Posted in Around The Church, On The Reading Chair

Pastor’s Bible Review

I received The Pastor’s Bible from Crossway in order to review it. I thrust it upon The Pastor after I had a chance to use it a bit and asked his opinion, as well. So this is our review, not just my review.

I received the cloth over board cover. Though it also comes in imitation leather and genuine leather. While it may seem like something a pastor has to have, honestly, it was a miss for us. I’ll tell you why.

First, the good parts! The English Standard Version is an excellent translation. The Pastor doesn’t like to preach from this translation, he has always only preached from the New King James. I like it as a preaching Bible and have used it in that capacity. The translation is going to amount to personal preference. I also like the cross references and the foot notes in this particular Bible. I find those very helpful and they don’t scream for your attention as your eyes run over the text.

The extras in this Bible are what I just don’t like. You should also note, there are no maps. There are some instructional throughout. I say instructional, because they are all leadership oriented and not exactly Scripturally based. Like bits and pieces of a hermeneutics book got stuck into a Bible.

These seem like a nice touch, but the reality is that you’ll fill all these spots up pretty quickly. Unless your ministry duration is less than five years, you’ll definitely run out of room for births, deaths, and marriages. Also, since this is a Pastor’s Bible- I’d expect the list to be marriages, baptisms, and funerals.

I couldn’t figure out where on earth they were getting the supplemental resources. Found out in the front on the Bible. It being from a Reformed tradition is probably what bothered me most. We are Methodists, so our liturgy and flow is a bit different- in addition to the obvious doctrinal differences.

The reading plans were troublesome for me. The four part mimics the Lectionary, but isn’t the Lectionary. It has four parts, but instead of an OT Reading, Psalm Reading, Gospel Reading, and Epistle Reading this Bible sets 2 OT Readings, a Psalm Reading, and 1 NT Reading. Essentially both plans are to read the Bible in a year, which is fine, but the close to Lectionary format just doesn’t make sense to me.

The resources also don’t make sense to me. It is like having the Book of Common Prayer in your Bible, only it isn’t the Book of Common Prayer. In our particular denomination, we have the outlines for weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc. in our handbook- as I imagine most church organizations do. So this seemed a lot like reinventing the wheel. Also, putting it into the Bible gave me quite a bit of pause and reflection on if we should even be adding these resources into our Bibles in the first place. It seems to elevate the resources above what they might deserve. It made me question if we were adding authority equal to the Scripture in and making the Word profane. I haven’t sorted through all of that in my mind, but having things in my Bible that I disagreed with made me question adding those sorts of things, even those I agree with, to Bibles in the first place.

It has two bookmarks, which is becoming more standard with Bibles. I personally think a Pastor’s Bible should have 4 bookmarks- one for each Lectionary Reading.

So, overall, we didn’t find this Bible helpful or useful. We have so many resources that provide better resources than are found here. Also, don’t buy your pastor a Bible- unless you’re buying them a super fancy calf skin covered one or something.

Someone from a Reformed tradition might like this Bible more, but I found most of the information was redundant and something every pastor already has access to. I love the version. I like the format. I just didn’t like any of the extras.

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Posted in From The Altar, On The Reading Chair

The Apologetics Study Bible Review

I’ve had this Bible for several months. I’ve been using it in my personal devotion time to get a feel for it and see what I think about it. Now, I’m ready to give you my full review.

I have the hardcover version, but it also comes in a hardcover thumb-indexed version, an eBook version, a brown imitation leather version, and a navy imitation leather version.

The Bible translation is the Christian Standard Version, which I really like for personal devotion. If you’re unsure of how you’ll like a translation, you can always go to BibleGateway.com and read some passages in the version of your choice. It can help you get a feel for the version without committing to buying it.

Apologetics is the defense of the faith, answering those big questions we might have. This Bible not only explains the Bible in the footnotes sections, but it gives some answers to big questions through articles peppered throughout by Christian apologists.

There are several articles in the front of this Bible to explain some more general concepts. These are articles that cover more than just one specific area of Scripture.

Each book of the Bible has a rather lengthy introduction. It sets the scenes, explaining the context of the book. It also covers some topics related to that specific book. For example, Genesis covers the reliability of the book of Genesis and the relationship of Genesis to Ancient Myths. Clearly, these are only short articles. If you wanted a full study in those areas, there are plenty of complete books, but these articles are enough to at least touch on the topics before you move into your Bible study.

Throughout, there are full articles on various topics, written by a variety of authors. Again, they won’t cover the topics in depth, and related to each of these articles are entire books written about the topic. But they do give you some TL;DR answers to some hot topic issues— maybe even some issues you’ve never even considered.

My favorite feature of this Bible is the Twisted Scripture blocks. They are just small, quick explanations of how some people misuse Scripture. I found those bits to be extremely helpful in my reading. Again, these quick writings are in no way in-depth discussions on the topics, but they will help you as you read to not get lost in the weeds of heresy.

The footnotes are quite expansive. You’ve got two layers of footnotes. The first is the standard Bible footnotes. The second layer is the bigger layer, and they explain the issues of the Scriptures on a deeper level. In some books, they are quite expansive; in others, they are more minimal, depending on the Scripture.

There is a full and pretty awesome concordance in the back. It is pretty lengthy and includes a lot for a simple Bible concordance.

It also has some pretty awesome full-color maps in the back. (I’m a sucker for a good map.)

Now, this Bible is not for those outside of the Orthodox Christian faith. If you believe something that isn’t in-line with the rest of the church, this is going to step all over your toes. If you don’t believe what is in the Apostle’s Creed, this Bible is not for you. (And you probably need to read it anyway.) It doesn’t take stances that I would say are denominational; however, it doesn’t shy away from tough issues. And it just straight “calls it like it is” and doesn’t “beat around the bush” about it.

It calls out bad theology by name. I found that helpful in knowing exactly who or what they were talking about. Some books try not to call out the groups by name, and it can be confusing who or even what they are talking about.

So, be aware that if you believe something that isn’t in the Canon, you will likely be offended at some point in your reading.

Honestly, that candidness is what makes me like this study Bible so much. It is very clear in what it is telling you. I really appreciate this Bible. I love the CSB version, I have several Bibles in that version, and that is my preferred version for personal Bible study.

I recommend this Bible pretty highly. I know the nature of apologetics doesn’t appeal to everyone. There are some who choose to be inspired rather than challenged. This would make an excellent Bible for a teen, young adult, new Christian, or someone solid in their faith who isn’t quite sure what they believe or who wants to deepen their understanding of their faith. They do make a version for students, but I am unsure how it is different from this version. This Bible is for anyone who really wants to get down to answering the questions they may have. Again, this is a Bible. It is intended to be a help as you read and study your Bible. There are entire books on apologetics that you can read if you want, but I do think this Bible will help as you are studying God’s Word to answer some of those big questions. This Bible can be a help to different people across many life situations. While perhaps not the right choice for everyone, I really like it.

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Posted in On The Reading Chair, With The Kids

ESV Family Devotional Bible Review

The last few months, I have been using this Family Devotional Bible from Crossway. I wanted to use it for a little while before I gave my review of it. So, I’ve been pulling it out during family devotion time. I have the hardcover edition, but it is also available in blue or brown imitation leather.

Now, when I think of a family Bible, I think of an heirloom quality Bible. Something pretty and significant. I don’t think of a picture Bible. But this is not necessarily intended to be that stately family Bible. This is far more practical. It is a Bible a younger family can walk through together during family devotion time. I’m not sure if you’ve gathered this or not, but I am a very big advocate for family devotions.

This Bible has plenty of full color pictures. Now, the colored ink on the Bible paper does wrinkle the page a little bit. I’m not sure if you can tell from this picture, but there is a rippled texture throughout the picture pages. While the paper is thicker than standard Bible paper, it still didn’t hold up perfectly with the ink. But the pictures are beautiful.

They aren’t childish cartoons, you have these beautiful illustrations throughout. They do remind me a little of the Bible storybooks in doctor’s office waiting rooms, but I love the illustrations in those, so it works out.

There is a small amount of ghosting on the backs of picture pages, but they don’t interfere with being able to see the pages. It is very light on footnotes.

The devotions are the real highlight of this Bible. It has these interspersed throughout Scripture. They are with the Scripture you are talking about. I really like the questions they give. They are directed enough to stay on topic, but open ended enough to give real thoughtful discussion. Smaller kids won’t benefit from the questions as much as older kids, tweens, teens, and you will. I think that makes these devotions great for a family with a wide age range. While I wouldn’t say this devotion would be ideal for families with only teens in the house, it becomes ideal for those who may have a teen or two along with a younger kid. With the younger kids, the story and illustrations are going to be where they gain the most. For older kids, tweens, teens, and parents- the discussion is where you gain the most. If you have younger kids, you may want to skip the discussion or go light on it. But if you have kids who are older, definitely make sure you leave time for the discussion questions.

The devotions focus on the hero type stories in the Bible. You won’t find a single devotion in the book of Psalms, for example. They are Biblically based and don’t really veer into any specific theology. They stay focused on the Bible stories.

30 devotions are in the Pentateuch. (None in Leviticus.)

24 devotions through the historical books.

0 devotions through the books of wisdom.

2 devotions in the major prophets.

1 devotion in the minor prophets.

56 devotions are in the Gospels.

14 devotions in the book of Acts.

1 devotion in Philemon.

1 devotion in Revelation.

(For a total of 130 devotions.)

It is reasonable to think you could go through all these devotions in one year. And you can go through them in any order you wish. You could start at the beginning. Or, if you’re starting later in the year, start with the Gospels to get further into the life of Jesus around Advent time. You can go straight through or jump around. They do tell you what page the next devotion can be found at the end of each devotion, but there is also an index in the back where you could pick the devotion that best fits you right now. (Either fits what your preacher talked about this week, fits where you are in the liturgical year, fits what you are studying in school, or just fits where your mind and interests are right now.)

I love the ESV version for kids. It is on a 10th grade reading level, so it still has a poetic, non-childish feel. But when read aloud, it is easy for them to understand in modern language.

There are 8 really nice maps at the end of this Bible. I like how they illustrated them. They are very interesting for kids, but also easy for them to understand.

Overall, I have really enjoyed this Bible. I think the devotions are excellent for a wide range of ages. The illustrations are beautiful. The Scripture is right there with each devotion so you’re not flipping around to find what you’re reading. The ESV version is a great read aloud version of the Bible for kids. I think this is an excellent resource for families. I wouldn’t say this Bible is a good Bible for kids, but rather as a family resource.

**I received this Bible for free in exchange for my honest review. I am in no way obligated to review it favorably. **

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Posted in From The Altar, On The Reading Chair

The Complete Jewish Study Bible Review

I have been very into various Bibles lately. There are just so many different study Bibles that capture my attention. Some capture my attention in a negative way. “Why would anyone make that study Bible?!” But most capture my attention in a positive way. So, I’ve been picking up a few here and there to read through, use in my own personal devotion time, and see what my thoughts are on these various study Bibles.

The Complete Jewish Study Bible caught my attention. I grabbed a copy of the hardcover edition, but there are fancierleatherversions. This hardcover is a shiny, glossy cover, but it is really good quality. Just for aesthetics, I like the color and the intricate stained glass patterns they use throughout.

And guys- two sewn in bookmarks! That makes me really happy. I’m still waiting for a Bible to come with three. One for the Old Testament reading, one for the Psalms, and one for the New Testament reading. The Pastor wants 4- Old Testament, Psalms, Gospel, and Letters. The font is easy to read and in single column format. The margins are very narrow and not really suitable for writing in.

This Study Bible is packed full of useful study tools and information. I’m not the intended audience for this Bible. However, I have really liked this Bible. It has helped me see God’s Word in a new light. It has given more life and deeper meaning to things I’ve been reading my entire life. It has been a challenge to use, but it has made me slow down and really study the Word and not just breeze right through it. This won’t be the Bible for everyone, and I will get to that later, but it is an excellent study Bible.

The first issue to note is that this Bible is not in our typical English order. It still begins with Genesis and ends with Revelation, but it is not in the same order in between. You have the Torah first (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Then you have all the prophets together (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel [1st and 2nd], Kings [1st and 2nd], Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). Followed by the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles [1st and 2nd]). In the New Testament, you have the Gospel first (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), followed by Acts, then you have the letters broken into three categories; Letters to Communities (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians), Pastoral Letters (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon), and Messianic Letters (Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude). And then you end with Revelation. If you’re not used to this, you’ll have to just use the table of contents as you acclimate to the order of the books.

Next, you’ll likely notice that you don’t recognize the names of the Bible. The aim of this particular translation was to restore the Jewishness of the Bible. So the names of the books have been taken back to their Hebrew names. No worries, though. The English names appear on the right hand pages with the Jewish names on the left.

I also found I didn’t know any of the people or places in the Bible! Those got put in Hebrew, as well. I actually really appreciated this. It made me read it a little outside of my language. It also had me noticing who was doing what a little bit more. And fortunately, they included a handy Glossary of Hebrew (with pronunciations!) to English. So, I could look them up as much as I needed to.

Each book of the Bible has a great introduction to bring you into the book, including an outline. It also goes ahead and tells you the main names and places in English so you don’t have to look them all up straight out of the gate.

The Complete Jewish Bible also contains a great amount of introductory material. It tells why they translated it the way they did. It goes into translation issues. It brings up the vision and potential audience of the translation. They go into detail on why the Bible is God’s Word to humanity. It explains poetry, law, legalism, and more. It fully outlines the prophesy of the Messiah and how Jesus is the fulfillment of that prophesy. The introduction is almost a full book of great information to help as you study God’s word.

Now, this Bible is not going to be for everyone. There are plenty of people who are about calf-deep in their walk into the river of God’s Word and this will just make them almost drown. If you were just stepping in and knew nothing of the Bible, this would be a fine place to start. No worries there at all. But there are people who are not yet fluent in the Bible but are getting there. This is going to overwhelm those people. People completely non-fluent in Scripture and people very fluent in Scripture will find something amazing here. But those middle people may need to get a little more comfortable with The Word before diving into something like this. I’d hate for anything meant for good to be a stumbling block. This Bible is very much of the scholarly side of things. This is not about life application or practical application of doctrine. This Bible helps you understand the world into which Jesus came into and the world the Jewish people came from. It brings you back into those Hebrew roots so you are better able to read the stories and the words more in their context. It is an extremely eye opening experience.

This Bible is packed full of even more features than I’ve listed. Articles from Jewish scholars. Information of Jewish customs. There is just so much here. It also has footnotes that describe the culture of what is going on within the Scriptures.

I will definitely be hanging onto this Bible. It makes the Scripture new and fresh. It brings to life deeper meanings. It brings more understanding of Jewish faith and culture. And all along the way, you can see Jesus woven throughout. It just highlights those threads of grace so we see the shadow of the cross stretching across the entire span of man’s history.

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Posted in Under Our Roof, With The Kids

Advice to Large Family Parents

Being a large family can be very lonely. People stop inviting you over. You try to understand. You are an entire party in and of yourself now. It feels like you’re only invited to a party last minute when someone realizes they don’t have great guest numbers. Or maybe you have stopped accepting invitations. You feel like you are just too much and so you stop showing up. Either way, the result is feeling lonely. Here are a few tips for that:

– Stop waiting for invitations and start inviting people over. Maybe it can’t be weekly, but it could be monthly. Your house may not be spotless or quiet, but I bet it is fun and lively. Perfect for a party! Invite friends to eat at your place. Host holiday celebrations on your own. Rebuild your community network by being the host.

– Stop saying no to the invitations that are offered. If someone invites your whole family over, they’re accepting the crazy that comes with a large family. They probably really do want you there. You don’t have to feel bad about it being a little hectic. By all means, try to make sure your kids are completely squirrelly, but accept the invite if you can.

– Start asking family to visit you. It really can be a lot to take 8-12 people into someone else’s home. It can be a lot to take one toddler into the home of someone without kids. But instead of just skipping out on family stuff, ask them to come to you. It is easier to fold a few extra people into a big table than a lot of people into a small one.

– Reach out to other parents you might know and work out moms and dads nights out. Let all the dads hang with the kids at one person’s house while all the moms crash another. Then next time, repay the favor.

– Meet up with friends in public places to eat. Take the pressure off anyone feeling the need to host a large crowd. It can be expensive to take a large family out to eat. It can be stressful, especially if you never do it. But kids typically learn good eating out manners by having the opportunity to develop them by eating out. Consider hitting up a pizza place where you can buy a few large pizzas instead of somewhere where you order a meal per person. Or meet in a park one afternoon with some coolers of ice cream.

You may have to get a little more creative about gatherings and you may have to put aside some hurt feelings over why people don’t want you to come over anymore. But you can still create an awesome community and you don’t have to be lonely.

Another issue a lot of large families face is feeling weird. You perpetually feel like you don’t fit and like you don’t belong. Here are some tips:

– Your family is large. Intentionally, unintentionally on your part, God gave you this family. There is no changing it, only accepting it. You need top accept your family and not feel embarrassed about who you are. I know a lot of large family parents who are perpetually embarrassed about being a large family for one reason or another. This just makes you feel so much worse when the random stranger makes a heartless comment or when a family member passive aggressively slights your family.

– Be proud of your family. Go beyond just accepting it. Rework your inner narrative and be proud of the family God gave you. Embrace and celebrate what makes you different.

– Make new friends. I actually give this advice pretty often. When you feel bad about your life because of the people around you, it usually isn’t time to change your life, but change your friends. Make friends with other large families or at least people who respect your family. When you have six kids, you won’t feel weird at all if you hang with moms who have eight.

– Accept that your family is different in the best way and stop trying to fit the 1.5 kid mold of our culture. There are restaurants I won’t visit, not because I don’t like the food, but because the environment isn’t conducive for a party of 9. There are things large families cannot do and it is easier and happier to just accept those things than continually try to make a square peg fit into a round hole. Family memberships that only include 4 children are never going to be for us. Baseball teams that schedule something every single night of the week are never going to work when we’re balancing schedules for 9 people. Large families come with our own benefits. You can have an entire ball team with just your family. You don’t need anyone to come over to have the best game of hide and seek ever. You can get a group discount without begging another single person to join you. Embrace the benefits. Shake off the small family mold.

– Surround yourself with things that encourage you. Listen to podcasts that help you embrace your role as a parent of many. Read blogs and books that encourage you in your role. Follow other large family moms on Instagram. Link up with others like you around the country on Facebook. Use social media to help encourage you. Make it a point to surround yourself with encouragement for your journey, not someone else’s.

– Our God does not put any shame on your family. Any shame or guilt you feel about your family is not of God. Reject it. Stomp it under your feet in Jesus’ name! Our God says children are a blessing. Our God says you are blessed. Our God says be fruitful and multiply and you have obeyed. The shame and guilt of this world is not from our God. Put that mess behind you. “Get behind me Satan!” Know who you are in Him and know how blessed your family is to Him.

– Don’t get a chip on your shoulder about your family. Be proud in who you are without turning that around as judgement on others. Some families are smaller and that doesn’t make them less that you, just different. Take from that well of grace you’ve been given and show the same. Too often our security in our own life turns and judges others for not being like us. We cloth diaper, so everyone should. We grind our own wheat for bread, so everyone should. We have ten kids, so everyone should. Be as accepting of other families as you hope they are of you. Judgy people are miserable. Don’t be miserable. Be confident in yourself. And love others.

Then there are the practical considerations. The idea that your house must run in a certain way because you are a large family. You read large family books and the main portions are about organization and you feel, well, completely unorganized.

– Know that the authors of all the large family books are not trying to shame you for being a hot mess mama with a lot of kids. There is this perception that all large family moms are these super organized women who run the house like a well oiled machine. Then we feel guilt and shame because we don’t measure up. These women had no intention of shaming you. I mean, I don’t know them personally, but I’m thinking the best of them here. They are sharing their systems to try to help a mama out. They found what works for them and they just want to share it in case it helps you out, too. If it doesn’t help you, don’t do it!

– The best system is the one that works. We all know large families do require a little more thought about the average family because that is just the way life works when you’re adding more little cogs to the works. You’ve got more plates to keep spinning, so you’ve got to figure out how they spin. I don’t think this applies specifically to large families. I remember the first few times I had to venture out in public on my own with two babies. Even something as simple as how to get out of the car and into the car had to be a well thought out process. Who goes in first? Can I leave that one in the car while I walk around to the other side? If I take him out and put him in the stroller, then I’ll have to turn my back on the stroller to get her out but if I take her out first, I’ll have the same problem in reverse. I think parenting just takes a little more thought and the more kids you add to the mix, the more complex things tend to get. You do you, though.

– Be willing to adjust. You find the perfect laundry system and it works beautifully for about 7 months and then suddenly, it just isn’t working. And I know you bought 16 color coded laundry baskets. But if adjustments need to be made, adjust. You don’t have to rework the entire system (preaching to myself here), but you can make changes to make it work. And know, you’ve got about 7 months of bliss while it works and then you’ll be back here again.

– Your version of organized may not look like someone else’s. It is fine. You do you.

– You can’t change your family or the personal dynamic of your family, so when setting up systems for the flow of the household, keep in mind you can’t change the people in the household. If your toddler keeps reaching for the same vase over and over again, it can be tempting to try and change the toddler instead of just moving the vase. You know what is important to you in terms of character building and boundaries with your kids, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about trying to change my kids into someone they are not to make a system work. My kids do not wash clothes. I am super anal about how certain items are washed and on what settings. I’m really picky about the order of importance of things washed. So, I don’t have them wash clothes because they can’t be me in washing them. Instead of trying to change them into little versions of myself about washing clothes, I choose to set up the system so I do all the washing. (They put them away and I choose not to look at how they end up in the drawers.) That is what works for us for now. Just keep in mind that you can change your systems, but not your people.

– Know your priorities. Your priorities might look a lot different than mine. But know what they are so you can live as intentionally as possible. The more people you put in a family, the more opportunities there are for things to take your resources. There is only so much time in a day. There is only so much money in your bank account. Knowing your priorities will help you say “yes” to the things that matter to you enthusiastically and “no” to all the rest without guilt.

– Embrace Costco. Or Sam’s. Or BJ’s. Or whatever buy in bulk place you have near you. I did not want to go that route for so long, thinking, “Who needs a flat of toilet paper?” The answer, of course, is that I do. I need a flat of toilet paper. Now, some things are not cheaper in bulk, but many things are. I don’t know what I would do without bulk string cheese now. Embrace it. These places are made for you. When you start noticing how few Pop Tarts come in a box, time to start thinking about that Costco membership.

What advice do you have for large families? Leave it in the comments!

Posted in Around The Church, From The Altar, With The Kids

Lent 2018

If you’re looking for my annual Lent family devotions, they are in book form this year! I was coming up with a way to make the family devotional more user-friendly. Scrolling through an entire week of blog posts is a bit messy. It is free, but it is messy. Then, I had this idea to add a personal devotional for moms to the front. In pitching the idea to The Pastor, we kind of thought, “Why just moms?” So, I enlisted his help in getting both a full 40-day devotional for all people and a 40-day family devotional written. We then put it on Kindle for ease-of-use. (It is also available in paperback if you’re not a digital person.)

The entire thing is really cohesive: The personal devotions and family devotions tie into each other, so you’ll all be walking the same spiritual path together. And as usual, the family devotional includes activities to do! Fun!

The theme of this year’s Lenten devotional is Refocus. Lent is a great time to look over everything and evaluate if you’re living the way you think you should be living. “Does my life reflect Christ?” It’ll challenge you to reevaluate where you put your time and money. It will ask you to reevaluate your priorities and commitments. Basically, it is going to step all over your toes and probably make you uncomfortable and you might even hate me for it. Or… you might refocus your life on the cross and do big Jesus-work this coming year. I think it’s worth the risk.

If you want a free devotional, all my previous years of Lent family devotions are still available here on the blog. Since Lent is always 40 days, always starting on Ash Wednesday and always ending on Easter, any of these can be used any year.

Lent Family Devotional 2017 – This family devotional looks into the life and ministry of Jesus.

40 Holy People – This is a Lenten devotional looking at the lives of those who have followed Christ with great courage and wisdom.

Fruit of the Spirit Family Devotional – This is not a Lenten devotional, but you can use it during Lent if you’d like. It is 9 weeks, so it is a little longer than Lent.

Click here to buy this year’s Lent devotional on Amazon.  My hope and prayer is for families to come together around a table and talk about Jesus. So, whatever you chose to do this Lent, be it using Refocus, using one of the free devotions on my blog, using another devotional book, or just reading through a book of the Bible together after dinner— make sure that you don’t miss Jesus during this season. Let the season bring you closer to Him and closer to your family.

Posted in From The Altar, On The Reading Chair

ESV Illuminated Bible Review

I might be a little bit of a Bible fanatic. I am always looking at the new Bibles coming out soon and admiring them. When I saw that Crossway was releasing the ESV Illuminated Journaling Bible, I was immediately obsessed. All the pictures just looked so beautiful! I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

Just know the pictures don’t even come close to capturing the beauty of this Bible! Crossway made this Bible in 4 editions. This is the green hardcover version. You can also get a burgundy imitation leather or navy blue cloth bound hardcover. They also had a black topgrain leather version that is no longer available. And yes, they all feature the beautiful gold patterns on the cover. The green hardcover, this one, has a book jacket. The other three have a slipcase box. I’m honestly never a fan of either and both end up getting tossed in my house.

Each book of the Bible has a beautifully illustrated title page. Every illustration in this Bible is shiny gold. It is a best of both worlds kind of journaling Bible. It already has beautiful, finished illustrations. But it also has plenty of room to add your own illustrations or notes.

As you can see, there is a bit of ghosting in the margins. The paper is thick for Bible paper, but it is still Bible paper. It is thick enough that you don’t have to be precious about which highlighters you use. I find Crossway journaling Bibles to be thick enough to color and even paint on. It just takes a little practice getting your paint thin enough or your paper prepped so it won’t bleed.

There are small illustrations in the margins throughout the Bible. They are all so pretty. You could leave this Bible on your coffee table just to flip through, it is so lovely.

You can see that even though it is full of beautiful gold illustrations, there is still room to add your own doodles, art, and notes. The margins are completely blank, but I still think this would make an excellent Bible for someone who wants a beautifully illustrated Bible, but is more of a note taker. You can also see that the pages lay pretty flat.

Really, the only “extras” in this Bible are these pages at the end (there are more than pictured) that have pictures of each book’s cover page and a brief explanation of the art you see there. I would absolutely love to have these as art prints to frame on the wall, but there are so many! But they are so beautiful! I just want them out where I can see them all the time. But there are no maps, no concordance, no topical studies. This is just a single column ESV Bible text with wide margins and lovely gold illustrations throughout. Very simple. Very beautiful.

This Bible ended up being so much more beautiful in person than I imagined, which was a difficult task because everything I had seen was amazingly beautiful. The Illuminated Journaling Bible is just so beautiful and such high quality. This is just another great way to fall in love with God’s Word.

**This Bible was sent to me from Crossway Bibles free for review. I am in no way obligated to give a favorable review. Because I received this item free for review, none of the links in this post are affiliate links.**

Posted in From The Altar, Out Of My Head

Word Before World

I’m scrolling through Instagram when I wake up this morning and come across a hashtag that gets my mind rolling. #wordbeforeworld . Now, this isn’t the first time I had seen the hashtag. I have seen @wellwateredwomen posting it for several days now. But it was the first time I stopped and took note.

What is the first thing I do when I wake up? Usually grumble about the kids already being awake and lament how late I stayed up the night before. But the first thing I usually choose to do after pulling myself out of bed and getting ready for the day is grab my iPad and start checking social media. I choose to plunge into the world first. Always. The Word part normally comes when I’ve done everything else I need to do for the day. Sure, we get into the Word every morning during Morning Basket time, so I guess I could count that. But before I even do morning basket, I’m checking my social media accounts.

Of course, my mind went to Deuteronomy chapter 6. The people of God are being told not to forget who they are and what God has done for them. They are to teach their children, talk of them in their house, talk of God’s commands walking around going about their day. They are to write them on the doorposts of their houses. And they are to think of them when they lie down and when they rise up.

It got me thinking of the giving of the first fruits, something we remind ourselves when we tithe. We give God the first of what he has given to us. So, what is more valuable than our time? The days, hours, and minutes we have? Why wouldn’t we give the first of our time each day, too?

Essentially, when I choose social media before getting into the Word of God, I’m stating my priorities for the day. Connection, news, self-image- all those things we tie up in social media- I’m saying those are the most important for me. I’m saying that my FOMO (fear of missing out) on the world is more important than my FOMO on God.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with social media. I think we, as Christians, need to remain engaged in social media as a way to influence our culture. But as all our youth pastor’s warned us, we need to be careful of how we let it shape us. So, I’m not saying we should all pull away from social media. I think a host of evangelism can be done through a screen in our culture.

I am saying that I found myself guilty this morning. I realized I’ve not been putting first things first. I’ve been putting them last. When there is time. At the bottom of the to-do list. And those priorities will never stand. The Word will never shape me because I’m not letting it take the rightful place in my life. That is not anyone’s fault but mine.

I had thought of New Year’s Resolutions in abstract terms. I knew I needed more discipline in my spiritual life and my physical life, so I was just going to abstractly focus on discipline. I now realize an abstract one word focus isn’t going to get me where I need to be. Sure, it will help me think of where I need to be. But I need action steps. I need firm commitments to being disciplined.

So, with discipline as my word of the year, my first practical step is going to be Word before World. That is my first firm commitment to the process of being disciplined. Word before World. I will seek Him first.

Posted in Around The Church, From The Altar, On The Reading Chair

Choosing A Bible Translation

We have a huge blessing available to us in modern Bible translations. Not only do we have the Bible translated into our language, but we have multiple translations that are great for various walks of life and situations. We are abundantly blessed. So, don’t get yourself worked into a tizzy over which translation is the right translation. They’re all translations. You may prefer one, but our preference does not equal rightness. You may find yourself in a spiritual drought at some point, needing the Word to be fresh for you. A different translation can be all it takes to make the Word come alive again. You may find yourself discipling a child and need something on their level, but not a Bible storybook level either. You may find yourself reading the minor prophets in a new translation that makes it sound so poetic and beautiful and you experience Scripture in beauty for the first time. You may be helping a new Christian and need something readable for someone with no personal Christian history. Read on and find the translation for you now.

Translations are made one of two ways. Well, that simplifies it a little too much, but for the sake of this conversation, we’ll go with it. If you’re looking at a foreign language and you’re going to translate it, you can either translate each individual word or you can translate the whole thought. Translating word for word can lead to some things that just don’t make a lot of sense, since we arrange our words in English very specifically. (Did you know we even have a specific order for arranging adjectives?) So, in translating word for word, you can see you’ll run into problems. However, when translating thought for thought, you may not accurately convey the right word or the right emphasis. You find people complaining about the exact accuracy of thought for thought translations. But all translations will fall somewhere between an exact word for word translation and a thought for thought translation.

Each translation also comes in at a different grade reading level. Lower grade levels are typically going to have a less expansive vocabulary used.

King James Version (KJV)

This translation is a word for word translation with a very high reading level. (12th grade) While many people that grew up in a conservative church find this to be the Bible translation they are most familiar with, new Christians typically struggle to make sense of this translation. It is more like reading Shakespeare. It is incredibly beautiful in its language, but can be difficult to understand or get to the point. This translation is often a good one for memorizing Scripture because the poetic language is easier for some people to memorize. The flow just lends itself to getting lodged in the brain. However, for new Christians, people feeling spiritual draught, and younger Christians, the reading level is just too high and they have trouble making sense of the Word. This translation was published in 1611. This is a very common choice for a family Bible because it feels and reads like an old classic.

I John 1:9 “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalm 40:2 “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.”

New King James Version (NKJV)

This translation is still a word for word translation. Modernized a little and the reading level brought down to a much more readable 8th grade level. It still has a lot of the poetic feel of the King James, but makes a little more sense and is easier for most people to study. This is often the choice of pastors for their preaching Bible translation. Again, Scripture memorization may be easier with this version as it is more poetic and sticks in your head like a song. This translation was published in 1982. It is a classic, conservative feel that is understandable by more people. I use this translation as our homeschool Bible. This is the translation my kids learn their memory verses from and we do our group reading from.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalm 40:2 “ He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, And established my steps.”

New International Version (NIV)

This is a mixture of word for word and thought for thought translation. A little of both has made this a pretty standard choice. It is just below an 8th grade reading level, so it is pretty well understood by most people. This was published in 1978 and is now the most read and the most trusted translation choice.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalm 40:2 “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”

New Living Translation (NLT)

Like the NIV, the New Living Translation is a balance between word for word and thought for thought translation. The reading level is just above a 6th grade level, so this is a very understandable translation for most people. This was not a translation of a translation, but a brand new translation undertaking by 90 Biblical scholars. This translation flows smoothly and makes a lot of sense. It is less poetic, but much more readable and understandable. This is an excellent translation for new Christians. Published in 1996.

1 John 1:9 “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

Psalm 40:2 “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”

English Standard Version (ESV)

This is a word for word translation in a little above a 7th grade reading level. This is the most popular choice for Bible Journaling. It is very readable. It isn’t unnecessarily wordy and makes a great modern choice for Scripture memorization. Publish in 2001, it is an updated version of the Revised Standard Version. This makes an excellent family Bible. I use this translation in my Bible Journaling and we have a family Bible in this translation. This also makes a great gift Bible.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalm 40:2 “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

This is a modern word for word translation at a higher reading level, 11th grade. It has a more formal feel than most of the other modern translations. Published in 1971, updated in 1995. This is very readable, but also more of a scholarly translation. This is a great choice for a preaching Bible or a Christian ready for deeper Bible study. Not always the best for Scripture memorization as it does get a little wordy. This also makes an excellent family Bible.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalm 40:2 “He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.”

Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

This is more of a word for word translation. It has a 7th grade reading level. This version is clear and concise. It is excellent for Bible study. It can also be a great translation for New Christians. I think my primary recommendation is for Christians experience spiritual dryness in their life and need the Word to come alive again. This is the translation that you can read the stories you’ve heard your whole life and see something completely new and shocking in it that has always been there, but you are just seeing it. It is a good eye opening translation for personal study. I think it would make a great preaching Bible, as well, but I don’t know many pastors who actually use it for that. This is the Bible I use as my church Bible and for personal Bible Study.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalm 40:2 “He brought me up from a desolate pit, out of the muddy clay, and set my feet on a rock, making my steps secure.”

International Children’s Bible (ICB)

This is a thought for thought translation in a third grade reading level. This is a translation meant for children. If you’re a children’s pastor, this would be a good preaching and teaching Bible for you. This is a good choice for a first Bible for a child. It is very easily understood. Published in 1982. This can be difficult for kids to follow along in service or Bible study if the leader isn’t using this version.

1 John 1:9 “But if we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins. We can trust God. He does what is right. He will make us clean from all the wrongs we have done.”

Psalm 40:2 “ He lifted me out of the pit of destruction, out of the sticky mud. He stood me on a rock. He made my feet steady.“

The Message (MSG)

This is a thought for thought, paraphrase version. A lot of hate out there for this version, but I think it definitely has its place. This translation is excellent for seekers who have no Christian back ground or experience. It was published in 2002, and can sometimes seem too flippant for many conservative Christians. But a teen who has never read the Bible will find this an invaluable source of God’s Word. And not just teens. The reading level varies with the passage, but it is about a middle school average. This can also be a good version for those experiencing spiritual aridity, but it doesn’t make for a very good study Bible. You will hear and notice things you didn’t before, but not in the same way you will with the CSB. This is a difficult version to follow along with in service or Bible study because of the paraphrasing.

1 John 1:9 “ On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.“

Psalm 40:2 “ He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip.“

New International Reader’s Version (NIrV)

This is a blend of word for word and thought for thought. This has the lowest reading level of any of the translations, just below 3rd grade. This is a translation for very young children. This was published in 1994 and updated in 1998. It is a beginner’s Bible. Excellent choice for a first Bible for brand new readers. This is a good resource for homeschooling parents to use to teach young kids to read or write using the Bible. This is the translation I usually buy my kids as they are learning to read.

1 John 1:9 “But God is faithful and fair. If we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins. He will forgive every wrong thing we have done. He will make us pure.”

Psalm 40:2 “I was sliding down into the pit of death, and he pulled me out. He brought me up out of the mud and dirt. He set my feet on a rock. He gave me a firm place to stand on.”

This isn’t all the Bible translations available to you. Check out biblegateway.com if you want to compare more translations. These are just a few that I hope might help you in choosing the Bible that is right for your situation.

Another note: I used to find myself feeling bad for owning multiple copies of the Bible. That was surely a luxury many in this world do not have. And that is correct. There are many who don’t have the luxury of owning one single full copy of God’s Word. So, it often felt very first world of me to own many copies. However, I have come to accept that a Bible used in my house by me or my children is to God’s glory. No matter how many Bibles we have- if we are using them, it is for His glory. Also, supporting Bible publishers is supporting Bible translators. These companies can do good around the world with my support. Supporting them is supporting the work of furthering the spread of the Gospel. Choosing to put my money in their pockets is better than what I would have spent it on elsewhere. Also, I am always willing to give my Bible away. Whatever copy I may have in my hand at the moment, if someone else has no copy- I’m always ready to give mine away. I am not hoarding Bibles, though it may seem that way.

*** This post contains affiliate links. Using affiliate links is a great way to support your favorite bloggers. You don’t pay any extra, but we are compensated a small amount when you purchase using our links. ***

Posted in Around The Church, Out Of My Head

What Does A Pastor Do?

Last month was Pastor Appreciation Month. During that month, you’ll have a handful of people share on social media a little peek into the difficult life of being a pastor. But for the most part, most people sit around and wonder what a pastor actually does. You hear a statistic that pastor’s routinely work 60-70 hours a week, and most people wonder, “Doing what?” More than one person has responded to hearing my husband is a pastor with something along the lines of, “Must be nice to only work two hours a week.” They mean it as a joke, but the fact is, most people don’t have any idea what a pastor does all week. So, I figured I’d shed a little light on that. Not all pastors do all these things. Some pastors are bivocational, meaning they work more than one job, and cannot do all these things. Some churches have more staff than just the pastor to help with some of these things. But any given week, this is what pastors across your community are doing.

You see them preaching on Sunday morning. That sermon usually takes around 10 hours to write and get ready to deliver. That doesn’t include all the other prep for Sunday morning, like typing up and printing bulletins, getting ready to teach a Sunday School class, choosing music or approving music for the service, picking up the coffee and tea, and making sure all volunteers will actually be showing up on Sunday. Then after church, they are putting things away, cleaning up, and getting the list of thing they need to remember for the next week going. (Remember to go pick up more pens. Get more giving envelopes printed. The nursery is out of wet wipes, pick some up. Etc.) Sunday morning takes a team of people to pull off, but the pastor has the bulk of the work, usually spending 18 hours or more each week just making Sunday morning happen at all.

The pastor is also responsible for making small groups, midweek meetings, and/or Sunday School happen. Even when there are other people to help lead these group meetings, the responsibility to choose curriculum or books still falls on the pastor. Every study done in a small group is usually read by the pastor first, to make sure it fits with their congregation and isn’t heresy. (Pastors, if you don’t already do this, you should.) They are also responsible for teaching those that are teaching how to teach and lead. They are checking in with them, seeing how things are going, and keeping up to date on the group’s progress. Just because they may not be at every small group meeting does not mean they aren’t actively involved in every small group.

The Pastor is on call all the time. Not just for church members, but for anyone in the community. He is called in for counseling on a regular basis. Some of those, he’ll refer to a counseling professional after an initial meeting. Some, he’ll continue to meet with on a regular basis. He is always there when people need to talk, not just people who give or contribute to the church. It may simply be a phone call. Or he may have to leave before dinner and head out to pick someone up that needs a friend right now. Sometimes it is people just needed a place to vent. Life is stressful. Sometimes he may need to mediate a family conflict. Sometimes he may need to pick someone’s teenager up and try to be a voice of reason when they aren’t listening to much of anyone lately. Whatever it may be, it can take hours of his day or week, even in a small congregation. And he can’t just turn off his phone, ever. Because people need him.

The Pastor is often just the guy people call when they need someone. Emergency childcare, emergency transportation, house work, yard work, moving- he’s just the guy you call because he is dependable. When a single mother of four is evicted from her apartment, he’s the guy people call to help her figure out temporary and permanent housing. When she needs a sitter for a job interview, he’s the guy called to babysit. When someone locks their keys in their car, he’s the guy to call to drive them across town and back with the spare key. He’s just the reliable guy that will drop anything he can to help anyone he can.

The Pastor is visiting people often. This is something people in the church should be doing as well, but the pastor is making it a point to see the elderly, sick, and shut-ins in his care often. Taking them flowers to brighten their room. Delivering cards from the kids’ Sunday School class, so they know they are missed and still feel like part of the church. Taking them communion when they can’t make it to church because no one should have to miss the sacraments. He’s visiting strangers in the hospital, because someone called and said there is someone in a local hospital that needs someone to talk to. He’s also visiting with those in the church outside of a church setting. Getting together for coffee to catch up on life. Grabbing a quick lunch on someone’s lunch break with them just to be able to chat. He is staying connected constantly, which takes face to face time.

The Pastor is out there in the community doing the work of Jesus. Yes, he is coordinating volunteers to do this work as well. Yes, he is harassing and dragging those in the church along with him at times. But he knows from the example of Jesus to be a servant leader, to get out there and do the work himself, hoping you’ll follow his example. Often, he’s going at this alone, unable to convince anyone to join him. But he’s out there getting his hands dirty for Jesus, caring for the least of these.

The Pastor is constantly reading and trying to stay “in the know” on both or culture and the Christian culture. He’s reading through the top books at the Christian book store so he can know what you’re hearing. He’s staying up to date on current events so he can know where people are. He’s challenging himself by reading theology, counseling, and leadership books so he can be the best he can be for you. He’s also doing his own daily Bible study, and studying the Bible with his family. He’ll also, likely, be heading to conferences and meetings to stay “up on his trade”, like continuing education. And he’s likely listening to the sermons of other pastors throughout the week.

The Pastor also has to do work that just needs to be done. Keeping up the church website, making sure it stays current and relevant. He has to send out the same information in a half dozen different ways to make sure everyone is informed. He can’t just send an email about an upcoming event because half the church will say they don’t check their emails. He’ll have to put it on the website, knowing only 3 or 4 people even check that on a regular basis; make a Facebook event and personally invite every person in the church and share it on the church’s group page; share it on Twitter; send half the church a text about it, because that is the only mode of communication they use; and then call people every few days to make sure everyone knows what is going on. This is all in addition to the ad on Sunday morning and the reminder in the bulletin. He has to upload the sermon each Sunday and make sure he shares it on every available social media platform. It may look like he is always promoting himself, but really, he has to share things that many times to make sure everyone in the church even knows the thing exists. He’ll also have to type up and send prayer request emails through the week as people call or send those to him.

The Pastor may also have other ministries that he is involved in. Our pastor is on the board for our association, so any given week, he has several hours of work to help them out as a volunteer. They are also contacted by all manner of non-profit ministries and organizations to try to solicit the congregation on their behalf. They have to wade through each request and determine if the non-profit is in line with the values and mission of their church and what their involvement should be, if any.

There are also the services a pastor performs. Weddings and funerals both take considerable time and often, pastors aren’t paid for either. A wedding usually takes about 30 hours of work from the Pastor. (10 hours of counseling, 5 hours to write the service, 5 hours for the rehearsal, 10 hours the day of the wedding from pre and post wedding duties.) A funeral usually takes about 20 hours of work from the Pastor. (10 hours meeting with the family and writing the service. 6 hours of visitation. 4 hours for the actual service and after.) Keep in mind, in both scenarios, the Pastor is first there and usually last to leave. And a pastor isn’t guaranteed to make any money from either, even if travel and hotel expenses are involved.

There are also other speaking engagements a pastor may be asked to do. A youth camp, a retreat, a service at a Christian school. Those are often unpaid, as well.

The majority of a pastor’s work is secret, unseen, so it is easy to see where the misconception comes from that they don’t do that much. But when you are going through a crisis, you know who you can call. When you are in need of guidance, you know who you can call. We know they do things other than just preach on Sunday morning, but we often don’t think about just how much they are doing.