Dashing Knights and Fair Damsels: School Curriculum 2017-2018 Part 1

20180120_121541Viking raiders, daring knights, and damsels in distress—it’s the stuff of medieval legends. Making our way through a four-year tour of chronological world history, we’ve found ourselves in the Middle Ages this year. From St. Patrick to John Huss, King Alfred the Great to Joan of Arc, this time period holds many captivating stories.

We’re using The Mystery of History series by Linda Lacour Hobar. This year we’re in Volume II: The Early Church and the Middle Ages.

I enjoy this series because it covers much more than western history. This year we get to learn about the Maori in New Zealand, famous emperors and empresses of China, the great Zimbabwe of Africa, the Samurai of Japan, etc., right alongside classic western history. It’s fascinating to learn that about the same time as Leif Ericsson was discovering America, a great civilization was arising in Zimbabwe. Did you know that about the same time the Inkan empire was emerging in South America, the Turks were engaged in the conquests that would establish the Ottoman empire?

It’s captivating to watch all the pieces fit into the story together. And through it all, Hobar points to God’s sovereign plan through history in the lives and events of man and time.

Volume II contains 84 lessons, and begins in the year A.D. 33 with the disciples at Pentecost, ending in 1456 with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. The text for each lesson is usually 2-3 full textbook pages in length. This year I bought the set on CD so that we could listen to the lessons while we’re eating breakfast. (I love this option and wish I had taken advantage of it the first year!)

Hobar provides the teacher with lots and lots of extras. She stresses that there is no reason to try to do everything she suggests. Pick and choose. (Volumes I and II both contain the text and all the extra resources and activities in one book. Volumes III and IV each include a set of books which can be purchased separately or together.) I didn’t actually make a lot of use of the “extras” this year, but I’ll run through them so that you have some idea what the program offers.

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She suggests doing a timeline and explains how to make the figures for it. The first year we made a timeline, but I bought pre-made figures to save time. It still felt like a good bit of work and with the kids being quite young I wasn’t sure that it was worth the extra effort. So we didn’t do a timeline this year, although when the kids get older I want to have them do something at least similar.

Then there are the memory cards. Each week, a few sentences summing up people and events from the lessons are written on a card and periodically reviewed. Again, I did this the first year, and got lazy on the second. I’ll wait till the kids can write out the cards for themselves. ;p

A student notebook, divided into sections by continent, is kept so that work pertaining to the lessons can be filed under the appropriate geographical sections. 20180120_120740

Her lessons include map work (all maps and templates for projects are included in the back), and we did a little bit the first year, but I decided to wait on that this year until they’re a little older. For now, I toss them an inflatable globe and we find the country we’re studying on the globe and/or map each morning.

For activities, each lesson is followed by one or more suggestions under three different categories corresponding with different age groups: younger, middle, and older students (this program can be adapted for use for 1st grade through 12th grade).

For example, after reading about the great Zimbabwe of Africa, younger students might go on a gold hunt or play gongs; middle students might visit a local craft shop, buy glass beads and string them together in honor of this ancient African tradition, or find and photocopy of picture of Victoria Falls and file them in the student notebook; and older students might research African countries and write about their basic facts (type of government, capital city, population, language, religion,). etc.). 20180120_121726

Then there are plenty of tests, quizzes, crossword puzzles—you name it. This woman has thought of everything. It would be overwhelming to try to use all of it, so you customize the program for your own family’s use.  20180120_121643

After listening to the lesson in the morning I usually try to find a brief documentary clip (or on rare occasion a full one), or even a cartoon short that sums up the story again. Just by doing a search on YouTube I can usually find something—I’ll put in the name of the person or event followed by “for kids” (you’ll see as I do this series of posts that YouTube is my best homeschooling friend, lol). You can find plenty of History Channel videos and other similar documentaries. 20171213_091806

One channel I like is Extra History (from Extra Credits): bright, peppy summaries of historical events in a sort of fast-paced, comic-book style. The overviews are really pretty good. These aren’t necessarily geared toward children, but my kids really liked the videos. 20171213_091706If we’re studying a particular country, I turn to the National Geographic Kids channel “Are We There Yet?” series: seven-minute overviews of the land and culture of a country from the perspective of kids.

When we were studying ancient history last school year and going through Bible history, a really good channel I stumbled onto was The Bible Project, which gives very solid and succinct outlines of books of the Bible, summarizing their message with personal application in 5-12 minutes’ time.

Here’s an article listing geography and history channels for elementary students on YouTube.

With the exception of The Bible Project, I can’t vouch for the appropriateness of the content of all the videos of these channels, so view with your kids at your own discretion. 😉

For a hands-on activity we’ve been using the Famous Figures series by Cathy Diez-Luckie. Each book contains 10 to 19 historical figures to cut out and put together. At the front of the book there is a short biographical section for each character, and then there are two sets of each figure printed on heavy cardstock: one in full color, and one in black and white which the student can color (we’ve just been using the colorized version). The costumes are carefully researched and historically accurate, so this is a very nice addition to a history program. 20180120_12132920180120_121254

After cutting out the pieces you attach them together with brads so that you now have a moveable figure. The kids play with them like puppets. The Famous Figures of Medieval Times include Justinian I, Theodora, Charlemagne, Leif Eriksson, William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionheart, Genghis Khan, Francis of Assisi, Marco Polo, and Joan of Arc.

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We couldn’t study medieval times without making a castle, so I bought Easy-to-Make Castle by A. G. Smith and we cut out, folded, and glued the pieces to make our own cardstock castle (or rather, we all cut them out and I folded and glued them together). 🙂 20180120_121203

Dover Publications makes some very accurate, detailed, and informative historical coloring books. I bought Medieval Jousts and Tournaments and Life in Celtic Times, thinking the kids could color in them while they listened to the lessons. But we ended up listening to the CDs during breakfast so I had to find other times to use the books here and there. (Note: in Life in Celtic Times there was a page depicting gruesome religious practices that I chose to remove.)  20180120_121039

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Okay, that all sounds very time-consuming, but really I’ve just kept it pretty simple this year. This is what our basic history time looks like Monday through Wednesday:

We listen to the lesson during breakfast.

We find the country the story is about or takes place in on a globe and/or map.

We watch a brief video (if I can find one; also, last year we would briefly “re-enact” a scene together).

Throughout the week during our reading time (when we read storybooks, poems, etc.) I will sometimes include a book from the library on something that corresponds with our history subject.

And that’s pretty much it.

I don’t really do anything for history on Thursdays, but on Fridays we may cut out a character from Famous Figures. Haven’t done any full documentaries in awhile, but I try to schedule these for Fridays if we’re going to watch one.

And—oh, did I forget to mention History Day?

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Every once in awhile we do a themed “History Day” just for fun. We drop our other subjects for the day and do activities, read books, make projects, and even watch movies that have to do with our theme. Last year we had a history day with an ancient Egyptian theme: the kids dressed up and had a “feast” on the floor with some traditional Egyptian foods, reclining on cushions while listening to ancient Egyptian music (thank you, YouTube), etc.

This year we had a medieval-themed day. The kids dressed up, we read/looked through lots of books of castles and knights (from the library), cut out and made our castle, listened to medieval-style music (again, thank you, YouTube), had an archery contest with homemade bows that Cliff had made for the kids, read the story of Robin Hood, and to top it off they got to watch a cheesy old medieval movie: Prince Valiant.20170929_161446 20170929_160221

More for fun than for historical accuracy or academic value, History Day is still a hit in our family.

But as some say, “Play is the highest form of research.” 😉

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The Fear of the Lord: To Please…or to Appease?

In my daily Bible reading this week, a story in 2 Kings 17 seemed to leap off the page at me. Some years ago I went through a time of being challenged by the concept of the fear of the Lord. How to understand, define, and embrace the biblical fear of the Lord in a culture that sees all fear as “bad”—this was the problem.

This story provides some very probing insights and raises thoughtful questions concerning our own understanding of the fear of God and what that looks like in our personal lives.

So here’s how it goes:

The king of Assyria captures Samaria and removes the Israelites (ten tribes) from their land, replacing them with men from other countries (Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim). This is now a very mixed lot of men as far as religious beliefs are concerned; we’re talking quite the hodge-podge collection of idols—and a visit to Samaria would provide quite the multi-cultural experience. Despite their differences, they apparently manage to get on together just fine.

Then disaster strikes.

“And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the Lord: therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which slew some of them” (vs. 25).

This calls for action. The first thing they do is hit up the king who coordinated this poorly-planned relocation project: “Hey, we’ve got problems. We don’t know anything about the God of the land you’ve just dumped us in and apparently He’s not happy with us.”

The king, being the handy problem-solver that he is, snaps his fingers and says, “Don’t sweat it, I’ve got you covered. I’m sending one of the priests of the people I removed. He should know something about appeasing that strange God.”

Cool. They’ll wait. But in the meantime life insurance premiums are rising…

Soon after the Israelite priest arrives he teaches them “how they should fear the Lord” (vs. 28). What a relief. Now they can continue to safely worship their own gods while offering a sacrifice to the Israelite God now and then.

Because that’s exactly what they do.

So they feared the Lord, and made unto themselves of the lowest of them priests of the high places, which sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places. They feared the Lord, and served their own gods… (vvs. 32-33).

Talk about syncretism. These people are literally offering sacrifices to God while burning their children in fire to Adrammalech and Anammalech (vvs. 29-31)!

So that’s the puzzling story of the settlers of Samaria. But what appears to be a contradiction arises in this passage. Verse 34 tells us “Unto this day they do after the former manners: they fear not the Lord…” and verse 41 says “So these nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images…so do they unto this day.”

They “fear not” the Lord to this day. And they “feared” the Lord to this day.

Isn’t this a contradiction?

Not if we’re talking about two very different kinds of fear.

These people had a good case of the collywobbles: a knock-kneed, pee-your-pants paranoia of a powerful God of wrath. They had no desire to know Him or please Him, they simply wanted to appease Him. They knew He was big. They knew He was powerful. They had no intention of actually serving Him, but He was scary to them so they needed to find some way to appease this foreign Deity. Ordaining a paltry handful of low-life characters from the seedy side of town to go through the motions of offering a few meaningless sacrifices to this burdensome but nevertheless scary God—that would do the trick.

Like a charm…which was literally all they were looking for: a charm to “keep the spirits away.” And lions. Lions too.

And that was the extent of their “fear” of God.

Solomon tells us that the biblical fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Proverbs 8:13 says, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil…” To hate sin and turn from it is the fear of the Lord. Those who fear the Lord are exhorted to trust in the Lord: these two things (fear and trust) are not considered mutually incompatible, but rather complimentary when taken in their biblical sense (Psalm 115:11). The biblical fear of God actually frees us from the fear of man and circumstance—destructive fears in our lives.

Many have a fear of God that is not biblical. Because they entertain a “fear” of Him that does not engender faith and trust in Him, they seek to reform some of their actions or to offer Him some vestiges of “service” in order to “appease” Him, so that they might continue on with their lives as they see fit. Or they may be genuinely “scared” of God, and feel that they cannot approach Him, but it’s the wrong kind of fear altogether and does not produce the fruit of holiness in their lives.

Those who fear the Lord with a biblical fear delight in Him, trust Him, and seek to please, not appease Him. They are not paranoid of the wrath of God: they know that’s been satisfied in Christ, having already been poured out on Him. They know God is big and not One to be trifled with, and they serve Him in reverence (see Hebrews 12:28-29, 1 Peter 1:13-21). But their fear of God draws them closer to Him, rather than pushing them away from Him into a corner where they cower in the shadows, afraid to approach Him. I’ve come to believe that this is the defining difference between a biblical fear of the Lord and its fraudulent counterpart.

In a world where people are awakening to the widespread reality of the fear and abuse that many individuals in destructive relationships experience everyday, the very concept of the “fear of the Lord” has gained a bad rap. God is a God of love. Why would He want us to fear Him? Isn’t that abusive and legalistic?

The problem is that our concept of fear is often viewed through broken, twisted, human experience—or knowledge of human experience. When a man seeks to abusively control his wife or children he employs fear to scare them into bowing to his will. He controls them with it. The fear they have for him is not a reverent one. They do not willingly submit to him because they respect and love him; they submit because (for the moment at least) he’s bigger and stronger—and meaner—than they are.

This is a fear from hell, not from God; it’s not the kind of fear He seeks from His people. He seeks a love that is characterized by deep reverence for Who He is: He’s not a teddy bear, a “pet,” or a grandfather figure handing out candy; He’s the holy God of the Universe. C. S. Lewis had it right:

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“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh,” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”

—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Do we love and reverence this great King, this Lion of the tribe of Judah? Does our fear of Him cause us to draw near Him or to shy away from Him? Does it cause us to walk in holiness or to begrudgingly go through the motions of religion? Do we seek to please Him or to feel we must appease Him? Do we trust Him and find our peace and joy in Him, or do we cower like a beggar in His presence? When we are in sin, does our fear of Him lead us to repentance or to sulk in perpetual guilt?

The nations inhabiting Samaria feared God with a disdainful, irreverent, cowardly fear. They did not fear Him with a biblical fear. Their fear was the same kind of fear enemies—not friends—of a king may have.

Does our fear of God more resemble that of the heathens, or of His own dear children for whom He sent His Son to suffer and die?

2017 Book List

Happy New Year!  It’s 2018!

Here’s my annual recap of books our family read the last twelve months. You may notice that my reading list for this last year includes mostly children’s books. In tallying it up I realized that, besides the Bible and miscellaneous books I’ve started but haven’t finished yet, I’ve only actually completed five books for myself this year.

Oh well. The kids and I covered quite a bit of ground in the children’s department—I’m sure they’re satisfied with my lopsided reading list. 😉

The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace. Both doctrinal and practical teachings on the role of the wife. Peace encourages women to focus on the Lord and His gospel in their marriages, doing all that they do as unto Him, rather than for selfish gain.

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Whether her husband is a faithful Christian man or an unbeliever, God wants every Christian woman to be a godly wife—an excellent wife.

The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders by Gregg L. Frazer. Dr. Frazer is professor of history and political studies at The Master’s College (I was briefly in correspondence with him concerning my own manuscript). I first read an article he had written in an issue of Answers in Genesis several years ago. I was rather shocked then—and pleasantly surprised—to find a major Christian publication conveying a view as unpopular—but historically sound—as Frazer’s.

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His book is excellent. He delves into the multidimensional nuances of the Founding Fathers’ key political and religious beliefs in a way I’ve not seen done by anyone else. Taking neither the position of the secularists—who claim the Founders were deists, and deny any serious religious influence—nor the position of the “Christian America” advocates, who have romanticized the Founding era and misrepresented the Founders’ true beliefs—Frazer brings sanity to the debate, illuminating the theistic rationalism of the key Founders of this country. He then explains how this theistic rationalism (which had its focus on moralism and avoided theology) became the basis for the American civil religion—a “God and Country” sort of “Christianity,” focused on patriotism and moralism. Every American should read this.

Both the secular and Christian America schools of thought, then, are warmly received by their intended audiences. Consequently, there is little motivation to investigate the evidence and to make an independent analysis. This book presents the results of such an independent analysis and finds both views wanting.

Anthem by Ayn Rand. This was a short and interesting read. A story written in poetic form, it decries collectivism and exalts individualism. From a political standpoint, I share Rand’s perspective on many things. However, we take two vastly different philosophical paths to arrive at similar political conclusions. Rand sees man as God, which is her ultimate argument for individualism. She sees life as being an ode, an anthem, to the ego of man; everything revolves around man the creature. Rand was a very libertarian-minded thinker, but she rejected God and therefore had no objective basis for morality. Her life philosophy was tainted accordingly—and this creaturely pride profusely bleeds through Anthem.

And as we all undress at night, in the dim light of the candles, our brothers are silent, for they dare not speak the thoughts of their minds. For all must agree with all, and they cannot know if their thoughts are the thoughts of all, and so they fear to speak.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. A classic tale of censorship. The job of Guy Montag and his fellow firemen is to start fires—not put them out. Shooting kerosene through their hoses instead of water, they burn down houses that contain books (all but comic books, sex magazines, and trade journals are banned). Minorities might be offended by certain books, and man must be kept happy, distracted from what his government is doing. Intellectualism is a dirty word. The populace must keep themselves busy with pleasures and distractions, with sports and entertainment, but must never think, for thinking is dangerous—and might offend someone. (Note: there’s a fair bit of language.) 

…We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?…”

The Fallacy Detective by Nathanaiel and Hans Bluedorn. Fun book from the homeschooled Bluedorn brothers! Using simple language and many humorous illustrations, Nathaniel and Hans explain the basic forms of bad reasoning and logical fallacies. This is a book I intended to get my kids when they were older (recommended for ages 13 through adult), but when I found a used copy one day for $4, I nabbed it and read it myself. This will be fun to go through as a family—each short lesson has lots of discussion questions (there are 36 lessons in all). I’m thinking this might be a great book for family dinner-time table-talk someday. 😉

Order a copy for your family before these books disappear off the shelves! No parent pursuing the highest standards of academic attainment for their child would be without this book! The study of logic is an ancient and honored tradition!

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Oh wait…did I just make use of propaganda techniques like “exigency,” “snob appeal,” and “appeal to tradition”…?

Torturer: “You are a heretic. You can’t prove that you aren’t one, so you are a heretic. Confess, or we will stretch your body out until you are a foot taller.”

Accused: “Ha, you did it—you committed a fallacy! I learned all about it in a book called The Fallacy Detective.”

Torturer: “That’s enough cheek out of you. Brutus, give the wheel another turn.”

So that’s about the extent of my personal reading this year. Here follows the list of children’s books the kids and I went through together:

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’ Dell. A classic children’s tale of a female “Robinson Crusoe,” marooned on an island for many years after her people left. This is actually based on a true story. The kids found it fascinating.

Until that summer, I had kept count of all the moons since the time my brother and I were alone on the island. For each one that came and went I cut a mark in a pole beside the door of my house. There were many marks, from the roof to the floor. But after that summer I did not cut them anymore. The passing of the moons now had come to mean little, and I only made marks to count the four seasons of the year. The last year I did not count those.

Missionary Stories with the Millers by Mildred A. Martin. A collection of true, exciting stories about Christian missionaries. I read this book to the kids; Bri could hardly stand for me to put it down, lol. I read it first as a young teenager, and I remember it making a profound impression on me; it really strengthened my own faith. It’s written by a Mennonite, but only a few of the stories are about Mennonite missionaries.

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The featured missionaries include such well-known men and women as David Livingston, Hudson Taylor, and Amy Carmichael, as well as less-known figures such as Alvin Frey, Jack McGuckin, and August Eicher. Twenty-nine stories in total.

Lying motionless, he waited for another bullet, but none came. “If I keep still, they may think I am dead already,” Gary thought with sudden hope. Eyes closed, he listened alertly. Yes, the voices of the attacking guerrillas were fading in the distance as they trooped off up the trail!

Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne. A charming collection of sundry poems written by the author who created the Winnie the Pooh stories and all their memorable characters. Both of my kids enjoyed this book.

When I was one,

I had just begun.

When I was two,

I was nearly new.

When I was three,

I was hardly me…

The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter by Beatrix Potter. In this book, we made our way through all the tales we had not previously read together by individual chapter books. From Peter Rabbit and farmer MacGregor to little Pig Robinson, Potter’s entire collection of stories was here, including those she never published/released to the public during her lifetime. Obviously an avid lover of nature, her quaint little animal characters and their stories often highlight simple moral lessons.

Jemima Puddle-duck was a simpleton: not even the mention of sage and onions made her suspicious.

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. Of life, of love, of beauty, this is the classic tale of a friendship between a spider and pig. After we read the book together, the kids watched both the movie and the old classic cartoon.

You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

Stuart Little by E. B. White. This rambling and humorously outrageous tale about a mouse named Stuart (pardon me, he only looked very much like a mouse in every way), was written by the author of Charlotte’s Web. The ending was so abrupt that when I turned the last page and announced the story was over, Brianna gave me a dumbfounded look and exclaimed, “What!? That can’t be the end! There has to be more! What!?”

He wiped his face with his handkerchief, for he was quite warm from the exertion of being Chairman of the World. It had taken more running and leaping and sliding than he had imagined.

The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New by Marty Machowski. Machowski breaks “big” theological concepts down into simple, bite-size pieces, making them accessible for even very young children (for whom it is written). Each teaching is related to something familiar to children in order to help them understand it.

Covering everything from the inerrancy of Scripture, to the doctrine of the Trinity, to gospel terms like “justification,” “sanctification,” etc., it’s a fairly comprehensive introductory to theology for little tikes. At one point, after reading about the substitutionary atonement of Christ in the book, Marcus excused himself to go to his room to pray. He came back and told me, “I told Jesus I believe on Him.”

Occasionally (rarely) I came across a concept which I chose to approach from a little bit different angle or explain in a little bit different wording than the book, but overall I think the book helped my kids grasp some really good stuff.

Oak trees sprout from acorns and toads begin as tadpoles, but God never had a beginning… The day ends when the clock strikes twelve. The race ends at the finish line. But God never ends.

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne. They were all here: Milne’s classic, beloved stories of a boy and his bear.

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“Oh! Piglet,” said Pooh excitedly, “we’re going on an Expotition, all of us, with things to eat. To discover something.”

“To discover what?” said Piglet anxiously.

“Oh! just something.”

“Nothing fierce?”

“Christopher Robin didn’t say anything about fierce. He just said it had an ‘x’.”

“It isn’t their necks I mind,” said Piglet earnestly. “It’s their teeth.”

Pharaoh’s Boat by David Weitzman. Written for children, this is the story of the boat that Cheops had buried with him (in pieces) for his journey to the afterlife. It was discovered in 1954 and assembled for the first time many years later.

As they dug, there suddenly appeared an old stone boundary wall. Strange. They weren’t expecting to find a wall here… Had the wall been deliberately built there to hide something?

Julie Andrews’ Treasury for all Seasons (poems selected by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton). “Maria” of The Sound of Music (Julie Andrews) collected these poems and songs celebrating the seasons, months, and special days for children. From Emily Dickinson to Jack Prelutsky, many authors’ poems are featured here (180+ pages). While there was a couple I skipped over (due to theme or for some other reason), this was a very nice (and fun!) collection, each page sweetly illustrated by Marjorie Priceman.

Then read from the treasured volume

The poem of thy choice,

And lend to the rhyme of the poet

The beauty of thy voice.

Backyard Explorer Leaf and Tree Guide by Rona Beame. This kid-friendly pocket-book is filled with illustrations, photos, and descriptions related to all things trees. It explains basic scientific categorizations and facts in simple terms, contains photos of many leaves for tree identification, and has a section on nature projects. Fun little book—perfect for toting on nature walks!

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Have you ever brought home a leaf and wondered what kind of tree it belonged to? …Then get set to go on an exciting nature hunt!

Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin. An oldie but goodie, this collection of stories includes tales from ancient Rome to 18th century America: Julius Caesar, George Washington, William the Conqueror, Robin Hood and King Alfred—the legends of these and many other characters are told in short-story form.

At last the day came, and then the very hour. Damon was ready to die. His trust in his friend was as firm as ever; and he said that he did not grieve at having to suffer for one whom he loved so much.

So that’s it!  What stories/books have you and your family enjoyed this last year?

Truth is a Person

This is an edited article I originally wrote and posted July 15, 2015

“What is truth?”

This was Pontius Pilate’s question to Jesus.

Don’t we all encounter this question in our lives? In a world where everyone alternately claims to have the truth or that there is no such thing as truth, does it exist and can we really know what it is?

That’s a question I’ve been asked before. With so many conflicting opinions and beliefs, is there any objective way to know and define truth?

Some believe that truth is everything. Everything is truth, everyone is “right.”

Although every religion claims to have the “truth,” each embraces teachings that contradict every other religion’s beliefs. When opinions clash, philosophies disagree, and beliefs part ways, everything and everyone cannot be completely “right.”

Others have decided that truth is nothing. Nothing is truth. Truth cannot be known. It is an exercise in futility to try to seek it out.

A Man entered this world 2,000 years ago Who claimed to BE Truth. Jesus Christ said, “I am the Way, THE TRUTH, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6).

This was a watershed moment in the history of mankind.

But even as believers who are indwelt by THE TRUTH, we often find ourselves confused about truth. One look at the many different sects, denominations, and doctrines within the broad spectrum of Christianity itself would seem to contradict the assertion that
truth can be known. Many little groups, sects, or cults within the church claim they have all truth and all the others are wrong. We speak of truth as if it was a personal possession—something we have mastered and now own with exclusivism.

I am from a conservative background. Growing up, my family was heavily influenced by the teachings of one man and his ministry. Speaking from my side of the aisle, I am familiar with many of the movements within the conservative Christian community and the groups that spawned from them, and I’ve realized that many of us (myself included) have been lured by the mindset that one group, or one denomination, or one teacher, or even one movement for that matter, held all the truth.

Whether we’re being offered the Christian life in a package, doctrine in a box, or theology in a catechism, it’s all the same thing. Someone, some group, some theological or lifestyle persuasion, or some church has ALL truth (or at least more of it than anyone else),
and if you want to get a piece of it, listen to him/it/them. Take it all. Join the club. Because the more you take the more “right” you are and the more truth you have.

But truth is not the private, patented property of any man or any creed.

Truth is a Person.

It is the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world, the Word, Who is full of grace and truth (see John 1:14-18). The “truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21).

Truth is absolute and immutable. It does not change, just as Jesus does not change, but is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). What we know about it has been manifested to us through Christ, Who is our wisdom, our righteousness, our
sanctification, and our redemption (see 1 Corinthians 1:30). And He has chosen to reveal Himself in His Word, which is truth (see John 17:17), all Scripture pointing to Christ, Who is Ultimate Truth.

In my daily Bible reading one morning, I was in the book of 1st Corinthians and noticed, in the first four chapters, that Paul was addressing similar issues and attitudes in the Corinthian church that we struggle with today as he rebuked them for their petty sectarianism: “For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not
carnal?” (1 Corinthians 3:4).

He repeatedly emphasized that spiritual things are spiritually discerned; that every believer has the mind of Christ. Truth, wisdom, righteousness—these things did not belong to any one man (or church). Paul instructed them, “Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

Christ is ours. Truth lives within us. Our desire should be to know Him intimately.  The more we learn of Him, the more we learn of Truth. His Word is a tool to that end. It can give us knowledge and direction (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and the Holy Spirit has been given to us to illuminate it for us (John 14:26). It is our responsibility to carefully study and rightly divide it (2 Timothy 2:15), to examine all things carefully, and hold fast that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21; see also Proverbs 23:23).

Is there such a thing as absolute Truth?

Absolutely.

Is it the sole, private property of any one man, group, or church?

Absolutely not.

Truth can be known and obeyed.  Pilate foolishly failed to wait for an answer to his own question.  He wasn’t truly seeking truth.  But it is there, and those who seek will find.

But even as we pursue truth, we need the wisdom and humility to see that none of us has perfect knowledge, perfect understanding, perfect doctrine (ouch! I so wish I did!), and certainly not perfect obedience. The Word is perfect. Our interpretation of it is never going to be completely perfect in everything. No one and no church among us has “got it all.” We have Christ, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. In that sense, as believers we share all there is to share. We will always have to grow, be challenged, be stretched, and therefore be open to correction.

There are two practical points to this: first, we must pursue knowledge and truth in the context of pursuing intimate fellowship and a rich relationship with Christ. Richard
Wurmbrand has said that Christ is the Truth, Scripture is the truth about the Truth, and theology is the truth about the truth about the Truth. Unfortunately, it’s possible to pursue theology and the study of the Word without actively pursuing Christ Himself. The result—if it even leads to the discovery of truth—will be truth without love.

Second, we need a humble open-mindedness to accept correction and instruction from other believers. Christ has placed His children within the community of the church. We need
one another. If we foolishly believe we (or our church) have arrived at all truth, we will not be open to the perspective and insight of other fellow believers. We will lose opportunities to
grow and be stretched and challenged.

The search for truth and a following after it is a life-long pursuit. No doctrine-in-a-box stuff can replace a growing relationship with the One all biblical doctrine points to. Joining
the “perfect” group or church denomination will not cause us to “possess” more truth than
anyone else. Learning from Christian teachers cannot replace learning at the feet of Christ. And we should never use neatly-packaged Christian-life-in-a-box teachings to relieve us of the
responsibility we each have personally before God to study His Word, get to know His Son, and grow in what pleases Him.

Because Truth is not a creed, a catechism, a membership, or a lifestyle list of do’s and don’ts.

Truth is a Person.

Santa and the Gospel

Naughty or nice?”

“Have you been good this year?”

“Will Santa be bringing you all the gifts on your list or will you be getting a lump of coal for Christmas?”

As the holidays near, last-minute shoppers crowd department stores, multi-colored lights merrily twinkle along the houses in the neighborhoods, the gaiety and bright colors of Christmas parade floats fill the streets, and the sweet and spicy smell of gingerbread cookies wafts through kitchens. In the hustle and bustle of it all, adults stop to ask children if they’ve been good this year, and are ready for a visit from Santa.

This iconic character of prodigious proportions who sports a bright red suit, a big white beard, and a jolly smile has, in one way or another, been a fond part of Christmas traditions throughout the western world for centuries. The evolution of the plump philanthropist who sits in the mall next to a lavishly-decorated evergreen tree each Christmas season with lines of children waiting to take their picture with him, is an interesting one.

The story begins over 1,600 years ago.

In the 4th century, a kind bishop of Myra (in present-day Turkey) named Nicholas, gave up his santa-claus-2984222_1920inheritance of wealth to minister to the poor and the sick. Legend says he once helped three daughters of a poor man who were in great trouble because they did not have dowries for marriage. Their father was going to sell them into slavery. But one night the bishop dropped a bag of gold down the family’s chimney and it landed in a stocking, which was discovered in the morning. The first daughter had her dowry! This happened twice again on future nights, so that both the second and third daughters received money for their dowries.

They were saved!

For all his kind works he was named a saint, and after his death, legends and tall tales continued to grow about him, while a feast day held on December 6 (the day of his death) was instituted.

And then came the Reformation.

With the Reformation came many changes, not only in the church, but in politics and society as well. Special days commemorating “saints” of the church were in many cases abolished.  

So holiday traditions changed with the times, but they never disappeared altogether. There was always someone to deliver the Christmas gifts: In England and parts of Northern Europe it was “Father Christmas,” or “Old Man Christmas.” In France it was “Pere Noel.” In parts of Austria and Germany it was “Christkind,” a baby with wings, symbolizing Jesus. And in the early history of the U.S. it was “Kris Kringle” (from “Christkind”). (See this article for a map of “Father Christmas” and his—or her!—name in every European country.)

When Dutch settlers in the U.S. combined “Kris Kringle” with the legends of St. Nicholas, “Sinterklaas” was born.

A.k.a “Santa Claus.”

santa-31665_1280

Tradition building on tradition, gathering up new bits and pieces as it wound its way along, Santa Claus eventually came to be the jolly holiday icon who makes his home at the North Pole, flying over the houses at night to deliver his gifts in a sled pulled by eight reindeer.

There are many ways in which this symbolic figure embodies the spirit of the season: he is kind, generous, benevolent, and always looking to do good. He brings happiness wherever he goes.

But there’s one major difference between the kindness and generosity of Santa, and the Christ for whom this holiday is celebrated.

Santa comes to give gifts to nice people. Christ came to give Himself for the wicked. Santa blesses the good. Christ blesses the sinner. Santa’s benevolence is based on the merit of the receiver of the gift. Christ’s benevolence is based on the merit of the Giver of the gift.

Christ came to earth as a baby, grew up and fulfilled His ministry, was hung on a cross to die, and then rose again three days later. He didn’t come handing out gifts to “deserving” people; He gives the gift of eternal life to the very undeserving miscreants whose sins nailed Him to the cross. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

The blessing of the gospel is not for the “righteous.” It’s not for the “good.” In fact, Christ said, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (see Mark 2:17).

When the rich young ruler came to Christ, asking Him what he could do to earn eternal life, Jesus told Him that there is none good but God (see Luke 18:18-27). But the young man thought that he was quite a good person, so he told Jesus he’d kept all the commandments, thinking Christ would commend him.

Jesus then posed a “test” for him in order to reveal the man’s sinful, covetous heart to himself. He had not kept all the commandments as he had foolishly boasted. His love of money took precedence over his love for God, which was in direct violation of the First and Second of the Ten Commandments.

Now the man was confronted with his sin. He had fallen short. He had missed the mark of God’s perfection, just as it says in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Would he now submit himself to the righteousness of Christ, admitting his sinful state and trusting in the goodness of God alone?

No. He turned away from Christ. He was grieved, pricked, convicted. But unrepentant. His lack of faith was clearly evidenced in his lack of obedience. Had he come to Christ already under conviction of his sin, troubled and trembling before a holy God, casting himself on His mercy, would the outcome not have been much different?

That’s always been the trouble, hasn’t it? Man pushes Christ and His righteousness away because he’s already “good enough”—at least “good enough” to “help” God out with his salvation. In fact, like the Pharisees, he believes he can come to God on the basis of his own righteousness. But Christ had to tell them, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind…If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth” (see John 9:39-41).

Christ doesn’t find anyone who isn’t lost. He doesn’t heal anyone who isn’t sick. He doesn’t save anyone who doesn’t “need” a Savior. He doesn’t make righteous anyone who is already “righteous.” And since we know that in God’s eyes there is no one who is good—we’re all lost, sick, and unrighteous (see Romans 3)—then only those who recognize their true state and transfer their trust from themselves to Christ can be saved.

The qualification for salvation is that you must be a sinner (and acknowledge it!): the “righteous” need not apply.

You must be lost before you can be found!

* * * * *

With a merry “Ho, ho, ho!,” Santa will be making his gift-giving rounds to good people soon. Meanwhile, Christ stands ready to give the greatest gift—eternal life—to repentant sinners whose very righteousness isn’t worth so much as a lump of coal—nor deserving of anything more.

How about you? Have you received Christ’s righteousness? Do you know the true Gift of Christmas?

Whether your family’s holiday traditions include Santa or not, don’t forget the Gift-giver whose acts of generosity are not contingent on your own goodness.

And Merry Christmas!

–Cliff and Tabitha Alloway

God’s Placement

Note: This is a guest post from my husband, Cliff.  It was originally posted on September 22, 2013

The exact placement of the sun and earth reveals that if the earth were too close or far away from the sun, life would be impossible. The temperatures would either be too frigid or too hot for any life to exist. The margin for error is too small for this to have been left to chance.

But what does this teach about God?

It reflects a God that leaves nothing to chance. He is far too smart for that. He, being all-wise, knew the exact parameters needed for life to exist on the earth, therefore our solar system is ordered in excruciating exactness.  This also reveals a thoughtful God who lovingly cares for and protects His creation.

 With this in view, spiritually God also thoughtfully places the believer and arranges his life so that he or she can grow to the fullest. Nothing has been left to chance. Despite the devil’s numerous attempts to pollute the Bible, He kept His word pure and holy, and it exclaims that God has given “…all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue,” II Peter 1:3.
Seeing this, life for a believer does not have to be intermittent and feeble, for the things necessary for spiritual vitality are not too far away for us. His word is not only in heaven, but is with us.
He has even placed us in Christ, I Corinthians 1:2. In Christ there can be no better protection from the effects of sin and its power. As sin never overpowered Christ, then so we that walk with Him will not be overcome by its power and thereby sin, Galatians 5:16. The sinning serpent bruised Christ’s heel, but Christ crushed his head, Genesis 3:15.
Our Lord is all-powerful. There is nothing that can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:39. He bore the punishment, that we might not have to. Because you are in Him, He is your Protection. We overcome because He overcame.

As God knows all, is all-powerful, Loving, and Sovereign, He can and does work all things for good to them that love Him, Romans 8:28. Here again, the Father leaves nothing to chance for His children. He wisely and lovingly orders our lives. Perhaps relationships which we thought were good, He removes, for they would turn our hearts from Him.  We also experience His physical protection.  When you would take a step off the scaffold (and break bones!), He intervenes by having you look down and stop before you crumple in a heap.
On the other hand, the chastisement God bestows upon us turns us back to Him, Hebrews 12:11.
In short, the placement of the believer is perfect in God’s will. Without these things, the Christian life would be utterly impossible.
  

Christians Don’t Have to Run

Wherefore it is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a Chief Corner Stone, elect, precious, and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.

1 Peter 2:6

Note: This was originally published on my previous blog July 16, 2013

Peter wrote these words to suffering, persecuted believers of the early Church, at a time when Christians were hunted down by both religious leaders and government officials, and tortured and killed. He reminded them in his letter that their inheritance was safely preserved in heaven for them (1 Peter 1:3-5), that they were a chosen people with special privileges, and that their confidence in the Lord was well-founded and sure (2:4-10). He loosely quoted this Scripture from the writings of the prophet Isaiah:

Isa 28:16 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.

After reading that verse (in Isaiah) in its context one morning while studying 1 Peter 2:6, I sat stumped for a few moments. It seemed worlds away from that of 1 Peter 2. Two different time periods, two different contexts, two different audiences. How did it fit and what did it mean? And to make it more confusing, Peter’s quotation was not taken from Isaiah word for word: “confounded,” and “make haste,” seemed to be very different.

But slowly the pieces of the puzzle came together.

Looking into the Isaiah passage, it becomes clear that the context concerns God promising to send judgment for sin. Ephraim (Isaiah 28:1) had turned from God, was walking in rebellion, and the people were reassuring their troubled consciences by telling themselves that death could not overtake them—they had made a pact with hell (28:14-15). They could sin and there would be no judgment. No recompense. No accountability. No consequences. Lies were their refuge, and they denied reality with falsehood.

Now God comes to them with a very stern and grim warning: “Because you trust in lies, I’m going to lay a stone in Zion, and only those who believe will not make haste. I’m bringing my judgment and righteousness, and your lies are going to be washed away, your covenant with death disannulled, and you’re going to get the judgment you so rightly deserve but thought you could escape.” In fact, God goes on to say that judgment has been determined “upon the whole earth,” not just Ephraim to whom He’s speaking in this passage (28:16-22).

So there was God’s promise to send wrath and just retribution. But in this warning, He has also left a prophetic ray of hope. In the face of man’s sin, lies, and unrepentance, God is going to lay a chosen stone in Zion, upon which if a man believes, he will not “make haste.”

Make haste? To what would people be hurrying to…or from?

Again, the context would suggest the answer: when God’s judgment begins to fall, men will be “making haste” to flee it. God said He would bring “hail” to sweep away their lies, and “waters” to overflow their hiding place—and when the “overflowing scourge” passes through, they would be trodden down and taken by it (verses 18-19).

As a startling illustration of this, the people of Noah’s day come to mind. Noah preached to them for a hundred years, and yet they did not repent. Then one day Noah entered the ark, God sealed it up, and the opportunity for repentance was past. I imagine a scene in which terrified people are watching the rain descend, the fountains of the deep burst open, and the waters rush up on land towards them. Screaming, they rush in all directions, trying to clamor onto roofs, or climb trees, or run for the hills. They “make haste” but are overtaken and drowned in the flood waters of God’s wrath and judgment.

So if those who don’t believe on God’s chosen Corner Stone make haste, what do those who do believe do?

Here’s where it gets good.

In the Greek in 1 Peter, “believeth” means “to have faith, credit, to entrust.” In Hebrew the word can mean “to build up or support, to render or be firm or faithful, to trust or believe, to be permanent or quiet, to be true, to go to the right hand—hence assurance.” The word is used of Abraham in Genesis 15:6 when he believed the Lord and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. The idea is that a man puts his trust and faith in the Lord—he builds his life upon the Rock, Jesus Christ—and stands, immovable, in quiet rest. His position is permanent, despite anything that comes…because his Foundation is founded and permanently settled by God the Father Himself.

Faith is rest. It is resting from the works of the law, from fear of death and judgment, etc., and entrusting one’s soul to the Father through the finished work of His Son on the cross. It is literally standing on the Rock. Matthew 7 presents a good picture of this. Those who build their lives on Christ will not be swept away in the storm of judgment. Those trusting in anything other than Him will be destroyed when it comes. Sinners will not be able to stand in the judgment (Psalm 1), but the righteous will (Jude 1:24). Anyone found standing on the Chief Corner Stone that God has laid, rather than the sand of lies and self-deception, will not be washed away with other sinners in the judgment.

You could say that the opposite of making haste—hurrying to or from one place or another—would be to be still…to be at rest…to be quiet. Christ is our Sabbath Rest (Hebrews 4). The Greek word in 1 Peter translated “lay” is “tithemi,” meaning “to place (in the widest application literally and figuratively; properly in a passive or horizontal posture, and thus different from [histemi] which properly denotes an upright and active position, while [keimai] is properly reflexive and utterly prostrate).”

The Stone upon which we have chosen to build our lives is fixed, passive, securely resting and immovable. All who stand upon it are “safe and secure from all alarm” as the old hymn says. Never, never, will those who put their faith in Jesus be ashamed (Romans 10:11). In that verse in 1 Peter a double negative is used in that “shall not” be confounded.

In the day of judgment we will not be confounded—we will not find that our hope has disappointed us. We won’t find ourselves cast off and rejected and put to shame for believing in Christ. We will not make haste—we will not try to flee from the wrath of God when it descends, because it will not touch those found in Christ.

Only those who reject the Stone which God laid will in turn be rejected and consumed. When the floodgates of God’s wrath and judgment are one day unleashed upon the entire earth, not one of those who believed on Him will be washed away, trodden down, lost, or destroyed.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust…He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling…Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name…” (Psalm 91)

Psalm 91 takes on a whole new meaning in this light. If God is our habitation, our dwelling, His Son the Chief Corner Stone of our foundation, then when the judgment comes, and “ten thousand fall” to our left and right, it shall not approach us, because we have made Him our refuge.

 * * * * * *

These must have been encouraging words for the persecuted believers in Peter’s day to hear. They were not suffering in vain. Their hope was not in vain (1 Corinthians 15). They would receive the crown of life for choosing Christ—even if it meant they were to be tortured and killed for their testimony. Their foundation stood sure—how else could they have the courage to live and die? They might, for a time, be chased all over the face of the earth by evil men…but they would not be running in the day of God’s judgment. They were promised that in this life nothing could separate them from the love of Christ (Romans 8). He would never leave them nor forsake them (Hebrews 13:6).

In Isaiah 28 the verse is addressed to those in sin, warning them to repent. In 1 Peter 2 it is addressed to believers, assuring them that they have a foundation, and, by implication, that those who are now persecuting them will be judged for rejecting the Stone of God. In both contexts, safety, peace, and eternal hope are promised to those who trust in the Chief Corner Stone.

What do we say to all this? Unto us “which believe He is precious” (1 Peter 2:7).

If the Stone is under your feet, you’re good to go. Bank on it. And rest.