21 October 2011

A Reader's Review of "365 Great Bible Stories"

My wife and I are expecting our first child in February and we are thankful to our gracious God for blessing us with such a beautiful gift that is a daughter. We are committed to raising her in a Christian household, where the Bible is brought to bear upon our hearts and the truths of the Gospel permeate every area of our lives. In light of the recent news of our pregnancy, I am happy to be reviewing this children's book. I believe it is important to have a good selection of biblical resources in the home and we will be looking for the best biblical teaching resources for our children as we partner together in raising God-fearing disciples of Jesus.

To start, I must say that I was completely unfamiliar with the author... which is uncharacteristic of my reading habits. What was reassuring for me in this endeavor was the fact that this is author Carine Mackenzie's 150th book... and not only has she written a large number, but she has over 3 million books sold! If any of her other books are as Christ-centered as this one, I am sure I will have no lack of children's resources for my own little ones.

Christian Focus, the publisher, has four "imprints" that they produce books through. I own several different books from each of the other three imprints and have listed a few below that I recommend...

Christian Focus (Popular Adult Titles)

Christian Heritage (Classic Books)

Mentor (Books for More Detailed Study)

"365 Great Bible Stories" is my first book from Christian Focus' "CF4K" imprint (books for children)... but I am sure this will not be the last. To read an excerpt, CLICK HERE.

The first thing I noticed about the book when it arrived in the mail was the quality of its production. The binding and paper are both impressive; a lot of care was put into the manufacturing of this book. It is a large, hardback book with a built in bookmark and appears to be very durable (which is important for a children's book).

On page 4, the author shows us "How To Use This Book"... she writes:

"In this book you will find enough stories for you to read one a day for the whole year, even if it is a leap year... because although the book is called 365 Great Bible Stories, we've tagged on an extra story at the end. Of course you might like to read several stories all at once and that's fine too. You might start at Genesis and go all the way through to Revelation in one sitting, or it might take you several goes.

Whatever way you want to read the truth of God's Word is fine. But it's a good thing to remember Who it is you are reading about and that He has got something to say to you. The book that these stories come from, the Bible, was written by God. It has no errors in it and is absolutely truthful.

Now if you find that you want to mix things up and bit and want to read a bit differently for a change, look over at the opposite page. There you will find different themes for you to follow. Flick through the book and when you spot a lamb picture - that's a salvation story. When you spot a dove picture that's a story about the Holy Spirit. Look out for the scroll - that's going to be a story about God's Word. If you see a little road winding into the distance someone's going traveling. If you see a sword or some armor then you'll know that story has got a fight or a battle mentioned in it."

There are a few important things to note here: First, she points out that this book is a collection of stories from Genesis to Revelation. The Bible, though categorized by two different sets of writings (Old Testament and New Testament), is the completely unified revelation of God. This book is, to an extent, an introduction to Biblical Theology for children. It helps children understand that God's divine authorship in the Scriptures encompasses all 66 books; He reveals Himself in Creation through Consummation. Second, she points us to the God that is revealed in the Scriptures... not just to the Bible. Often times, we are in danger of looking to the Scriptures without looking for the God who is the One revealed in them. His Word directs us to Him, but is not an end in and of itself. We are to worship the Lord, and while we are commanded to obey His Word and hold it sacred, we are not to worship it as the personal God it points to. Third, she rightly points out that this Word of God, these Scriptures that He has "breathed-out," are without error and "absolutely truthful." This is an extremely important lesson to pass on to children... a crucial part of their biblical education and discipling is an understanding of the authority, inspiration, and veracity of the Bible. Lastly, Mackenzie shows us a "map key" to reading the book. Amidst the pages of this book are thematic elements symbolized by easily identifiable pictures, which are useful in teaching children about major biblical concepts than are prevalent throughout the Bible.

Chapter 1 is entitled "Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the Exodus" and mainly covers the first two books of the Old Testament. Some important themes in this chapter are ex nihilo creation, imago Dei, original righteousness, sin, The Trinity, judgment, covenant, aseity, transcendence, immutability, omnipotence, sovereignty, providence, inerrancy, atonement, etc. One of my favorite things about the first chapter, is how the author points us to Christ in Genesis and Exodus. Here are a few examples:

Genesis 1: "THINK: The Word of God is powerful. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is called the Word. By Him the light was produced. He is the true light, the Light of the World," (p. 8).

Genesis 3: "
THINK: God has to punish sin. But He made a way of escape. When God punished the serpent - the devil - He spoke of him being defeated by the seed of the woman. This points us to Jesus who defeated the devil when He died on the cross," (p. 15).

Genesis 6-7: "THINK: Only eight people were saved from the flood. Only those who are trusting in the Lord Jesus are safe from the destruction which our sin deserves," (p. 6-7).

Genesis 22: "
THINK: God provided a ram for the sacrifice. But later He provided a lamb for another sacrifice. He provided Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God to be the perfect sacrifice for sin on the cross of Calvary; PRAY: Thank the Lord for every gift that He has given you. Thank Him most of all for the gift of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners," (p. 28).

Exodus 12: "
THINK: The blood on the doorposts reminds us of another great escape. Jesus Christ shed His blood on the cross at Calvary so that His people would escape eternal death. Jesus ate the Passover Feast with His disciples the night before He died on the cross," (p.64).

Exodus 12-13: "
THINK: God rescued His people from slavery in Egypt. He rescues His people today from slavery to sin, through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. All who trust in Him are freed from slavery to sin," (p. 65).

Chapter 2 is called, "Joshua, Judges, and the Kings" and Mackenzie lists the topics the reader will learn about:

The Promised Land, Joshua, Crossing the Jordan, Battles, Victories and Defeats, Ehud and Eglon, Deborah and Barak, Jael and Sisera, Gideon, Samson, Ruth, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, and The Divided Kingdom"

One thing I find interesting is her inclusion of some of the more obscure stories in the time of the Judges... such as Ehud's assassination of Eglon (Judges 3:12-30); and Jael's pounding a tent stake through the temple of Sisera (Judges 4:17-22).

The Christocentric teaching of the author continues throughout this chapter as well. This is what she writes in story 89 regarding Judges 6:

"God used Gideon, the least important in his family, to win a great victory for the nation. The angel of God appeared to him and assured him of his peace. Gideon called the place, 'The LORD is Peace'. God asks us to pray about everything and give thanks. Those who love the LORD God and trust in Him are promised this gift of peace. Even if life is full of trouble and worry, God's own peace can calm our hearts. This peace is only possible through the Lord Jesus who took our punishment and gained our salvation from sin. When we trust in Him in faith, we have peace with God.

THINK: Jesus gave a special message to His disciples, as he promised that the Holy Spirit would be with them. 'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid,' John 14:27," (p.98).

In story 98, she teaches about "Jesus the Redeemer" from Ruth 4 (cf. Matthew 1):

"Ruth's baby was important. He became the grandfather of the great king David, who wrote most of the lovely Psalms in the Bible. But the most important descendant of Boaz and Ruth was the Lord Jesus Christ, who was born in Bethlehem many years later. Boaz was a redeemer for Ruth. Jesus Christ is the Redeemer for His people. His people are redeemed from a life of sin and misery. The price He paid was not money but His own precious blood. Jesus Christ gave His life as a redemption payment, when He died on the cross.

PRAY: Thank the Lord for sending His Son into this world to be the Redeemer for those who trust in Him," (p. 107).

Chapter 3, "Prophets, a Prophetess, a Queen and a Priest" covers mainly the Major Prophets and the Exile. One notable section is Isaiah's Messianic prophecies. Mackenzie writes in story 164 concerning Isaiah 9 and Isaiah 53:

"Isaiah's message pointed to the coming Messiah - the special king that the Jews expected God to send. Isaiah told of his birth 'To us a child is born, to us a Son is given... He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.' Isaiah's words came true when the Lord Jesus was born. He is God the Son who reigns over all the world, a Prince and a Savior. Isaiah also prophesied about Jesus' death. His suffering and pain and rejection are all detailed. He explains that His death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness to His people. 'He was pierced for our transgressions,' says Isaiah, 'He was bruised for our iniquities.' Isaiah even foretold that Jesus would die along with wicked men and that His grave would belong to a rich man. Jesus died on the cross between two thieves and laid in the tomb belonging to rich Joseph of Arimathea," (p. 175).

In stories 189-193, the author teaches about Jonah. There is a rich gospel message in her teaching from Jonah 4. She writes:

"THINK: If we received what our sins deserve, we would all be destroyed. God tells us that the wages of sin is death. Our loving God delights to show mercy to his people. He does not give what our sins deserve. He gives the wonderful gift of eternal life, because of the Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done on the cross to take the punishment to Himself that is due to us for our sin. A good prayer for us is 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner," (p. 204).

Chapter 4 is essentially a harmony of the gospels. Stories 195-299 cover the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The topics we read about in this chapter are:

"Jesus' birth, Jesus' Baptism, Jesus' Early Ministry, The Disciples, Jesus' Miracles, Jesus' Teaching, The Parables, The Transfiguration, The Triumphal Entry, The Crucifixion, The Resurrection, and The Ascension"

The stories in this chapter include all of the major teachings of the gospel accounts. Mackenzie does an excellent job showing the humanity and deity of Christ, as well as His matchless power. She explains Jesus' teachings from the Sermon on the Mount (and urges the reader to memorize the model prayer) and His parables in a way that is easy for children to understand. She ends the chapter with story 299 about The Great Commission, in which she reminds us that "Jesus' disciples are all over the world today. Jesus is with each one of them by His Spirit," (p. 312); and story 300 about Jesus' Ascension, where she gives instruction reminiscent of question one of The Westminster Catechism: "THINK: We are made to worship God and to enjoy Him forever," (p. 313).

In chapter 5, Mackenzie takes a historical journey through the Acts of the Apostles, describing the ministry of the 1st century church. She lays out a beginner's ecclesiology and a call to prayer in story 304:

"These people who trusted in Jesus loved listening to the apostles teaching about the Word of God. They learned more and more about Jesus. They met together to pray. They spoke together and had meals together... The people who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are known as 'the church.'

PRAY: Thank God for your church family who meet together for prayer, worship and teaching about the Word of God," (p. 319).

Stories 311-315 record the Apostle Paul's conversion (Acts 7-9), and his missionary journeys begin in story 323. The author does not withhold much detail in her retelling of Acts 13:

"On the first trip Paul went with Barnabas, who had been his first friend in Jerusalem after his conversion, and a young helper, John Mark. They traveled through the island of Cyprus, preaching the gospel in the synagogue. They faced stiff opposition but God the Holy Spirit helped them to be strong. The governor of the island was so impressed by the teaching about the Lord that he believed in Jesus for himself.

From Cypress they sailed across to the area we now call Turkey. John Mark left them at this point to go back home to Jerusalem," (p. 338).

This chapter ends with Paul's journey to Rome (stories 343-354) from Acts 22-28 and sets up the next section by introducing Paul's epistles to the reader.

The last chapter of the book, chapter 6, finishes out the New Testament. Though it is unfortunate that the author does not include any teachings from the epistle to the Romans, she does summarize the apostle's other general epistles.

In her teaching about Paul's letters to the Corinthians, she draws out his teaching about love (chapter 13) and reminds her readers:

"THINK: Remember that if we love God, it is because He has first loved us," (p.372)

She focuses on the whole armor of God from Ephesians 6 (story 356), prayer in 1&2 Thessalonians (story 357), and gives a summary of Philippians (story 358) regarding joy, anxiety, prayer and the victory of Christ.

Mackenzie concludes the book with a brief teaching on heaven from Revelation 21:

"John saw a vision of heaven and he described what he saw. In heaven, there will be no tears, no death, no sorrow, no crying, no pain. The city wall is of jasper, a precious stone. The city is made of pure gold. The foundations of the city are adorned with precious jewels. The twelve gates are made of pearls. The street is pure gold. John did not see a temple in his vision of the city because the Lord Almighty and the Lamb (Jesus Christ) are the temple. There was no need for sun or moon because the glory of God illuminated it. Nothing wicked will enter heaven - only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life - those who are trusting in Christ alone for their salvation. Jesus will return one day. He will judge the world and take his people to be with Himself in heaven," (p. 380).

Next, she presents a teaching on The Trinity from 2 Corinthians 13:

"The Bible tells us that there is only one God. There are three different persons in this one God, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. They exist together but we must worship them as one God... This is a great mystery which should make us worship God.

THINK: There is only one true and living God. However there are three persons in this one God. They are one God, the same in substance and equal in power and glory," (p. 381).

The 365th story presents to us a teaching on The Atonement from Hebrews 10:

"God had a wonderful plan to save His people from sin. All through their history, God taught the people of Israel about His plan. He instructed them to make sacrifices of unblemished animals because they were sinners. The blood of these animals could not take away sin. But it was a picture of what would happen in the future when God's Son would die for sinners. His sacrifice would be the perfect sacrifice. The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to be the real and only worthwhile sacrifice for sin. His sacrifice did not need to be repeated again and again. He died once and for all, on the cross at Calvary," (p. 382).

Finally, the extra "leap year" story (as mentioned in the introduction) directs the readers to "The Best Book of All":

"The Bible is like a lamp giving light and guidance on our journey through life. The Bible is like a sword, a mighty weapon to help us fight against our enemy, the devil. The Bible is like food - milk for a little baby or meat for a big man - the nourishment needed for our souls no matter how young or old we are. The Bible teaches the truth, shows us what is wrong in our lives, corrects us and helps us to do what is right.

THINK: The Bible is the power of God for salvation for all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ," (p. 383).

"365 Great Bible Stories: The Good News of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation" by Carine Mackenzie is a fantastic book, not just for young children, but for people of all ages. I happily welcome this addition to my library and I look forward to reading it to my daughter and any other children the Lord may bless us with. I trust that this book will entertain young children as it is read aloud, and also inform children as they read it for themselves. This is no mere storybook, there are important truths strewn throughout; this is truly a premier discipleship resource full of sound theology and practical wisdom.

Effective December 1, 2009, Federal Trade Commission guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information clearly on their blog when posting a review of the product... that being said: I RECEIVED A FREE HARDCOVER COPY OF THE BOOK. CLEAR ENOUGH?

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