The Marriage Knot by Ron and Jody Zappia

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The marriage knot shared in this book ultimately ties the couple to Christ in a “cord of three strands”. Along the way we dig into the seven areas the authors feel are essential to a marriage successfully staying together. Authors Ron and Jody Zappia themselves almost lost their marriage early on because of Ron’s infidelity. Meeting a pastor who introduced them to Christ at that pivotal time avoided the complete shipwreck even if there were gashes in the hull of their relationship. The seven principles are presented as what was slowly learned the hard way, yet still, the revelations that led to a beautiful relationship these many years later.

They teach on these pages with the accurate assumption that we all come to marriage clueless of the most important things that make it work. I found some comfort in that approach as I’m 20 years in and am still learning and am still shocked about how far I have to go. If you are like me, you will appreciate the tone of this book. It’s not heavy-handed, doesn’t talk down to you, and presents its contents with a you-can-do-it attitude.

The book reads as if you were at a marriage conference. While that means it may not have the polish of some marriage books, it communicates personally and clearly.

At this point of a review, I usually discuss the contents of the book but think it better, in this case, to make you wait until you read it to get their 7 principles. You’ll probably think as you read that you could have guessed some of them yourself. It’s not that they present things you’ve never read in other marriage books but that they present them collectively. I’m no expert but they seem to be arguing that you could do several of the seven wonderfully and still loosen your marriage knot by overlooking a few of them. Succeeding in marriage is so challenging that you’ll likely need a lot of good marriage books. I know I do. This book is a fine one to add to your pile.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Marriage–A Helpful New Book!

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When I first picked up this book that professes to address marriage in its foundation, theology, and mission in a changing world and scanned the table of contents I thought—what a hodgepodge. Then, after closing the book at its end I thought—it worked! Somehow a book with 5 editors and dozens of authors came out with a unified, big-picture presentation of the Lord’s intention for marriage.

Section 1 contains four chapters on foundational issues. Looking back to the Trinity and its relation to marriage turns out to be the perfect starting place. Just read and you will see. From there, we look at Jesus in particular and the idea of commitment. Marriage gets such deep spade work here that how its presented in Scripture, the mistake of cohabitation, and the “high calling” of marriage along with the dignity of singleness all are unearthed. All these subjects will reappear later, but you’ll be better prepared because of this foundational view.

Section 2 addresses what it calls “description”. It’s almost like another pass at what Section 1 brought out, now with yet more depth. I have no idea how this section somehow presents theological understanding, addresses current societal derailments, and provides help for the challenges of marriage that all married Christians face at varying levels. Embodiment (you’ll enjoy knowing what that means), both the beauty and design of marriage, the biblical necessity of gender, and help with intimacy show up here.

Section 3 gives four helpful chapters on our brokenness in marriage. Again, there’s counsel on repairing that brokenness and restoring the beauty of marriage with even an in-depth discussion of marriage and divorce in Scripture. Section 4 presents four final chapters on mission and marriage. There’s even encouragement and guidance for churches to assist people with marriage.

As I said before, this book far exceeds my initial expectations. In addition to reading it through, it will serve as an excellent resource for a wide array of subjects that intersect with marriage that can be consulted as needed. It’s an attractive hardback that will bless Christians if it gets the large readership that it deserves.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

 

The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore

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This family book will be a blessing to every person whether married or single. It bypasses surface issues at all points and couldn’t masquerade as a self-help book even with the best Madison-Avenue advertising campaign behind it. You might cross something on its pages that would make you want to do “better”, but this book soars in the brokenness of your family. Its Gospel light shines through whether you’ve felt the pain of family or were the perpetrator who inflicted the pain. As is more likely, it instructs when you’ve been part of both. In short, this book succeeds because of where it goes, a place that most Christian family books shop just short of—the foot of the Cross. I can’t be good enough. Spouse, parent, it doesn’t matter; I just can’t. My only hope is at the Cross, the place where I see myself as I am and the place I find redemption.

Besides the awesome material, this book wins as a book on every level.  I’ve read some Russell Moore on blogs, but I must say he impressed me as a writer here. His style was unique and really stood out among family books. Most telling was how he connected with the reader. I felt he was staggering to the Cross with me. He refrained from the allowing the reader to see him as the model husband or the champion father. Like me, he struggles with looking away from the Cross even if he can clearly enunciate why the Cross is the answer.

Moore had me by chapter 2 on “The Cross as Family Crisis”. My excessive underlining shows just how he hit me where I live. He with continued aplomb exposed spiritual warfare in the home, dismantled family idolatry and my using family for my own identity. All the while, he reminded me that the cross tells another story. His chapters on marriage and intimacy were neither trite nor common as he drug us again to the Cross from where we’d be most likely to go kicking and screaming. He stayed true to a conservative, biblically-faithful point of view while not being boxed in by some of its common misapplications too. His discussion of children and parents was equally perceptive and Gospel focused. Even his preview of aging proved I’ll be needing the Cross all the way.

The final chapter on “Free to Be Family” led to misty eyes for me. I’m not sure how to explain how truly wonderful this book is. Get it. You need it whether you know it or not. You need it because having the Cross but leaving it out of your home will mushroom into the most grotesque of errors. This winner is easily a book-of-the-year entry that every believer needs.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Love By The Book by Walter Kaiser

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Walter Kaiser has written many helpful works over a career spanning decades. I’ve enjoyed having many of them on my shelves. You know that you will get careful and capable help from a conservative standpoint. This work strikes me as him entering an area that differs from his usual academic work. In fact, the back of the book will show its classification as “Christian Life/ Love & Marriage”. Still, he can’t deny who he is and gives us something of a brief commentary on the Song of Solomon even as he attempts to give marital help.

As for the Song, he holds to a literal, non-allegorical approach that is most prevalent these days, though he is much more subdued than many such works in the intimate details. On the other hand, he presents a three-person interpretation (Shepherd, Shulammite, and Solomon) rather than the much more common two-person view (Shepherd and Shulammite). Though I believe some aspects of the allegorical view seeing Christ and His people must be true, and though I definitely can’t find my way around the difficulties of the three-person view, I found Kaiser clear and a good resource for me to check those competing views.

As for the marriage help, he holds to the traditional view of marriage that has been held up as the biblical position for centuries. He will have none of the radical trends pervading our culture and ensnarling the church. He makes a beautiful case for a superior way that is held up in Scripture.

My copy will be found on my Song of Solomon shelf, but this work can be used effectively in the “Love and Marriage” as well. How blessed we’d be if our views of marriage were what Kaiser champions here.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Gospel & Marriage (The Gospel for Life Series)

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Though this is my first foray into The Gospel For Life series, I’m impressed with its potential. The series aims at major issues of our day and connects them to the Gospel. Once I learned what the series attempts to accomplish, I thought as I read this one on marriage that its presentation is ideal. Perfect for small groups or personal reading, this book edited by Russell Moore and Andrew T. Walker delivers the goods within the aims of the series striking the right balance between length and depth.

The first chapter by Mary Kassian gives a great overview that sees marriage as God sees it. Chapter 2 by Denny Burk was superb in presenting marriage roles in light of the Gospel—think biblical, conservative, and balanced. Familiar marriage author Dennis Rainey takes chapter 3 to discuss the practical work of marriage and sees it as a place for our Christianity to be displayed. Chapter 4 by Dean Inserra explains how the church should engage the issues of marriage while Andrew Walker explores the cultural shift on marriage in chapter 5. Both kept ties to the Gospel prevalent and wrote engaging help for us.

This book is one I’d be happy as a pastor to recommend to everyone. It’s not exactly a self-help book, yet it helps Christians orient their thinking in one of the most explosive issues of our day. If Christians can’t keep their thinking straight on this defining matter, the consequences will be dire. We need what this book says!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

 

 

Defending Your Marriage by Tim Muehlhoff

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Here’s a marriage book that takes a fresh, new approach. Tim Muehlhoff looks at our marriage problems in light of the possibility of spiritual warfare. I hadn’t really given that possibility consideration, though I would have said: “the Devil sure fights us”.  My problem (among others) would be never probing what the Bible says about spiritual warfare in this practical way. The author works with Dennis Rainey at Family Life and writes with the graciousness and insight that belies a compassionate, experienced marriage speaker and counselor.

His introduction reminds us that our marriages are targeted by the Devil and that our job is for our marriages to showcase Christ in this world. That’s startling on both counts. Because our culture, including many Christians, is too spooked to entertain the possibility of spiritual warfare, he spends the first chapter making a clear case for it. There’s solid doctrine there. Next, he addresses why Satan cares about our marriages. Along the way, he exposes the failure of the prevalent contractual, or you-do-your-part-and-I’ll-do-mine, view of marriage. Since we all tend to overestimate our contributions while underestimating others, this approach has no hope. As you might guess, marriage as a covenant and as “an outpost for God’s Kingdom” is more appropriate. Covenant says I love like Jesus and not based on what my spouse does.

He discusses how to tell if it’s spiritual warfare rather than normal aggravations. He goes through open doors for spiritual warfare in 4 main categories of 1) sexual sin, 2) religious sins like idolatry, 3) relational sin against others, and 4) public sin. He further explains the 5 top indicators of spiritual warfare: 1) inappropriate anger, 2) sense of impending doom, 3) violent dreams, 4) no longer believing the best about God, and 5) no longer believing the best about you (your self-talk). He also probes how intimacy might play into all of this.

He has a thoughtful look at Adam and Eve and their temptation with great insights. There’s a chapter on using the armor of a Christian that gave real help (the best was the belt of truth). You wouldn’t have guessed it, but he makes great use of the Lord’s Prayer as well.

All in all, this is a fine book that covers a missing niche. I pray I will use many of its sage counsels.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Understanding Your Teen by Jim Burns

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Jim Burns is president of Homeword and a radio broadcaster. His other books are in the area of parenting or family issues. In this volume he comes right at the issues that are so prevalent for teens today. He makes you feel at ease by confessing his own shock when his children reach the teenage years even though ministering to families was already his lifework. At 200 pages it’s pitched just right for busy parents today.

Part one is made up of 11 chapters that deal with big picture ideas about parenting teens. The first two chapters aim at helping us understand our teenagers and how they develop. Then he gets into how it might affect behavior appropriately and help their spiritual life. His chapter on a media-safe home is very thorough and balanced. He tackles the subject of sexuality by suggesting we teach healthy sexuality. He further talks about how to handle homework, keep communication open, and our forcing ourselves as parents to understand the changing culture our teens live in. He wisely added the chapter on intimacy between the parents as a way to help your teams. Many overlook this important aspect. The final chapter of the first part is how to deal with a troubled teen. Everyone hopes that will not be their situation, but if the dreaded happened, here’s a great guide.

Part two has 13 chapters that are shorter and narrower. I almost see them as pointed discussions of how to implement the broader concepts learned in the earlier chapters. Here he covers bullying, dating violence, depression, dinnertime, driving, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, obesity, self-injury, sexual abuse, sleep, suicide, and dealing with tragedy.

I appreciate the calm way in which he advises us. He seems at once to be telling us to be diligent and patient. He encourages us not to lose our cool, nor our resolve. He doesn’t suggest that parenting isn’t hard work, yet he explains how the individual responsibility of the teen can never leave the picture.

This book is a solid help in these difficult times for raising teens. I recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Walking Through Twilight by Douglas Groothuis

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This book grabs you. You pick it up, anticipate what you will find, and then get surprised. Though being real, or “raw” as they say, is all the rage these days, after you read this book you may decide, as I did, that you’ve hardly ever read something that’s “raw”. So much of the rawness of our day is merely façades more painstakingly crafted, but here the author detonates dynamite under his façades. He is a philosopher, an academic, an accomplished speaker, the man that is supposed to have it all figured out, but in the waves of bewilderment that crashed upon his soul as his wife descended into the twilight of dementia he found out he did not. What he could figure out when he forced himself to examine this bizarre, unexpected place is worth contemplating. It reminded me of my dark places, which were not as dark as his, and taught me what to examine the next time.

This effort is not along the same lines as the other titles Mr. Groothuis has produced, other than his quality writing skills. For example, I was greatly instructed by his “Philosophy in Seven Sentences”. He was able to marshal philosophy and especially the Bible for his struggles. He did it without an ounce of superficiality. He wasn’t able to tie everything up in neat little packages either. The profound part was that the more crushed he became the more sufficient his Savior became. I was moved.

Usually, when I review a book I overview the contents, but I think that would be a mistake in this case. Just experience it. Approach every chapter with a clean slate. You won’t regret it!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Real Facts About the Latest Generation!

blog phoneI’ve heard it in bits and pieces and had already decided that the smartphone was the defining factor of this generation approaching adulthood. Now I came across a substantive article that has hard data behind what it says. The point is not to bash this generation. How could we? Wouldn’t it be more a reflection of we who are as the generation raising them?

The truth is that every generation has its strengths and weaknesses. That translates to the latest generation being better in a few categories, but its problems are of concern and worthy of our attention.

This generation lives with its parents knowing where they are far more than any generation alive today. For that reason, you could say that they are physically safer. They tend to be less motivated to drive and have fewer wrecks. Their average age of the first sexual encounter is actually older than the last several generations – that’s certainly a plus. If you dig through the data in the article, you will see more of this type of positive information.

Strangely enough, some of their biggest problems springs from the same areas. This is the least-interested-in-independence generation we’ve seen. If they have a nice bedroom, in which to lay and be on their smart phones, they are satisfied. The article mentioned several of them have an indention in their bed from lying there on the phone so much. Many of them are not really interested in driving. Does that surprise you as much as me? Many of them are developmentally at least two years behind.

While the rate of teen homicide is down (that’s a plus!), the rate of teen suicide is far higher. Quite frankly, many of them are not happy. The article explained how the ones who are on their smart phones over the average rank much higher on the chart of unhappiness and suicidal feelings.

The article, which was not in a Christian publication, mentioned sports, other activities, and less social media as having great improvement in the data on being happy and not feeling suicidal. Although the article wasn’t Christian in any way, I couldn’t help but notice that those young people very active in what the author called “religious activities”, fared much better as well. I suppose the data will always bear out that the parents who forget God in their home will reap a whirlwind in their children.

Here’s the great article that you will want to ingest slowly: Has Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

There’s so much more in this article. Read it for yourself. We parents need some deep reflection about whether our homes are just going to be like the average of the world today, or are we going to swim upstream to go after different results. May the Lord help us all in the choppy waters that we Christian parents now navigate.

That Rough Patch Called Transitioning To Adulthood

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I’ve been reminded of late just how tough that period in life where you have to figure out what you’re going to do when you grow up really is. I can remember that in my own life, but it seems so long ago that the memories are in black and white. My oldest, Briley, is at that place where she has to decide, and her brother, Caleb, the meticulous planner, is engulfed in it as well. Sadly, if anything, it’s harder to figure out these days.

An article in National Review by Oren Cass entitled “Teaching to the Rest” highlighted just how tough it is. According to the author, the 3 million recent high school graduates can be divided into approximately five equal categories. The first group didn’t even make it to high school graduation (remember one fifth of 3 million is 600,000!). The second group will pursue no further education. The third group will enroll in college but never graduate. The fourth group will graduate college, but will never work in the field they got their degree in. Only the final group will go through college and work in a field that they studied for. I don’t know about you, but those statistics shock me.

As you can imagine in that particular magazine, the article goes on talking about the political changes that need to be made in our educational system. The author’s ideas were wonderful, but excuse my cynicism in thinking that either the government or teachers unions would give his thoughts the time of day.

He alludes to, and you’ve probably heard it from other quarters as well, that there is a dearth of young people going into trades. In other words, a college education may not be the best case scenario as was universally believed when I graduated high school. Besides the fact that many public universities have lost their way and are so out of the mainstream that they actually steer young people away from success, there’s the issue that you might be financially worse off to go to college. On the one hand, many college students today embark upon their career with a disastrous financial situation because of college debt. A trade could be learned for a fraction of the cost with a similar starting salary but without the oppressive debt.

It grieves me to say this, but even for my children who want to follow my steps into the ministry, the possibility of making a full-time income from it over the course of their whole working lives seems unlikely. The rapid decline of Christianity in our day means that all in ministry may be tentmakers like Paul in the years ahead. That likelihood means even young people considering ministry will need a trade or profession to fall back on. I haven’t lost faith that the Lord can provide what’s needed for our calling, just that He he may actually start calling more to a bi-vocational ministry.

I’m totally sympathetic to my children. The gravity with which they view their choices for the future is commensurate to current events. I never want to be guilty of calling my children to the ministry or any other profession. My wife, Alicia, has already been warning our children of the need to have a trade for some time.

I’ve decided this rough patch of transition into adulthood is tough for parents too. You’d like to make it easier for them. You’d like for them to be able to pick it without reservations and feel perfectly at peace with their choices, but the reality is they go through all kinds of options. You have to balance telling them the ideas they have that probably will not work out well to not being overly controlling and telling them what they have to do with their lives. It’s tough. It’s times like this that I’m so happy that my children know the same Lord that I do. I’ve had times of not knowing the way and being afraid, and had to learn to wait on the Lord.

I guess this post is not really instructional. I really can’t see that I gave any good advice. But I guess I’m just putting in writing a plea to my children to trust the Lord with an acknowledgment that Daddy loves you and has confidence in you. I’m tempted to close my eyes and hide until the Lord grows your faith and leads you through this, but by faith let’s just go through it together.