2 kids’ albums that are actually really good!

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As y’all know, my wife and I are the parents of three little kids—Abigail (7), Hannah (4), and Hudson (2). Our house is always hopping with this crew, especially when there’s music on (or in their heads). I took the girls to The Muppets Most Wanted recently, and while we were in the car, Hannah and Abigail immediately started singing a heartfelt rendition of every girl’s current favorite song, “Let it Go.”

Just imagine that for a minute.

Alright, back to the task at hand. Because these kids really enjoy music, I get to expose them to a lot of different material. The challenge has been finding good kids’ albums! Many, as you can imagine, are vile, poorly produced, dreck. Some are okay. Few are exceptional.

But the exceptional few are ones I’d like to talk about a bit today. Here’s a look at two kids’ albums that are actually really good!

1. Coal Train Railroad, self-titled. I was pointed toward these folks by one of my followers on Twitter and I’m so glad they did. Coal Train Railroad is a jazz group for kids from Nashville, and their stuff is exceptional, both what’s been released on their self-titled debut and the follow-up, Coal Train Railroad Swings!

Our kids really like to bop to these albums, and Hudson typically asks for “Train!” when we get in the car, so there’s that.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | iTunes

2. The Verve Pipe, Are We There Yet? Honestly, I never thought I’d put “The Verve Pipe” and “great” in the same sentence, but there you go. These guys had a couple of big songs in the mid-late 90s but they fell off my radar a long time ago. Then I learned they had made a couple of albums for kids, the latest being Are We There Yet? This album has a lot of fun songs, including one called “When Grandma Says No,” which describes the all-too-true reality of Grandma’s no’s true meaning: maybe.

And all the parents said, “amen.”

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | iTunes

So those are a couple of really good kids’ albums we’ve picked up recently. If you’re a parent, definitely check them out, and if you have recommendations, share them in the comments!

3 gift ideas to share Christ with your kids

I have a confession: I’m woefully behind on my Christmas shopping this year. I’m pretty sure I’ve not been this far behind since before Hannah, our second child, was born. And, of course, it’s her we’re struggling to find the right gift for.

Maybe you’re in the same boat as me. If so, I hope today’s post can be a help. Here are three gift ideas to share Christ with your kids:

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The Lightlings by R.C. Sproul.

Ligonier Ministries has a number of resources available for children, but this is one of our favorites in the Armstrong house. This book weaves an allegorical tale of redemption, focusing specifically on the incarnation. “A race of tiny beings known as lightlings represent humanity as they pass through all the stages of the biblical drama creation, fall, and redemption. In the end, children will understand why some people fear light more than darkness, but why they need never fear darkness again.”

(Learn more or buy it at Ligonier Ministries, Westminster Books or Amazon).


Sammy and His Shepherd by Susan Hunt.

This book, a child-friendly exploration of Psalm 23, helps children “grow in their understanding of the metaphors the psalmist used in composing this beloved poem. But more important, they will gain a deeper appreciation for the one who is the subject of the psalm: the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.”

(Learn more or buy it at Ligonier MinistriesWestminster Books or Amazon).

(Incidentally, Westminster Books has these two titles along with The Prince’s Poison Cup available as a set.)


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Buck Denver Asks: What’s in the Bible?

Phil Vischer began producing this DVD series a number of years ago, walking children through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. While obviously there are going to be a few quibbles here and there due to your particular theological emphases, the series itself presents a very good—even excellent—look at the core truths of the Christian faith in a way that’s highly engaging for kids.

(Learn more or buy it at Amazon or What’s in the Bible)


So those are three gifts I’d encourage parents to check out for their kids. What are a few ideas you’ve got?

Children Are a Glorious Inconvenience

Good word from Mark Driscoll:

 

Children are a glorious inconvenience. Are children an inconvenience? Absolutely. It’s why many people don’t want to have children. “Oh, they’re such an inconvenience.” Having a child is a big deal, infertility can be a real pressing issue. You finally get pregnant, maybe you have a miscarriage, maybe you don’t, you don’t have the miscarriage, then you have all the water retention and the weight gain and the heartburn and the kicking of the bladder. I mean, I’ve seen it firsthand, it’s exciting. It’s an inconvenience. And then the baby’s born. Having a baby is an inconvenience. I’ve watched it, I know why we give women drugs. It’s necessary. And then the child is born and the children, they sleep during the day, they’re up all night, they cost tons of money, they scream and fluids come from every hole like a sprinkler, right? They’re an inconvenience. And then we get to junior high, oh. And then it’s an—and then they want to go to college, then they want to get married and it costs money and they take time and they’re an inconvenience.

And you know what? They’re a glorious inconvenience. They’re a glorious inconvenience.

And here’s the big idea: we tend to not see ourselves as children. We tend to see ourselves like the disciples, “Well, we’re very responsible adults with very important things to do.” And God says, “You know what I see? Ponytails, boogers, and Fudgesicles, that’s what I see.” You’re not totally able to take care of yourself. You need your dad. You were an inconvenience. I don’t know about you, Father, I apologize for being such an enormous inconvenience. But you know what? The fact that the Father loves me and he endures with me and he protects me and he provides for me and he instructs me and he corrects me, it reveals that he’s glorious. He’s amazing. And we, by the grace of God, get to be the children of God. We get to be that inconvenience through which he is revealed to be glorious. That’s what Christianity’s all about.

So if you’re here and you’re not a Christian, I would invite you through Jesus Christ to enjoy God as your Father and we as your family. Isn’t this good news?

And I want you just for a moment to consider with me, that if we had the heart of Jesus for children and we raise children who we love and instructed in the Lord and they grew up to love and serve Jesus. . . . We’re leaving a legacy of gospel faith that goes on maybe until Jesus comes back.

There’s a story at the end of Genesis where a little family of sixty-some people goes into Egypt, and they’re the children of God. They have children who have children who have children. Four hundred and forty years later, they emerge as the nation of Israel, a few million people. They went from a few dozen to a few million.

We may be in the midst of that. And it starts with the heart of Jesus. We need to approach our Father and his kingdom like kids and we need to raise our kids to love their heavenly Father.

HT: Z

Book Review: Halfway Herbert by Francis Chan

“Herbert Hallweg was seven-and-a-half years old, three-and-a-half feet tall, and fifty-five-and-a-half pounds heavy. He had lots of friends, but none of them called him Herbert. Instead, everyone called him… Halfway Herbert.”

That’s how Francis Chan begins his children’s book, Halfway Herbert. Herbert only ever does things halfway. He brushes half his teeth, does half his homework, eats half his food and gets half the sleep he needs. So when he is riding his bike and is only half paying attention, he hits his dad’s car & decides to tell only half the truth… and gets caught in a whole lie. When his dad confronts him, he teaches Herbert that none of life isn’t meant to be lived halfway—especially our lives as Christians.

In this book, Chan does a terrific job of distilling the core message of Crazy Love into a powerful reminder of the importance of loving the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. That there’s no such thing as being halfway obedient to Christ—He demands all of us. Although we always follow imperfectly, even in that the Holy Spirit is making us more and more like Christ.

I was quite impressed when I read Halfway Herbert. It’s geared perfectly to children around ages 4-8 (my oldest daughter listened attentively as my wife read it to her before we secretly bought it as a Christmas gift)—but it also has a lot to teach adults. Our children learn as much from our example what it means to be a Christian as they do from reading the Bible themselves. And when they’re really young, they learn almost entirely from us. So what’s the example we’re setting? Do we live like people who are completely sold out for the cause of Christ… or are we, too, Halfway Herberts?

I’d highly encourage parents to pick up a copy of Halfway Herbert for their children. Read it together and encourage one another to live a life fully devoted to Christ.

Title: Halfway Herbert
Author: Francis Chan
Publisher: David C. Cook

Book Talk: The Mighty Acts of God by Starr Meade and Tim O’Connor

Kids’ Bibles are a strange animal.

There’s a lot of effort that’s put into making the stories of the Bible sensible to children; in the process, however, many important facets of God’s interactions with His creation can get glossed over or lost altogether.

Enter The Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book.

Written by Starr Meade and illustrated by Tim O’Connor, The Mighty Acts of God is intended to teach children the essential doctrines of the Christian faith from a Reformed perspective.

Recently, I received a copy of The Mighty Acts of God and in the video below, my wife Emily and I share our thoughts on the book and how it impacted our family.

http://vimeo.com/17315247

To summarize:

  1. The stories introduce key doctrines of the Christian faith in a way that children can understand;
  2. The content focuses on who God is and what He has done in creation;
  3. It’s extremely cross-centered, constantly bringing readers back to the gospel; and
  4. The “For me and my house” discussion section is one of the greatest strengths of the book, providing opportunities to discuss what’s been learned in the story and how it applies to our lives.

If you’re looking for a kid’s Bible that the whole family will benefit from, I would highly recommend The Mighty Acts of God.


Title: The Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book
Authors: Starr Meade & Tim O’Connor
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

A copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher.

Book Review: The Church History ABCs

The study of Church history is an incredibly rewarding—and daunting—experience. In the 2000 years since Christ founded His Church, we’ve seen slave-traders dramatically converted into hymn writers, men give up their lives so that people can read the Bible in their own language, church fathers martyred for defending the faith, a reformation that transformed the world and countless other events. If there’s one thing Church history is not, it’s dull.

So how on earth do you begin to introduce kids to the riches of Church history? How about alphabetically?

In The Church History ABCs, author Stephen J. Nichols and illustrator Ned Bustard, introduce children to 26 heroes of the faith from Augustine to Zwingli. Nichols keeps his text lively and concise, avoiding getting bogged down in too many details about the people to whom he is introducing readers. I particularly enjoyed his write-up of Ulrich Zwingli:

I always come last because my name starts with “Z.” Zurich starts with a “Z” too. Go used me to teach the people of the city of Zurich about Jesus. From Zurich, the Reformation spread to other cities in Switzerland (there’s a “Z” in that word, too). I preached many sermons. One of them had a funny title, “On the Choice and Freedom of Foods.” . . . The Reformation came to Zurich. I wanted everyone to know that we should follow God’s Word and do what it says. The Bible tells us everything we need to know from A to Z.

Bustard’s clean illustration style is a lot of fun and very expressive. I’m impressed at his ability to communicate so much personality in such “simple” drawings (my wife is an illustrator, so I know how difficult a task this can be). It’s a style that serves the content and the audience well.

From a parent’s perspective, The Church History ABCs is a lot of fun—the basic premise is intriguing enough to  make you want to pick it up and take a look, the content is strong enough to give a firm foundation in the bigger picture of Church history, and it’s a neat handy tool for teaching your kids the alphabet. Get a copy for your kids today.


Title: The Church History ABCs: Augustine and 25 Other Heroes of the Faith
Authors: Stephen J. Nichols, Ned Bustard
Publisher: Crossway (2010)

DVD Review: Adventures in Booga-Booga Land

You never know what you’re going to get with kids videos. Sometimes they surprise you; they’re packed with great content and have terrific production quality. Sometimes they’re okay, but forgettable. And then there are the ones that are an absolute train wreck—mind-numbingly painful to watch and just awful, awful production values.

(I’m not sure if that’s the best opening for a review, but there you have it.)

Recently I received a copy of Adventures in Booga Booga Land, distributed by Tommy Nelson (Thomas Nelson’s children’s product division). Based on Richard Milner’s children’s book, the DVD features three stories that serve as retellings of Jesus’ parables & teaching: The workers in the Vineyard from Matt 20:1-16, The Wise & Foolish Builders from Matt. 7:24-27 and The Lamp under the Bowl from Matt. 5:14-16.

So, how did it fare? Well…

The stories on the DVD really only serve as a lead-in for parents to have a discussion of the biblical teaching. This can be a good and bad thing. On the one hand, it’s great to have something to call your kids back to as in, “remember when Marty and Gerard got all huffy because their boss paid people who started working at the end of the day the same wage as them? Well, let’s take a look at that story in the Bible…” So in that sense, it’s a helpful learning aid. On the other hand, if you don’t always have time to do a full lesson with your kids and need something that has a more “complete” message, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

Another concern that came up was that the stories themselves are surprisingly violent; my daughter was very confused and concerned when Marty the Monkey and the Schwarzenegger-styled adult education teacher were fighting in the grocery store. Additionally, the attempts to recall fond memories of classic Looney Toons shorts fall flat; it just doesn’t work.

The production quality of the cartoons is terrible. My wife commented that it looks like it might have been done by the same people who made “Toopy and Binoo” (one of the strangest kids shows we’ve ever seen). Truthfully, it reminded me a bit of a bad Flash video.

The final thing I have to comment on is the voiceover work. The voices just grated on us adults. Gerard reminded my wife of Canadian author and radio personality Stuart McLean (it wasn’t, we checked). And the pseudo-Canadian bus driver… Really? We’re still doing that? (There’s another level of irony to this in that the government of Ontario receives a credit for playing a role in the production of the video.)

All that to say, while this certainly wasn’t the worst kids video I’ve seen and I greatly appreciate the intent, Adventures in Booga Booga Land is not something that will be a fixture in our home and I wouldn’t recommend it become on in your’s either.

A complimentary copy of this DVD was provided through Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze Program

Music Review: Meet the Rizers

It’s hard to find great kid’s music that’s both fun to listen to and has rich content. (Parents reading this, can you back me up on this?)

Then I heard about Meet the Rizers, a new release from RE:Sound.

When I learned about this record, I was intrigued. We’ve got very little children’s music that I’d consider great, especially that provides us with opportunities to talk about faith with our kids (which is a fun thing to do with a three-year-old; the baby doesn’t have much to say yet). With a family vacation on the horizon, I listened to a couple of samples (see below) and decided to give it a shot.

What was the verdict?

Meet the Rizers blew me away. Seriously.

Tyson Paoletti of Tooth & Nail Records and Greg Lutze (both members of Mars Hill Church in Seattle) had an idea for an album of Scripture-based, guitar-pop worship songs for kids. As parents, they were also looking for a way to teach Scripture memorization as a value in their homes.

This desire led them, ultimately, to create this record.

By taking nine passages from the Bible and setting them to music, Meet the Rizers allows children (and parents) to not only listen to some catchy, head bopping music, but to learn to memorize Scripture.

The idea is very clever and the execution is top-notch. And honestly, I can’t imagine how challenging it must have been to arrange the music for each verse. It’s evident that a great deal of care has been taken with each song to make sure the integrity of the Scripture is maintained while not sacrificing musical quality. While all the songs are catchy, a particular favorite of is Psalm 8:1. Because the psalms are mostly songs, it was fascinating for me to hear one set to music. And the arrangement works so well—it’s fun to listen to and easy to memorize.

So what was our oldest daughter’s reaction?

When I put the record on for the first time, Abigail saw the picture and immediately assumed that it was a cartoon. After I explained to her that it there was only audio, she still insisted on having the large image on the screen. (She continues to ask for the big picture when we’re at the iMac.)

On the drive to our vacation, she gleefully bopped along to the music in the backseat. This was after listening to it three times in the house before we left.

Now, every time I take her anywhere, her first question is, “Can we listen to Meet the Rizers?!”

This is a good problem to have, but it also means I need to find more children’s music of this caliber.

Meet the Rizers sets the bar high for future releases from the group and for kid-friendly music in general.

If you’re looking for something for your next road trip or to put on while you’re hanging around the house, don’t pass up this record.

Around the Interweb (07/25)

5 Dangers Facing Over-Churched Kids and 9 Strategies to Reach Them

Tony Kummer explains:

These are the children who attend every service, and can’t remember anytime when they didn’t come to church. In my ministry, most of these kids also attend a Christian school. They can recite the books of the Bible, they’ve memorized countess Scripture verses, and they know details about Bible stories that I can’t even remember.

By over-churched kids, I mean children with too much religion and not enough actual interaction with Jesus…

One of the dangers that stood out for me:

They Have Learned to Pretend Pray: A real struggle for grown-ups is connecting with God through prayer. Too often it becomes routine and dry. Most younger children learn prayer as an act of imitation. Many don’t even realize that something cosmic is happening when we address our words to God. They don’t feel the presence of God or even expect that they should.

Tony’s solutions are extremely encouraging. Here are a couple:

Pray for Every Child: Sometimes the deepest problems require a spiritual solution. Ask God to make a difference for those over-churched kids. It’s great when we pray for those outside the church, but don’t forget to lift up those familiar names to the Lord. Remember, effective ministry depends on prayer.

Teach the Bad News: According to the Bible, we are all sinners who have earned the displeasure of God. Without Jesus, we would have no hope of passing God’s judgment. Over-churched kids need to realize that they too need a Savior. They need to learn about sin. Keep teaching the 10 Commandments, but also teach what Jesus said about loving your neighbor. None of us can really meet those standards on our own.

Read both posts; they’re well worth your time.

A Brief Bit of Housekeeping

This past week I was on vacation in Grand Bend, Ontario, enjoying some time relaxing with my family (and preparing a sermon). In my absence a number of gentlemen agreed to lend a hand and keep content coming. Matt, Chris, Gabe and Ben did a tremendous job and I know I was ministered to as I read their posts. (If you haven’t yet, keep scrolling down and you’ll find them.)

Thanks guys, I’m looking forward to having you back if you’re up for it!

In Other News

Church Life: Jason Helopoulos offers a few good reasons for changing churches (and a few bad ones, too).

Social Justice & the Bible: Kevin DeYoung wraps his Seven Passages on Social Justice series by examining Luke 4:16-21. The rest of the series includes Micah 6:8; Amos 5; Matthew 25:31-46; Jeremiah 22; Isaiah 58; and Isaiah 1.

Prayer: Rick Warren’s eyes were severely injured when he got toxic sap from his African Fire Stick plant in his eyes. His sight is gradually improving every day. Please join in praying for his full recovery.

Books and Technology: This week Amazon announced that Kindle books been selling 180 units for every 100 hardbacks for the last three months. Here’s what they didn’t say when they made that announcement.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Matthew Svoboda tackles Eschatology and why he believes Amillenialism is the most biblically accurate view of the end times.

Gabe Posey looks at the call to ministry.

Chris Canuel examines the purpose of suffering through the eyes of Job.

Ben Reed shares the importance of the beautiful mess that is a small group.

Being a Small Part of God’s Plan

Friday was the day that we got to visit with our sponsored children.

For a lot of people on the trip, there was a great deal of anxiety. Meeting your child is a big deal. So few children and sponsors ever get to meet, so I can understand why it means so much.

I met Jocsan almost four years ago, when I first came to Honduras. He was shy, a little withdrawn, but a really sweet kid. After we parted ways last time, I’d hoped I’d get to see him again someday.

Friday was that day.

This time, though, it wasn’t just Jocsan; it was his sister, Loren, too.

Loren is nine years old and she was very shy. She was quiet almost the entire time that we were together. Not that I blame her; the experience is incredibly overwhelming.

“Here’s the Canadian who sponsors you! Be excited! And… Go!”

That’s not what happens.

photo by Yuri Fortin, Compassion Honduras

Armin (my interpreter) and I met the two kids and their mom at the Wonderland water park in San Pedro Sula. They’d travelled all the way from Tegucigalpa, roughly a 4.5 hour drive (with a lot of winding roads). They got permission from their school to take Thursday and Friday off for this, but their mom, Bessie, said that even if they hadn’t, they still would have come. [Read more...]

Small Talk

Over the last several days, we’ve met dozens of children, but I’ve never really been able to have much of a conversation.

I think this has a lot to do with expectations; being so concerned that I need to say something profound that will impact these kids lives forever, or avoiding saying something that would inadvertently damage them beyond measure. (No pressure, huh?)

Thursday was different.

In our last project visit, I had a chance to really just relax and have some fun. And after an intense game of volleyball, I took a seat on the stairs to have a drink and recharge.

Carmen sat down next to me and started talking.

I learned that she was eleven years old and has one brother named Pedro who is also at the project. She has two cats, named “White” and “Black.” She loves science & social studies, and she wants to be a lawyer.

I asked her why and she said, “I just like what they do.” (Seems as good a reason as any, I think.)

She asked me whether I play any instruments, and I told her about how I used to play the trombone when I was a bit older than she is now. We talked about music, drawing, family, our favorite colors, what I do for a living…

We just talked. No pressure, nothing seriously profound. Just a nice conversation.

I think it’s what both of us needed.

I wonder how often our expectations get in the way of us simply enjoying the opportunities and connections that God brings into our lives? To miss the trees for the forest sometimes. (Yes, I meant to say it that way in case you were curious.)

If I’d been stuck in that mode, I don’t know that I would have been able to enjoy this time with Carmen.

Her sitting down with me was a wonderful gift from God. Our conversation may not have been earth-shatteringly profound, but it made an impact. And I’m grateful for it.

Thinking Beyond Today

Did you know that if you ask the average child in this area what he wants to be when he grows up, he won’t be able to answer?

It’s true.

During Tuesday’s visit to a church in the Copan Ruins, the project workers shared with us that most of the kids have never really given it any thought.

They’re too busy just trying to get through the day to think about what the future might hold.

That’s why it was really encouraging for us to see “My Plan for Tomorrow,” a resource in Compassion’s curriculum designed to help children ages 12 and up to figure out what direction they want to go with their lives.

[Read more...]

"What the Children Need Most is…"

The other day, we were shown the project offices at the church we visited. After seeing the meticulous records and going through a whole list of questions, I asked a project worker, “If there was one thing you’d like us to tell Canadians [and Americans, too] back home, what would it be?”

She thought for a moment and said:

Pray.

“What the children need most is your prayers. They have a lot of issues and need a lot of help. They have medical problems and some have mental problems… but what they need is your prayers.”

This was not what I was expecting as an answer, but it’s so obvious.

More than anything else—even more than the financial support that sponsors provide—the children need our prayers.

One of the challenges I’ve come up to here (besides the language barrier) is that I’m being confronted with how lazy I am spiritually.

What I mean is that I too often take prayer for granted, or see it as the last resort after I’ve tried to white-knuckle my way through a situation.

But that completely misses the point.

It misses the point of the gospel, which pointedly shows us that no amount of white-knuckling can to what only Christ could. And because of His death for our sins, the Father hears our prayers.

So why not take advantage of this gift?

These kids need our prayers. We need our prayers.

And God is good and faithful to answer for His glory and our joy.

Tiny Smiles and Big Hearts

On Monday we had our first “official” visit to a Compassion partner church, The Ark of Salvation in San Pedro Sula. The children meet in the church while they’re building a new classroom facility.

This is one of the little faces that greeted us today. This girl, and all the children her age, were making puppets.
[Read more...]