Discussing Great Books with Your Children

My daughter and I have both recently read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. This work definitely qualifies as a "great book." It includes a street-level look at the French Revolution, is written from a sound worldview, and presents a wonderful story of self-sacrifice. Here is a taste of the literary genius and insightful reflection offered by Dickens. This passage also emphasizes the importance of learning from history.

Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrils carry the day’s wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realisation, Guillotine. And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.
— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Raising Lifelong Learners

This is my first born’s senior year of High School. My wife and I are asking ourselves what areas of knowledge and skill we want to make sure we cover this year. So, it is time to make good on my promise: “No one graduates High School from our home unless you have worked through this book with Dad: How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren.”

Why is this book so important? Because one of the most critical skills I can impart to my children is the ability to learn. I don’t want to complete our home education only feeding my children fish. I want to teach them to fish. A person who has the skill of learning has the ability to find the information they need, to decide which books to read, to comprehend what is in those books, to critically evaluate their arguments, and to compare and synthesize this information with other sources. How to Read a Book teaches all of these skills! To learn more about why this book is important and what it teaches, you can listen to the workshop I gave at the Thrive! The NCHE Homeschool Conference, Raising Lifelong Learners.

I have developed a syllabus for my daughter and I to work through this year. I am sharing this syllabus with you so you might be encouraged to use this book as well. Ideally, the parent or teacher overseeing this class will read the book with the student. A sharp High School student could possibly work through it himself. I have designed this to be a portion of Bethany’s English credit for this year, taking about 22 weeks. If it were taken seriously, it could be completed as a semester elective for a half credit.

One more question: if you would be interested in having your student participate in an online course working through this syllabus with us, contact me at matthew@truthtofreedom.org.

The Day I Discovered My Purpose in Life

What is the purpose of life? I believe this question is embedded in the heart of every person. We are all asking and answering it, even if we are not aware of doing so.

As I have written before, believing that God created the world and human beings is foundational to finding any real purpose at all. Furthermore, I believe that the God who created us has revealed himself in the Bible. And in the Bible, he has also revealed his purpose for us.

I remember the day I discovered the simple and powerful answer to this universal question. I was in college, sitting in a Sunday School classroom reading the Bible before things got started. In the Bible story I was reading, an expert of the Jewish Law asked Jesus a question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” What an opportunity and what a question! God had given the Jews hundreds of commandments in the Old Testament. Here is Jesus, God in the flesh, and he was asked to boil it all down to the most important commandment of them all! His answer is no less amazing and satisfying. Quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4, Jesus answered,

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
And you shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Mark 12:30

This is it. This is what God wants from us. God created us to have a personal, loving relationship with him. I’m not sure if I could have guessed what Jesus was going to say, but when I heard it, it answered the longings of my heart.

As I sat there in that Sunday School classroom as an 19 year old young man reading this passage, my life took a new direction. I had grown up in church and heard the Bible taught my entire life. I had undoubtedly heard these verses before. But that morning I understood them. I realized that I had been striving to “be good” or to “be a good Christian.” I was failing to see that there was something greater than doing the right thing. Jesus severely criticized the Jewish teachers for knowing the Scriptures, keeping the law, and failing to do what God really wanted. They failed to love him.

Hundreds of passages throughout the Bible reveal that God wants us to love him. The whole Bible, from beginning to end, speaks of relationship with God. We see it in God’s relationship with the Patriarchs, God’s covenant with Israel and hatred of idolatry, the sending of his own Son to take our punishment and provide forgiveness, the personal, indwelling presence of God by his Spirit, and the fulfillment of all creation in the marriage supper of the Lamb, uniting Christ and his Bride, the Church.

When we discover that God’s purpose for us to is love him, everything changes. Why we do what we do matters to God. Being good without loving God is empty. Loving God is the real good, without which being good doesn’t even count. And it is in love that we find the joy and satisfaction of life.

Is Your Family Stuck in the Raging River of Busyness?

Sometimes our lives feel like we have been thrown into a rushing river. We are just trying to survive, barely keeping our heads above the water and avoiding the jagged rocks. We have little control over our direction and speed. This is how we feel when we have surrendered to the tyranny of the urgent. We are at the mercy of deadlines, appointments, and activities. We are driven by what the culture says we must do, by what others want us to do and by the gratification of our immediate desires.

But I have had enough of this. I have sputtered and bumped along in these rapids for too long, watching my life whiz by, watching my children grow up. God has given me a call and purpose for my family, and it is not being accomplished in this raging river of busyness!

So I desperately swim for the shore, not even sure I can break through the powerful currents. Drenched, coughing and exhausted, I crawl out onto the bank. And now I am asking myself, “What is this supposed to looks like? How do I build a different life?”

First, I must refocus on my purpose and mission as a follower of Jesus Christ. My purpose and mission is to love God, love people, and make disciples. This is not only the purpose and mission of each of us as believers, but of our families as well.

Next, in order to see what my life is supposed to look like, I reflect on my biblical responsibilities and priorities. I have come up with five areas of responsibility and priority. These are the ways that we can fulfill our purpose and mission in our families.

  1. Relationships

  2. Discipleship

  3. Order and Work

  4. Education

  5. Ministry

Relationships

To be a family is to have relationships. To love others is to relate to them. How am I loving my wife and children? Am I treating them with kindness, patience and selflessness? Am I affirming and accepting them? What kind of relationships am I building with them? Are we making time to talk? Are we spending time together? Strong relationships are the foundation for the next category, discipleship.

Discipleship

To disciple others is to help them love God, love people and make disciples. This must be the ultimate goal of family because it is the ultimate goal of life. How am I helping my family to love God? How am I helping them to love others? How am I equipping them to know their own gifting, calling and personal ministry?

Order and Work

Loving God includes stewardship. All that we have is from God, and our responsibility is to care for what he has given us and use it to bless others. Stewardship requires work: cleaning, organizing and maintaining. Work is our contribution to the family and community and it is how we provide for our basic needs so that we are free to minister to others. A messy, chaotic home is not a place where discipleship, education or ministry can thrive.

Education

Education is the acquisition of knowledge and skill. These are tools for helping us accomplish our God given mission. Facilitating and leading our children in the acquisition of knowledge and skill is part of our responsibility as parents. Am I faithful in educating my children? Am I preparing them for a life of productivity and blessing to others?

Ministry

Ministry is the culmination of all that we have discussed so far. A spouse is a partner in ministry. A family is a ministry team. Are we joining God in his work to build his kingdom? Are our hearts beating with his for the nations? What are we doing as a family to express the love and truth of God to others? How much of our time is spent serving and entertaining ourselves? Are we intentionally giving our money, time  and energy for ministry?

By faith I am rejecting the tyranny of the urgent. I will break the patterns of busyness and reactionism. Instead of focusing on what others expect from me, I will focus on what God desires for me. By faith I am choosing a life of peace and purpose for my family. In order to do this, I will make these five building blocks my priorities: relationships, discipleship, order and work, education  and ministry. It may be a desperate swim to the shore, but God can help me make it. He can give me everything I need to live out his fantastic mission for my family.

God's Mission: To Bless All the Nations of the Earth THROUGH US

There is a strong movement in American Christianity that is self-serving. Many claim to know Christ and maintain serving self as their primary agenda. It is enlightening to observe the way that God establishes a covenant relationship with Abraham. God's covenant with Abraham is fulfilled in us through the New Covenant, and therefore sets the pattern for our covenant relationship with him.

We discover in Genesis 18:16-19 (again) that the purpose of God's covenant with Abraham, and with us through Christ, is to bless all the nations of the earth. Being in covenant with God means we understand and accept this purpose as part of our relationship with God, 

I hope you will receive clarity and passion for God's mission through us by listening to this sermon on Genesis 18:16-19. 

Could You Pray for a Whole Hour?

I am finally reading a book that my mom gave me 15 years ago. Not that I have not tried to read it before, I just never finished it. The book is The Hour That Changes the World: A Practical Plan for Personal Prayer, written by Dick Eastman in 1978.

Mr. Eastman made a commitment to pray for one hour every day after reading Matthew 26:40-41 [ESV]:

"And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping.
And he said to Peter, 'So, could you not watch with me one hour?
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.
The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.'”

I have often come to the realization that prayer is the key to an intimate relationship with Christ, to joining with God in his work in the world, and to unleashing his power in my life. This book has reawakened this understanding and fanned my passion to seek God in diligent prayer. 

He suggests that you can easily pray for one hour by dividing sixty minutes into ten five minute increments devoted to different aspect of prayer. 

This format is not intended to be a strict structure to which we must adhere. It is a beginning point for understanding the various aspects of prayer and committing a particular amount of time for prayer. Many will find that an hour is just not enough!

I have been impressed and challenged by this book. It is simple and well written. It contains many powerful quotes and stories from historic prayer warriors and books on prayer. My understanding of the various parts of prayer has been broadened significantly.