Tag: christianity (page 1 of 4)

In the Beginning | Deeply Rooted

When we tell the Christmas story, we often begin like this: “Once, there was a girl named Mary.” Or “Once upon a time in a manger.” Even the gospels open with things that happened here on earth—the birth of John, the words of Isaiah, or the genealogy of Jesus’ family. Only the gospel of John backs all the way up and starts the Christmas story right at the very beginning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

My newest piece, “In the Beginning,” went up on the Deeply Rooted blog this morning! In it, I got to look at how the Christmas Story fits into God’s larger story of redemption. You can read the full post here.

May you all have a Christmas that is restful in the deepest sense—a celebration centered on Christ, who tucked himself into a finite human body because he loves us. May that be your refrain as you travel, bake, and wipe noses: Because he loves us. Because he loves us. Because he loves us.

Merry Christmas.

The History Lives Series | Mindy and Brandon Withrow

I learned long ago that one of the best ways to tackle a new topic is to read a children’s book about it. Books written for adults are, of course, more comprehensive, but a good children’s book will stick to the point, keep the story lively, and will allow the exciting parts of the story to be exciting. So when my husband expressed an interest in church history, I started with these books: true, living stories about key figures in church history, all underpinned by a chronological sense of history as a story with many chapters.

Peril and Peace, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

The History Lives series walks through church history in five volumes, chronicling the Ancient (Peril and Peace), Medieval (Monks and Mystics), Reformation (Courage and Conviction), Awakening (Hearts and Hands) and Modern church (Rescue and Redeem). Most chapters depict small scenes in the life of a significant figure in church history, immersing the reader in the details of the figure’s life at one particular time and place in a compelling and vivid way. They read more like stories than like biographies, which makes them fun to read aloud.

Brandon and Mindy Withrow obviously chose their subjects carefully: there are figures in here that we all know, but there are many that are more obscure and whose stories I’m grateful to them for recovering. Tucked between the stories are a few topical chapters that flesh out what was happening in the church at the time and why it was significant.

History Lives Series, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

The Withrows bring a balanced perspective to complex issues like the Crusades, resisting the urge to distill the lives of these very real, sinful people down into cautionary tales or glorified epic adventures. Of the medieval church, they write,

“It is often hard for modern Christians to remember that the people who developed these ideas were studying the Bible in the medieval world—a world very different from today. . . . Like Christians of all eras, they made both positive and negative contributions to the church.”

I appreciated this perspective.

I was less impressed, though, by the way the writers updated the dialogue of the characters to make it feel not consistent with their own time but consistent with ours. Perhaps this makes them appear more relevant or readable, but the moments when the characters quoted their own works within conversation felt refreshing, as though they’d been allowed to breath through the story rather than have to keep in step with the writer’s tone. Those, for me, were the moments when history truly lived as I read.

Heart and Hands, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

But that’s a small complaint, and on the whole, I loved these books. They provide a great flyover view of church history from its early days to the present, and are easy to read start-to-finish or in tandem with a more detailed history curriculum (we’re currently reading Monks & Mystics with the Veritas Press history cards, if you’re interested). In fact, they remind me more than a little of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World series, but with an emphasis on church (rather than world) history. They whetted my appetite for history as well as my husband’s, and will, I hope, open up the world of church history for our daughters.

History Lives Series, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story


The History Lives Series
Brandon and Mindy Withrow (2012)

The Ology | Marty Machowski

On one end of the children’s literature spectrum, we find what Charlotte Mason famously called “twaddle”: books with pat morals, flat characters, and no life. These are often books adapted from TV shows or toys, where the crisis involves fairies losing their sparkle or forgetting the secret of spring or something. They are the books we sneak back onto the shelves before leaving the library, the ones our kids enjoy for a while but ultimately forget. They don’t stick in the hearts and minds of our children because they assume that our kids need to be entertained by what they read, not shaped by it.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find The Ology. Marty Machowski is an already-beloved author in our home: his Gospel Story Bible has been a favorite among every one of every age here for years, and his family devotional Long Story Short (mentioned last week) gives us hope that one day we will study the Bible with our children. With The Ology, though, he’s departed from the tried-and-true forms of the story bible and the family devotional and written a systematic theology for children.

Yes, you read that right. The Ology is a systematic theology for children. It doesn’t get further from twaddle than that.

A systematic theology for children? Yes! Introducing The Ology, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

The Ology opens with an interesting premise: two children find an old book in a disused room of their church and discover that it was left there by “Jonathan E.” In a note accompanying the book, Jonathan E. writes,

Those who were helped [by the writings of the theologians] wanted to pass these truths on to their children. And so they wrote a book for children, entitled The Ology, so that they too might understand deep truths about God, drawn from the Bible. . . . But sadly, after many years, The Ology was forgotten. Parents and children began to think the truths of The Ology were old-fashioned and out of date. One by one these books vanished. The book you now hold may be the very last copy of The Ology in existence.

From there, we get to read the text of that last copy of The Ology in short chapters, each of which focuses on a specific doctrine. These are clear enough to read with preschoolers, but can be adapted to share with older children. I can see both Lydia (7) and Sarah (5) gleaning a lot from the readings, while Phoebe (just shy of 2) combs the illustrations for kitties.

A systematic theology for children? Yes! Introducing The Ology, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

Machowski is an author who clearly believes that children can and should have access to every part of Scripture. He believes they’re capable of understanding big concepts and so he doesn’t dilute truth for them, but lays it out in a methodical, accessible, interesting way. I am not pulling these beliefs from a parent’s note or introduction, though: it’s evident from the way he writes every page that Machowski respects his readers, no matter how small they are or how outlandish their questions.

A systematic theology for children? Yes! Introducing The Ology, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

The more we read of The Ology, the more deeply I love it. This is a book that strives to shape our children, to nourish them and help them grow in the rich soil of the gospel. It is not meant to entertain them (though it does), and its content will not be easily forgotten. Our daughters may not remember where they learned certain doctrine, but it will linger there, in their hearts, one of the means by which the Lord helped root and establish them in their faith.


Fun Fact!

Sovereign Grace Music has released an album to accompany this book. I have only listened closely to a few songs so far, but I loved this one (my daughters deemed it “too scary”):

If you have given the rest of the album a good listen, I’d love to hear what you think!


The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New
Marty Machowski, Andy McGuire (2015)

7 Favorite Resources for Family Devotions

Family devotions, we have learned, are fluid. We start a book and stick with it until a baby joins us at the table in a high chair or somebody’s bedtime shifts or a child (who shall not be named) rebels against dinner in all its forms and we leave the table fatigued, having forgotten to pick that book up off the shelf, open it, and read aloud.

Our kids change constantly, and we seem to be always two steps behind them. This makes any kind of routine hard to maintain.

7 Favorite Resources for Family Devotions | Little Book, Big Story

Part of me mourns that fact, and the fact that we’ve yet to finish a devotional together, but another part is grateful for what time we have spent with each of these books. That is the part of me that holds out hope that we’ll get back to them one day—maybe when the high chair has been retired for good, and we’re all eating with forks like civilized folks.

Because we have found a few devotionals worth returning to, plus one that has been an anchor in our family worship, I thought I’d share a few of our favorite resources for family devotions with you. Perhaps you are all eating with forks like civilized folks and you can enjoy reading these books with your family—or perhaps you’re a few steps ahead of us and have realized that that may never happen, and it’s time to buckle down and do family devotions anyway. Whatever your circumstance, here is a list of gems for you:

LONG STORY SHORT, by Marty Machowski

Long Story Short, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

This book takes families all the way through the Old Testament—through the famous bits and the weird bits, too. It’s arranged by weeks, with each week divided into days, and each day complete with a reading from the book, a reading from the Bible, and a short list of thought-provoking questions.

We tackled this when our two oldest girls were four and under and were pleasantly surprised at how much our four year old gleaned from the readings (the two year old was more interested in finger-painting with her soup). I look forward to coming back to this one and to exploring Machowski’s book on the New Testament, Old Story New(Read the full review.)

TRAINING HEARTS, TEACHING MINDSby Starr Meade

Training Hearts, Teaching Minds | Starr Meade

Our church is collectively working our way through the Westminster Shorter Catechism with this book. Starr Meade orients each week around a catechism question and includes a series of Scripture readings and small devotions to correspond with each day of the week. This one, too, was a winner—but somehow, we only lasted six months before it returned to the shelf and stayed there.

THOUGHTS TO MAKE YOUR HEART SING, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing | Little Book, Big Story

I read this book to the girls over breakfast for quite some time. It’s beautiful—the illustrations by Jago are deeper and richer than those in The Jesus Storybook Bible and more mature somehow. And Sally-Lloyd Jones’s meditations on various things truly do make the heart sing. (Read the full review.)

THE FAMILY JOURNALby Songs for Saplings

Songs for Saplings Family Journal | Little Book, Big Story

We haven’t used The Family Journal as devotional material exactly, but as a landing place for the discussions that arise as we read together as a family. It is fun to revisit the questions and answers our daughters have learned by heart from the Songs for Saplings albums and to make notes on the spontaneous theological questions the girls throw my way. We have stuck with this one—perhaps because we don’t need to read it every day. (Read the full review.)

The Bible

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

Every so often, we dip into Scripture itself. I have also been reading one-on-one with our oldest daughter, so she’s getting portions of Scripture straight from the source and that has been a rich time together for us (though pregnancy naps are edging that habit out already . . . ). (Read the full post.)

THE ADVENT JESSE TREEby Dean Lambert Smith

The Advent Jesse Tree: A Family Devotional for Advent | Little Book, Big Story

The Advent Jesse Tree has seen us through Advent after Advent, so we know that we can stick with a series of readings for at least one month! This is a clean, basic, theologically solid look at who Jesus is, what the Bible said about him before he came, and why his coming matters so much to us. We have loved this one year after year, returning to it even after a fancier book with better illustrations briefly lured us away. (Read the full review, or learn how to make your own Jesse tree.)

THE JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLEby Sally Lloyd-Jones

The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

This book has anchored our devotional time since our eldest was eighteen months old. Knowing that our older girls are learning the New City Catechism as part of their schooling has helped direct our family devotion time toward something that will help build a solid foundation for our younger girls. And so The Jesus Storybook Bible comes back again and again as a part of our evening ritual.

It has traveled with us halfway across the country and back and is held together mostly by box tape—not glamorous, perhaps, but a sure sign of a book that has seen service in the hands of small readers. And that is what we want: we want them to know that this is their story. Perhaps as the whole family levels up together, we’ll tackle other, deeper devotional books, but for now, this is our tried-and-true book for family devotions. (Read the full review.)

What About you? Which Devotional books (or habits!) have worked for your family?

The Biggest Story | Kevin DeYoung

Every now and then an author best known for writing nonfiction tries their hand at writing for children. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Authors accustomed to writing for adults sometimes think that writing for children means “say it slowly and simply” and so they distill big concepts down into pre-digested bits. Madeleine L’Engle thought differently. In Walking On Water, she wrote,

“When I am grappling with ideas which are radical enough to upset grown-ups, then I am likely to put these ideas into a story which will be marketed for children, because children understand what their parents have rejected and forgotten.”

The best authors understand this, whether they make it their business to write specifically for children or not.

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark | Little Book, Big Story

But Kevin DeYoung gets this. The language in his first book for children is simple, but the story is grand: in the “Note to Parents,” he shares that the book began as a sermon series shared with his whole congregation, not as a Sunday school lesson aimed at kids. He acknowledges that some of the images and allusions will be difficult for children and parents to grasp, but he doesn’t apologize for it.

Instead he aims high and presents a book that is not based on a particular Bible story, nor is it a story bible. What it is, I suppose, is a picture book about the entire Bible. DeYoung breaks the story into chapters and covers many of the best-known Bible stories, but he shows how they each have a place in the story that the Lord is, even now, unfolding.

The Biggest Story, by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark | Little Book, Big Story

The illustrations in this book deserve extra praise: Don Clark’s work is phenomenal. Every page is gorgeous—beautifully designed and vividly illustrated—but I want to give him extra credit for illustrating some of the more abstract elements of Scripture in a way that is striking. Take, for example, the picture of the world after the entrance of sin:

Before the Flood, from The Biggest Story, by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark | Little Book, Big Story

Or this one of the Resurrection:

The Resurrection, from The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark | Little Book, Big Story

His renditions of familiar stories give the stories new life. Look at his interpretation of David and Goliath:

David and Goliath, from The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark | Little Book, Big Story

And of the Nativity:

The Nativity, from The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark | Little Book, Big Story

But while the addition of a book so beautiful in both form and content to our family’s library is something to celebrate, the real celebration at our house this week is in honor of Sarah, who has gone from this

Little Book, Big Story

to this

Little Book, Big Story

in what feels like a matter of moments. Don’t tell her yet, but this book is one of her gifts! We’ll celebrate her birthday by eating ice cream sundaes in our pajamas, riding bikes crazily around the block, making pancakes and mac-and-cheese, curling up on the couch and reading book after book after book—in other words, living the dream life of this particular five-year-old. It’ll be great.

One last thing

I know there are a variety of opinions out there on how Jesus should be depicted in illustrated books, and this book deals with that subject gracefully. The Spirit is shown as a dove and God the Father as a blazing light, while Jesus remains compellingly just off stage. Whatever your convictions, this book should suit them.

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark | Little Book, Big Story


The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden
Kevin DeYoung, Don Clark (2015)

The Gospel Story Bible | Marty Machowski

Today’s summer rerun—and this is the last one!—originally appeared on May 31, 2013.


We live in an exciting time, folks. Say what you like about information overload or environmental threats or the public school system—when it comes to story Bibles, we live in a great time. There seem to be new story Bibles published each year, of such a depth and quality that we, as adults, are blessed by them! Kids like them, too, of course, but when I sit and read to my children and know that I’m not only hearing old tales retold but am being reminded of the One who originally authored them, I know that something fabulous is happening in my heart and in the little hearts beside me.

We have many story Bibles, but find ourselves returning to a proven few: The Jesus Storybook Bible, The Big Picture Story Bible and today’s guest of honor, The Gospel Story Bible.

In his introduction, Machowski says, “It’s possible to simplify Bible stories so much that you edit out important gospel connections to God’s larger plan of salvation . . . Old Testament stories point forward to Jesus. New Testament stories point to the cross. The goal is to thread each of the 156 stories like beads on the silk thread of the gospel, creating one picture with them all.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

What we love best about this Bible is the fact that it represents a vast swath of Scripture, including stories that are often glossed over or ignored by other authors. I mean, there are six stories about Jacob alone, whose questionable choices leave him somewhat under-represented in children’s literature, as well as passages from the prophets and a few of the less savory moments from Israel’s exile.

Even the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is included, in a graceful telling that leaves out details of the cities’ explicit sins and focuses instead on the fact that the people rejected and despised God—in the same way that we all have. “We want to stay in our world of sin,” Machowski writes, “so God reaches down and gives us the faith we need to believe. Then God draws us away from sin to the safety of his Son Jesus.”

I respect an author who doesn’t shy away from the more challenging parts of Scripture, but who tells them well and uses those stories to display, again and again, the goodness and grace of God and his unswerving plan to redeem his creation, no matter how far we fall, or how fully we deny him. These challenging stories give rise to interesting discussions, so be prepared to engage with your kids: you can’t get away with reading one story, snapping the book shut and bundling them off to bed. Your kids will ask questions.

In fact, Marty Machowski seems to anticpate that, and at the end of each story he includes three simple questions, usually based on the story’s illustration. Our girls love these, and this allows us time to discuss the contents of our reading at its close. In fact, one daughter knows that there are three questions, and if we ever skip one, she is quick to call us out.

The illustrations, by A.E. Macha, are unlike anything I’ve seen: simple and intricate in turns, they hold our daughters’ attention and embellish each story well. Personally, I’m not always sure that I like the style of the drawings but I am consistently drawn to them, if you know what I mean. And I love the overall palette of the book: bright, strikingly bright, but with deep, dark accents as well.

If you find that your family is ready for a new story Bible, I heartily recommend this one. It takes time to read the whole thing through (there are so many stories!), but as you do, you’ll find yourself getting a clearer picture of the whole of Scripture, bead by shining bead.

The Gospel Story Bible | Little Book, Big Story

Do you have a favorite story Bible? I’m always on the look out for others!

The Gospel Story Bible
Marty Machowski, A.E. Macha (2011)

The Prince’s Poison Cup | RC Sproul

Today’s summer rerun first appeared on June 14, 2013.


My daughter once told me, “When I’m at a friend’s house, I go straight for the books.” I loved this, because I do that, too: when invited to a friend’s house for the first time, I gravitate toward the bookshelf (especially if they have bookshelves, plural), and scan the spines for familiar titles.

I know that friendship will come easily when I see certain books lining their shelves, or better yet, when this new friend follows me to the bookshelf, leans over my shoulder and says, “You like that one? Then you have to read this.” Before I know it, my arms are full of new books.

I met The Prince’s Poison Cup at a just such a new friend’s house. As we chatted, I flipped it open carelessly and found myself confronted with an illustration so beautiful that it moved me to tears at once: a father, a king, holding his son in the deepest of embraces, both of them radiant with light.

The Prince's Poison Cup | Little Book, Big Story

I didn’t care what the book was about—we needed our very own copy. And when we did get our copy, I found that it was an allegory of quality and depth, written around the verse, “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11b). R.C. Sproul puts his Bible knowledge to good use as he weaves the gospel through this story of a prince who rescued his Father’s people by . . . but wait. I won’t give the story away.

I will tell you that Justin Gerard’s illustrations do more than display the story—they interact with it, advancing the plot in beautiful double spreads. This is a story that will appeal to heroic little boys, but that has also captured the hearts of my girly girls, perhaps because it is full of the elements of the Best Story Ever (you know the one).


The Prince’s Poison Cup
RC Sproul, Justin Gerard (2008)