Category: Spiritual Formation

Book Review: Draw In Bible Study- Esther & Ruth

Spending unrushed time in Scripture is a luxury these days. I used to feel guilty about it, but I’ve grown to appreciate the times I can make it happen..  and not sweat the days when I don’t.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten a little bit of time to use the new Drawn In Bible Study seriesRuth and Esther. I was initially drawn to them because of how striking they are. I’m definitely one to judge a book by its cover!

Over the past few weeks, I've gotten a little bit of time using the new Drawn In Bible Study series-- Ruth and Esther. I was initially drawn to them because of how striking they are. I'm definitely one to judge a book by its cover!

Each study is broken into 4 sessions and consists of the passages of Scripture (the Message), questions for reflection, and drawings to color while reflecting on those questions. I love that the Message is printed right in the book- no need to have your own copy. I can mark it up however I want (underlines! squiggles! question marks!). (more…)

Why We Don’t Give Gifts on Christmas (and what we do instead)

why-we-dont-give-gifts-on-christmas-morningIt’s no secret that Jake and I can be a little unconventional.

But, it may surprise you that we don’t give our kids gifts on Christmas morning. None. Zero.

When we tell people this, we get a variety of reactions:

  • The wild-eyed are-you-freaking-kidding-me, what-kind-of-person-are-you look (my personal favorite).
  • An I really want to roll my eyes at you because aren’t you taking this Jesus thing a little too far look.
  • Honest confusion. Why? 
  • Ohhhh, I get it, you must be a super fundamentalists look (btw, we’re definitely not).
  • Genuine Sadness for our kids. Oh. That’s so sad. You must have a really boring Christmas.

All of these are fair responses- it IS a little strange. But our family loves Christmas. It just looks a bit different than what other people are used to.  (more…)

Animate: A New Kind of Bible Study

I work with small groups on a regular basis, and I always have my radar up for new and interesting Bible studies. When evaluating small group curriculum, I’m looking for a few factors:

  1. Simple, straightforward prep for leaders. Leaders often feel more comfortable leading a small group if they have material they can pick up, preview, and easily run with.  A well-prepared leader is a key factor for a positive group experience.
  2. Low level of “homework”. Most small group participants will not do homework for the study (even if they say upfront they want to). Small group curriculum that comes with a set of short videos for small groups to watch together is a great alternative to requiring preparation outside of the group.
  3. Options for those who want to dig deeper. While most participants will not do homework, a couple of the rockstar members will want go above and beyond.  These participants will gravitate towards studies that provide something to mull over during the week.
  4. Challenging. The best small group experience happens when people are challenged and have the freedom to explore theological and practical ideas in the context of a safe, grace-filled learning community. Too many guardrails of what’s okay or not okay to say kills a discussion and leaves participants wondering if the weekly meeting is worth their time.

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Recently I’ve gotten the opportunity to take a look at the Animate series from Sparkhouse, and it has all the marks of a great study. Helpful facilitators guide. Short DVD experience. Journal for the participant. More questions than answers.

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An Introduction to Scripture Doodling

Over the past couple years I’ve become convinced that coloring, doodling, journaling, and drawing can all be helpful ways to connect with God. It’s easy for us non-artist types to shrug off these methods because we’re not that good at drawing. Or it feels too much like playing. Or ain’t nobody got time for that.

But, I think it’s often for these very reasons that we ought to just give it a try.

A couple years ago, I found myself locked into a particular way of connecting with God. Read. Pray. Music. Read. Pray. Music.

I needed something different. Something to engage a different part of my brain. So I began coloring.

I’ll admit that I gravitate towards coloring more than doodling, mostly because I’m good at it. I can color inside the lines. I’m decent at choosing colors. There’s an obvious finish line. Doodling, on the other hand, makes me a bit uncomfortable because I’m not always sure what to draw.

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Scripture Doodle is a half-way house for those of us stuck in between the “I really want to try this” and “Man, I stink at drawing and have no idea what to do with a blank piece of paper.”

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The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith

I have a confession:

I have a hard time liking Christian books for kids.

I WANT to like them. I want to provide my kids age-appropriate tools that will help them to grow in their relationship with God– communicating to them the depths of God’s love for them, while also not being cheesy.

Apparently this is a tall order.

One of my friends recently posted this question to a Facebook group that we’re a part of:

I have two kids who are two and three years old. Does anyone have any suggestions for age-appropriate books or cartoons that come from a progressive Christian perspective?

I struggled to think of a response. Not just for 2-3 year olds, but for older kids too.

Because of this difficulty, I’m particularly excited to share this book recommendation for kids ages 8-14. And while I’m not sure I’d throw it into the progressive category, it comes closer than most.

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The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith, is a book that helps kids grow in their understanding of the Bible, spiritual practices, and knowledge of Christian history. The author also throws some crazy stuff in there like how to make pottery, building a sundial, and learning the greek alphabet- because learning about the roots of our faith can be really fun!

Format:

This hardcover book is divided into 67 short, 2-3 page chapters. Each page is filled with colorful illustrations and has a good sense of design. The style reminds me of books like Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Guinness Book of World Records for Kids, or sport statistic books: colorful, engaging, short chapters that don’t mess around with too many words.

Content:

The content is engaging, fun, smart, and hits on a variety of topics.

For word nerds, they’ll love learning the greek (and hebrew!) alphabet, becoming familiar with some common latin phrases, and learning about ancient texting (LOL! FRT).

For kids who care a lot about friends and relationships, there are chapters on friendship, relationship with parents, and dealing with enemies.

I know there are some kids who just want to DO and TRY and EXPERIMENT. For these kids, they’ll learn how to make a sundial, pottery, and a slingshot, among other things.

Most of the rest of the chapters dive into questions about God, spiritual practices, theology, and how to read Scripture in a way that honors the intent of the author.

There’s no guilt, no “shoulds”, no mention of demanding obedience out of fear of hell or damnation or God’s unhappiness with them.

Instead, it’s written with a tone of curiosity and conversation, focused on God’s love and rescue plan for all of creation. Sure, a part of that story is sin, death and Satan, but ultimately, the author is writing from a perspective of the bigger picture- God’s redemptive plan. The author says:

By now it should be clear that Christianity is not a religion that’s a list of advice for you to do. No, instead Christianity brings news of what Jesus has already done. It’s not about the accomplishment of your good works; it’s about the announcements of his good works.

I love it! And this is a perspective that’s missing from many books I review for kids. The temptation in these faith-based kid books are to focused good works because that’s what applies right then and there. We want our kids to obey and do the right thing. That makes sense.

BUT, without constantly putting in front of them the bigger picture- the more important picture, frankly, the gospel turns into this mucky, weird, shame-laden relationship with God that is messy to reverse later on in life.

The gospel is not good advice. It’s good news. The author gets that.

My Recommendation

I highly recommend this book for kids who are interested in learning a little more about the roots of their faith and how they can lean into the good news of the Kingdom of God and their journey with God!

Thanks to the publisher for this review copy! All these thoughts are honest and wholly mine :).

How to Connect with God: Praying Through Art

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I’ve always thought of myself as a total head person. Feelings are fine and all, but experiencing God through my mind and my thoughts is where it’s at for me. Learning something new about God sends my heart singing. Understanding a passage of Scripture in a deeper way leads me to worship.

Despite this tendency, I’ve been exploring how to connect with God in other ways. One of these ways is praying through art.

It can be challenging for me to just sit and pray. My mind wanders and then my heart disengages, I begin to wonder if I’m praying the right things or with the right motive. While my heart is praying, my mind is critiquing.

Is what you just asked God theologically sound?
What are you assuming about God right now?
Is what you just said actually harmful to your understanding of God and/or others?
Aren’t you being a bit judgmental?
Are you treating God like the Creator of the heavens and earth, or like genie in a bottle?

I’ve found a few ways to keep my tendency to overthink things at bay.

  1. I use liturgical prayers, helping me to focus in on my heart’s attitude towards God instead of debating word choice.
  2. I journal my prayers, allowing my mind to slow down and focus.
  3. I color or use prayer prompts to keep my mind half busy, allowing my heart to engage in a different way.

One book I’ve been using recently is Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal. It’s a beautiful collection of prayer prompts that guides my heart towards love, thinking of others, and gratitude. Every now and then, I’ll gather my colored pencils, turn on some music, and pray through one of the prompts. Here are a couple of my favorites so far:

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“Engage in gratefulness by meditating on Psalm 138:1 while writing it repeatedly in the space below.”

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“Journal about how this Scripture verse gives you hope, or draw illustrations to express what these words mean to you.”

 

What do you do to help you connect wholeheartedly with God?

 

The Sin of Certainty {a book review}

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The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs is one of the best books I’ve read this summer. Enns communicates a message many evangelicals need to hear.

We must be willing to move beyond certainty in our faith, because certainty isn’t really the point of faith at all.

For many of us, certainty is the center of our faith. We’ve been taught that the goal of our religious lives is to “know God”, by which we mean (whether consciously or unconsciously) believing the right doctrines and holding the right views.

Our pursuit to know God is evaluated by whether or not we end up with the right answer. Or at least that’s how we evaluate others.

But what if faith isn’t about right answers and right doctrines? What if faith is ultimately about trusting God? 

Pete begins his book with the story of his “faith” crashing down, intriguingly while watching a Disney movie on a plane 30,000 feet in the air. One might think a Bible professor’s faith would need to be unravelled by something more grandiose than a Disney movie, right?  Not so much.

From my own experience and reading about similar experiences of others, the crash, the wall, the dark night of the soul (whatever you want to call it) often comes in unexpected ways. Sometimes it’s when reading a book. Other times watching a movie. Perhaps it happens in a conversation or in a class. Maybe we’re watching TV. Or we receive some shocking news.

Here’s the thing about our faith- it’s not something we can necessarily control.

Throughout his book, Pete interweaves his story with what he’s learned about letting go of certainty so that he can fully trust. Letting go of certainty doesn’t mean dismissing thinking or logic, or ceasing to pursue answers. Letting go of certainty means trusting God with our lives. It means keeping an open hand with our beliefs, embracing the mysteries, and leaning in even when our brains might not be able to make sense.

“This book is about thinking differently about faith, a faith that is not so much defined by what we believe but in whom we trust. In fact, in this book I argue that we have misunderstood faith a what word rather than a who word- as primarily beliefs about rather than primarily as trust in.”

Because Pete is an intellectual, he gets the tension that this all might bring to some of us. And it’s because he’s an intellectual that many of us who identify as such should give him a hearing. 

Interestingly, Pete’s hope for this book isn’t just for those who are going through a faith crisis or is submerged to their eyeballs in doubt, but he’s trying to start a bigger conversation about how faith is viewed and communicated in the evangelical church.

“When we think of ‘strong faith’ as something that should be free of uncertainty or crises, I believe we have gotten wrong an important part of who God is and how the Christian life really works. This is about how we might address that problem.”

Finally, Pete ends the book with wisdom about what to do when a tidal wave of doubt comes crashing upon you. If you’re in the midst of some tall waves, I highly recommend skipping to chapter 7 first.

I think the only point I’d disagree with Pete on is the title- the sin of certainty. While I get the idea behind it, I actually think that those who are siting in certainty are not wrong or sinning. I think their faith has some distance to go. From my limited understanding of faith formation, it seems as if certainty is a necessary first step in faith. The sin isn’t in being there. If there’s any sin involved, I think it would be in one’s unwillingness to take the next step when God extends the invitation.

I recommend picking up this book, grabbing some friends, and starting a conversation. Pete’s writing style is down-to-earth, incredible readable, and funny. His gift for teaching shines through the pages. You won’t be disappointed.

In my reading routine, after I finish a particularly good book, I scour the notes section in the back. I’ve found the footnotes of my favorite chapters of a book provide great recommendations for my reading list. If you need a hint on my favorite chapter, I’ll tell you that I’ve added Thoughts in Solitude, The Inner Voice of Love, Stages of Faith, and a re-read of The Bible Tells Me So. 🙂

To read more about Pete, you can visit his blog: http://www.peteenns.com.

And to read more about my relationship with doubt, check out the following days in my 31 Days of Soul Shaping series:

Day 19: Doubt: The Big, Bad Wolf of Faith?

Day 20: The Beginning of My Doubt

Day 21: The Turning Point

Day 22: Questions Aren’t Just for Kids

 

Thanks to Pete and his team for providing a free copy in exchange for my honest thoughts!

 

Coloring as Spiritual Formation

Coloring as Spiritual Formation

I’ve always loved to color. Being the introvert that I am, coloring had always been a safe way to introvert while being in the midst of a lot of people at school or while playing at a friend’s house. Markers, crayons, colored pencils? It didn’t matter.

Somewhere around junior high I put my crayons on the shelf.  And while they came back out for a brief time when I was in college (I found a really fantastic biology coloring book!), it wasn’t until the past couple years that I’ve started to re-connect with my love for coloring.

And it’s also during this time that I’ve found how helpful it is for me in connecting with God.

I’ve been using these two coloring books in the evenings to slow down, relax, and make mental space to connect with God. 

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Whatever is Lovely: A Coloring Book for Reflection and Worship {REVIEW}

For the past week or two, my family has been on the road, visiting family just outside the flood plains on Missouri. While on vacation, things are a bit more lax. Kids get a bit more screentime than normal. They eat a little bit more and a little more junkier than normal. And since I’m not at my house and don’t feel the pressure of “doing one more thing” when I have some downtime, I also take the opportunity to color a lot more than normal :).

This morning, Ada, Anaya, and I spent an hour or two sitting around Grandma’s kitchen table, coloring in our new coloring books while hanging out with Grandma and Uncle Brycey.

One of my new ones is called Whatever is Lovely: A Coloring Book for Worship and Reflection. It’s my first worship-themed coloring book, and I really like it!

whatever is lovely

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The-Not-So-Perfect Life: Advent Edition

Not So Perfect Life Advent

For Advent this year we’re keeping it simple.

After dinner, we read a chapter of the Jesus Storybook Bible and take a link off of a paper Advent chain given to us by our church. Each link has a discussion question or a small game/activity to do. Easy, right?

We missed December 1st altogether. Nothing says intentionality and awesomeness like missing the very first day.

On December 2nd, we played a hot potato game and tears were involved for one kid. And when we talked about what they were excited about for Christmas, several said presents, which is ironic, because I just posted about how we DON’T EVEN DO PRESENTS ON CHRISTMAS CHILDREN!!

And yesterday I stopped reading mid-sentence to say (loudly), “Can’t you guys just sit and listen to a short story for 5 seconds???!!”

Advent memories, baby.

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