September 11, 2018

Review: Susie (The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon)

Moody Publishers provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. 

So much has been written about Charles Spurgeon that it's surprising that more attention has not been given to his wife, Susannah. Though often parted due to ministry or health issues, the love between Charles and Susie preserved a bond of oneness that, undergirded by their love of Christ, anchored them during difficult times. This anchoring allowed Charles Spurgeon, prince of preachers, to have a ministry of great breadth and depth, and it's impossible to separate the man and his ministry from his bride and helpmeet. This is made clear in Susie: the Life of Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes.

As a pastor's wife, I was interested to read about the life of the woman married to one of the most celebrated pastors of the last 200 years. I expected to be informed and even encouraged, but I also came away challenged and convicted.

Susie had a passionate love for Charles (and he for her), and this is made clear through their letters to one another. In one, Susie responds to a letter from her husband, who was low at the time, "Words are but cold dishes on which to serve up thoughts and feelings which come warm and glowing from the heart." She follows this with encouragement to persevere in his ministry, even in the midst of public criticism. Susie recognized that she could provide a counter by "...quenching their fiery darts most easily with the shield of domestic love." Through this love, she graciously reminded him of a greater truth: "Do remember, dear friend, that the God you love, the Master you serve, is never indifferent to your grief, or unwilling to hear your cry."

These were not empty platitudes for Susie. She faced her own trials in the form of ongoing, disabling illness with this same truth, declaring, "Yet how good God has been to me! He has upheld me thorugh days of darkness, and seasons of sorrow, of which none knew but Himself and my own soul."

Susie also had a passion for equipping pastors for their work, and Charles encouraged her in this. The book details the remarkable start and growth of her Book Fund, which distributed 200,000 books to needy pastors over twenty-eight years. She oversaw every detail of this work, selecting each book with care, evaluating each request with a discerning eye, and personally corresponding with each recipient--all while dealing with her own physical limitations. After the death of her beloved husband, the Lord used this very ministry to console her in her deep sorrow.

As the wife of a celebrity pastor of that day, Susie found herself with a platform of her own. In our time, she may have been a blogger and more prolific author; in her own time, she transparently expressed her dependence on God during her own trials through letters, articles, and a handful of books. She never denied the grief, pain, or weariness that she experienced, but used it to point toward the sufficiency of Christ to sustain her. In her writing, she was most concerned with the image of Christ that she portrayed, and she shared undiluted truth in a most winsome way. Without the concern of hitting a bestseller list or building a large blog following, she simply spoke the truth in love.

Susie is a most comprehensive biography, and I learned much about Charles as well as his bride. It encouraged me anew in ways to come alongside my pastor husband to love and encourage him, as well as to pursue serving others with my own gifts. As the author (a friend of mine) is a great promoter of both marital and ministry joy, I can guess this was one of his hopes for his readers!


September 5, 2018

Review: Devoted (Great Men and Their Godly Moms)

Cruciform Press provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. 

One of the hardest roles I've ever held is that of mother. It's truly a case of on-the-job training. And because it's so hands-on, I have tended to focus on the practical day-to-day aspects of mothering. Now that my kids are young adults (though not all launched), it's a whole new ballgame.

With that in mind, I was so encouraged to read Devoted: Great Men and Their Godly Moms by Tim Challies. This little book is a compilation of blogposts about the mothers of eleven men (some you'll know, some you may not). I appreciated that the author invited Melissa Edgington to write "A Mother's Reflection" in response to each biography. She also teamed up with Rebecca Stark to write "questions for reflection" at the end of each chapter.

Challies introduces the book this way:
History tells of women whose love for the Bible shaped its earliest and most prominent teachers, and women whose unceasing prayers led to the long-awaited salvation of their wayward sons. It tells of women who were great theologians in their own right, yet whose only students were their own children. It tells of women who laid an early foundation in the lives of their sons that, despite their best efforts, they could never undermine. It tells, time and time again, of exceptional Christian men who owe so much to their godly mothers.
I gleaned so many lessons from the lives of these women.
  • Don't assume children are too young to learn important spiritual truths, or that they are too young for church to matter. Give them the opportunity to build a biblical foundation from an early age -- and be sure you're building that foundation in your own life (from John Newton's mother).
  • When your children, especially adult children, are unbelievers, "often the best ministry. . . is the minstry they will never see -- private, faith-filled, daily prayers in the closet." This ministry is fueled by "daily renewal in God's Word" (from Christopher Yuan's mother)
  • A deep relationship with Christ, strengthened through "years of prayer, study, ministry, and the development of a biblical worldview" will enable me to respond to heartache with faith, perseverence, and trust (from William Borden's mother).
  • "[God] uses ordinary mothers to carry out his purposes" (from John Piper's mother). 
  • While children are young, plead with God for their salvation . . . right in front of them (Charles Spurgeon's mother).
  • Respond to rebellion with earnest prayer (from Augustine's mother).
Some of these mothers were consistent in their faith, others were weaker, yet God saw fit to use each in her own way to spiritual impact her son. This, too, was encouraging to me.

I highly recommend this book. It not only makes for great devotional reading, it would also be a good small group (such as a book club) choice, with great application and discussion question already prepared.





April 23, 2017

Adversity


Some of the women from church have been discussing Jerry Bridges' classic work, Trusting God. I was first introduced to this book years ago, and it was (and continues to be) very helpful in helping me understand God's sovereignty.

This is one of many, many quotes I've marked in my book. It was worth sharing, and I had a few extra minutes this morning (as I'm home with my sick hubby). Read the book, often.

January 27, 2017

Analog vs Digital (or How I Use a Bullet Journal)



This post contains affiliate links.


The author of one of my favorite e-newsletters recently confessed that she's struggling in her attempted transition to using a bullet journal. I've experienced a similar struggle over the past couple of years; in fact, last year I attempted to go full-on digital*. And failed.

My search for the perfect calendar/project system began in high school (nerd alert!) when I became yearbook co-editor. A few years later, my employer brought in a time management expert to teach us how to use the system he'd developed, and I was hooked. Over the years, I experimented with other systems, finally coming up with a funky hybrid that worked well for me... at least at the office. Once I came home to work, all bets were off.

When I started homeschooling, I knew that my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach just wasn't going to cut it. A wise woman recommended this book (sadly, no longer in print) and, while her unit approach to homeschooling wasn't for me, her home/task organization tips and charts saved my sanity, especially when my kids were younger.

Years went by, I drifted through various planners and systems... then I discovered the bullet journal idea. It's a big idea, because it's completely customizable. It doesn't require a huge financial investment, and it can flex as I go. And while I'm pretty good at making lists and adding things to my calendar, I did find one weakness in my use of a Bullet Journal: me, or rather me sometimes forgetting to check it and letting things fall through the cracks. And that's what led me to try to go full analog with Todoist and Cozi last year. But there was just one problem. I'm more of an analog person. I enjoy writing things down, turning pages, seeing what a previous day or month looked like.

Besides those things, the biggest reason I stuck with the bullet journal is just the ability to keep all those stinking lists I write in one place. Good things that happen can be telegraphed onto a monthly or daily page, but I can also add a little more info on a journal or gratitude page, if I want. That list of books I want to read or need to review is easy to include, and I love seeing things get checked off. Random quotes, snippets of poetry, blog post ideas, prayer requests, inspiration, hostess notes -- there's a logical way to fit it all in. I can make it mine.

This year, my plan has morphed into an analog/digital hybrid (and we'll see how that goes). I use my bullet journal for the basics, such as the monthly calendar page and daily to do lists. But I also use the reminder app on my phone for time sensitive things (like "finish taxes once and for all" or "give dog monthly meds" or if I'm out and about and need a quick brain dump (because I usually think of things I need to do at exactly the moment I cannot do them). I use Trello for projects that relate to internet resources. And I'm wholly devoted to the Cozi app for our family calendar and quick shopping lists.

Here's another confession: at some point, I got a bit sidetracked by all the overwhelmingly pretty and creative bullet journals out there on Instagram and Pinterest. Look, that's fine for some, but most of the time, it's all I can do to keep things legible, much less beautiful. So I've decided to save my creativity for things I want to see and share -- encouraging words on index cards for my family, favorite quotes on my chalkboard wall, handwritten notes to friends. 
So here's my encouragement to the struggling e-newsletter author: 
...give a try for a couple of months, but make it yours. That's the beauty of the whole thing. Let it be a tool to help you live the life you want to live, to free you to use your gifts, to serve God and others, and to just be able to think. And as I re-read those last sentences, I think to myself, "There's a life lesson in there, even beyond my bullet journal."


*This book prompted my analog attempt; while the digital approach didn't work for me, the principles set forth in this book are still foundational in my current analog/hybrid approach.



January 7, 2017

Don't Waste Your Snow Sunday



I originally posted this January 23, 2016, but have made a few updates for this posting in 2017.



Our church has cancelled tomorrow's church activities, thanks to Winter Storm Jonas (in 2017, it's Winter Storm Helena). I'm reminded of a time when our oldest was about eight years old. We were staying home from church (due to some complications in my pregnancy), and Jeff told Christopher on Saturday night that we were going to have church at home the next day. When Jeff and I came out to the living room that Sunday morning, we discovered that our son had built a small pulpit out of boxes and books, had selected some songs for us to sing, and had even hand-written bulletins for us! He had a very definite idea of what church should look like!



As I'm sure many of you will be kept home, too, it seemed like a good time to share some ideas for worshiping at home when you are prevented from meeting together (Hebrews 10:23-25). You won't need hand-written bulletins and a make-shift pulpit for any of these, but I have included some links that might be helpful.
  1. Listen to (or watch) one of your own church's previous sermons. There may be one you missed while serving in the nursery, traveling over the summer or holidays, or home with a sick child. Or there may be a favorite you'd like to chew on a bit more. For those at my church, a few recommendations might be The Real Grinch of Christmas (only 28 minutes!), Walking Worthy, or Putting on an Honest Intimacy. Tip: Find at least one take-away for your family to encourage one another in throughout the week.
  2. Watch another church's live-streamed service. This allows you to see the full service, not simply the sermon. You can still participate to a limited degree, and it's a great opportunity to work with young children on church etiquette. Faith Bible Church and Grace Community Church both offer live-streaming of their services, and you can be certain of God-honoring worship and a sound biblical sermon. Tip: Some live-streaming requires you to set up an account prior to watching. Be sure to check on this prior to the service time to avoid being delayed.
  3. Watch (or listen to) a previously recorded sermon from a church other than your own. Both Faith Bible and Grace Community have sermon video available; you can also find audio via their websites or podcasts. Other messages I'd recommend include If God is for Us, Who Can be Against Us? by Don Whitney, and The Church: The Beginning and End of Missions by Thabiti Anyabwile. Tip: Take a few notes to help prompt some discussion afterward.
  4. Read aloud to your family, and talk about what you read. Whether you read a portion of Scripture (maybe from the book your pastor is preaching through), or a book that has encouraged you in your own walk of faith, or a missionary biography (some of these are free to download) share it with your family. Tip: Read enthusiastically -- you and your family will enjoy it more.
  5. Sing together. Find some favorite songs and worship together! If you grew up singing hymns, but your kids aren't as familiar with hymns, this is a great time to introduce them to some solid, time-tested favorites . Or, if you're not as familiar with some of the newer music your church sings, now's your chance to practice together. Maybe there's a song that particularly reminds you of the gospel (In Christ Alone, anyone?); this is a wonderful time to sing it together and discuss its truths with your family. Tip: You don't have to be musically or vocally gifted to do this. Singing together karaoke-style is fine!
  6. Pray together. Really pray together. Tip: Tim Challies shares some wisdom from John Piper about how to pray, and I believe this would be helpful for families praying together.
  7. Enjoy this unique time with your family. Whatever you decide to do, relax and have joy in it. Tip: Remember that the word worship literally means worthness (not workness!). 
 I'd love to hear how your family has worshiped together during times when you've been hindered from going to church. Please share in the comments!






Photo: AnnaKate took this photo of Bella two years ago during an unusual snow event in Middle Georgia. This is pretty much representative of Bella's attitude about the snow, which contrasts sharply with my own.

October 30, 2016

Review: Martin Luther






Cross Focused Reviews provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review; however, the views stated here are my own. This review has also been posted on Amazon.com and Goodreads. This post contains affiliate links. 


Martin Luther, Simonetta Carr's latest addition to the Christian Biographies for Young Readers, tells the story of Luther's life and the beginning of the Reformation in a brief and attractive format. Don't be deceived by the series title, though. While the book is written to engage young readers, I found myself drawn into Luther's story -- even through much of it was familiar to me! I also appreciated learning more about his post-95-theses work, when he focused on providing biblical education.

While Carr's writing style drops you right into Luther's life, Troy Howell's beautiful illustrations help set the mood and tone of the time period. Original paintings and engravings of the people and region complement the storytelling, as well.

While not all of Luther's writings are exemplary (and Carr makes this clear when appropriate), his courage and conviction in learning and upholding the truth during a time of persecution can be a great encouragement to us, even in our own increasingly-difficult times.

As we look toward celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, this book provides a great launching point. I recommend this book as a great addition to the reading libraries of families, churches, and schools alike.



{You may also be interested in my review of John Knox from the same series. Many of the general comments made there apply to this book, as well!}


Review: Christ All Sufficient




"Through the power of the gospel and the work of the Spirit, we are being restored to our humanity. The gospel makes us fully alive, fully ourselves. By God's grace, we are becoming human again."
Brian Hedges

Over the past year, my pastor has been teaching through Colossians. It's been a much-discussed epistle in our home for years (in case you don't know, I happen to be married to my pastor), but hearing these verse-by-verse messages has been so helpful. When I learned that Brian Hedges had recently published a new commentary on Colossians, Christ All Sufficient: An Exposition of Colossians, I looked forward to reading it. You see, I read (and reviewed) Hedges' book, Active Spirituality, a couple of years ago and found it very helpful.


I'm no Bible scholar. I have no seminary training and do not know the biblical languages. As a Christian, however, I am a student of the Bible. For all of these reasons, I appreciate that this commentary is easily accessible to believers at all stages. Hedges admittedly draws from sermons he prepared for his own congregation, as well as the scholarship of others who have influenced him along the way. These roots make the book readable, while providing stepping stones to further reading, if desired.

For me, the book was strengthened by the clear illustrations of theological truths that were included. Some of these are timeless, others are currently more culturally relevant, all were helpful. I also appreciated the inclusion of oft-forgotten hymns that teach the truths of Scripture.

Christ All Sufficient provides clarity on the meaning of Colossians, but goes even further by providing challenging application, as well. This makes the book more than a resource for teachers of the Word, but not less than that. Throughout the book, Hedges reminds the reader of Paul's main purpose in writing this letter:

With every stroke of the pen, Colossians proclaims, "Christ is supreme! Christ is sufficient! If you have him, you have all you need!"

I requested and received a copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.