture and not just rely on tradition or Scripture taken out of context. Bargerhuff does a good job of clearly walking through each passage and contextualizing everything. I think this book would be great for anyone that has been a part of "Christian culture" but has only recently started studying the Bible. Or if you're like me and just curious if what you think matches up with what Bargerhuff says.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book to review. All opinions, however, are my own.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Inductive Bible Study

As Christians, we know that reading the Bible is important. But not just reading it, studying it. There are all kinds of methods for doing personal Bible study. I've even used several of them, but I wanted to share the method I most often (and currently) use. WARNING: If you're offended by someone writing in their Bible you should probably skip this post. Or don't. It's up to you.

What is an inductive study. Induction is the process of using specific instances to form general conclusions. Inductive Bible study is essentially using details in a passage to draw conclusions about the passage, book, and Bible as a whole. You use the Word to interpret the Word. It involves three skills: observation, interpretation, and application. Here is a really good guide to how it works. (You have to make an account to download it, but it's free). Below I've laid out a few points and discuss how I do it.

Observation: What does the text say?
This is very similar to how you learned to read passages of text in school. Read through it (multiple times), ask questions, mark key words and phrases, notice patterns, themes, etc. Basically what stands out as being important? This is where the marking your Bible up comes in. These things are marked directly in your Bible. This helps you see what's important in the text by just glancing at it. Below are a couple of examples from my Bible.

I use pens and colored pencils to mark key words and phrases. This is my study of Isaiah.
I have a journaling Bible which helps me make notes in the margins.
You can use whatever symbols you want, but if you want a list of common words/phrases to get you started, this is a document I use. They have a few lists for specific books here. If you don't have a lot of room for comments because you're not using a journaling Bible, then I would recommend a regular journal. This also helps you keep track of all your symbols. I still use a journal (which I also use when I'm praying) because it gives me more room to write everything down. 

Interpretation: What does the text mean?
It can be difficult to interpret Scripture, even if you have a degree in it (which I definitely don't). The inductive study method really encourages using Scripture to interpret Scripture. Put the commentary down (at least at first). What clues in the passage, book, or other books of the Bible can help you figure out what it means? Context is key! We are given the Holy Spirit which helps us interpret Scripture. This is why praying before you read is so incredibly important. God will help you interpret Scripture correctly (which keeps us from reading our own meaning into it).

Application: How does the text work itself out in your life?
This is what we all want to jump to first. What does this mean for ME? But if we don't have a good understanding of what it says and what it means in context we are likely to draw the wrong conclusions. This is still a very important part of study, though. Don't be hearers of the Word only but doers. If there is no fruit from what you're reading, then why are you reading it? Let the Word of God transform you.

I often use books from The New Inductive Study Series by Kay Arthur (and various other authors). She gives suggestions on what to look for which can be very helpful. I still sometimes use commentaries, but only after I've carefully read through the passage. God can (and does) use others in increasing our knowledge and understanding of Scripture. Just remember, commentaries are not the Bible. Be discerning while using them. Hopefully this has given you a little glimpse into one method for Bible study. What's your favorite way to study God's Word?

As a side note, another way I like to dig into Scripture is by working through study workbooks. Lifeway Women is offering some of their video studies online for free. You just have to purchase the workbook. I plan on doing one of these studies starting in June and leading discussion in a Facebook group. If you're interested in joining us, let me know!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Resources for Moms

Happy Mother's Day! In honor of the day I want to look at tools that make us better moms. I've offered a few below that I've enjoyed recently, but what I really want is for you to tell me what resources you've used that have helped you. Now, this isn't just for moms with littles like mine. This could be for moms of older kids, grandmas, or those without kids but act as a mom-figure for others. I'll take a look at the suggestions and expand the list so that we can have a place to look when we need help/advice. Now, of course the best places to look are the Bible and our own moms. But lets add to those.

  1. God Centered Mom Podcast - A friend recently recommended this on Facebook and I thought I'd check it out. I want to start listening to podcasts instead of audio books all the time on my long drive to and from work. I've only listened to a few so far, but she and her guests talk about some really interesting things and it's neat to see the perspective of other moms (and dads).
  2. The Introverted Mother - I need to give credit where it's due. I found this article on my friends' blog. These ladies are amazing and have interesting perspectives on motherhood as well. Anyway, this article really spoke to me because it's me to a T! If you think this might describe you as well then check it out.
  3. Don't Make Me Count to Three - Some of you may have seen where I reviewed this book by Ginger Hubbard. She gives her take (from a biblical perspective) of disciplining children. I didn't necessarily agree with everything, but she gives a lot of good advice that I need to do better about implementing.
So now it's your turn. What blogs, podcasts, articles, books, etc would you recommend to other mom's or mom-figures?