Wednesday, May 13, 2015

HUPOGRAMMOS: Freddie Cottonmouth: Your New Fiction Friend

HUPOGRAMMOS: Freddie Cottonmouth: Your New Fiction Friend: Recently, I was given the opportunity to read C.S. Fritz’ newest release: Cottonmouth and the End.  It is the third book of the Cottonmouth...

Freddie Cottonmouth: Your New Fiction Friend

Recently, I was given the opportunity to read C.S. Fritz’ newest release: Cottonmouth and the End.  It is the third book of the Cottonmouth Trilogy. I must say this book and the trilogy as a whole are fabulous!  This is the new Narnia for a younger generation!  If you’re a parent of a kid who loves to read, this set needs to be your next purchase.  If you’re a parent of a kid who doesn't like to read, this trilogy might be a springboard to change their thoughts about reading.  Never again will your children say, “Reading is boring.”  Below, I present an overview of each book's storyline. 

Cover price is $7.99 per book.  Each book is packed with beautiful artwork which guide the reader through each storyline.  I finished each book in about ten minutes, children will probably take 20-25 if they read straight through.  The connections to God are unmistakable.  The challenge to see Freddie’s life fit into God’s story bring the point home: our own lives fit into God’s story too!

Want to win a SIGNED piece of artwork straight from Cottonmouth and the End (Book 3)? CLICK HERE TO ENTER

Did you know you can be pen pals with Freddie?  
Write a letter to Freddie and he will write one back to you!  


Cottonmouth and the River (Book One):
 We are introduced to Frederick Cottonmouth at the river near his home.  It is a place of solace and reflection for young Freddie, who comes to visit the shoreline every day.  One day in particular, Freddie finds a smooth, polished, black egg.  As he is a curious boy, Freddie takes it home with him to examine it more.  As he returns home, we realize that young Freddie’s parents are not there and haven’t been for quite some time.  Freddie is enamored by the egg; its shape, its meaning.  As he drifts off to sleep, unable to find anything conclusive about the egg, Freddie hears movement and a loud “CRACK”  in the upstairs of his house.  The black egg from the River seems to be at the center of this as Freddie notices it spinning around and around.  Suddenly, a creature appears.  He is large and boisterous.  Freddie has never seen or heard anything like it before Freddie’s fear is soon replaced by the creature’s voice:  “Hi.  I’m Tug, the comforter.”  Freddie’s world is turned upside down as Tug becomes his closest companion. Tug gives Fredrick a command:  you must never eat this egg.  Fredrick agrees and suddenly, the life he has always wished for is in his possession as Tug leads the most amazing adventures and experiences for the two of them.  At the end of two weeks, Fredrick asks Tug if the black egg can bring his parents back.  Tug tells him a story, meant to assure Fredrick that there is a purpose behind his parents’ absence.  Fredrick is hurt and runs away from Tug, throwing the egg deep into the river as he runs home.  A rodent, named Menson, rings the doorbell of the Cottonmouth home.  He speaks with Fredrick and tells him that what Tug has told him is a lie.  Menson convinces Fredrick that he can take him to his parents if Fredrick will only follow his directions.  Fredrick makes a terrible mistake that rips apart his bond with Tug and at the same time makes Fredrick deathly ill.  Tug doesn’t allow Fredrick’s mistake to keep them separated forever, though.  And Tug makes one of the greatest sacrifices of all while Freddie watches on.  Alone once again, Fredrick returns home; only to hear a loud “CRACK” from upstairs again!  Who could it be this time? 

Cottonmouth and the Great Gift (Book Two)
 Freddie, believing that Tug is truly gone decides to return to the River and go fishing.  As he retrieves his pole and lure, Freddie is confronted with the movement upstairs.  Unexpectedly, Tug returns!  He leads Freddie to the river and gives him a new black egg and a special mission:  “You must get this egg to the girl with two different colored eyes.  She is in The Great Blue.”  Freddie doesn’t understand and asks how he is supposed to find this girl with two different colored eyes.  Tug promises that he will send Freddie a helper.  Freddie is confused and wants Tug to stay.  Tug blows into his hands and suddenly, he is gone.  Everything goes dark and it feels as if Freddie is sleeping.  He is awoken to the sound of his name being called.  There appears a yellow hummingbird who introduces himself as “Yellowthroat, the Gift”.  Yellowthroat leads Freddie on an adventure down the river that Freddie used to visit every day.  They stop so Freddie can stretch his legs and run into a troll who leads them to a forest full of bookcases.  There, Gloom and his octopus, Matilda, have been expecting Freddie and present him with his book.  Inside the book, Freddie finds a letter from Tug and everything about his whole life written in ink, right down to his mission and even the current moment itself!  Freddie and Yellowthroat continue on their journey; Freddie feeling a little more confident because Tug has known his story all along.  As the approach what they believe to be the entrance to The Great Blue, they run into a chimpanzee named Secret who only answers questions depending on how well he is paid.  They are forced to give Secret Freddie’s book written by Tug for the answer they desperately need.  Secret points down to answer the question, “where is the entrance?”  Freddie begins to dig.  And dig.  And dig. For days he digs.  He is ready to give up until a fluttering page of his book appears with a reviving message.  Freddie musters up energy to dig just a little more.  He finds a door with an egg-shaped handle but before Freddie can turn the knob, the knob starts turning from the other side!  What could be behind this door?

Cottonmouth and the End (Book Three):  
 Behind the door found by Freddie and Yellowthroat was the Darkness.  It had been waiting for Freddie ever since Tug made the greatest sacrifice of all time.  The darkness tells Freddie that his parents are there, waiting for him.  Yellowthroat, sensing something not right, admonishes Freddie to follow him instead of the Darkness.  Still, the promise of seeing his parents is too much for Fredrick to contain and instead he devises a way to separate himself from Yellowthroat’s advice.  Yellowthroat leaves Fredrick’s side, Fredrick is alone but now realizes his mistake.  Yellowthroat is shut out of the Darkness permanently.  Suddenly, in the Darkness, is Menson, the rat.  Menson has been planning for months because Fredrick’s mission has been damaging Menson’s mission.  Menson has since wanted Fredrick eliminated.  He ties Fredrick up tight, reminding Fredrick of all the things he’s done wrong.  Fredrick, finding courage deep inside of him, yells at Menson that he is unafraid of him.  Fredrick and Menson both hear a loud “CRACK”.  Menson wonders who is there and suddenly, an even louder voice overpowers both of them. Tug has returned and defeats Menson and giving grace to Fredrick who struggles with the consequences of all he has done.  Tug brings Fredrick to his palace seated on the banks of The Great Blue.  There, Fredrick meets the girl with the two different colored eyes, Pox.  Together, they are given a new mission from Tug and a treasure chest full of smooth, polished, black eggs.  What will they do with them all? 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Children's Bible Review: Deep Blue Kid's Bible

I love my Bible.  I take it with me everywhere I go.  Since I'm a children's pastor one of my goals is to transfer my love for the Bible to the kids around me.  As I'm about to hit my three year mark I've learned a lot about kids and about kid's Bibles.  Believe it or not, not all kid's Bibles are created equally.  This post will review the Deep Blue Kid's Bible.

INTENDED AGE RANGE:  The Deep Blue Kid's Bible is intended for kids in the 7-12 year old range.  However, as parents, you should definitely consider your child's individuality when choosing a Bible.  Some 6yr olds are reading on a higher level than some 9yr olds.

TRANSLATION:  The Deep Blue Kid's Bible is in the CEB (Common English Bible) translation.  "What difference does translation even make," you might ask.  It makes a BIG difference in your child's ability to relate and interact with the Word of God.  Most parents purchase a translation that they use or are most familiar with...mainly the NIV.  The NIV is a sturdy translation and you, as the parent, might think it's the best translation out there.  However, I feel it's important to remember that you're purchasing for your child and not for you.
So what's the difference?  Here's three different translation comparisons from the book of Isaiah.

       THE ESV:  "The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation" Isaiah 59:15b-16

       THE NIV:  "The LORD looked and was displeased that there no justice.  He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him and his own righteousness sustained him." Isaiah 59:15b-16

        THE CEB:  The LORD looked and was upset at the absence of justice.  Seeing that there was no one, and astonished that no one would intervene, God's arm brought victory, upheld by righteousness."  Isaiah 59:15b-16

Which one sounds easier to read at age 7?  Definitely the third one!  The Prophets are one of the hardest sections of the Bible to read with kids.  Most adults don't understand prophecy!  But still, we can't ignore it just because children are young.  Therefore, we have to give them building blocks to grow.  The CEB version can be a building block for kids.

IN TEXT NOTES:  The Deep Blue Bible offers a host of notes throughout the text of the Bible.  The Bible is ocean themed so all in-text notes are ocean themed as well.  There are four categories:  Sailboat (notes that point out positive traits we can have in our lives), Umbrella (notes that offer help for difficult times), Lighthouse (notes that discuss the basics of following God for life) and Life Preserver (notes that answer tough questions and hard-to-understand sections of the Bible.

Not only that but other in-text features include "did you know?" that offer Bible trivia, Bible customs and practices; devotionals called God's Thoughts/My Thoughts; memory verses called Navigation points that point out key verses; and my personal favorite entitled "Bet you can!" which are reading challenges throughout the Bible such as the one in Joshua 4 "I bet you can read this section in 5 minutes. Ready? Set? GO!"

At the beginning of each book, there is an introduction page.  This page offers a brief overview of the book itself including people you'll meet and special memory verses but a favorite feature is the "places you'll go" sidebar which lists the cities mentioned in the text with their modern-day equivalent beside them in parenthesis.  Would a 9 year old know where the ancient city of Persia was?  No way. But they can look at a map and find Iran!

EXTRA RESOURCES:  Called "Exploration Tools" the Deep Blue Kids Bible also features a full dictionary (not just a concordance) of Biblical words like "abba", "anoint" "covenant" "pharisees", etc.  and 8 full-color maps from the National Geographic Society.

The Deep Blue Kids Bible has a variety of hard covers and leather covers.  It's also available for iPad.  You can purchase it and download more resources from their website:

Disclaimer:  I was in no way compensated by CEB or Deep Blue Kid's Bibles for this review.  I purchased my copy of the Deep Blue Kid's Bible for church use and reviewing purposes.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Trip to the Abortion Clinic

This morning I went to an abortion clinic. I grew up believing that I’d never be in a situation that would force me to visit this type of clinic.  So, a few months ago, when a wonderful friend of mine invited me to go with her once a month to pray for the women visiting the clinic I didn’t have a strong desire to go with her.  In fact, I turned her down for several months.  Don’t get me wrong I am pro-life.  I believe that children are a gift from God. I believe they are human beings from the moment they are conceived, no matter how they are conceived.  But like most human beings, I’m terribly selfish.  I had a million excuses of why I couldn’t go with my friend; it was too early (and I needed my sleep!); it’s too cold (I despise winter!); my friend was already going there and doing it (what did they need me for?); etc. etc. 

However, my excuses stopped when God gently reminded me that I am the children’s pastor.  If I am not the largest advocate for children in my circle of influence then who would be? If I say that I love children (and believe me, I do!) then how could I not get involved with the ministry trying to prevent the loss of children?  I agreed with the Lord’s gentle reminder and told my friend I’d be coming along this month. 

I know well the arguments for pro-choice; if a family isn’t financially able to bear the burden they shouldn’t; if a woman was raped why would she want a reminder of that every day?; if the baby is going to grow up un-cared for or physically/mentally handicapped why not spare it that pain?.  Rather than giving facts and figures as answers to these arguments, I’d rather just answer with this: there is hope.  A stream of women drove past me today while I stood on the corner praying and weeping.  I couldn’t help wonder what each lady’s circumstances were.  There were some driven by their father or their mother. Some were driven by their husband or boyfriend. And some simply drove in by themselves.   While we watched each woman enter the clinic, we didn’t shout condemnation or judgment but only, “You have a choice. We’d love to talk with you. We love you no matter what.”  Most ignored us; some became irate.  Out of the twenty women who walked in, we only witnessed one couple who changed their minds.  We celebrated with them. 

 You might be like me. You might believe that abortion is wrong. You might believe that anything with a beating heart is a live-being whether they happen to live inside a womb made just for them or outside the womb in a house.  You might believe that something should be done.  You might believe that the laws should be changed.  You might believe that if there were just somebody to intercept these women and tell them that there is hope, tell them they are loved, tell them that you will help them through a difficult season; that then the act of abortion may well be legal, but they just won’t be necessary anymore.  But like me, you might not have done anything about it, putting it off onto the actions of others. 

Why do I tell you all of this? Because children, born and un-born, matter!   Because after putting faces to the endless statistics I’ve read over the years, my perspective has changed.  Because I sat by for way too long with personal excuses for not getting involved and with judgment for those who thought their only choice was to visit an abortion clinic.  As Christians, we have to stand in the gap! We have to make ourselves available to those who are contemplating abortion or are post-abortion with a message of love and hope.  I’ve heard from many that the condemnation, shame, and guilt of post-abortion is what is hardest to live with.  Congress will never make the laws necessary to make this nation one that is Christian, especially on their own. It is up to us as individuals and as churches to step in where Congress and democracy fall short.  
Here are a few ideas for how to get involved wherever you are:

·         Get a group of friends together and go to your local abortion clinic to reach out to the women there peacefully and to pray.  Make sure to check your state’s laws about boundary lines and remember always preach hope in Jesus rather than hate.
·         Volunteer your time or donate your money to a pro-choice clinic. Women who are debating whether or not to have an abortion need warm, friendly people to sit and talk with.
·         If you’re blessed financially, consider donating to those who help counsel women on their choices regarding pregnancy and life. 
o   Go big with donations of diapers and general starter-baby supplies that most first time moms don’t have (cream, clothes, formula, bottles, etc)
·         If you have a friend who has had an abortion, talk with them and let them know that you love them. Most women hide this part of their lives, and the pain kills them inside almost daily.
·         Write to your congressmen and women.  Don’t wait for congress to change the laws to fit your religious beliefs. They won’t do it on their own. We do have a voice and we must unite! This is more important than getting Phil Robertson back on to his TV show!  

·         Comment and add your own ideas! The unborn children of the world thank you.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bear Fruit

Don’t you love when you’re going about your everyday work or to-do list and you suddenly get a definition of a Biblical concept?

That just happened to me this afternoon. Something inside me was awakened as God revealed His Word to me in such a clear way.

I’ve never been much of a gardener.  However, I began my interest in growing flowers and plants from seeds last year.  This afternoon after church I decided it was time to do a little end of the summer cleaning.  Many of the plants out on my balcony had either died or were being deprived of water and proper sunlight.  Some of my flower pots however have some beautiful flowers continuing to bud in the midst of healthy dark green leaves. 

However, there were some flower plants that were just too far gone to be worth the time it would take to revive them.  With these plants I resigned myself to simply go ahead and throw them away and make more room for those which were still blooming.  As I began to sort out those that needed to be tossed versus those that were worthy of keeping, I began to see the need to rearrange what would be left behind.

When I got closer to the flower pots and picked them up I began to see that on the bottom side there were some dead branches and leaves along with the living ones.  I had never noticed these before but there were so many of them I was forced to clear them out.  I believe the official term for this is called pruning. 
Suddenly, John 15:1-4 made sense.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”

There it was right in my own hands, on my own balcony.  Often times my sin makes me feel so dead inside.  It makes me feel worthless and unusable by God.  Despite all of my theological training. Despite all of the Bible verses I’ve read that tell me otherwise knowing that I have a few dead branches makes me feel as if all of me is dead.  My gardening made me realize that just like my flower plants, I just need a little pruning.  Can I grow with these dead branches? Yes, for a period of time.  Can I still look good? Sure. At least until the dead branches begin to overtake the living branches.  While I have to admit that there are dead branches and leaves in my life, I also have to desire to have them removed.  Having a few dead leaves and branches doesn’t make me dead.  It just means I need some pruning. I need to abide in Christ. John 15:5 records Christ saying “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Allow Christ to prune you daily by abiding in Him.  Continue to watch for sin that is becoming habitual---it will become a dead branch if it hasn’t already and enough of these over time will take over your whole body.  Once pruned Christ asks us to bear fruit.  “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John 15:8

Monday, April 15, 2013

Oh my god

If you’re like me you couldn’t stop watching the news coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing.  The images and video footage didn’t change but it was hard to turn off the news even when there was no new information coming in.  It is difficult to see the injury and chaos of a bombing like this in America.  This is not a part of our everyday life. We’re not in Israel. We’re not in Palestine. These things just don’t happen.  With no knowledge of who did this and the intentions behind it there is an air of public fear that will most likely remain for the next several days if not weeks.

On many of the video and audio clips that were played over and over have spectators crying out, “Oh my god. Oh my god.” Many of the news reporters sign off with a commitment of prayer for the victims of this tragedy.  I do not know each of these news reporters personally, however, I have a hard time accepting the fact that we only cry out to God in situations like these. 

There is no doubt in my mind that when we reject God, He steps aside and allows us to go on by ourselves as we please.  He is a gentleman. He does not force Himself on anyone who doesn’t wish to have His presence.  We have continually rejected God’s presence in every form and fashion. Christians and churches have now been labeled as hate-groups for disagreeing with accepted practices of the general public.  Why do we want nothing to do with God until a tragedy occurs? Why is prayer, in any public arena, unacceptable until an unspeakable act of violence or terror happens? After tragedies like this, a very popular question is always posed, “Where is God when these things happen?”

God is where we put Him. God’s presence is not felt because we have asked Him to vacate our lives. God is silent because we have asked Him to be. We cannot hold God accountable for His seemingly apathetic response to our momentary cries for Him because we only demand that He come near in the midst of our pain and suffering. Like a child who only returns home when they need more money to spend on their rebellious and prodigal lifestyle, so too, we have treated our God. 

Christians, we must live our lives in full obedience to Christ and point the way so that unbelievers will also desire to follow Him.  God has promised His blessing and favor for the nation that honors Him. And thankfully, He is faithful even through our own unfaithfulness.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What To Do With Tolerance-Part 2

Last week I wrote part 1 of What To Do With Tolerance based on the recent media hubub surrounding Chick-fil-A and the comments made by its President, Dan Cathy. If you didn't get a chance to see Part 1 you can read it here.  I ended it with several questions for the Christians who are left out in society when these things happen.  Let's look for answers for those questions now.

#1.  Is it really intolerant of us to believe what the Bible says is true and try to live it everyday? 
The short answer to this is, no.  Beliefs are our own to choose.  Obviously, there are some in this world that don't believe in God, don't believe in Jesus, and don't believe in the Bible.  There are others of us who do believe in all of the above.  Simply believing different things from each other is not intolerance.  The simple equivalent is when a husband belives Dr. Pepper is the best tasting soda and his wife believes that Diet Coke is the best tasting soda.  Neither is being intolerant of the other one's beliefs. They are simply expressing what their conclusions are based on their personal experiences (even though I agree wholeheartedly with the fictional husband in this example).  Intolerance comes about when a person or a group of people absolutely refuse to tolerate the people who don't believe what they believe.  The definition of the word tolerate is to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of without prohibition or hindrance; permit.  By definition, Christians are expected to accept the unacceptable as Jesus did on Earth and still does from Heaven. It is possible to be friends with homosexuals and still be a Christian.  We must give up the notion that we have the change the outward behavior of others to allow them in our lives or in our churches.  As Christians, we've often been accused of being intolerant because we are so quick to pronounce judgment on those who are in bondage.  Jesus was and is our greatest example to follow on how to treat sinners.  If you read through the four Gospels, you will see that Jesus was invited to the parties of the religious and societal outcasts.  He didn't just wander into their parties unnoticed-He was invited there! Obviously, there was a magnetism about Him-or maybe a spirit of non-judgment-that attracted people to Him. The only people that Jesus ever got furious with were the religious leaders of the day who refused to show people grace and mercy and instead hung the law around their necks. 
#2.  Is it wrong of us to express our beliefs and try to influence society?
I think the answer is found in how we express our believes and influence society rather than IF we express our beliefs.  Again, so many of the labels we've been assigned by the world have come because of how we have treated the people who are caught in bondage and sin.  Christ came and changed the world upside down in his time here on Earth.  I tend to agree with Jesus when He states that we are to be salt and light in Matthew chapter 5:13-16.  The Great Commission also tells us to go out into the world.  It seems as though Jesus is telling us "it's not only okay to influence society, its a command!"
 #3.  Is the Bible outdated in its principles and commands? 
The Bible does say multiple times that homosexuality is a sin. However, it also says that adultery (which Jesus defines as simply looking at someone lustfully!), fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, hatred, contentions, jealousy, outbursts of wrath, selfishness, dissensions, envy, murder, drunkenness (Galatians 5:19-21); and anger, wrath, malice, filthy language, and lying (Colossians 3:8-9) and the inability to bridle one's tongue (James 1:26) are also all sins that God takes very seriously.  I think over the years, Christians have done a great and wonderful and awesome job of removing the speck in the homosexual's eyes while leaving a big huge gaping two by four plank in their own.  Re-read that sentence.  The Bible doesn't give us wiggle room.  It tells us that gossipping is an abomination to Him.  It doesn't just stop at the list I gave above (which is a very small, incomplete list).  How many of us have protested homosexuality while laying on the couch all day Saturday, gorging ourselves on 4 dozen Krispy Kremes and watching adult movies On Demand and then attending church on Sunday morning to hear the pastor "stick it to all those liberal freaks"?  In chapter 5 of 1 John it says that you can only love God as much as the person that you love the least.  My point is this, the Bible is not outdated.  It is incredibly updated and current and relevant---so relevant in fact that we should refuse to take one specific sin and target the people who are committing it. 
#4.  How should Christians and Christian churches treat those who are living the homosexual lifestyle?
I stated earlier that Jesus was a partier.  He was invited to the parties of the most social down and out people. We've all had parties before---and we've all had parties where we can't wait for the people from our Sunday School classes to leave so that we can start to have some fun!  They loved Him. They wanted to be around Him. Christ has commanded us to go out into the world, not to beg it to come into our church.  Jesus gave us the answer to how we treat those who are caught in their sin--with love and grace and mercy because that is what the Father has continually shown us.  Too often we want to "fix" people.  We want to give them a process and steps for them to follow so that they can be brought to church and "get saved".  It doesn't work like that. Jesus didn't work like that.  In the Bible, the only people you'll ever find Jesus judging and being harsh with is the self-promoted religious elite.  He had compassion on those who were broken by their sin.  It is a good example to follow.  I am not saying they should be put in church leadership. The Bible has clear cut qualifications for those who desire or are called to be in church leadership. But they should be allowed in the church body.  The same way that you and I continue the process of being transformed (Romans 12:2) from our "socially acceptable sins" by going to church, hearing the Word of God, and surrounding ourselves with godly friends and counsel, the homosexuals need this too.  And we will not see a revival or repentance until we allow them in our churches and in our lives as people to love instead of things to fix.