The Happy Christian Review

happy christian

I struggle with negative thinking.  I find myself often working through the feeling that because I didn’t get my whole checklist accomplished I didn’t get anything done.  Then, I’ll have the feeling that maybe I’m an awful mom because I lost my temper and yelled at my children.  I’ll see one of my children hit another one in an argument and assume that they must be bound for jail one day.

So, it was with great wariness that I settled into reading The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World by David Murray.  After all, I thought it was destined to be some positive thinking mumbo jumbo were you might receive an mantra to repeat as you needed a pick-me-up through the day.  I could not have been more pleasantly surprised.

Murray devotes ten chapters to sharing ten areas and ways that Christians can learn to focus more positively and become happier.  I had several favorite chapters, but I think that best lines from this book for me came in the chapter happy gospel.  In each chapter, Murray not only discusses his ideas for being happier in this area of life, but he also discusses the obstacles that are there to keep you from getting happier.

And though most Christians will be able to give you the “salvation by grace apart from works” answer on a theology exam, their personal daily spiritual experience too often defaults to various versions of “salvation by works.”

I think that if we, as Christians truly believed that it is done.  If we believed that Christ’s work on the cross finished things forever and we can rest in it, then we would have much less to worry about.  We could happily and peacefully carry on with the rest of our lives, in a thankful and restful service of Him.

Murray also has great advice about giving, media consumption, and getting along with others who you have differences with.  I think I’ll be going back to this book over and over again to remind myself of ways to keep telling myself the truth so that I can keep a more positive frame of mind, even when my circumstances are not happy.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book from Booklook Bloggers.  I wasn’t required to write a positive review.

The Good Shepherd is With Us In Scary Times

This week in Cubbies we did the lesson for Bear Hug #13.  It’s called The Good Shepherd is with us in scary times.  Our focus verse for this week was Psalm 23:4.  (If you’re keeping up with my blog, I find it incredibly enriching that the In Freedom’s Cause that I reviewed earlier this week really helped me and my older children discover more about this verse in application.)

Psalm 23:4 says:

I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.

Our lesson talks about sheep and shepherds, and how the shepherd would use his staff to guide his sheep away from falls or other trouble.  Hw would also use his rod to protect the sheep from predators like wolves.  My class is mostly boys, so they really enjoyed the references to wolves and fighting off wolves.

Because we focused on the rod and the staff, I made sure that my activities for the lesson focused on these things too.  For our craft, we beaded pipe cleaners with pony beads and twisted them into a staff shape.

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Here are Monkey and Owlet’s finished products.  (Sorry that some of these pictures are blurry.  I used my phone instead of my camera.)

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For our snack, we had shepherd rods.  Owlet and Monkey were lots of help in the kitchen.  We used pretzel rods, and I melted some white chocolate candy coating into a coffee cup.  Monkey dipped the rods in.  Then, Owlet shook multicolored sprinkles over the rods.

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I think they turned out pretty nice.  Even better, the little kids were so proud of themselves for all their baking skills :-)

The Good Shepherd is With Us in Scary Times

Read-Alouds: Unicorns, Dragons and Freedom

I almost didn’t write this post because two of my four entries today were review items, but I wanted to stay in a rhythm sharing our read-alouds, so I’m here to share again!

The first read aloud for this week is A Plague of Unicorns.  I reviewed it here.  It’s a sweet story that has almost a fairy tale quality to it.  An abbey is being plagued by unicorns eating their apples and they are determined to stop it.  They finally find a solution to their problem in a young boy who has been sent to the abbey by his family to learn everything that he will need to know to become the next duke in the family.

It’s very sweet, and there’s not a lot of action to it.  The biggest thing I learned from it was that my children know very little about the Catholic church or about the middle ages.  However, when I think about it, the only thing medieval that we’ve done other than our How to Train Your Dragon books was a review we did for Progeny Press last year and the fairy tales that we have read.  So, this is a portion of their education that we’ll need to revisit in the future.  Books like this one make a good introduction though.

A plague of unicorns

Speaking of Medieval, we also listened to the audio drama In Freedom’s Cause.  If you saw my review, you know how much I loved it.  This is the true story of what really happened with William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, unlike the Braveheart version that is riddled with historical inaccuracies.  Whenever we get back around to medieval history, my plan is to use this audio drama as a unit study because we really just preferred to listen to it for fun this time around.  However, if we continue to follow the Veritas history cycle, our next real foray into medieval history is going to be a couple of years away.

In Freedom's Cause

We also read Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot.  This is also a true story of a young pilot during the Berlin Airlift who dropped candy from his plane for the children to have.  I loved the idea that at the end World War II, as Berlin is ravaged by war and by the siege from the Communists, that someone cared enough about making children happy to send them candy from the sky.

I really didn’t know what the Berlin airlift was until we read this book either.  I’m woefully ignorant about it, so this was great for my own education.  This was a recommended go-along with our history program, and I’m glad that I made the effort to get it because it was a beautiful book and the story was one that I’m glad we didn’t miss.

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In our other book news, we read How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm.  In this book, the Vikings are having a “friendly race” to see who can go the furthest in the ocean, stay out the longest, and still come back alive.  Things are starting to get more serious for Hiccup now as he is kidnapped, receives a slavemark, and is almost killed by Norbert the Nutjob.  The world is expanding for Hiccup, the danger is getting more serious, and the books are becoming more and more interesting for all of us.  I’m anxious to see what happens to Hiccup next.

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That’s about it for this week’s read-alouds.  Of course, I’m writing this only two weeks late.  I swear that I could write three posts a day and still not write about everything I need to share (reviews) or want to share!

This Week

This week started out with some Valentine’s Day fun at our Kid’s Club.  We used Sprite and conversation hearts to make dancing hearts.

dancing hearts

We exchanged Valentine’s, and we had fun making a “Cool Hands, Warm Heart” drawing/coloring project.  Even I made one!

warm heart cold hands

We’re still kind of shy there and getting to know people.  Rose has several friends that come though, so she’s happy to get to go there and have fun.  When we got home from club, she took all her Valentine’s that she got there and the ones that she got a Community Bible Study last week and made a little Valentine’s Day scrapbook.  She was very happy to use some washi tape and some stamps.

A photo of Owlet holding a really cute homemade valentine also made it into this collage, mostly because she’s constantly “posing” for me to make pictures of her.

valentines

It’s hard to know where to begin with the rest of this week’s activities, so I guess I’ll begin with the books.  We read Twenty and Ten which provided a small picture into how people hid the Jews from the Nazis during WWII.  We also read How to Break a Dragon’s Heart. This series is just getting too good guys.  If the other kids would let us, I’m pretty sure that Rose and I could just drop everything else and just read until we finished the whole series.

books

Firecracker worked on his Pokemon notebook this week.  He finally finished the Eevee evolutions, and he worked on the Chikorita ones as well.

pokemon

We also worked on our history curriculum.  We started studying the Race to the Moon, and the Apollo Moon landing.

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We’ve also taken a diversionary path to spend just  a little bit of time studying the Trojan War.  It’s something Firecracker’s been wanting to do because of the part the Trojan War and the Trojan horse plays in the movie Peabody and Sherman.

trojan horse

We’ve continued with our math and science curriculums that we’re reviewing.  I don’t have any pictures from science this week as all we’ve done really is watch videos.  However, I did take a couple of pictures of Firecracker and Rose on separate laptops working on math.  I think it’s funny.  Firecracker’s run into some really difficult for him work in math, and one day this week the lesson, which usually takes him 20 minutes took him (and me working with him) an hour and twenty minutes.  I told him how proud I was of him for all his hard work.

math

I know that over the past few weeks some of you have probably been wondering where my preschoolers have been at in my weekly wrap-ups because other than whole family learning  activities and the alphabet song game, they just haven’t been in my wrap-ups since Christmas.  It’s because they took a couple of months “vacation from school” to play with all the new toys they got for Christmas, so I haven’t had anything really new to report for them in a while.  In fact, every time I had tried to get them to do activities with me, I heard a “can I just play legos now?” or a “I’m coloring.”  Because my philosophy of preschool is really based on the importance of play, I just allowed them to get all the play they wanted out of their new toys.

By the end of this week they were officially over their just playing with their toys and ready to be included in our homeschool again. We worked on mixing colors together.

color mixing

We reviewed the letter “E” on Starfall, and we worked on dotting “E’s.  Owlet still just dots everything on her page because that’s more fun than following the instructions.  Monkey is getting surprisingly good at finding the right letter.

e dotting

As part of our activities we’re doing with our Egglo eggs this year, we’re making a poster for the scripture scroll verses, and I got them to very enthusiastically help me to decorate it.  I’ll be sharing some of our lessons with Egglo over the next few weeks because it’s going to actually be a whole family learning activity.

Jesus Poster

And of course, they continued to work on the Alphabet Song game.  They’re actually getting something new to review in the mail in a week or two, and they’re excited because I’ve told them that they’re getting workbooks to go with it! (As a matter of fact, I went and ordered Owlet her own set of student books so they could do it together just yesterday.)

We’ve also spent some time out playing in some flurries that we got this week.  We played until Owlet got too cold and uncomfortable (even in her big jacket and hat) to play any more.

preschoolers

That about does it for our week this week.  We had planned on going to a President’s Day homeschool day on Monday, but it was so cold and rainy that we just stayed home and had a relaxed regular day.  All the schools are on winter break this week, so we didn’t have any of our regular activities, and it’s been a nice break.  Next week promises to be busier though as we have two field trips scheduled and our regular activities starting back up again.

In Freedom’s Cause {A TOS Review}

In Freedom's Cause

One of my favorite new vendors that I discovered through the Review Crew last year was Heirloom Audio Productions.  Because of our love for the first of their products that we had reviewed, I was incredibly excited when I received the opportunity to review for them again this year.  Rose was excited too, jumping up and down when I told them that Heirloom Audio Productions had a new G.A. Henry adventure for us to listen to!

We received the In Freedom’s Cause Single Package.  This package includes the physical CD copy of In Freedom’s Cause and digital downloads of their study guide/curriculum, the audio soundtrack, and a printable copy of William Wallace’s prayer.

I do want to note that if you don’t have any experience with audio dramas, you are in for a treat.  This is not just an audio book, but is instead a full audio experience with characters, music, sound effects and great performances.  It’s truly theater for the ears.

About the Drama

In Freedom’s Cause is the story of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce and their fight for the independence of Scotland.  The story actually begins in the present with Ned and Gerald.  They meet up with an older friend of theirs (Mr. George) and decide to go and visit Mr. George’s study.  They find that the study has as many historical artifacts as the British Museum.

They find a claymore, and Mr. George begins telling them about William Wallace, inserting them as characters in the story.  He begins with Ned, and recasts him as Ned Forbes, a young Scottish man whose  father was killed by the English.  Ned knew that his father had died, but didn’t know how until he was told by his mother while they discussed his father’s favorite psalm.

As it happens, Ned’s father’s favorite psalm is Psalm 23.  In their discussion of the psalm, Ned and his mother begin to discuss a very familiar part of the verse.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Ned has a question of his mother.  How could that be his father’s favorite psalm if God did not protect him from death at the hands of the English?  His mom’s response was simple, yet profound.  She reminded her son that God didn’t promise that bad things wouldn’t happen to you, just that God would be with you when they did.

As Ned hears and learns more about his father, he realizes that he wants to take up his father’s cause against their English oppressors.  That’s when he begins to learn sword fighting, and in the course of time, he is introduced to a young Scottish revolutionary named William Wallace.  And that’s when the action really begins to pick up.

The Scottish men band together to begin to fight for their independence.  Throughout the rest of the story, there is a sense of brotherhood, loyalty, betrayal, love and the continual struggle for independence.  There are battles and there are times of peace.  This story follows the fight for Scottish independence from England all the way through Robert the Bruce’s eventual victory against the English and Scotland’s entrance into a time of independent rule.

in freedom's cause quote

Without giving too much away, I wanted to share with you a couple of the ideas that touched me the most from this audio drama.

First, there’s a continual push-and-pull between the idea of having peace and fighting for freedom.  Throughout the story there are characters who are willing to sacrifice freedom for peace and other characters who continually feel that peace under English rule is not truly peace without freedom.

In fact, at one of the turning points of the story, Ned approaches Robert the Bruce to ask him to take up the Scottish cause, and in their conversation, Ned has the opportunity to as Robert why he left the Scottish cause to make a treaty with England.  Robert replies that he’s always been on the side that meant peace for his beloved country, whether that was Scottish independence or English rule. This is an important conversation for history and one that we need to be having today when we’re all to happy to sacrifice pieces of our freedom because of the idol we have made of safety.

The second idea that I felt strongly affected by is the idea that even when things do not turn out favorably for us personally, that God is with us.  This is a theme that is recurrent throughout the drama, from Lady Forbes first conversation with Ned through the end of the story.  As Lady Forbes says to Ned,

Remember…the Lord is your shepherd.
Even in the midst of the shadows.

I love the discussion of this throughout the drama, especially after Wallace is betrayed and battle and finds that he must flee to France for a while and after Wallace’s death when Gerald wants to know why God abandoned Wallace. These are touching and poignant conversations, conveying both our faith in God and our sadness when He doesn’t act the way we wish he would.

I also think that these are important questions to discuss with our children as we strive to impart our faith and the meaning that our faith gives to our lives with our children.  They are going to have hard questions and wrestle with God, and this story is a great story to remind them of how God is with them always.

Using the Drama in Our Home

The children in our house who I listened to this drama with are 9 & 8 years old, and while I could have listened to the whole story in just one sitting, little ears get tired.  So, what I would do each day would be to share just a couple of tracks from the story with them.

I would pull out my In Freedom’s Cause study guide, which I went ahead and printed out and placed in a binder so that I would have ready access to the materials as the children and I listened to the story.  I would look over the sections that I planned on us listening to each day, pulling out the vocabulary that I might need to introduce the children to as well as a few questions to pose for discussion or for further look-ups after our listening time was over.

The guide is a true time saver because it contains three sections for each section of story that you listen through.

  • Listening Well is a section of questions that are geared towards making sure that the story is comprehended as the child is listening through.  For example, a random question pulled from this section is, “Who gives away Wallace’s location to King Edward?”  These are mostly simple fact-filled questions that will build your child’s confidence for the next section.
  • Thinking Further is a section of questions that requires either further thought or research.  Your child might look on a map or globe for a location, visit a website for more information or simply reflect on a deeper meaning as he listens to the story.  These are deep questions such as, “Sir John isn’t a good man, but he is not a complete fool either.  In what ways does he demonstrate a practical or worldly wisdom?”  or “How did Wallace’s victory at Lanark affect Scottish morale?”
  • Define these words is a section of vocabulary words that can be used at your discretion.  If they were words that made a big difference in how you understood the story, I would pause the story to tell the children what these words were.  Some of these words were “glen, psalter, formidable, minstrel, etc.”

Another valuable section in the study guide is the presence of three simple Bible studies.  Each of these studies have points and scripture-references to get you and your children started using this story to get into God’s word.  These studies are themed: (1) I will Fear No Evil, (2) Vengeance and Forgiveness, and (3) Freedom.  These are great starting places for a scriptural response to the major themes of the drama.

There’s also a brief historical background to set the stage for the story as well as a small bibliography for further information on both William Wallace and on Psalm 23.

I have found that, so far we’ve mostly listened to the story and discussed a few of the questions in the study guide.  Once we were finished with the first listen through and discussion of the story, I placed it in the rotation of CDs for us to listen to in the car–eventually it will propel the children to far greater investigation as they continue to absorb the story and the ideas.

My Overall Opinion

This is a great story, and a fun addition to studies in medieval history.  This would also be great to study as a parallel to the American Revolution as many of the ideas in the the American Revolution were inspired by ideas from the Scottish fight for independence.

My deeper concern with my children, even before history, is studying God’s word.  I find this to be a highly valuable resource in teaching Biblical values to my children, including examples of our appropriate response when God doesn’t react in the way we would have Him to do.  I recommend this resource as something far more valuable than a mere history resource.  Instead, this is a faith building story about true heroes, the sacrifices they make and God that they serve.

It also passes my final test for good resources to use with my children.  I love it as much as they do (if not more).  We only have a few years with our children, and our joy in the resources that we use will help propel our children to a love for learning.  This is one that I’m very joyful about sharing with my children.

In Freedom's Cause Review
Crew Disclaimer

IndoctriNation {A TOS Review Crew Review}

Indoctrination

I have long, as a homeschooling parent, felt that I had to justify our family’s decision to homeschool our children, but I’ve never really had the facts to go along with the feelings and convictions that we have.  So, when Great Commission Films gave me the opportunity to review their film IndoctriNation, I knew I wanted to spend some time with the movie.

I received a copy of the physical DVD from Great Commission films.  This product regularly retails on their website for $19.95.  My Hubby and I watched the film together, and you may not want to watch this around your younger children due to the frank discussion of many school issues, such as violence, sexuality, drugs and alcohol.  Having said that, I had children coming in-and-out and paying varying amounts of attention to the movie during the hour and a half that Hubby and I were watching this film.

Colin Gunn is a Scottish filmmaker, and a homeschool father of seven.  When making the choice of what to do for their children’s education, Gunn and his wife, searching back to their own memories of what school was like for them, chose to homeschool their children.  However, almost 90% of Christian parents send their children to public schools.  Some with the idea that their children can be the salt and the light in the public schools.  Others send their children to public schools only because they feel that they can’t afford private schools or homeschooling.  Yet, research by the Barna group has also shown that over 80% of children leave the Christian faith when they graduate high school and never return again.  While homeschooling is no assurance for your children’s salvation, what impact do our schooling choices have on their discipleship?  Do public schools play into the decline of Christianity in America?

IndoctriNation opens in the middle of a debate between Baptists.  As a Baptist girl myself, I felt completely drawn in.  The debate was on public schools:  Should Christian parents send their children to public schools or remove them from public schools?  There are famous Christian theologians on both sides of the public school battle.

I watched a clip from a Charles Stanley sermon where he tells parents, “When you send that child off to school today, you’re sending them into a pagan society. [They] teach practices that the Bible states very clearly are ungodly, unacceptable, and condemned by God.”

To the contrary, prominent Christian leader Franklin Graham is shown saying, “I want to see a child – at least one child – in every class in every public school in America who is trained as a witness for Jesus Christ. Let’s don’t surrender public schools; let’s take ‘em back.”

Who is right?  Is it possible to influence public schools for Christ?  Should parents flee the public schools as a pagan institution or should they work within the public schools to effect change from within?

Do not be deceived

These are the questions that Gunn sets out to answer.  He interviews school teachers, administrators, students, parents, pastors, and legislators.  He shows video clips from news stories, runs animations of research and a history timeline.  He tours museums, visits schools and reaches back into history to figure out whether or not schools have Christian roots, and if they do, when they lost them.

This movie covers a lot of ground, and it would be hard for me to enumerate all of the points that it makes or discuss all the facts presented.  However, I do want to take the time to share some of the things that I found most powerful.

I found the “salt and the light” argument that so many of my friends (and even my pastor) uses as a reason to send your children to public schools completely destroyed by two incidents in IndoctriNation.

In the first, Gunn is at the Texas teacher of the year conference.  He goes around interviewing teachers.  Many of them are Christians.  So, he asks them, “How are you the salt and the light in your school?”  There is not a single teacher who answers that they are the salt and the light by telling others about Jesus.  Instead, they all answer that they are the salt and the light in their schools by living a good, moral life.

In the second clip, Gunn is interviewing Mike Metarko, an elementary school principal.  When Gunn talks to Metarko, Metarko discusses how he feels like he’s fighting a battle as a principal.  He’s standing at a dike and he’s noticing cracks forming.  He reaches a finger and plugs in a hole through some work with the anti-defamation league.  He plugs another hole by allowing CEF and their Good News clubs to operate in their after school programs.  However, he looks down and realizes that water is rushing in and the foundation is starting to crumble.  Metarko concludes that the foundation is bad because it’s not founded on God and His Word.

Gunn goes on to discuss two more teachers as examples, a young lady who is a popular teacher but tells how she is silenced from discussing her faith at school, but that any person with liberal views or is anti-God is protected and allowed to say whatever they wish at school.  By the end of the movie, we find out that she is no longer teaching in a public school because her convictions of her need to spread the gospel had become stronger than her need to stay silent and keep her job.

Another teacher Gunn discusses is a teacher who is blatantly fired for telling his classes about Jesus.  He understood that if he was following the great commission that he must share his faith with his students.  The school board disagreed.

Salt of the World

The overall impression that I’m left with as I view these powerful examples from the movie IndoctriNation is that the schools are not places where Jesus’s light can shine through.  In fact, these are places where instead the Christians who work there are not allowed to fully follow Christ.  Their rights are limited because of their role as agents of a state institution that is not at all friendly to Christianity and Christians.

However, when we settle for what is comfortable or compromise for what is convenient, are we really being the salt and the light?  Are we doing what is really pleasing to the Lord?  Does God really bless those actions?

I cannot in my heart say that we are pleasing God or that God will bless us.

Of all the themes and lines of thought running through IndoctriNation, this is just one theme.  There’s some really good information on this DVD, and many other themes and ideas running through Gunn and Fernandez’s film.  So far, I have watched it twice, and I plan on budgeting some money for the book in the near future.  (I would like to read it and track down some of the facts and figures that are given in the movie.)  In fact, I would go so far as to say that all Christians should watch this film before they form an opinion for themselves on whether or not Christians belong in the public school system.

Over-and-over again I am struck by a Voddie Baucham clip at the beginning of the film.  In it he discusses how Christians will fight each other tooth-and-nail over which translation of the Bible to use, denominational differences and many other things, but nearly ninety percent of Christian parents send their children to public schools without any question or reflection on the subject.  Why is that?  We all love our children and want what is best for them.  So, why are we so eager to hand them off to the state at the age of 5 that many of us don’t stop and discuss with God whether or not that’s his plan for our family?

This film marks a great addition to the public school or not debate for Christian families, and I look forward to sharing many of the facts and ideas that I have learned with other Christian families as part of our discussion on whether or not public schools are the best place for Christians.

IndoctriNation DVD ReviewCrew Disclaimer

God’s Story in 66 Verses {A BookLook Review}

God's Story

I have recently found myself longing for more reference books to help with my study of the Bible and my writing.  So, I was pretty interested in the new book by Stan Guthrie,God’s Story in 66 Verses: Understand the Entire Bible by Focusing on Just One Verse in Each Book.  In this book, Guthrie chooses one verse from each book of the Bible to be his key verse to understanding the theme and main events of each book of the Bible.

I must say that I think that’s a brilliant way to look at each book of the Bible.  Not only does he  choose a key verse to organize the book of the Bible, he then speaks to the theme of the book and creates an outline of the events of the book.  He also often provides additional verses within the book to back up his choice of key verse and then closes his look at specific books of the Bible by showing us a small picture of Jesus within that book of the Bible.

It’s highly readable and easy to understand.  It’s written for the layperson and not the scholar.  I also think it’s a great starting point for a teacher who is looking to teach a survey through the Bible and is looking for a starting place.  You could build a series around the “66 key verses” that Guthrie has chosen.  This one is going into my permanent collection for both my husband and I to reference and, at some point, use as a teaching tool.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book through the BookLook Bloggers Program.  I was not required to write a positive review and my opinions are my own.