Review of the Big Look Bible Book


This review is for the Big Look Bible Book. We’ve reviewed other “children’s Bibles” before, but more often than not I’ve been disappointed. Often, they’d present themselves as if they were “Bibles” but the stories would be so watered down that they’d be mere shadows of the real Bible. This book doesn’t purport to be a “Bible” but a “Bible book”, which I appreciated. It’s not a replacement for the Bible, but really just inspired by it.

The book goes through the most popular stories for young children in the Bible–Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, Joseph, Daniel, the Nativity, The Angel’s Visit, and the Resurrection. A single page is dedicated to each, and a short paragraph of about 50 words is the extent to which each story is told. It’s certainly not comprehensive by any stretch, but it isn’t meant to be. It’s really more a way to provide a first introduction to the Bible stories for very young readers, who will ask questions and to whom you can describe more from your own Bible knowledge (and it’s also a good reminder to shore up your own knowledge too).

The illustrations are cute, colorful, and very, very engaging for youngsters learning new words. You can sit with your child and point out different animals, people, plants, and other objects. Each page is  uniquely shaped, which will further the uniqueness and interest.  Like the other book by the same folks (Make Believe Ideas) that I just reviewed, this one is one that will bring a lot of joy to your household.

Review of All Things Bright and Beautiful


All Things Bright and Beautiful is a wonderful little hardcover book whose contents contain just the words of the famous Cecil Frances Alexander hymn.

The book is filled with delightful little color illustrations of each of the stanzas, from the “bright and beautiful” rainbows to “great and small” creatures like elephants and turtles. Some of the illustrations are even embellished with special textures such as glitter on a river, a mountain, or the breath of the “cold wind in winter” to provide even more engagement for youngsters.

This is not the sort of book to just “read”, but rather to explore with your little one–I’d say it’s great for any child age 2 or higher. Each page is filled with different illustrations perfect for very young children who are just learning to speak and read. Even younger children will be enthralled by the bright colors and appealing illustrations. The poem itself is so simple but with a powerful message that both you and children will benefit from.

Highly recommended.

How Could An All-Loving God Do That? Thoughts on Great Is Thy Faithfulness


This blog post is originally from August 2005.

————————————————————————————————————–

Like many of you, I’ve been riveted to the TV the last few days, looking at the effects of Katrina.

It was just a few years ago that I decided to treat myself to a little trip. I happened to see that the Giants were playing the Saints, so I used some of my hotel points to get a room in a Four Points Sheraton in Metairie, used Priceline to get a rental car, and used my air miles to book a plane from Newark to New Orleans.

The trip was a great one. The first night, I got the Giants game over with. I can’t remember the score, but I do remember the Giants phoning it in that night. And they weren’t the only ones. That was the game where Joe Horn of the Saints scored four touchdowns, and grabbed a cell phone from under one of the goal posts–I’m sure he felt it well worth the $30,000 fine he had to pay later. At that point, of course, I had to deny to the rabid Saints fans around me that I was a Giants fan. “California. I come from California” I sheepishly replied when a friendly person in the next seat asked me where I was from. I felt like Peter talking to the servant girl.

The next few days, I saw the town. Made sure to get beignets for breakfast. Walked around the French Quarter. Had a “Po-boy”. Ate an incredible Cajun buffet lunch at the Court of Two Sisters restaurant. Lots of Jambalaya, lots of crawfish, lots of great jazz. Visited the D-Day Museum. Had a nice drive down to Lake Pontchartrain, and drove up and down that bridge a few times. Lots of smiles from the people there.

A great trip, all things considered. I think it’s the last trip I’ve taken that wasn’t work-related.

To see the devastation on the TV is heartbreaking. Who would have thought it? Just a week ago, Katrina was just a tiny little disturbance, like all the others. Who would have known that just a week later, thousands and thousands of lives would be tossed about?

For some reason, a verse kept popping up in my head this week.

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

– Lamentations 3:18, 19

When disaster like this strikes, you invariably hear people snidely remark, “how could an all-loving God allow this to happen”.

But honestly, the questions should go something like this:

“Why is it that I have been spared thus far?”
“How is that that an all-powerful God still has the time to hear our cries when we pray?”

Disaster and calamity will happen on this side of paradise. It all goes back to the curse. That it doesn’t happen to us every day is the miracle. But some day we will get hit by that storm. That’s a guarantee. Maybe its name won’t be ‘Katrina’. Maybe its name will be “9-11”. Or “massive stroke”. Or “broken engagement”. Or “sick child”.

But our all-loving God already did do something. He sent His only begotten Son to die. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:13, Christ redeemed us from the curse by becomes a curse for us.

So it’s the same, whether you’re dealing with the aftermath of a physical storm, or of any kind of storm in your life. Maybe we can’t think of an explanation of why things happened the way they did. Maybe there is no explanation, at least not one we’ll fathom until we’re out of this world. But the one thing to hang onto is this: Christ lives. And this means we have hope. This means we can pick up the pieces, and move on.

And the best way to move on…is to wait. Kicking and screaming and crying might be what we feel like doing, and yes, it’s okay to do that for a time. But it won’t change anything. Waiting quietly for the salvation of the Lord, that’s what brings relief. “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.”

Please remember the victims of Hurricane Katrina in your prayers, and please be generous in your giving.

—————————————————————————————-

1.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Refrain
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

2.
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Refrain

3.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Refrain

Follow the Signs: Thoughts on Savior, Lead Me Lest I Stray


I do those 30 and 60 mile bike tours every now and then. A few years ago I did the 60-mile bike tour for MS in New York. The weather on the day of the ride was absolutely perfect for the ride. Arrows posted all along the route showed us the way to go. The ride took us through Manhattan, from the South Street Seaport, up the FDR, across town, down the West Side Highway, into the Lincoln Tunnel (you haven’t lived until you’ve coasted at 35-40 MPH through the Lincoln Tunnel), through Hoboken and Edgewater, New Jersey, and into the Palisades.

I stop here, because this is where today’s adventure begins.

The Palisades, for those who don’t know it, is a National Recreation Area in New Jersey. It’s a beautiful bit of wilderness running along a cliff facing New York City. At certain points in the Palisades, you can look down and see a great view of Manhattan.

I knew I was in for a bit of a challenge, because even when I drive up the Palisades, I get exhausted. Now, here I was with a mountain bike and legs that had already ridden about 45 miles, against these mountains.

I gave it the old college try. I rode up until my legs gave out. Then, I took the bike and walked up. My average speed of 12-15 MPH suddenly went down, as I trudged up the mountain at 1-2 MPH. Still, there was no turning back.

I’d made it past the roughest parts of the trail. Now, there were a bunch of roads that were mostly downhill. There was one in particular where I just coasted and coasted downhill. But suddenly, something seemed wrong.

All through the ride, I had always had at least 3-4 bikers within shouting distance. Suddenly, I was all by myself.

Then I realized—I haven’t seen an arrow in quite some time.

Panic started to set in. A few minutes later, I saw two guys with bike jerseys in the distance walking up the hill with their bikes.

“MS Bike Tour?” they asked.
“Yep,” I responded.

We didn’t have to say any more. We had all missed a turn somewhere. I joined them in the arduous trek back up the hill.

Admittedly, I looked down that hill, and it looked awful tempting to keep going down. I looked up the hill, to where my missed turn was, and I wasn’t looking forward to yet again proving Newton’s Third Law. But I swallowed hard, got off my seat, and walked my bike with the other guys back to the point we all missed, probably a good mile up the hill.

We got to the intersection. Surely enough, the sign was there, but really hard to see. We got on our bikes. It made me a little late, but I still finished the ride, back over the George Washington Bridge, and down to Chelsea Piers. I had finished my own triathalon—I biked, I walked, and I crawled. But I finished.

Sometimes God’s will is very clear. But quite often, even after things have been made abundantly clear to us, we still want to press forward with our own way.

I’ve been in that boat many times, as I’m sure you have too. I’d want something with all my heart. I’d be convinced that it is the best thing for me. I’d try my best to achieve it. I’d even pray and pray asking God to make that thing happen in my life.

But everything would fall apart.

But, I’d press on. Maybe…maybe God didn’t hear me. I’ll pray harder. I’ll spend day and night hoping and hoping for what I want. After all, I know what’s best for myself, right? I know what “feels right” to me. And that must be the best for me.

I guess as I get older, I realize something. I don’t know what’s best for myself at all. Because feelings lie.

The funny thing is, I look at my life today, and…I like it. A lot. And I wouldn’t have gotten to this point had I not gone through the uphill climbs, the soreness, the fatigue. Had I had a choice, I would never have faced any of those things. But I did, and it made me who I am today.

We can only see what’s right in front of me. We don’t know the twists and turns on the road ahead. Sure, there might be a road where the arrow points to the left, but the downhill slope straight ahead is just so tempting you want to ignore the sign and speed down the slope. But if you do that, be prepared to crawl back up.

Are there things I wish I had that I don’t have? Of course. But it’s just not time for that arrow yet. I’ll keep an eye out for the arrow, and when the time comes, I’ll follow it, just as I’ve followed the others that have gotten me to where I am. The one who placed the arrows there knows the right road to lead me to the finish line and the goody bag.
1.
Savior, lead me, lest I stray,
Gently lead me all the way;
I am safe when by Thy side,
I would in Thy love abide.

Refrain
Lead me, lead me, Savior, lead me lest I stray;
Gently down the stream of time,
Lead me, Savior, all the way.

2.
Thou the refuge of my soul
When life’s stormy billows roll;
I am safe when Thou art nigh,
All my hopes on Thee rely.

Refrain

3.
Savior, lead me, then at last,
When the storm of life is past,
To the land of endless day,
Where all tears are wiped away.

Refrain

Getting Rid of the Bugs in Your Soul: Thoughts on Search Me, O God


In my old apartment, I had great success growing basil plants. I had purchased a few small plants at the Montclair Historical Society’s annual herb sale. By the time it came for me to move out of my apartment, those little plants had grown. They then filled four giant flower pots, producing beautiful, gigantic leaves. I’d used them for all kinds of dishes. Seasoning for homemade spaghetti sauce, chicken and basil, you name it. I had so much basil that I even started putting basil in things that probably would have been a bit better off without basil.

Sadly, when I moved out of the apartment, I had to figure out what to take and what not to. The big flower pots of basil were the first to go. (I had not yet grasped the concept of making and freezing pesto).

When I moved into my new apartment, one of the first orders of business was to get basil plants again. So I went to a nursery and bought two little basil plants again. While I was at it, I decided to start my own little indoor herb garden. At one point, I even had my own “Scarborough Fair” (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme).

It started out well enough. I did make myself some very good pesto, and mixed it up a bit. One night I had it with rigatoni, the next with fettucine. It was, to put it mildly, quite yummy.

A few days ago, I got ready to make another big batch of pesto. But I noticed something. There were big blotches on the leaves. I had a mint plant which had almost completely died, because the leaves were brown. It seemed that this had spread to the basil. I was a bit confused, because I water them just right, and they get the right sunlight.

Needless to say, no pesto for me. I picked off the offending leaves and threw them away. What was left was a lonely stalk with a few leaves left.

I looked carefully at one of the leaves, and noticed a tiny brown speck underneath one of the leaves. It was the size of a piece of dust. I used my finger to nudge it, and it moved. It was a pretty revolting experience.

I went onto Google, and searched for ‘brown blotches basil bug’. What I found was more information that I could possibly have wanted to know about a little thing called a “spider mite”.

A spider mite, it seems, is a tiny little bug that sucks the juices out of leaves. It’s very common in indoor plants, and it’s very hard to spot, because it does its dirty business on the underside of leaves. Gone untreated, the mites suck and suck and suck until the leaves are completely brown and unusable. Yes, spider mites suck.

To find them, one Web site said to put a white piece of paper under the plant and shake the plant. I tried that and surely enough, I got a result worse than a bad Head and Shoulders commercial. Dozens of little mites fell onto the paper, creeping and crawling around. Some were just the size of pinheads. Others were green, having gorged themselves on basil juice.

I collected all my plants, and proceeded to the kitchen sink. I doused each plant in water. It was strangely satisfying to imagine the tiny little screams of all those spider mites. Afterwards, I made a mixture of my own insecticide from household soap. I sprayed each leaf, above and below. The Web site said to do this every four days.

After spraying, I examined the plants a bit more. There were still stragglers—left on the plant, they would multiply and multiply. I even saw one little spider mite hiding inside the crevices of two leaves. I got the bottle and gave him a nice jolt of soapy water.

I thought about it, as I am wont to do. In terms of our spiritual lives, sin works kind of the same way as these little spider mites.

Psalm 1 talks about the type of person we should all aspire to be. A man who “walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers”. A man whose “delight is in the law of the Lord.” The Psalm goes on to say that such a man is like a tree, planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in its season. His leaf doesn’t wither. In all he does, he prospers.

The wicked, the psalmist goes on, are like chaff. Dead, dried out leaves.

Sin is one of those things that you can’t always tell is infesting you. But little sins add up. And pretty soon, you find yourself far away from that ideal of a green tree. Your leaves and your fruit are infested. The life is sucked out of them, and they dry out and die. You’re really not good for anything anymore. Your work for the kingdom becomes completely unproductive, your relationships turn sour very easily, and you find yourself more and more inundated with stress, and guilt, and anger, and despair. No, you really never do equate those things with “sin”, because there’s not an obvious cause-and-effect relationship between the two.

But sin is very often exactly what causes those negative things. Because sin separates us from God. When sin latches on to our souls, like so many of those little spider mites, they just suck the life out of us. They make it so we can’t be productive.

What’s the solution then? Same as for my basil plants.

The first thing is to admit it. I could have gone for weeks and months just watering my plants and ignoring the little brown blotches. But eventually, the complete plant would have been destroyed. No, I had to shake it in front of a white piece of paper and see what drops out. The same is true of your soul. Anyone who claims to be without sin, so the good book goes, is only fooling himself. There are sins of omission and sins of commissions. Left inside you, they fester, and suck the life out of you.

Second, douse yourself in the kitchen sink. Baptism is the way to clear yourself of the spider mites of your soul. But even more important than the physical act of baptism is that pledge—the pledge of a good conscience. The pledge that says you’re not going back.

Third, keep shaking out your leaves to make sure the spider mites don’t return. They will try. They will attack your most vulnerable leaves, and hide deep where they think no one will find them. For my basil plants, every few days, I’d shake them out on top of white paper. And sure enough, mites would fall out. But as the weeks went by, the number of mites got to be less and less as I kept shaking and spraying.

Don’t let even one spider mite live. The moment you are tempted to sin, tell yourself—I don’t want to get to the point again where my leaves are brown and blotchy and unusable for anything.

Sure enough, after a while, new leaves sprouted, and they were rich and green and thick. I have a little bit of time yet before I can start harvesting them, but the day will come when I’ll again be able to enjoy pesto and spaghetti sauce and all kinds of good stuff.

I wish the same were true of my mint plant. I had a lot of plans for that mint plant. When it was new, the leaves smelled so nice. I figured I’d use them in cooking, making jelly, or whatever else it is that they use mint for. But that didn’t happen. Eventually, I had to take the plant, dirt and all, and throw it into the garbage. Because it just wasn’t useful anymore. The leaves were completely brown, and the underside of the leaves were covered with spider mites.

I hope that never happens to my basil plants. Basil can be used for so many things. So can you and I.
1.
Search me, O God,
And know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior,
Know my thoughts, I pray.
See if there be
Some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin
And set me free.

2.
I praise Thee, Lord,
For cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy Word,
And make me pure within.
Fill me with fire
Where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire
To magnify Thy Name.

3.
Lord, take my life,
And make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart
With Thy great love divine.
Take all my will,
My passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord
In me abide.

4.
O Holy Spirit,
Revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival,
Start the work in me.
Thy Word declares
Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now,
O Lord, I humbly plead.

Clean Up the Mess: Thoughts on Is Your All On the Altar


A few years ago, I moved to my apartment in Long Island. Now, I’d lived in NJ for all my life. I was born in Princeton, grew up in Princeton Jct., went to college in New Brunswick, went to grad school in Newark, worked in South Plainfield, Piscataway, and Basking Ridge, went to church in Elizabeth and Hillsborough. I have a shelf full of Sinatra CDs, I’ve been to a Springsteen concert, and I still feel weird pumping my own gas and making u-turns.

Anyway, I moved from my childhood home in Princeton Jct to my apartment in Montclair about 5 years ago. Now, I didn’t move all in one day…I actually moved over a period of a few years. You see, I’d go home to visit my dad, and every week I’d drive up, I’d bring a carload of stuff with me back to my apartment.

So, in September a few years ago, I got a job in Westbury, NY. So I sold my apartment in Montclair and bought a new one in Great Neck. When I first walked into the apartment, I fell in love with it. Two big bedrooms, beautiful hardwood floors. I thought to myself…there is just so much potential in the place. I could move in furniture, invite friends over, maybe even start a family there one day. I looked forward to the move.

The week of the move came. Now to myself, I thought…this’ll be easy. I’ll just pack about 15 boxes of stuff, take about 2-3 hours to move, and that’d be it. I started packing.

10 boxes.
20 boxes.
30 boxes.

I ended up with over 40 boxes full of junk!

The day of the move came. One hour. Two hours. Three hours. Four hours. Five hours… It was a full Nine hours later before the movers were finally done. It would have been a lot longer, but by the sixth or seventh hour, I put on a T-shirt and became one of the movers. After all, they were paid by the hour…

After we were all done, I signed a few papers and let the movers out the door. Then I turned around. My heart sank.

Every square inch of my beautiful new apartment was filled with moving boxes and junk. Some boxes were piled 2, even 3 high. I couldn’t even walk from one end of the room to the other.

The next week I went to church. One of the first people I talked to about my new apartment was a good friend of mine, who happens to be a fellow Yankee fan. I mentioned to him that I had cable TV, with the YES Network. His eyes lit up like Times Square.

“Say Steve…Opening Day is this Sunday against the Red Sox”.

I wanted so much to tell him to come over that weekend. But I was too ashamed…not to mention that it would be a health risk…I don’t know if his insurance would cover if a pile of boxes fell on him.

The next week, I was at the CostCo near my work, and a girl came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. It was someone else from my church! She and her husband had driven all the way to Westbury to buy the famous CostCo grapefruits. We had a nice chat, and I wanted so much to invite them over to my place for dinner…I was in the perfect place to get food for a feast. But again, I wasn’t able to.

And I came to a realization. Until I got rid of the clutter, I could never enjoy my apartment. And no one else could either. I could never invite anyone over. My apartment would be pretty much useless.

So I started to get rid of stuff. I went through all the junk box by box, item by item. I had to decide what was worth saving and what wasn’t. I found that some things I had treasured 10 years ago, they were meaningless to me now, but for some reason I held onto them. I just threw them out.

Some things were still worth something, but had no value to me personally anymore. But I listed them on eBay, and funny thing is, they had value to other people. Things I was about to throw away, I ended up making tens, even hundreds of dollars of them!

I told myself I’d toss a little bit each day. So for the next few weeks, I’d make sure I’d have at least one garbage bag full of stuff as I left home for work in the morning. On weekends, I’d spend all day and night, to the point where I’d get exhausted.

But finally, I started to see hardwood floor again. And the empty boxes started to pile up one by one, to be thrown out.

Bet you’re wondering how it all ended up ☺

Well, not too long after that, a friend and his wife, both of whom are good friends of mine, came to visit from California. I offered to host them in my apartment. They came, and spent two nights with me.

On the last night, my friend made a comment. He said he couldn’t say my place was like a 5-star hotel. He explained. Saying that would be a disservice to my place, because it was more like a 6 or 7 star hotel!

The following week, a bunch of church youth went to eat at the buffet in Great Neck. I invited everyone over to my place after dinner. Everyone came over, and we just sat around the living room table and talked for hours. And my friend did finally get to see a Yankee game.

The feeling of having my friends over to my place was just a wonderful feeling…like Peter, that night I wished I could have built booths so that they could stay there forever.

Well, there is a point to my story.

And I’ll give it in the form of a question.

What junk are you carrying around with you?

You see, as servants of God, we’re a lot like my new apartment in Great Neck. We dedicate ourselves to God. We are excited at the change to be of service to God. We are filled with potential, with beautiful gifts.

But something within us prevents us from being of service to God? Or something prevents our service from being joyful.

Perhaps it’s something we’ve carried with us for a long time. Something we never quite let go of.

For each of us, it something different.

Perhaps it’s a bad habit. A habit that we never quite let go of. And it still clutters our lives today.

Perhaps it’s an incorrect concept. Maybe there is still a part of ourselves that still believes that money has value. Or that outward appearance has value. Or that human prestige and honor has value. This is all clutter.

In some cases, perhaps we were hurt in the past. Perhaps by someone who was supposed to love us. Perhaps by someone who should have known better. And we never let go of that hurt. Instead, we let it clutter our lives.

So, like my apartment, our lives get filled with clutter. We wish to be of service to God, but we just can’t. Even if we try to, chances are people will get hurt. And we simply feel more burden in our service, and certainly no joy.

What do you do when this happens? When your life is filled with junk?

Well, we know Jesus is the greatest physician.
He is the greatest philosopher.
He was the greatest orator.

But did you know that Jesus is the greatest garbage man? He is the king of the Sanitation Engineers.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28)

Just like those 40 boxes, the clutter in our lives is a heavy burden to bear. For as long as we’ve been carrying it, it’s been taking a heavy cost from us. The longer we’ve lived with it, the heavier it becomes.

Whatever trash you have, one by one, give it to him. How do you do this?

Like I did with the boxes

One by one, go through the junk. Ask yourself..Is this junk I’m carrying with me worth anything?

Perhaps your junk is valuable to someone else, like my useless junk was worth something to others on eBay. In other words, maybe a bad experience you’ve had in the past will help someone else going through the same thing.

But most things will be worthless. In that case, throw them out. Every day, throw something else away. Clear your heart. Just like my apartment had beautiful hardwood floors once the clutter was gone, the same is true of your heart. Once the clutter is gone, you’ll see the beauty of a pure heart, ready for service to God.

I’m happy to say that the apartment is still relatively clean. But keeping the apartment clean is a daily task. It’s so easy to leave a pile of junk mail here, an empty can of soda there, and soon the apartment will be unfit again. So, clearing the clutter is not something you do once and it’s over, it something you do for the rest of your life. But the beautiful thing is, Jesus is always there, waiting for you to take a pile of junk and hand it over to Him. And each time you do that, you’ll find that your heart opens up to being able to be a blessing to many.

—————————————————————————————————-
1.
You have longed for sweet peace, And for faith to increase,
And have earnestly, fervently prayed;
But you cannot have rest, Or be perfectly blest,
Until all on the altar is laid.

Refrain

Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?
Your heart does the Spirit control?
You can only be blest, And have peace and sweet rest,
As you yield Him your body and soul.

2.
Would you walk with the Lord, In the light of His Word,
And have peace and contentment alway?
You must do His sweet will, To be free from all ill,
On the altar your all you must lay.

Refrain

3.
O we never can know What the Lord will bestow
Of the blessings for which we have prayed,
Till our body and soulHe doth fully control,
And our all on the altar is laid.

Refrain

4.
Who can tell all the love He will send from above,
And how happy our hearts will be made,
Of the fellowship sweet We shall share at His feet,
When our all on the altar is laid.

Refrain

Shining the Light: Thoughts on Brighten the Corner Where You Are


Next, I’d like to share a moving story.

No, it’s not a particularly touching story. It’s a story about my recent move…from New Jersey to New York…

I recently moved into a new apartment. Now, it’s been a few years since I’ve moved, so I’d forgotten what the procedure is with regards to electric and gas. But since the electricity was working, I didn’t think too much about it. Until a few days later.

That’s when I came home, and switched on the light. Nothing. I flicked the switch a few more times. Still nothing. Then, a very unpleasant realization came upon me. They’d shut off all the gas and electricity.

I frantically groped my way through the pitch-black room, still filled with moving boxes from my move. Boxes went crashing left and right. I grabbed my cell phone out of my pocket and pressed a button. The light went on for ten seconds and then went out. I pressed the button again. The light went on again. I felt like a lame, modern day version of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Match Girl.

Finally, using the light of the cell phone, I found my way to the closet, and got out the yellow pages. I flipped to the white pages and found the power company. I called the emergency number. Of course, by this time, the battery on my cell phone was almost finished.

After an eternity on hold, a woman answered. Sorry, she said, but due to some recent storms, all the workers were out repairing other things. She told me the earliest date that she could send someone out. It was three days away.

I grudgingly said okay. By this time, the battery indicator on my cell phone was just a sliver. I had this awful sinking feeling that I would be groping blindly for the rest of the night.

Then, a thought occurred to me. I had a little keychain flashlight packed in one of the moving boxes. So, I used what was left of my cell phone light to see so I could open the boxes and look into them, one after another. After searching through several boxes, I finally stumbled across my Sharper Image keychain flashlight. I gave a little cry of victory.

The keychain flashlight was good, but it had too small a beam to really see more than a foot in front of me. So I used that flashlight to open some more boxes. In one of the boxes, I found a big ol’ Eveready flashlight. Four D-Cells of power.

Once I found the Eveready flashlight, I could see more, including the mess I’d just made rummaging through the boxes. Using the Eveready flashlight, I managed to find the mother lode. A drawer full of candles and a gas lighter.

Pretty soon, the room was filled with the scent of apples, and vanilla, and pretty flowers. But more importantly, it was filled with light. I had candles set up around my bedroom, where I could do what I needed to do before calling it a night. As bedtime came, I blew out the candles, and went to sleep. The next morning, the sun came out.

There’s something you hear a lot, even among Christians. Sometimes especially among Christians:

I’m not good enough.

What can I do? I’m just one person.

What difference can one person make?

The funny thing is, I couldn’t have found the candles without the Eveready flashlight, the Eveready flashlight without the keychain flashlight, and the keychain flashlight without the teeny light of the cell phone.

Sometimes in church, we have the wrong concept. We think there are a handful of superstars. The ministers. Maybe the board members. And everyone else is just a bit player.

But the truth is, every single person in the body of Christ has talents given to them from God. Talents which no one else on this earth has. Perhaps all our lives, others have told us that we’re worthless. Or maybe we’ve told it to ourselves. We think we don’t look good, or we don’t talk good, or we don’t have the right education, or we don’t have the right job, and that makes us less valuable as a person.

That’s a lie.

Because this is the truth. You have worth, you are unique in God’s eyes, and you have a unique mission which God has prepared for you. Maybe the mission is to preach the gospel to the world. Or maybe it’s to help one little child get a drink of water. And perhaps, just perhaps that child will grow up and preach the gospel to the world.

In God’s eyes, whatever your mission, if you fufill it, he’ll be ready to welcome you and say “well done”

Remember the story of Naaman in the Bible? It was a little girl who told Naaman about Elisha. Remember the story of the bread and the fishes? It was a little boy who handed his lunch over to the disciples.

If you’re tempted to sell yourself short, remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5:14. You are the light of the world. People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. The purpose of any light is to shine in the darkness. Even the tiniest light can pierce through the darkest darkness.

—————————————————————————————–

1.
Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar,
To the many duties ever near you now be true,
Brighten the corner where you are.

Refrain
Brighten the corner where you are!
Brighten the corner where you are!
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
Brighten the corner where you are!

2.
Just above are clouded skies that you may help to clear,
Let not narrow self your way debar;
Though into one heart alone may fall your song of cheer,
Brighten the corner where you are.

Refrain

3.
Here for all your talent you may surely find a need,
Here reflect the bright and Morning Star;
Even from your humble hand the Bread of Life may feed,
Brighten the corner where you are.

Refrain

Review of God Loves Mommy & Me and God Loves Daddy & Me


This review is for two separate books: God Loves Mommy & Me and God Loves Daddy & Me, both written by Bonnie Ricker Jensen and illustrated by Laura Watkins.

Both books are sturdy board books that are not too big but not too small. The cover is thick padded cardboard and the pages are all cardboard as well. The illustrations for both are beautiful hand-drawn pictures which are sort of a cross between being cartoony and realistic.

God Loves Mommy & Me follows the adventures of a baby bunny and its mother, as the mother leads the bunny collecting flowers, kissing boo-boos, and splashing in the rain. The mother bunny provides encouragement sliding down a slide and forgiveness when the bunny drops something on the floor. The book goes to talk more about love as they play on a swing, hug each other, walk hand-in-hand, pray together, and tuck in for the night.

I love the message of the book, of course, but you need to set the proper expectations before reading it. I was expecting a story, but the book is really a bunch of vignettes without any real narrative. At first I was a little thrown off by this, but when I read it to my toddler not so much as a storybook as much as a book where we could look at each individual page together and talk about each page, pointing out details in each picture and making up a the back story of that particular page, it worked much better. Some of the rhymes are a bit forced, but overall I appreciated the sentiments.

God Loves Daddy & Me is a similar story of a baby and Daddy raccoon. Like the mommy book, the storyline is a bit nonexistent, as the father and baby raccoon jump seemingly randomly from boating outdoors to being inside at bedtime to raking the leaves in the fall. It repeats a lot of the same themes–praying together, hugging, forgiving, and more.

As a dad, I did appreciate that they decided to give “equal time” to Dad in the form of his own book. Too often Dad is relegated to the background in stories that focus on mommy. We live in a world where strong fathers are more needed than ever, and in a lot of ways this book can serve as much as a reminder to the dad as to the child of how important he is.

I’d give both books a solid 4 of 5 stars. Again, they’re not so strong as actual stories with plots to read through, but the illustrations are detailed enough that you and your little one can point out different objects and have a lot of fun with them. My little one was engaged, but not as engaged as she was with other books like those by PJ Lyons and Tim Warnes.

Review of I’m Going to Give You a Bear Hug


I’ve already written in the past about illustrator Tim Warnes’ collaborations with PJ Lyons–Thank You, Lord, For Everything and God Is Watching Over You. These two books became instant classics in our house. They are about as perfect as children’s books can get–a simple but wonderful story, very natural rhymes, and illustrations that are both adorable and engaging.

I’m Going to Give you a Bear Hug, this new collaboration between Tim Warnes as illustrator and bestselling author Caroline B. Coonie  hits it out of the park again. Caroline B. Cooney isn’t the first author I’d think of for a children’s book–she’s probably best known for her young adult suspense, mystery, and romance novels, including The Face on the Milk Carton which sold over 3 million copies.

This book is the furthest thing from the genres Cooney usually writes about–it’s one of the best children’s books I’ve ever read. The book starts out with the simple phrase told by a mother to her son, “I’m going to give you a bear hug–a good night, sleep tight, way beyond compare hug”, ending with a picture of a giant fluffy bear hugging the child. The book then goes through a series of other animals–a dog, a cat, a horse, a duck, a pig, a fish, a whale, a bug, a sheep and talks about how she’s going to give her child a hug with all the best qualities of those animals. The last few pages take it back to the bear, and end on a sweet note of the mother tucking her child into bed.

It’s a phenomenal bedtime book, but so much more. The writing is stellar, with rhymes that are as beautfully artistic as they are simple. And the illustrations are so adorable you want to reach through the pages and hug the animals too. It’s a book you can’t help but look at and smile.

This book on the short list of one of the sweetest children’s books I’ve ever read. It’s one I’ll definitely be keeping at the front of my shelf.

 

Review of The Jesus Bible


Casual readers of the Bible may think that Jesus Christ is only relevant to four out of the 66 books. The truth, of course, is that the presence of Jesus Christ can be seen throughout every book of the Bible. And not just in a passive, symbolic sense, but in a real, active way. Recall at the end of the book of Luke how Jesus explained to the men all that was written about him in all the Scripture, starting from Moses and all the Prophets.

Most of us would have given anything to have been a fly on the wall on that Road to Emmaus. But in many ways, The Jesus Bible is in many ways an attempt to recreate what would have been in conversation. It’s a full text NIV Bible that’s annotate throughout with notes and commentary about how each particular book relates to Jesus.

Each Bible book is given a nickname that summarizes what the book says about Jesus. The book of Judges is subtitled “Jesus: Our Righteous Ruler”. 1 Chronicles is subtitled “Jesus: Our Perfect Restorer”. Jeremiah is called “Jesus: Our New Covenant”. And so on. Starting out each book is a page or two of introduction that provides the historical background of the book, but also further explains how Jesus fits into the book. Throughout the pages of each book you’ll find short commentary about certain passages that explain more about them, and how they too relate to the truth of Jesus Christ.

Familiar names such as Max Lucado and Ravi Zacharias contributed to the articles. At first when I heard this I rolled my eyes, thinking that this was yet another one of those hastily thrown-together Bibles that took things that had been written separately by various authors, repurposed or copied them, and called it “Bible Commentary”. But to the editors’ credit, it looks like all these authors’ contributions were written specifically for this Bible. The authors’ bylines aren’t even very obvious which says to me that they made a deliberate effort to make this a unique, cohesive, unified title.

The book itself, not surprisingly given that Zondervan is its publisher, is a beautiful, solid edition. The hard cover has a sturdy, canvas feel and the pages are thin but not so thin that they’ll rip after every turn. The text is small, but readable, and the words don’t bleed over to the other side.

Coincidentally, just this morning I was listening to a YouTube video from Rear Admiral Barry Black, the current Senate Chaplain since 2003. He have this sermon at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast.

The sermon is worth a listen. What struck me the most is that in this world of political correctness, he didn’t hesitate to proclaim the name of Jesus, even with decidedly non-Christian dignitaries in the audience. It’s around the 23:10 minute mark that he starts to talk about his own journey in seeking out the Jesus mentioned throughout the scriptures.

Overall, I give this Bible a thumbs-up. Unlike other specialty Bibles which seem like they’re just thrown together from random sources to try to make another buck, this one seems well thought-out and assembled, and is surely something that’ll help in bringing you closer to understanding Jesus.