Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Beginner's Bible

My two-year-old has his own group of age-appropriate apps on my iPad (quickly becoming the "family" iPad). In his group we have placed some of his favorite games, like Angry Birds and ABCs, and several Bible-based children's apps. The newest addition is The Beginner's Bible, which I've been asked to review by Zondervan.

First, let me share how Gabe uses it. Lately when I give him the iPad, he will go directly to the Beginner's Bible. This surprises me, because he used to have a different favorite. Maybe he's just open to new and different experiences. But he will open it up and click on the "Read" button, which will offer him six colorful stories from Genesis to choose from. He'll press one of them and listen as it reads aloud to him.

In each picture next to the text, a reader can make something happen. It's sort of a hidden feature meant to surprise the kids. Touch an animal and he'll move; move the circle and watch the sun rise and set. Some of the animations are super-simple, but they seem to delight Gabe nonetheless.

He keeps trying to swipe the page to make it turn. There is a small button which, when pressed, will turn the page; otherwise, it doesn't turn until the narrator is finished. This frustrates Gabe a little, so he'll skip the story and move to "Play." The same six colorful boxes appear, but this time they are puzzles or coloring pages. He loves puzzles and will stick with those for a long time. The colorful pictures really appeal to him.

Those two features pretty much sum up the Beginner's Bible app. For toddlers like Gabe, I think it works. Vibrant colors, simple user interface, basic Bible stories ... all these make the free version easy and fun to use. I do not foresee him continuing to use it past 3 or 4 years old, especially since I do not plan to purchase any more stories.

Purchase? Yes, more "Story Packs" can be bought in groups of six: 6 stories, 3 coloring pages, 2 puzzles, & 1 "bonus activity." So far I see only one new pack available, but I presume they continue to develop more to keep kids learning about Old and New Testament characters and events.

Zondervan has produced an attractive app suitable for small children whose parents allow them access to the tablet. It's simplicity and dearth of features make it both easy to use and easy to put down. Perhaps if they added more activities, the Beginner Bible app would have more staying power.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The High Calling

Later next week I'm going to attend, in my role as Christian Living editor for FaithVillage, the Work as Worship Conference. It's actually a conference for professionals, folks who spend most of their time and energy working in a secular role. Yet as people of faith, who follow Christ, they may wonder how to merge their professional and spiritual lives.

The Work as Worship speakers--Nathan Sheets of Nature Nate's Honey, Bonnie Wurzbacher from Coca Cola, Steve Green of Hobby Lobby, Dave Ramsey from...well, you know... and several others--believe that our Christian faith should be integrated with our work. So do the writers at The High Calling.

Subtitled "Everyday conversations about work, life and God," the High Calling produces videos, articles and podcasts that encourage the living out of one's faith in the workplace. There is no segregation between faith and work, they believe. Recently, they've also produced a free weekly newsletter.

In it, subscribers can find a selection of articles, videos and podcasts. None of them takes longer than 3 or 4 minutes to read (or view or hear). The relative brevity of the content makes them easy to process. Viewers can gain a nugget on which to think as they go about their day. Typically I enjoy a more lengthy article, but for busy professionals these shorter pieces are well-suited. A manager or worker could open his or her email to the newsletter, click on a link and finish that piece within a couple of minutes. Perfect for starting your day or catching up at lunchtime.

The content is well-written, mixing spiritual concepts with very practical business ideas. So not each piece will talk directly about scripture. You may hear one professional discuss management skills, or the benefit of generosity in the workplace. Other pieces may tell stories that surprise and encourage. It seems that each one aims to connect one aspect of faith with an aspect of business life. For example, integrity at work is a reflection of your inner faith; creativity should not be wasted--it's a gift of God; giving is not relegated to tithing.

If you work in a secular environment but believe you are called to apply your faith in that environment, The High Calling newsletter may be an encouraging, useful addition to your weekly reading.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Crying in the Car

I cried on my way to work this morning. Mostly at the end as I sat in the parking garage. Because there's a little boy, only 3 years old, having surgery today to remove his eye.

A few months ago Reid was diagnosed with a rare cancer that the chemo has since not killed off sufficiently. And because of the cancer's unique nature and placement, his only hope for continued health and life is to lose his eye.

Reid's mom, Amy, is a girl I grew up with in the neighborhood, a childhood friend whom I haven't seen in forever but have reconnected with in the last couple of years thanks to social media. I could see from her posts and blog that she loves Jesus and has a vibrant faith. She is happily married with two little boys, having shared a lot of my own life challenges and joys.

Rabbit trail: Can I just say that it thrills my heart to hear the stories of old friends who have come to know Jesus? I was the weird one back then, coming to faith at 11 when most others weren't interested in spiritual things. I have no idea when Amy professed her faith in Christ. But she and several other friends from those years have re-appeared in my life (again, thanks to social media) and, in the process, revealed their love for Jesus Christ. That alone makes me thank God for Facebook and Twitter.

But sharing our lives online now also includes the hard stuff. Amy shared Reid's cancer story through her blog, and I've been praying on and off ever since. The news of his imminent surgery was tough to hear. All I had to do was look at Gabe, my almost-3-year-old, to know the mother's pain that Amy is experiencing.

A Mother's Prayer

Empathy is a powerful force.

This morning I sat on the floor as usual, getting Gabe dressed for the day. When I stood him up, ready to go, he tackled me with giggles and kisses. We sat there snuggling for an extra couple of minutes--the best and longest two minutes of my day thus far. He doesn't usually do that, so I pretty much just breathed him in, reveling in the softness of his chubby cheeks and the strength in his little arms around my neck. I lifted up a mental "thank you, God," glad to be fully aware of the moment, and the reality that he's my last one and these snuggles are numbered as he grows up. And then he was done, and off to the kitchen.

On my way to work I saw a reminder on my phone of Reid's surgery. And I thought of Gabe, so healthy and whole. And I thought of another friend, Jenny, who is having her baby today. Jenny was born with cerebral palsy and given little chance to thrive. But she defied the doctors and has attacked life head-on, walking, learning, graduating, marrying, having children...a literal walking miracle. And so is this little boy she's about to deliver. God can do great things, can he not?

With these treasures in mind, I started praying for Reid's healing, that God would keep him safe through the surgery, recovery, and free from complications afterwards. I know God doesn't always heal, but I also know that he wants us to ask what's in our hearts. And yes, Reid's healing is top concern today. But I also prayed for his future--that God would use this life-altering event to develop his character and personality in such a way that he would bring people to faith in Christ. God can use all kinds of evil (see the story of Joseph, in Genesis) to bring about good.


And wouldn't you know it, as I parked the car at work, the song "Blessings" by Laura Story started. Yeah, that's where the tears come in. Because I'd been praying pretty much just like that song was going. She basically asks, what if God works through pain instead removing it? How will we respond to him if he doesn't take the hard stuff away? What if he knows we'll only value what's most important if we experience suffering?

I had to laugh (through the tears) at the timing of the song. Thanks, God. Way to pound that one home.

So I keep praying for a successful surgery, for a boy who will grow up not to bemoan his cancer but instead tell others how God saved his life through this amazing procedure (and hey, do you want to see my fake eye?), and for his mom who will, many days from now, thank God for walking her through this horrible time knowing she was undergirded by God Himself and the empathy and prayers of many who love them.

And I keep asking that He will always remind me to live in the moment: to notice the sweetness of hugs and kisses from a toddler and the shared confidences of a tween, the constant hugs and chattering from my 6 and 8 year olds, the (never-ending?) teasing affection of my husband. Because those moments don't last forever. I want to breathe them in fully while I have them.

  • Jesus tells us to ask our Father in Heaven for what we need. It's ok to pray for healing. Luke 11:11-13What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
  • Trials are inevitable, and God can use them in our lives.   James 1:2-4Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
  • He is a God of hope. We can trust him. Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Headcoverings and Hair: What's Your Hermeneutic?

Can you see her tongue planted firmly in her cheek? Rachel Held Evans would be the first to throw that scarf out and cut her hair short, but a literalist reading of the Bible says she can't if she wants to be a godly wife. I sure hope her husband, Dan, prays with his hands lifted up . . . wait. Nobody in my church requires any of that stuff. So how do we interpret passages from the Bible that talk about this? 

It's called hermeneutics: the rules by which we analyze scripture so that we can then apply the commands, principles, and timeless truths found within it. Scholars have disagreed for centuries on the best way to do hermeneutics. And there are several steps involved. But biblical scholars do continue to uphold one hermeneutical rule: context is king. 

Corinth Had Issues

Let's address the issue in Rachel's photo here: The city of Corinth was well-known in the first century for promiscuity, being the center of worship to the god of wine, Dionysus (Bacchus, to the Romans). Worshipers, men and women alike, wore long hair down and curled—which suggested the married women were available and the men were looking to “hook up” with boys. Knowing this can help modern readers understand Paul's reasoning later in the passage when he says that a woman’s “hair is given to her for a covering” (v. 15) and that it’s a disgrace for men to have long hair (v. 14). 

Corinthian morality was, shall we say, lacking. Earlier in his instructions, Paul addresses this by giving a counter-cultural corrective: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each women her own husband.” 

Essentially he encourages them to be self-controlled, even to the point of remaining single if they already were, for the sake of the gospel. 

Ephesus Had Different Issues

Contrast that with Paul's words to the church in Ephesus. This town worshipped Artemis, an independent, strong goddess who emphasized abstinence for men and women alike. But writing to readers in Ephesus, Paul encouraged each member of the family unit: wives to submit, husbands to love, children to obey, masters to be fair and just (Ephesians 5–6). In 1 Timothy, written to the pastor of the church in Ephesus, we see admonitions to young widows to marry and have children (5:14), in accordance with Caesar’s marriage laws. 

In both letters, Paul directs believers to counter-cultural behaviors that honor God. But the behaviors differed depending on the culture in which they lived. The point was to reflect God's character, love others, serve the Kingdom. Believers in different places, facing different influences, would follow different pathways to that end-goal. Culture dictated a lot of the specifics on how to shine as lights to the world. 

Cultural or Universal Truth?

Hermeneutics is hard, folks. Some truths are universal—Christ died for the forgiveness of sins; every person is a sinner; certain behaviors are consistently condemned throughout scripture across all cultures; justice, mercy and humility always honor God . . . . So we can't dismiss everything as "cultural, so it doesn't apply to me."

Knowing how to parse the variety of cultural references to find the meaning intended by the writer takes time, study, prayer, and wisdom. Our opinions are not enough. And the truths intended by the biblical writers are timeless. In this case, wives should avoid dishonoring husbands by presenting themselves as available to men, and men should avoid dishonoring Christ by looking available to boys. 

So when Rachel pokes fun at some people's literal application of 1 Corinthians 11:4, she's really asking about their hermeneutic. Do women in 2012 need to cover their heads in order to be godly? What other behaviors need to correlate with first-century Greco-Roman (or Old Testament Hebrew) culture? Or is that missing the point?

Thanks to Sandra Glahn for sharing her sources on  first-century Corinthian and Ephesian life:
Baugh, S. M. “Cult Prostitution in New Testament Ephesus: A Reappraisal.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42, no. 3 (1999): 443–60. 

The Purity Chapter: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

More musings on chapters in A Year of Biblical Womanhood:

Rachel chose April, the month of Passover, Lent, Easter, and weddings, in which to observe the Orthodox Jewish customs relating to women who were menstruating. Brave woman--not only to practice such restrictive behaviors during a highly-ceremonial month, but to let the world know it was her "time of the month" so publicly (and to write about it).

Why would she have to let the world know about it? Because part of the laws required women to separate from her husband in all physical ways, to refrain from sitting on or touching anything she did not want to render ceremonially unclean. So she camped out in a tent that week. Pretty obvious something was going on at the Evans house...

Two things stand out to me in this chapter:

First, a conversation between Rachel and her Jewish friend, Ahava, who was educating her on the finer points of Orthodox Judaism, made a lightbulb go off for me. I'd always wondered in a passive sort of way at how quickly a woman in the Bible would conceive when the writer was telling the story about a special child. Hannah, for instance, when God allowed Samuel to be conceived (1 Samuel 1). It always sounded like it just didn't take long from the first time the couple was allowed to once again be intimate til, "honey, I'm pregnant!" Was that just a storytelling method, a shortcut to keep the action moving? I always assumed so.

But here Rachel connects for the readers the timeframe of a woman's month: seven days on her period, another seven days to become "clean." What generally happens about 14 days into a woman's cycle? Ovulation. What generally happens between a husband and wife after 2 weeks of enforced abstinence? Sex. Put those together and often they equal a baby.

Maybe God took into account the rhythm of our bodies, and of our emotions, when he set up seemingly arbitrary laws for the Hebrew people. I do not believe we are called to obey those laws since Christ fulfilled them, but there seems to have been a lot inherently good about them.

Secondly, Rachel ends the chapter by revisiting how glad she was to be able to hug Dan, her husband, again after two weeks of absolutely no contact. "It was lonely and isolating," she says of those two weeks. Then she reminds the reader about the people whom Jesus touched in their uncleanness--the lepers (Mark 1), the woman with the issue of blood and the dead daughter of Jairus (Mark 5)--all of whom needed Him desperately.

"His first order of business was to touch the ones that we would not declare once and for all that purity is found not in the body, but in the heart."

Amen, sister.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Top 10 Most Read Books in the World

How many have you read? Are you surprised by any of the titles included? Or surprised that a certain title did not make the list? 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rachel Held Evans Explains Her Project

This short clip features Rachel herself explaining the premise behind her experiment and book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. It should help those who think she's not taking the Bible seriously to understand that she is attempting to shine a light on the inconsistent ways people apply the Bible to modern life, in this case the idea of "biblical womanhood." Enjoy the clip--she's funny. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Biblical Womanhood: Virtue 1--Gentleness

Working my way through her first two months of the experiment, I find myself laughing a lot. Out loud, even. Rachel is a good writer. I appreciate a clever self-deprecating comment, especially when I can identify personally with it.

She starts in October and immediately regrets it because she's in the South and it's football season. How in the world can she cultivate gentleness while watching SEC football? I was eager to see how she fared. Reining in her naturally outgoing, opinionated personality was hard and only half-successful. Realizing that, she noted the common descriptor in Proverbs of an unpleasing wife: "contentious." So she started a swearing jar, in which she placed a penny for each time she failed to display a "gentle and quiet" spirit. Each penny would equate to one minute spent sitting on her roof in penance, since that is apparently what it is like to live with her (see Prov. 21:9). By the end of the month, she found herself on the roof for about an hour and a half.

I found it insightful that she realized an enforced imposing of her virtue of the month--gentleness, in this case--did not actually beget more of said virtue in her spirit. While following the rules as best she could, she knew that inside she was fighting it, becoming restless, as she said.

And isn't that what happens to all of us when we attempt to fit a foreign mold? The virtue itself isn't the issue--we should all (men and women, all followers of Christ) be allowing the Spirit to control us so that gentleness is displayed in our lives. It's the externally imposed manner in which gentleness is expected to be carried out that hems us in instead of freeing us. Tell me exactly how I'm supposed to behave, and I will probably fail. Allow me to express it within the context of my personality, gifts, and life circumstances, and I will be a much more genuine reflection of the Spirit-led person.

Rachel turned to a new spiritual discipline, contemplative prayer, to help her deal with the inner restlessness. A positive habit that would do anyone good.

On to virtue #2....

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Year of Biblical Womanhood | Introduction

Rachel opens her introduction to A Year of Biblical Womanhood in her hairdresser's chair, about to explain why she had not visited in over a year. Well, it's a long story...  It's a cute start, and her wry humor continues as she lays out for her readers her thought process in developing the 12-month experiment of living out the literal commands for women in the Bible.

Crucial to her reasoning were the questions, "Exactly how do we use the term 'biblical'? Where are we evangelicals guilty of cherry-picking selective verses to apply to modern life, particularly (in this case) the ones about women? Is there a scriptural mold that all women fit into?"

I can't tell yet whether I'm going to agree with her every conclusion and applaud her methodology. But I do appreciate her sense of humor and her sense of outrage. Diving into a deep study of scripture in order to mine the truth is never a waste of time. So let's see how her first month's experiment goes in Chapter one.


Favorite lines:

Quoting her mother, who was not fond of the traditional SAHM role, "'The only people who enjoy potlucks are men,' she used to say. 'The women do all the work.'"

In reference to her proposed project: "As it turns out, there are publishers out there who will actually pay for you to jump down rabbit holes, so long as they believe said rabbit holes are marketable to the general public."

"Take Proverbs 31, for example. As it turns out, we have a woman to thank for the ancient acrostic poem that outlines in excruciating detail the daily activities of an excellent wife, perpetuating a three-thousand-year-old inferiority complex among just about every woman in the Judeo-Christian tradition."

Summarizing the Gospel of Christ

“The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself or less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.”

Tim Keller, The Reason for God

Monday, October 15, 2012

What Does "Biblical Womanhood" Look Like?

The blogosphere and twittersphere have been lighting up the last few weeks in anticipation of a new book: Rachel Held Evans's A Year of Biblical Womanhood. As the cover image intimates, it's not your typical explanation of those "problem" women texts. I recently received a review copy of the book and will be blogging as I read. So let me give you a little background on Rachel to start.

Her official bio:

Rachel Held Evans is an award-winning author and popular blogger from Dayton, Tennessee--home of the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town (Zondervan, 2010), explores the relationship between faith and doubt and recounts the challenges of asking tough questions about Christianity in the context of the Bible Belt. Her second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (Thomas Nelson, 2012), documents a year-long experiment in which she attempted to follow all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible.

In addition to her writing, Rachel keeps a busy speaking schedule, travelling across the country for retreats, conferences, universities and churches. She has been featured on NPR, Slate, The BBC, The Washington Post, The Times London, The Huffington Post, and, and was recently named one of Christianity Today's "50 Women to Watch."

She is happily married to Dan and is a lifelong Alabama Crimson Tide fan. (I'll try not to hold that last one against her...too much.)

And for a small taste of her experiment, take a look at this short video clip. Pretty funny stuff. 

Evans's primary objective is to examine what God truly expects of women, and to ask, is there really a prescription for biblical womanhood? 

I'm intrigued enough to get an advanced copy of the book and agree to write my thoughts as I go. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Women Redeemed 2.0 Webcast and iPad Giveaway

Join authors Kim Ketola, Teske Drake and Dawn Scott Jones for an evening of encouraging chat about healing and hope for women on the evening of October 10th. The authors will join together for a Live Webcast Event to share their stories.

BUT … wait there’s more! Between 10/1 and 10/10 enter to win a brand-new iPad from Women Redeemed!


One fortunate winner will receive:
  • iPad with Wi-Fi

  • Cradle My Heart by Kim Ketola, Hope for Today, Promises for Tomorrow by Teske Drake and When a Woman You Loved Was Abused by Dawn Scott Jones

Hurry, the giveaway ends on 10/10/12. Just click one of the icons below. The winner will be announced that evening at the Women Redeemed Webcast
In coordination with the launch of their fall releases, Kregel will be hosting a live webcast event on October 10th at 8 PM EDT featuring authors Kim Ketola (Cradle My Heart)Teske Drake (Hope for Today, Promises for Tomorrow), and Dawn Scott Jones (When a Woman You Love Was Abused). The webcast will allow women to come together to share their struggles and fears in order to move toward healing and hope. Women will able to support one another and discuss shared experiences in a non-threatening, open and loving environment.

Don't miss a moment of the fun, RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 10th!