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READ: Why I’d Like to Review the Sword Study (But Can’t)

In the past year or so, I’ve stopped posting reviews on Amazon and other bookseller sites. I know too many authors to feel right about attempting to give unbiased opinions of their work. But here at home on Read. Write. Pray, of course, I do post reviews. And I try to share my connections with my author friends through the rising-in-frequency “Words with Friends” feature. But some books, I still can’t review. That holds true in the case of a wonderful new Bible study series entitled Sword Study by Tammy McMahan (Glass Road Media, 2013). Tammy is a precious friend. She and I got to know each other, in fact, when we both prayed for a young man named BJ Higgins whose story became another book close to my heart, I Would Die for You by Brent and Deanna Higgins (Revell, 2008). God blessed me by allowing me to assist his parents in telling their son’s story. Out of our prayer partnership came a beautiful friendship and spiritual sisterhood. It didn’t hurt that, a year or so after we became friends, Tammy and her family moved to the small Ohio town where my parents lived (my dad has since passed away). My children became friends with hers. And God provided other connections, too. For all these reasons and more, I can’t review the Sword Study. The “more” includes the fact that I do some writing and editing work for the Shelby Kennedy Foundation. Founder and sponsor of the National Bible Bee, the Foundation uses the Sword Study in tandem with the Scriptures as its primary curriculum. The “more” also includes the fact that I wrote the Vignettes (fictional accounts of real people) that introduce each Sword Study week. Much as I might like to, I can’t offer a review of my own work. And why would I like to review it? Because this fall, I’m spending part of my morning quiet time in Level 4 (ages 14 and up) of the 1 John Sword Study. And I’m loving every step of the deep, meaty, challenging, convicting, inspiring way. Of course, that’s not the only reason I’d like to review the Sword Study. Here are a few more of its special features: Age-grading/Family-Friendliness: The Sword Study is written on multiple levels, from Level I (preschool) to Level 4 (ages 15 and above). Each level includes age-appropriate language and activities synchronized so all family members study the same passage at the same time. In this way, a family can customize a Sword Study purchase to fit its needs. I love this unique element of the Sword Study and wish I’d had something like it when my children were small. Availability: So...

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WRITE: The National Bible Bee–More than a Competition

Scripture memory? Isn’t that for kids? Well, yes. And no. The National Bible Bee, the Shelby Kennedy Foundation’s vehicle to advance the cause of Scripture memory, does focus on children. Primary (seven through ten years), Junior (eleven through fourteen years), and Senior (fifteen through eighteen years) divisions encompass a broad range of ages. Bee families, by definition, spend months studying, embracing, and memorizing Scripture. And herein lies the rub—and the blessing. I use the term “Bee families” because unlike the National Spelling or Geography Bees, the National Bible Bee carries a strong focus on family discipleship. Sword Studies, the Bee’s primary source material for local and national competitions, allow families to dig into God’s Word together. These in-depth, inductive tools provide Bible-based insights and activities that span ages and stages. Although Bee participants compete for more than $260,000, neither the Shelby Kennedy Foundation nor the Bee itself places excessive emphasis on the prize money. Rote memorization? Sure. The top 100 qualifiers in each division memorize at least 300 (Primary), 400 (Junior), or 600 (Senior) Bible verses between mid-August and early November alone. But the National Bible Bee provides so much more than the typical memorize-to-win-a-prize challenge. Contestants’ scores come from both oral and written exams and reflect not only the accurate recitation of Scripture but an understanding of biblical languages, history, theology, and context.  In addition, families or individuals have the option of participating in Bee studies and local-level activities without the pressure of competition. In other words, the National Bible Bee is more than a contest with great cash prizes. It’s more than a way to challenge a child’s memory skills. It’s more than a Bible study, a summer program, or a fad. The National Bible Bee, as Shelby Kennedy Foundation CEO Mark MacMahan says, “Focuses on getting families into God’s Word—so God’s Word can get into them.” Next week, three of my daughters and I will spend time in Sevierville, Tennessee as National Bible Bee volunteers. I’ll help judge the preliminary rounds. I’ll pray with families and fellow volunteers. I’ll collect information for some stories I hope to write. I’ll experience the fruit of my labor (I had the privilege of writing the historical vignettes used in the 2012 Sword Studies). And above all, I’ll remember that Scripture memory—as defined by the Shelby Kennedy Foundation/National Bible Bee—is more than a kids’ competition.  It’s a discipleship-centered, family-focused way of life. Do you have experience with the Bible Bee at local and/or national levels? Feel free to leave a...

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WRITE: The Buzz on the Bee (National Bible Bee)

SO. NOT. HAPPENING. In a previous post, I mentioned my plans to blog from the National Bible Bee in Nashville,Tennessee. Not only were my days of volunteering, judging, and collecting stories long and exhausting, but I had little to no Internet during that time. In fact, my busy month of travel and speaking has led me to dub it “No-Write November” and renew my commitment to more words, work, and blog posts as I finish out the year. In any case, I want to share a few of my reactions to the Bible Bee. I had the privilege of speaking with numerous proud parents and excited students during the event, which took place over the course of several days (November 16-19). I also heard from teachers who included Kirk Cameron and Voddie Baucham (both impressed me as articulate, godly men) and worshiped under the leadership of Keith and Kristen Getty and other gifted musicians. What impressed me most about the Bible Bee, however, wasn’t the people, place (the beautiful Renaissance Hotel and Nashville Convention Center), preparation (months of planning and coordination precede an event of this caliber), or prizes (a total of $260,000 given to winners in three divisions from ages 7 through 18). What left me in awe was the presence and power of God’s Word. It flowed across banners and huge displays throughout the expansive area devoted to the Bee. It was quoted by a series of contestants from all three divisions (up to twenty-five passages in ten minutes for the preliminary round alone). And as I spoke with those who had invested thousands of hours of time and energy, I witnessed what the Shelby Kennedy Foundation, originators of the Bee, emphasizes: every child who participates is a winner. As God’s unique creation, of course every child is a winner. But that phrase is more than Christian doublespeak. Scripture itself says God’s Word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11). It is “living, active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). It has the power to keep us from sin (Psalm 119:11). And because all these things are true, any child who studied or memorized even one verse has a tremendous resource in heart and hand. At the contest’s close, I had the privilege of speaking with four young ladies, all top winners of the Senior Division. In separate interviews, each told me the contest’s true value came not in the prizes but in the experience of coming to know and love God’s Word. Most of the 300 contestants who participated in the national competition went home without a huge scholarship, accolades, or prize money. But they all gained much more than any of those things could ever provide. Whether...

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PRAY: Top Ten Reasons to Bee-lieve in the Bee (National Bible Bee)

Next week, my two youngest daughters and I set off on what we know will be an amazing adventure. We’ll join more than 300 finalists, their families, speakers, and sponsors for the National Bible Bee to be held at the Nashville Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The girls and I will volunteer in various ways including, for my part, serving as a judge for the preliminaries and collecting Bible Bee stories to share later. Our journey to the Bee began, as have so many of my others, in prayer. More than six years ago, when B.J. Higgins lay fighting for his life in a hospital bed, I kept close watch on his family’s blog,, where I posted prayers and words of encouragement. More and more, I noticed the posted prayers of another warrior, Tammy McMahan.  Could she read my mind? Or did our words flow from similar hearts?  As the weeks progressed, it became obvious that we shared a heart for prayer, for our Father, and for connecting lives with His truth. Tammy and I became off-blog friends, prayer partners, and e-mail sisters. We continued our relationship as I moved into the considerable task of helping BJ’s parents share their son’s story in the book I Would Die for You (Revell, 2008). Not long after that, God moved the McMahans to my parents’ Ohio hometown where, after more months and more prayer,  Tammy’s husband Mark accepted the position of CEO of the Shelby Kennedy Foundation/National Bible Bee. I hope to do a bit of blogging from the Bee itself, but for now, I’ll settle for a quick  TOP TEN REASONS TO BEE-LIEVE IN THE BEE:             10.  Prizes: The Shelby Kennedy Foundation gives away $260,000 in cash prizes at the National Bible Bee competition each year. Top prize in the senior division is $100,000. 9. Speakers: The 2011 National Bible Bee competition features presentations by Dr. Voddie Baucham, Kirk Cameron, John Stonestreet, Doug Philips, and others passionate for the cause of Christ-centered family discipleship, including my friend and writing partner, Dr. Walker Moore of Awe Star Ministries. 8. Family-friendly Environment: The opposite of the typical adults-only conference, the National Bible Bee offers wholesome activities and experiences for all ages and interests. The Bee’s unique curriculum also allows elementary-age students through adults to study the same passages at the same time. 7. Exposure and Experience: The National Bible Bee competition gives young people the opportunity to share their knowledge of Scripture with others in a safe, non-threatening environment. 6. Planning and Preparation: The National Bible Bee is well-planned, well-thought-out, and well-administered at every level. 5. True Fellowship: The National Bible Bee offers families the experience of building...

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