Monday, September 25, 2017

The Idol of Spiritual Discipline


When I had my first baby everything changed. My sleeping, eating, housekeeping, socializing - everything. My “new normal” pulled the rug out from under me. One change in particular was very difficult: I couldn’t spend time in God’s word the way I used to. My regular spiritual disciplines of prayer and scripture reading were all out of whack. In high school and college I started every day with my Bible time. I never missed it. Now, as a new mom, my day didn’t really have a beginning. The hours all ran together in the endless fog of exhaustion. My time was not my own. My Bible reading was sporadic and disorganized. I felt out of control and anxious. It was a box I was very nervous leaving unchecked day after day. What would happen to me? I was sure something bad would happen if I let my head hit the pillow without reading something from my Bible that day.  

But the reality was, God was feeding me from His word during that time. Passages I had stored up in my heart as a kid came to mind in the wee hours of the night as I fed my baby. Pieces of the Psalms snatched here and there from 3x5 cards above the changing table helped to anchor my hormonal thoughts. God was faithful to me during that dry spell of Bible reading. But my anxiety about it showed me something about my heart. It showed me that what God meant to be a means of grace had become an idol.

Idolizing spiritual disciplines happens very subtly. We’re not talking about simply hungering for God’s word. We’re talking about that slight shift from hoping in our savior to hoping in our works. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in my heart I was crossing a fine line between discipline and superstition. I was seeking spiritual protection through the act of reading God’s word, rather than from God’s word itself.

Spiritual disciplines are supposed to be all about the Who, not the what. It’s not the praying that protects us, but Who we are praying to. It’s not the pages of scripture themselves that have power, but the One the scriptures point to. If we use spiritual disciplines as an end in themselves rather than a means to an end, we run the risk of idolatry. Satan loves to distract us with religious practices so we lose our focus on Christ. At the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus reminds us that it’s not our many words that draw us close to God; it’s our coming to God as a child comes to a father. (Matthew 6:7-8)

We’re not looking for a guilt-free way to neglect spiritual disciplines. As Paul would say, “May it never be!” (Romans 6:1) That’s the irony of God’s grace. The more we experience it, the more we want it. When we know God accepts us and loves us apart from how many minutes we log in our quiet time journals, we are inspired to seek more time with this gracious, loving Father. Martin Luther said, “The Bible is a remarkable fountain: the more one draws and drinks of it, the more it stimulates thirst.”

So how do we utilize spiritual disciplines without making them an idol? Here are two ways I have found that protect my heart:

      1. Don’t compare your spiritual disciplines to others’. I remember finally coming to peace with my new Bible reading routine as a new mom – until I heard about someone else’s. I found out there was a mom in our Bible study group who set her alarm for 2am so she could read her Bible in a quiet house and then go back to sleep. Suddenly my own quiet times looked pathetic. But I was comparing how God works in someone else’s heart to how He works in my heart. I was taking on someone else’s convictions. Sometimes it’s helpful to hear what other people do and sometimes it’s harmful. It comes down to discernment. When we hear about someone else’s prayer life or Bible reading time we can ask ourselves, “Is there a good idea here I can benefit from? Do I want to imitate this because I think it will help me draw closer to God, or because it will make me feel better about myself?”

2      2. View spiritual disciplines with a gospel perspective. Our prayer and Bible reading programs don’t affect our standing before God. That’s because we stand before God on Christ’s merit alone. However, prayer and Bible reading have a direct impact on our practical relationship with God. Spiritual disciplines are the means through which God feeds our souls. When we skip them we don’t deprive ourselves of salvation itself, but of the hope of our salvation. We miss out on beautiful fellowship with God that encourages our hearts and strengthens us against temptation.

Are you in a dry spell? Read when you can, pray when you can, and rest in God’s love. Are you in a time of plenty? Store up for the dry spell! Immerse yourself in God’s word now so you can draw from it later.


Charles Spurgeon  said, “To pray is to enter the treasure-house of God and to gather riches out of an inexhaustible source.” This is a much greater motivation than simply checking something off our spiritual to-do lists. We can have confidence that when we seek God we will blessed. We can also trust that His faithfulness to us is based on the finished work of Christ. Nothing can improve upon it or take away from it. So pray, read, and rejoice that you belong to Christ.


Want more refreshing grace for the busy mom's heart? Check out "The Gospel-Centered Mom" Bible study!
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"Exploring the Bible"  by David Murray is a Bible reading plan for kids, highlighting gospel themes from Genesis to Revelation! 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Phonics Museum: A Review of the New Phonics Program from Veritas Press!

Veritas Press Phonics Museum: Review


I’m more excited than usual to start our homeschool year. That’s because one of my biggest problems has been solved. As a teacher-mom of multiple grade levels, including non-readers, it has always been a challenge to know what to do with my little ones while I’m working with my big ones. Veritas Press has come to my rescue with an extraordinary new program that will get my little ones reading with very little help from me: The Phonics Museum.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Must-Have's for Homeschoolers: Top Curriculum Picks for 2017/18





It's the middle of August. If you don't know whether to do a happy-dance or sit on the couch and cry, you are probably a homeschool mom about to start your school year. So many emotions. So many decisions. So many choices. 

If choosing your curriculum is one of the biggest stressors on your plate right now, you're not alone. Choosing curriculum is overwhelming. I have spent years (as a classroom teacher and now as a homeschool mom) navigating through the curriculum fog. This year I've zeroed in on some exciting picks. I hope I can offer you some thoughtful insight and take out some of the guesswork when researching curriculum.


My word for the year is: independence. I have five boys and two of them are not even school age yet. You'll notice I chose much of my curriculum based on what my kids can do independently. When you are teaching multiple grade levels and have several other kids underfoot it helps to have curriculum that does most of the work for you. This year I'll be teaching 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. 

It might look like I'm cherry-picking my favorites (and I am), but there is a method to my madness. I base my curriculum choices on the classical education model. This helps narrow it down for me a bit and guides me towards choices that already fit my teaching personality. 


So here they are. My top picks for the 2017-2018 school year. Enjoy! 

Bible

“Big Truths for Little Kids” by Susan Hunt


I am and all-in-one person. Give me a recipe for a one-pot dinner and my life is complete. Susan Hunt’s "Big Truths for Little Kids" is an excellent all-in-one Bible resource for homeschooling. It includes catechism, scripture memory, and practical application stories. Hunt’s strength, and what sets her apart from other authors, is her Christ-centered approach to character building. For example, Hunt guides the discussion on the ten commandments to our need for a savior rather than to how well we measure up. I have confidence that this book will point my kids to Christ over and over again. (If you enjoy this book be sure to check out Hunt’s "ABC Bible Verses.")

“The Ology” by Marty Machowski, New Growth Press

Since “Big Truths for Little Kids” will only get us part way through the year, we will alternate with lessons from "The Ology." This book has been the backbone of our Bible time ever since we discovered it three years ago. It covers every part of Christian theology in 71 short lessons. It answers the questions: What do we believe and why? The illustrations are beautiful and the content is simple yet thought-provoking. This book has sparked some amazing discussions with our kids. It is easy to level the discussions to different ages. Each lesson offers additional scripture references to look up if you want to dive in deeper. It also makes a wonderful companion to catechism memory, further developing the pillars of our faith. This is a resource worth going through every single year.          

Math

Saxon


Last week a package arrived and when I saw what it was I screamed. That’s how excited I was to get my hands on good math curriculum. This is our third year doing Saxon Math and I absolutely love it. Saxon is a teacher’s (and mom’s) best friend. My favorite part about Saxon is that it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. The lessons are straightforward, clear, and repetitive. Isn’t that how math should be? The goal of Saxon is mastery. It lays one brick at a time and builds a firm foundation before moving on to the next concept. This allows my kids to feel successful during every lesson instead of constantly “stuck.” There is built-in extra practice which gives us flexibility. We can slow down and practice more if I feel like the kids need it. If they grasp the concepts quickly, we can move faster and skip some of the extra practice. What a blessing to see my kids truly enjoy math. The teacher's manual is practically a word-for-word script. If you are at all intimidated about teaching math, Saxon has your back. You can read straight from the manual and your kids won't skip a beat. 

Language Arts

Abeka


As a classroom teacher for four years I knew for sure I would take Abeka language with me when I transitioned to homeschool mom. I saw firsthand how Abeka adapted well to all different learning personalities. Abeka language follows a logical progression for students to build on. It contains daily review to reinforce every concept. Students learn technical skills such as capitalizing, parts of speech, and punctuation. But this is where Abeka kicks it up a notch: it prepares kids to be great writers. The transition from individual concepts to actual writing is seamless. Kids learn to write and speak well throughout each lesson. They get frequent opportunities to apply what they learn through creative writing prompts. Abeka also encourages independent work. I love that I can get my kids started on a lesson and they are off and running on their own.  

Reading

Sing, Spell, Read, Write 
I have a nostalgic connection with SSRW because it is how I myself learned to read. It's a phonics-based curriculum that spans from K-3rd grade. The curriculum contains everything you need, but if you don't want to purchase the entire curriculum I recommend at least getting the SSRW readers. I love their progression of vowels all the way to digraphs and special sounds. "BOB Books" are another good choice, but they are not as thorough as SSRW. I always start my little ones with "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" and then transition to the SSRW readers around lesson 20. I do this because the SSRW books are more colorful and interesting and my kids like the feeling of actually finishing the little booklets. The SSRW offers workbooks that are wonderful if you are looking for a handwriting and spelling curriculum. 

That being said....

I am very excited this year to be starting my 3 1/2yr old on a brand new self-paced phonics program. More on that to come in the next blog post. (How's that for a teaser?)

History

Veritas Press



Veritas Press is known for excellence in classical education and their history curriculum is the star of the show. I love how intentional VP is. Rather than throwing a bunch of isolated historical events at kids, VP strives for long-term retention and understanding. VP knows how children actually think and learn. This curriculum takes advantage of how easy it is for kids to memorize facts and dates. Their brains store this information for later so they have something to build on when they get to history in the older grades. My favorite part about VP is that it teaches history in the most logical way: chronologically. It starts at the beginning of creation and weaves together a beautiful timeline all the way to the present day. To illustrate this timeline, VP offers 160 timeline cards with information and classic artwork to reinforce the information. This year my third grader will begin his first self-paced Veritas history course: Old Testament and Ancient Egypt. This online program contains everything he needs: teaching, video footage, games, memory songs, and follow-up assessments. This is my chance to step back and let VP do the work. If you are teaching multiple grade levels this year like I am, these self-paced courses will be your life-saver. There is just one thing you must prepare yourself for that might be a little shocking: your child will know more about history than you do. VP is so engaging and thorough in its approach, your child is guaranteed to become a walking encyclopedia of historical information. 

Story of the World

One of the most effective teaching methods of all time is story-telling. It’s one of those sneaky ways we get kids to learn without them knowing it. Susan Wise Bauer’s "Story of the World" truly reads like a story. It even has the look and feel of a novel rather than a textbook. SOTW is an investment you will make once and use throughout your child's entire elementary education. These books can be read over and over again, each time building a stronger understanding of history. Bauer's masterful story-telling draws kids in so they will want to hear it just for fun. It follows the same chronological approach as VP, so I will use these books in tandem with our self-paced VP course. There are three ways to use SOTW: You can read it aloud to your kids, they can read it to themselves (starting at about a 5th grade reading level), or you can do what I chose to do this year which is use the audio version. My kids love audio books. I enjoy the flexibility of playing them in the car or even at bedtime to wind down the day. Each chapter takes about 12 minutes to read/listen to and each volume has 42 chapters. You can use SOTW as a stand-alone history curriculum if you purchase the workbooks to go with it. The workbooks include maps, coloring, crafts, and literature suggestions.  

Science

Apologia
For a long time science intimidated me. I knew it should be hands-on, but I dreaded turning my kitchen into a lab every day and running all over town looking for materials. But what was the alternative? A dry textbook? I wanted a way to marry together simple hands-on experiments and easy-to-understand text. Apologia was my happy ending to a long, weary search. The text is crammed with colorful illustrations, fascinating information, and, yes - experiments! The experiments are integrated into the text and they almost always use things we already have on hand. I am pairing the text with the Jr. Notebooking Journal. The journal offers additional activities, projects, copy work, and coloring. I love this all-in-one place for kids to keep track of what they are learning. The best part about Apologia is that I can confidently stick with it all the way through high school and know my kids are getting a thorough, complete science education. (Huge sigh of relief.) No more intimidation for me. 

Fun Stuff

Hot Dots


Every year I like to include a couple hands-on learning games to keep our school days fresh and interesting. This year I chose Hot Dots. The kids are already hooked. I will definitely be adding more card sets to the game. Hot Dots is a set of large, colorful, multiple-choice flashcards that comes with a talking pen. When the kids choose an answer the pen lights up and tells them if they are right or wrong. This game hits all my favorite homeschool criteria: quiet, sit-down, self-directed, interactive, educational, and fun. I like to have two kids play with it together, pairing a reader with a non-reader so someone can read the directions. There are many sets to choose from. This particular set covers a little bit of every subject and is perfect for my first grader. But my older kids are drawn to it as well and it's a good opportunity for them to practice what they've already learned. I can't wait to try some of the sets for older kids. The science sets look particularly fascinating. The best part about Hot Dots is you can keep adding cards to your collection and the same pen works for all of them. I plan to add a few more pens so more kids can play at the same time. Get yourself started with a basic set and add more card sets for Christmas and birthdays! 

Kanoodle

If you have puzzle-kids like I do, you need to keep a Kanoodle in your bag of tricks. Two of my sons in particular love puzzles and this one keeps them in puzzle heaven. It comes with a set of challenges that go from easy to advanced. My 4yr-old can do the simple challenges and the older kids can do the more advanced ones. Even Daddy whisked it away for awhile and completed a few advanced challenges. This is another quiet activity that kids can do in between their regular subjects. It keeps with minds active and their hands quiet. 

What subjects are you excited about teaching this year? What are your must-have's? Comment below and share your ideas!



Don't forget about taking care of Mom this year! Grab yourself a copy of "The Gospel-Centered Mom" and refresh your heart for each precious, crazy day of motherhood. Now available on Etsy!

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Why do We Obey? Three Reasons to Give Your Kids


If you asked me what the hardest part of parenting is I wouldn’t have to think twice. (Unless I’m in the middle of potty-training. Then I can’t think at all.) For me the hardest part is discipline. Discipline is exhausting and emotional. It calls upon every ounce of our love, patience, and diligence. But perhaps the most frustrating part of discipline is not knowing if our kids really understand it. The ultimate goal of discipline is to point our kids to the gospel. Do they get it? How can we help them make that connection? What reasons can we give our kids to obey? “Because I said so,” might be the easiest answer, but here are three reasons that point our kids to the gospel.

1. We Obey Because God is Holy

Discipline is the perfect opportunity to teach our kids about God’s character. We tell them we obey to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). But how exactly is obedience connected to the character of God? The Westminster Larger Catechism question and answer number three gives us the answer:

Q: What do the scriptures principally teach?
A: The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.

Our belief about God is directly connected to our duties to God. We know who God is through his law. Our kids must learn to obey as the first step toward knowing God. If we don’t teach them to obey we cannot teach them about God’s holiness, power, mercy, and love. His whole character is communicated to us through the righteousness he requires of his people. When we require our kids to obey we show that God is worthy of our obedience. We also show them how far short we all fall from that worthiness. That brings us to the second reason.

2. We Obey Because of What Jesus Did

Discipline points our kids to their need of a savior. This takes work because kids are naturally legalistic. They are wired to hyper-focus on themselves and their own good works. Earning God’s favor through their own merit makes more sense to them than receiving free grace.

The greatest joy of gospel-centered parenting is pointing our kids away from themselves to Christ. We don’t obey to earn God’s favor, but because it has already been earned for us by another. When our kids disobey we can say, “What you did was wrong. Do you know who never did anything wrong? Jesus! He lived a perfect life for us because he knew we could never do that. If we trust in him his perfect life takes the place of our sin. Now we obey to thank him for everything he has done for us.”

The Christian life can be summed up by the three sections of the Heidelberg Catechism: Guilt, grace, gratitude. We show our kids that the only response to what Jesus did is a life of thankful obedience.

3. We Obey to Receive Blessing

Repeatedly in scripture we see a connection between obedience and blessing. God told his people, “If you keep my commandments you will be blessed.” (Deuteronomy 11:28)
Exodus 20:12 says if children obey they will “live long in the land.”

Does this mean if we obey we will always have worldly wealth and success? We can see from examples such as Job and the martyrs in Hebrews 11 that that is not the case. So what blessings can we promise our children? I love the way my pastor, David Graves, puts it:

“As opposed to health and wealth, this promise is along pragmatic grounds. If you obey your parents, then you will learn the wisdom of how to make it through this fallen world with as few scrapes as possible. The child who habitually disobeys does not learn the necessity of hard work and the prudence of how not to be taken advantage of. It is not a promise of wealth, rather it is a promise of learning how to navigate.”

We can assure our kids that God’s laws provide protection and peace – sometimes in a physical way, sometimes only spiritual. Recently my six-year-old told me, “When I tell the truth I feel happy inside.” Obedience brings us joy because it keeps us in fellowship with our creator.

Worth the Effort

Discipline is not something we do to our children, but for them. When we teach them to obey we equip them to live lives full of blessing. It takes time to help their hearts understand what discipline is all about. In 1887 hymn writer John H. Sammis put it best when he wrote the beloved words:

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”







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"I thought her best chapters were on how to discipline pointing to the grace of God instead of just disciplining to get desired behavior." - Jane
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