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Assorted, Recent Articles, RP App

Hospitality hacks for folks who want to be, but keep finding excuses not to be, hospitable

As Christians, we know that hospitality is important, but if you've ever tried it, you also know that it can be really hard, and we can find so many reasons to put it off. When I moved out of my parents' house five years ago, I decided to try to invite everyone from my church over at least once in the space of a year. As a single person, I had to get creative as I set out on this endeavor. Here are some things I learned by doing and by observing.

1) Just do it

Hosting people can be very intimidating. What will we talk about? What if they don't like the food I made? Just remember that God blesses all obedience and He has clearly commanded that we show hospitality (1 Peter 4:9). Even if at the end of the visit you feel that it went poorly, remind yourself that God is pleased with your obedience, and His pleasure is ultimately what we're after. 

2) Think about inviting more than one family

When you invite more than one family that means you can leave them to talk to each other while you prepare food/get things ready. This also takes the pressure off you to keep the conversation going because if you have more people together, naturally there will be more opinions and topics coming up.

3) When inviting strangers, have some prepared questions/topics to discuss

If I don't know the people coming over, I try to have some getting-to-know-you-questions and interesting topics in the back of my mind so that if the conversation gets stale I can revive it.

4) Know how to cook something

You don’t have to be a master chef to have people over - most people don't care what you feed them (though it is always wise to ask about allergies and if there are any foods they don't like). But it is good to put in some practice until you have few staple recipes up your sleeve so you can cook without getting stressed.

It's also handy to have extra cookies in the freezer – cookies are a treat even unthawed – and ingredients for a meal that's quick to put together for when you haven't had time to prepare.

5) Take people up on their offers

Often, when I invite people over, they ask if they can bring something. Say "yes." If you're making soup, one family could bring buns and another family could bring dessert. This helps cover the cost of feeding a lot of people and it makes people feel more comfortable when they've helped out.

6) Remember the kids

Own toys and books for children. This doesn’t need to be costly if you keep an eye out at garage sales or visit a thrift store or two. And if you have children, hosting families with other children is a wonderful opportunity to teach them to look not only to their own interests but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).

7) Know it doesn't have to be perfect

It's more important that you actually practice hospitality than that you're all put together. It's nice if your house is clean, but it's okay if it's not. We all have homes. We all know homes get messy. Some of the best visits have happened when I've left the dishes heaped on the counter, thrown together some macaroni, and we ate off plastic plates.

Conclusion

Finally, when it comes to being hospitable perhaps the most important thing of all is deciding that you will be. God doesn't call us just to host the people we like. We are to welcome strangers, our neighbors, and our church families.

Maybe you're church is too big to have everyone over in a year. Could you do it in two years? Three years? At the very least you could try to talk to everyone in the lobby after church in the course of a year. Give it a try.

Don't know your neighbors? Start by saying "hi" and learning their names. You could host a games night, invite them over for pizza, shovel their driveway, or plan a block party. The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon is a good resource on neighboring well.

And remember, hospitality is how you get to know strangers. Look around you at church on Sunday morning, I'm sure there will be visitors you could talk to. If you invite them into your home that's fantastic, and if you simply talk to them at church it's still showing hospitality as you welcome them in your church setting.

Through hospitality we tangibly show God's love to those around us. Prayerful consider how much you and your family can do this year. And then do it.

Internet, Recent Articles, RP App

Is our curiosity controlling us, or are we controlling it?

Curiosity can be downright lethal... and not only to cats. In our Internet age, curiosity can quickly take us where we must not go. But curiosity can also be a force for good. This investigative itch can drive us to discover more about God, digging deep into His Word, or heading out into His creation, magnifying glass in hand, to see all there is to see. In Curious: the Desire to Know and Why your Future Depends on It Ian Leslie makes a useful division between two main sorts of curiosity – epistemic and diversive. There isn’t simply “good” versus “bad” curiosity but more a matter of “focused” versus “unfocused," though as you might guess, the focussed sort is generally the more helpful sort. Diversive curiosity “Diversive curiosity” is, as Leslie puts it, an “attraction to everything novel” and it “manifests itself as a restless desire for the new and the next.” Leslie explains: The modern world seems designed to stimulate our diversive curiosity. Every tweet, headline, ad, blog post, and app at once promises and denies a satisfaction for which we are ever more impatient. This quest for the “new and next” isn’t necessarily bad – this is why new questions get asked, new interests are discovered, and new people are met. But Leslie argues that while “unfettered curiosity is wonderful; unchanneled curiosity is not.” What problem is there with unchanneled curiosity? It doesn’t fix itself on anything. It lacks purpose or discipline – diversive curiosity might start off well-intentioned, but if it has nothing to focus on then a search for “Calvin’s thoughts on art” can quickly turn into hours spent on “The art of Calvin and Hobbes.” Leslie recounts a question that was posted to Reddit: “If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about today?” The favorite answer was: “I possess a device in my pocket that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers.” We have access to an inexhaustible source of knowledge, right in our back pocket. Want to study Economics, or read Calvin's Institutes, or learn how to change the oil on your Toyota sequoia and it's all just a few key taps away. And when it comes to collaborations, we can call on people in the next town, the next state, or the next continent! But so long as we let our curiosity run free – flitting from one tweet, one game, one photo, one video to another – then this incredible potential will be unrealized. Channeled curiosity Here is where the second sort of curiosity comes in. “Epistemic curiosity” is curiosity with a purpose. Leslie describes this as a “deeper, more disciplined, and effortful type of curiosity.” This sort of curiosity pushes us after reading an intriguing blog post headline to go seek books on the same subject. It’s sustained curiosity. It’s directed curiosity. It’s the sort of curiosity that drives a boy to collect beetles and butterflies, and then when he wants to know more he heads to the library for books. It’s this sort of curiosity that has a girl trying out crayons and pens and pencils and paints to figure out how best she can draw a horse. To get good she’s going to need to sustain this appetite for paper and pen, but more importantly, she’ll need to steer clear of the constant stream of YouTube cat videos and other curiosities that are competing for her attention. Godly curiosity is fettered While Ian Leslie values unfettered curiosity, God expects our curiosity to be not only channeled but fettered too. There is every reason for Christians to be curious – God is infinite, and He’s given us a near-infinite universe to explore. But there are corners of it that we should not investigate. Article 13 of the Belgic Confession warns that we should not: …inquire with undue curiosity into what God does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. Some of what God has done is too great for us to understand (election, for example) and when it comes to those matters we need to actively constrain our curiosity. We need to put on some fetters. There are also more earthy matters that we need to not investigate. We need to fetter our curiosity when it comes to: gossip – whether about people we know, or celebrities we don’t our rich neighbor's income sexuality – within marriage epistemic curiosity about sex can be a very good thing, but outside of, or before marriage, it can only cause trouble In other words, we shouldn’t be curious about matters beyond us, or matters that should be beneath us. Freeing us from distractions When it comes to diversive curiosity – the attraction to the new and next – there are no biblical texts telling us how many cat videos in a row are too many in a row. God hasn’t told us how many times we can check our Facebook newsfeed in an hour, or what time of night we need to turn off our phone. There are no stated limits as to how many tweets we can read, how many Instagram pictures we can view, how many blog posts we can click on, each day. So how can we know how much is too much? The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives us a clue when it explains that Man’s purpose here on earth is "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." How does that help? Well, if we’re too busy to pray, too busy to read the Bible, too busy to be a part of the communion of saints, too busy to act as God’s hands and feet here on earth, too busy with all sorts of distractions to glorify God, and too busy enjoying these distractions to enjoy God, then wherever the line might be, we can be sure we’re way over it! So how can we free ourselves from these distractions? Part of it will involve putting down the smartphone, tucking away the tablet, and turning off the computer. We could consider: Putting tight limits on family members’ screen time each week, with more severe constraints for the very young (many doctors suggest children under 2 shouldn’t watch TV at all) and for out-of-control kids. Shutting down the Internet for the evening (which still allows kids to use their devices to read) or the afternoon, or only having it on for weekends or for homework. Going on a month-long technology fast to allow your family to get proper priorities back in place – this is an option that most children will hate (and many an adult) but the more passionate the resistance, the stronger the case for this intervention. While these practical suggestions will be helpful they also aren’t enough. We need to address this as the sin problem that it is. When we can’t control our curiosity, when it controls us, we’re enslaved. When our curiosity doesn’t direct us to God, but distracts us from Him, we’re committing idolatry, making YouTube videos and Instagram pics our first priority. Instead, we can seek ways to direct our curiosity in a God-honoring fashion. Our God is infinite, so there’s no shortage of wonders to explore, whether that’s God Himself, His Word, His world, the bodies He gave us, the family He placed us in, the talents He chose for us, the friends He provided, or the communion of saints He surrounded us with. There’s no shortage of wonders to wonder about. May God help us control our curiosity, so that in this too all we do can honor Him....

Parenting, Recent Articles, RP App

Children's games that mom & dad can play without going batty

I grew up with board games of all sorts, playing 5-6 hour "train games" with my brother and his friends, or Settlers of Catan back when it was only available in German. So when my wife and I were blessed with children I was already looking forward to playing games with them. But if my kids and I were going to play games, I wanted to be able to actually play them. I was on the hunt for games which would involve some skill, and yet allow for a bit of competition between a dad and his preschool daughters. It wasn't like I was going to try my hardest, but I also didn't want to just be pretending to do my turn. I wanted games where I could try, at least a little, or perhaps level the playing field by attempting tougher moves than my daughters. I wanted to play too. I soon found out that was a tall order. Most children's games are entirely chance, or either mind-numbingly simple, or even more mind-numbingly repetitive. But after some searching I was able to find five games that proved to be a challenge for both dad and daughters. ANIMAL UPON ANIMAL by HABA 10-20 minutes to play 2-4 players Ages 5 and up This is a stacking game, with the wooden pieces all shaped liked various animals. The variety is interesting: it has penguins, snakes, sheep, and monkeys – not animals that normally hang out – and at the bottom of the pile is a big long alligator that everybody piles on. Players start with seven pieces and take turns adding one or two animals to the stack, trying to make sure not to knock any down. The first one to get rid of all their animals wins. Of course the little beasties are going to come tumbling down, so one nice feature of the game – especially for youngsters whose fingers aren’t yet so nimble – is that if you do end up starting an animal avalanche you only have to put a maximum of two of them in your own pile. So no player is going to fall too far behind. Our oldest daughter really enjoyed this, but while the game says it is for 4 to 99, our four-year-old found it just a bit too hard and frustrating yet. However, I'm thinking that by the time she hits five this will be a real hit. Animal upon Animal is a good one for the whole family. COOCOO THE ROCKING CLOWN by Blue Orange 5-10 minutes to play 2-5 players Ages 4 and up This is a balancing game, with players taking turns adding a “ball” (actually a wooden cylinder) to one side or the other of CooCoo’s outstretched arms. Put too many on one side and he’ll tip over! That’s all there is to it – simple enough for 4 years olds to play, but there’s still enough here to keep adults challenged too. I can play this with my kids and try my best; I just leave the easy spots for them and challenge myself by going for the harder ones. Though it isn’t in the rules, it works both as a competitive game (placing your ball so it will be hard for the next person to find a good spot) and as a collaborative effort (How many balls can we work together to get on CooCoo?). All the pieces are wood, which is wonderful. The only downside to this solid construction is that CooCoo himself is heavy enough that, if he manages to fall off the table, he may well chip (our CooCoo has a few bits broken off from the tips of his fingers). So don’t place him near the edge of the table! This is great fun in half hour doses, and mom and dad may even find themselves playing it when the kids are in bed. QWIRKLE by Mindware 30-45 minutes to play 2-4 players Ages 6 and up Qwirkle is a great strategic game, which takes less than a minute to explain. It comes with 108 solid wooden tiles, coming in six different shapes, in six different colors. Points are scored by laying out a line of tiles that match each other either by color or by shape. So, for example, I could lay out a line of three that was made up of (see the left side of the back of the box picture): an orange sun, an orange star, and an orange diamond. That would get me three points. Next turn someone could expand off of my orange diamond by laying a yellow, green and red diamond beside it. Simple, right? True, but this is also an intriguing enough game for MENSA to endorse too. I’ve tried this with my four-year-old, and while she enjoyed it, I had to help her every turn – I was essentially playing against myself. Six seems the lowest age for a child to be able to play on her own. It says it’s for groups of two to four but we’ve done it with as many as six successfully. Everyone we’ve played this with seemed to enjoy it. That’s probably why it has sold millions, spawned several spin-offs and even has its own app for Apple products. SPOT IT JR.! by Blue Orange 5 minutes to play 2-6 players Ages 4 and up On a turn the dealer will lay down two of the round cards and then players race to spot and call out the name of the one animal that is shown on both cards. Every card has pictures of six different animals, shown in various sizes, and somehow they’ve managed to arrange it so that whenever you flip two cards over there will always be one, and only one, pairing. The first to name it gets to keep the set, and the person with the most sets at the end wins. This is a simplified version of the adult Spot it!, with the only difference being that the adult game has more items per card. I found I did sometimes have to go a bit easy on my kids – I couldn’t try my hardest – but already my six year old is hard to beat. It says it is for 2-6 players, but I’ll add that with my younger daughter this is a fun game only if it’s just me and her. In the larger group she just can’t compete and it’s no fun. I appreciate how fast it is – five minutes or less – which means there’s always time for at least one round! GOBBLET GOBBLERS & GOBBLET by Blue Orange 2-5 minutes to play 2 player AGES 5 AND UP Our oldest, on account of being the oldest, wins most games our girls play. She’s a fairly gracious winner, but I wasn’t so sure she was a gracious loser. To give her some practice I picked up Gobblet Gobblers, a quick game that takes some skill that I could play with her. That way she would get lots of practice at losing. Or at least that was the plan. This is tic-tac-toe with the added feature that some pieces can eat others. Each player gets three big gobblers, three medium sized ones, and three small gobblers. The big ones can stack on top of (or "eat") the medium and small gobblers, while the medium gobblers can eat only the smaller ones. And the smallest gobblers are stuck at the bottom of the food chain: they can’t eat anyone. It’s a very fun and very short game: it takes just a couple minutes to play. That means in just ten minutes of competing against her dad my daughter got a chance to lose – and practice doing it the right way – a half dozen times. It is a children’s game, but not a childish game – parents don’t have to turn their brains off to enjoy playing it. In fact I’ve played this with my wife. Some of my nephews and nieces, ranging in age from 5 to over 20 have all found the game quite addictive too. It’s about $25, with solid wood pieces that will stand up to good use. I should add that my 6-year-old happened upon a winning strategy that, if she starts with it, will win every time! It took her dear old dad quite a while to figure out why she had started winning every time, so I also got some good practice at losing graciously. (This was not going quite as planned!) So, we later upgraded from the 3-by-3 Gobblet Gobblers board to the adult version, Gobblet, which features a 4-by-4 board, and 12 pieces per player instead of 9. And it seems to have no guaranteed way to win. Both games are being put to regular use in our home even now more than a year after we bought. All these games are readily available through Amazon or other online stores. This article first appeared in the May 2016 issue....

Parenting, Recent Articles, RP App

The high cost of fatherhood: being a blessing to your children is hard work

Sociologists and politicians on the right of the political spectrum often tell us that one of the biggest problems facing society is the lack of fathers. Very often they will present the problem merely in terms of sheer numbers and statistics: “The number of households where there is no father present has risen from X to Y in 40 years.” “The number of teens with their parents still married is now just X, compared to Y just 30 years ago.” “Children who grow up in homes with a mom and dad are X times more likely to get better grades than those children who grow up in homes where this is not the case.” These sorts of things are perfectly true and valid. It’s perfectly true that there has been a massive increase in fatherlessness and that this has had devastating consequences for children, families, and society as a whole. It’s perfectly true that the explosion in the divorce rate over the last half century has sown a vast number of problems which are perhaps only just coming to fruition. Not simply a matter of more, but better However, there is a danger with this kind of statistical approach that can lead us to believe that the problem is simply one of a lack of fathers. Or to put it another way, we can come to see the problem of fatherlessness as simply a quantitative problem – lack of fathers – and then tend to see the solutions in the same terms – more fathers needed. Yet much as the quantitative side of the fatherlessness problem is true, it is not the be-all-and-end-all of the issue and in fact it only really scratches the surface of the fatherhood problem. In addition to the quantitative issue of fatherhood, there is also a qualitative issue that often seems to pass conservative analysts by. Of course a father is better than no father (unless of course the father in question is actively abusing his children, in which case the child will be better off in a home where he is not present), but there is more to it than this and we ought not to suppose that fatherlessness, per se, is the only problem that needs solving. Rather, there is also a much deeper issue of what fatherhood actually is. Here’s another way of looking at it. You will no doubt have heard politicians and employers bemoan the fact that there is a skills gap in the workforce. Often, it will be in areas such as engineering, and they will claim that we need X amount of engineers to fix the engineering skills gap. No doubt we do need more engineers, but the question that rarely gets asked is “which type of engineers do we need?” In other words, although there may be a shortage of engineers in the workforce, if we were to train up masses of civil engineers in a region, only to find that the real needs of that regional economy are actually for chemical engineers, we wouldn’t have solved the problem. A similar principle is true in the realm of fatherhood. The problem isn’t just one of a lack of fathers in homes – crucial as this is – rather, it is also about the type of fathers we have. I think it almost certainly the case that one of the many reasons we now have an epidemic of fatherlessness is that back in the day, when fatherlessness was not the problem it now is, many fathers failed to grasp what fatherhood should really look like. Certainly most men grasped that being a father meant providing for their family and protecting their family – which is well and good – but unfortunately many men didn’t go beyond a superficial interpretation of what this means. Failing fathers and feminism While children are the obvious victims of fatherlessness the damage isn’t limited to them. Their children’s mothers, and women in general, are also hurt when men won’t take up their role as family head. Now, I have no desire whatsoever to defend feminism. It is an unbiblical ideology, “liberating” men from their responsibilities as the heads of their families. Yet it must be recognized that its success did not appear out of a vacuum. It came from somewhere. Where? Many answers might be given, and the role of Government and Big Business – with their promises of a better, more fulfilling life for women via career success – are certainly well worth a study or two in themselves. But behind all this, feminist ideology is at heart basically parasitical, feeding on the discontent of women. Where does this discontent stem from? Unfortunately, much of it grew out of the failure of many – perhaps even most – men to fulfill their roles as husbands and fathers, above and beyond the basics of providing and protecting. As a general rule – and I do emphasize the word general – a woman who has a self-sacrificial husband who loves, devotes, and really gives himself to their children, is not going to be discontented enough with her lot to want to embrace an ideology that sees marriage and motherhood as a curse. Yes, there might be exceptions, but they will be rare. As I say, none of this is to defend feminism one iota, but it is simply to recognize that it has its origins in something, and that something is to a large extent due to the failure of men. Don’t look to the government All this is to say that simply fixing the numbers – upping the number of fathers – if that were possible, won’t work… although of course it would be way better than the train wreck we have now. Nor is there any no point in looking to government solutions to fix fatherlessness either. The State is both parasite and host in all this, feeding off the discontent of women to grow fatter and fatter. One way the State has done this is by embracing egalitarianism, and aggressively promoting it everywhere. So they talk about a glass ceiling in the workplace. They continually pump out statistics on men getting paid more than women, without ever being honest enough to bring the word "baby" into the conversation. On a more general level, they have legislated for no-fault divorce, the very existence of which is bound to lead to people allowing their discontent to drive them to divorce, rather than seeking to address it. All these things have helped to create a situation where women are no longer content with raising their own children. They want another life. And when this causes them difficulties or problems, who comes riding in on the white stallion again? Why the State, with it's promises of free childcare. I should add that I am in no way blaming the State for everything. The other big culprits are Big Business, Media and Advertising. But it is the State we turn to for solutions, and we need to understand why there will be none coming from that direction. They have no motivation – they sow discontentment among women, and then reap the reward of more taxes and more control of our day-to-day lives. The high cost So State is not the solution. The real answer is to be found on the micro level and it involves every father out there striving every day to become a better father. It involves every father out there not contenting himself with being merely provider and protector on some superficial level, but rather having a deep desire to bless his children through his words, his character, and his way of living each and every day. It involves every father out there striving to understand what God – the Father – is like and through His grace striving to reflect this towards his children. To extend the last point, Doug Wilson has brilliantly argued that all fathers are images or reflections of God the Father to their children. Each and every father is constantly speaking to his children through his words, character and behavior about what fathers are like, and thus are constantly teaching their children about the Father all the time. So, in the way he acts, a father will either be speaking the truth or telling a lie to his children about the Father. That’s a challenging mirror for those of us who are fathers to look into. Of course we are not going to see perfection, but are we telling the truth about God the Father in our life towards our children, or are we telling a lie? Are we telling the truth about the Father by reflecting His generous, benevolent, loving, forgiving, just, merciful, gracious nature? Or are we teaching our children a lie about the Father through our harshness, our indifference, our aloofness, our coldness or our absence? We could put it this way: True Fatherhood is costly. The cost of God’s mercy and love being shown to His children was the death of His only begotten Son at Calvary. If you are a father, how much does fatherhood cost you? Generosity, benevolence, love, forgiveness, mercy and grace are far costlier than harshness, indifference, aloofness, coldness or absence. They require daily prayer and struggle against sin. They require humbling ourselves to say sorry to our children when we’ve wronged them. They require listening patiently to them and taking pleasure in what for us may seem trivial, but what for them are really important. And a whole lot more. I don’t know about the fathers who are reading this, but I struggle with these things. They are not easy requirements for a sinful and selfish human being. Yet they are part of a struggle that all fathers should delight to be in the midst of, since victory in this struggle means blessing to your children. And if enough fathers engage in the struggle, ultimately it will bring blessing to our society too. Paul on engaged fathers The Apostle Paul has the uncanny ability to pack more into one sentence than most of us can pack into several thousand words. How does he instruct fathers to behave towards their children? Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Is that it Paul? Is that all you have to say to fathers? Don’t make our kids angry and bring them up in God’s ways? Not really. Paul’s one-liners are like the opening of a treasure cave and we need to dig deep if we are to get to the heart of his teaching and mine the gold. As he often does, Paul begins with a negative, moves it to a neutral, and then takes the whole thing over to a positive. An example of this is Ephesians 4:28 where he says this: Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Imagine a dial with three markings. On the left hand side is stealing. In the middle is not stealing. And over on the right hand side is laboring to give. Moralistic Christianity only sees the need to turn the dial from the left to the middle. “Don’t do this,” and “Don’t do that.” As if the absence of stealing is all that is required. But Paul says no, that’s not all that’s required. God doesn’t just want “non-stealers”; He wants cheerful givers. Paul does the same with the father passage. The notch on the left is marked Provoking, Exasperating, Frustrating, Angering your children. And there’s a whole range of different ways that this can be done. Paul says to turn the dial. Where to? To the “no longer provoking, exasperating and angering my children” spot in the middle? No, he says, dial it all the way to the right hand side. So just as the antidote to stealing is not “not-stealing” but rather giving, the antidote to provoking our children is not “not provoking our children,” but rather nurturing and admonishing them (some versions have this as training/discipling and instruction/correction, but the sense is roughly the same). Berating vs. admonishing What might sound odd here is that having turned the dial from the negative notch – provoking to wrath – to the positive notch, we find Paul speaking of admonition (or correction). But isn’t admonishing (or correcting) a negative action? Of course it can be, and I’m sure we can all think of examples of ways fathers can rebuke their children in a wholly negative manner (if you’re anything like me, you will have done this yourself). And if such a way of rebuking becomes the norm, then it can clearly lead to exactly what Paul tells us to avoid – exasperating and provoking our children to wrath. So how can admonition or correction be positive? It’s surely a question of why we do it and how we do it. If our whole wholehearted desire is to see our children corrected and restored, and if we deliver the admonition or correction in a way that reflects that, then it is an undoubtedly positive thing and our children will generally respond positively to it. What does nurturing look like? What of nurturing? That has a more positive ring to it than admonition, but what does it mean? Perhaps an illustration might help. At a home education co-op recently, some of my children and their friends did an experiment where they put six different seeds into six different jars, subjecting each seed to different conditions. The first was given air, water, soil, light and warmth, whilst the others had one of these elements missing. Some didn’t grow at all. Others grew a little, but very weak and stunted. No prizes for guessing which one grew properly! Just as the nurturing of plants needs all the elements in order to grow properly, so too do our children. And just as the seed that is deprived of one or more of the elements will either not grow at all, or perhaps produce stunted growth, so is the case with our children. Although I don’t want to labor the analogy too much, there is a fairly close correspondence to some of the elements that are needed for the seed to grow, and that which we need to be nurturing our children with. For instance, it is possible to give them the light of God’s word, both in the home and at church, and think that this will suffice. But if the environment at home or in the church is frigid, or if we so stifle their characters, gifts and creativity that they feel suffocated, they may well come to despise the teaching. There are countless “testimonies” out there of people who have gone through that. Nurturing is about making sure our children have all the elements they need to so that they thrive and grow up into men and women who really love God and who have a genuinely loving, servant spirit. So we need to aim not just to teach them from God’s Word, but to do so in an environment that is warm and wholesome. We need to produce a home where Christ is honored, both in teaching and example, but we need to do so making sure that we do not stifle our children or place heavy burdens on them. They need air to thrive, and I’ve seen a good many people reject the faith of their parents chiefly because their parents tried to squeeze them into a particular mold of what they thought Christians ought to look like. Fathers, can I urge you to strive to get closer to your children? Cuddle them more (especially girls). They need to feel wanted and secure, even the ones that don’t communicate this very well. Talk to them more. Be interested in them and their lives. Speak kindly to them and well of them. Get rid of any hindrances in your life which might be a stumbling block for them, or which might breed resentment and create a distance between you and your children. Strive to teach them from God’s Word, both by words and example. Seek their forgiveness, not just God’s if you have wronged them, or shouted at them, or failed them. Make them know that you would give your life for them. Fill your home with love and with grace. When we fail… Having said that, the wind seems to be taken out of my sails somewhat. Thinking of what nurture and admonition ought to look like is one thing, but if your house is anything like mine, the reality is often a far cry. Occasionally I might approximate to some of these things, but there are too many times of miserable failure to recall. What then? The things I have listed above are hard things which require self-sacrifice, determination and above all the Spirit of God. We are bound to mess up; bound to fail. But this should make us press on, not give up. Christianity is not a religion of beating ourselves up over such failures. Rather, it is a religion which says get down on your knees, seek God’s free and full forgiveness through Jesus, and then ask for his Spirit to enable you to be a better father to your children. Fatherhood is the most important social issue of our day, and the lack of good fathers is behind so much of what has gone wrong in our society. So if you don’t already, will you join me in making it a regular prayer to pray for fathers? Pray that every child in the land would know their father throughout their childhood. Pray for every child to know the love and the warmth of a good father. Pray for fathers in your church to be enabled to lead their families, and to “nurture and admonish their children in the Lord” with love and grace. Pray for good fathers to become better fathers. Pray for absent or poor fathers to repent and be given God’s grace to succeed where they have previously failed. And above all pray that God would reform our churches, our communities and our society by turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers. Rob Slane is the author of A Christian and Unbeliever discuss Life, the Universe, and Everything....

Parenting, Recent Articles, RP App

Chores are good for our kids, and the earlier the better

Something parents have long suspected but few children have believed has been verified by research: chores are good for kids. The research that backs this up isn’t new. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Jennifer Breheny Wallace, these findings came in 2002 when Dr. Marty Rossmann of the University of Minnesota analyzed data to discover that: "young adults who began chores at ages 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success and to be self-sufficient, as compared with those who didn’t have chores or who started them as teens." Yet, as Wallace notes, a survey of US adults in 2014 found that while 82% grew up doing regular chores, “only 28% said that they require their own children to do them.” Why? It seems like parents are making piano lessons, and homework, and dance recitals and hockey practices the priority, and letting their children slide when it comes to pulling their weight at home. We think these others things are important, but they don’t compare to the joy of having a helpful daughter or son who becomes a responsible young lady or man. One other reason we tend to put off training our children to do chores is because the payoff for parents is very long term. A three-year-old who helps empty the dishwasher is going to cause much more work than she saves (especially when she drops a dish every now and again). But then we need to remember that the point of getting them to do the dishwasher is not to help us, but to help them become good helpers....

Recent Articles, Theology

What is Grace?

Through sheer repetition, some Christian words seem to blend into each other and we forget their distinct meanings. That's why the word grace is sometimes used as a synonym for niceness – "Oh, she is such a gracious lady" we might say. Now, in our Reformed circles we know this word, grace, is important - we regularly hear that it is only through the grace of God that we are saved, but what does the word mean in this context? Would the word “niceness” be equally applicable here? Or if we were going to use a more theological term, could we substitute in mercy as a replacement? But no, grace is much more than “niceness” and while God is indeed merciful, mercy is very different from grace…and the difference between these words really matters if we are going to start to understand the extent of what God has done for us. So to better understand what God does for his people, let’s take a look at four key theological terms – grace, mercy, justice and persecution – and provide three short definitions that cover all four. JUSTICE is about getting what you do deserve. God’s justice requires that sinful man be punished. Jesus took our deserved punishment on himself and thus fulfilled God’s requirement for justice. MERCY is about not getting what you do deserve. God is merciful when He doesn’t punish for our sins. We deserve to go to hell, but due to God’s mercy we His children do not get what we do deserve. Both GRACE and PERSECUTION are about getting what you don’t deserve. But obviously, the two are very different. Recall that justice is about getting punished when you deserve it – when you’ve done something bad. Well, persecution is about getting punished when you’ve done nothing wrong, or done something good (like handing out a Bible in China). Persecution is, therefore, getting something bad that you don’t deserve. Grace is getting something good that you don’t deserve. God in His grace rewards us with eternal life, even though we have done nothing to merit this reward. We deserve Hell, but we get Heaven due only to God’s grace. We did nothing to deserve this, but Jesus has covered everything, dying for our sins on the cross, and taking our punishment on Himself so that He could have us as His sheep. So what is grace? It is getting good in return for evil. It is the embrace given by a loving parent to a disobedient child. It is Christ the King dying to save the rebels who oppose his rule. It is deserving Hell, but getting Jesus....

Assorted, Recent Articles

Holding on to wisdom: What would a younger you tell you to do?

I've written on marriage and headship in the past but when a friend asked me for my “expert take” on a marital matter he had concocted I had to tell him that as a newly married man, I'm no longer an expert on marriage. But, I added, as I haven't yet had any kids I was still in a position to offer him some great expertise on parenting. It was a joke, of course. But there is something to developing a well-thought-out “take” on marriage and parenting, and other big issues in life, long before we are ever in those situations. I wrote on headship and marriage before I had any personal experience so what I wrote might have been simplistic and even wildly naïve in parts. However, I did aim to tackle the subject biblically, so though as a bachelor I might have had little insight into how marriages do work, by going to Scripture I did have some idea about how marriages should work. And as a bachelor, I was able to write on the matter in a way that no married man could – I could preach without worry of anyone evaluating my practice. Now that I am married I'm sure those written words are going to be hard to live up to. Should my wife ever come across those words she'll notice I am already not (or perhaps I should say, “not yet”) measuring up to the standards I outlined. So my earlier writings might just end up haunting me. But I think that is a very good thing. A firm grip In family devotions we've been tackling the book of Proverbs and though we are only a dozen chapters in, one theme is becoming quite clear: God wants us to not only seek after wisdom, but to clench tightly to it and never let it go (7:2-3). Wisdom is something that once found can be lost. We might know God's will for a given situation but unless we bind this bit of wisdom to our heart, and tie it around our neck (6:21), we will soon forget it. That's how, for example, a Christian young man who knows he should not be “unequally yoked” can still, if he doesn't constantly keep this in mind, find himself increasingly attracted to an unbelieving young lass. There is a real value then, in wrestling with big issues like dating, marriage, and parenting long before we're ever in those situations, and even writing down whatever God-given wisdom we think we've discovered on these topics. Some years ago I bought a copy of a book called All About Me. It was, as the title suggests, a rather narcissistic tome, asking the book's purchaser to record in the provided blanks their favorite color, movies, food, sports team, pop star, and clothing store. But the part that interested me was a chapter in the back where bigger questions were asked: What are your thoughts on abortion? Do you believe in spanking? What are your thoughts on God? What would you do if you were given a million dollars? The chapter included dozens more of these big questions, and asked for explanations – it wasn't enough to say you were against abortion; you had to explain why. The only way a person could complete this whole chapter was if they took the time to develop, and then record answer by answer, some sort of comprehensive worldview. What an intriguing idea! Just imagine if something similar existed that had been adapted for Christian use. The questions might include: While dating, what limits do you think are appropriate when it comes to physical intimacy? How much should you tithe? What does headship involve? What factors would determine who you vote for? (List them, in order of importance, and explain your list and its order.) What are your thoughts on organ donation? How are men and women different, and how do their roles differ? How many times should we attend church each Sunday and why? Why are you a member of your church and not another? How do you think God has gifted you? What qualities are you looking for in a spouse? And if you were given a million dollars, what would you do with the money? Some of the questions would be fun, others would require a lot of study to answer in any sort of intelligent, biblical manner, but the end result would be nothing less than a booklet-sized personal profession of faith that could be kept, and referred back to repeatedly. The value A Christian All About Me doesn't actually exist. But if it did, what would be the value of such a book? It wouldn't be in any of the specific answers – a young person tackling these questions for the first time might give some superficial and maybe even some silly answers. When we are young we are only beginning to grow in wisdom and haven't got much of it yet. The value would come in establishing a baseline to measure our thoughts against later. Take the million-dollar question as an example. A dozen years ago I know just how I would have answered that question – I would have taken the million dollars and started my own provincial political party. Today I have family responsibilities and consequently a new perspective. But I can't just dismiss my earlier thoughts – as a young man I learned the importance of defending God, and His Law, in the public realm, and because I've captured that bit of wisdom down on paper I'm not liable to lose it. By tackling big questions early we're putting down an anchor – one that might still be pulled up and placed elsewhere, but which still provides us some stability now, so that we aren't swayed every which way. Our thinking on many of these important issues will change as we study Scripture further, but if we've taken the time to think through our initial answers, and even written them down, we'll be forced to evaluate our new thinking against our old. Then if a change is made we'll have to provide good, solid, biblical reasons to rebut our earlier self. Conclusion Tackling the big questions early is, then, a way to hold onto the wisdom God reveals to us in our youth, when life is simpler, and we aren't plagued with being able to see so very many shades of gray. But holding onto wisdom is not just a task for the young. As we age, and study the Scriptures we may grow in wisdom, but as God makes clear repeatedly in Proverbs, we have to hold fast to wisdom (3:18) and guard it (4:13) closely, or we will lose it. So big questions then, are worth asking, early, often, and repeatedly. This article first appeared in the October 2008 issue of Reformed Perspective. Jenni Zimmerman suggests another approach to address the same issue - holding on to wisdom - in this article (offsite). ...

Adult non-fiction, Recent Articles

Top 3 marriage books

Over my years in the ministry, I’ve taught many marriage preparation classes.  From time to time, I’ve also counseled couples with marriage problems.  In my preaching, I’ve had many opportunities to speak about marriage.  Besides all that, I’ve been married myself for what’s going on to 23 years.  All these things give me a vested interest in good books about marriage.  I’ve read a few.  Almost all of them have something worthwhile, but there are some that really stand out.  Here are my top three, in order of importance, first to third: When Sinners Say “I Do”  Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage  by Dave Harvey 190 pages / 2007 This one tops the list because of the author’s relentless focus on the gospel.  Written in a warm, personal style, Dave Harvey helps couples come to terms with the biggest problem that all marriages face and the solution to this problem.  Along with some of the other topics one would expect in a marriage book, he also discusses one you don’t often encounter:  death.  If you’re going to read just one book about marriage, make it this one. Strengthening Your Marriage by Wayne Mack 208 pages / 1999 Are you ready to get to work on your marriage?  Then this is the book you’re looking for.  It’s not just a review of biblical teaching about marriage, but a very practical workbook.  It contains a variety of exercises for husbands and wives to complete.  The idea is that they would be done with a pastor or counsellor, but certainly couples could benefit from doing them on their own too.  I use Wayne Mack’s book Preparing for Marriage God’s Way for my marriage preparation classes and I appreciate his biblical approach. Each for the Other Marriage As It’s Meant To Be by Bryan Chapell with Kathy Chapell 224 pages / 2006 I really like this one for three reasons.  One is that it includes the perspective of a woman.  Another is that it has great stories and illustrations to drive home the points of the authors.  Finally, I value the clear explanations and applications of biblical submission and headship.  This book also includes discussion questions to go with each chapter. Dr. Wes Bredenhof is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church at Launceston, Tasmania and blogs at Bredenhof.ca. ...

News, Recent Articles, RP App

Saturday Selections – July 9, 2022

Great moments in unintended consequences (4 min) When governments don't have even a basic understanding of economics, many unintended consequences can result. What I learned about my writing by seeing only the punctuation This is about an intriguing analytical tool for writers or aspiring writers - copy and paste in a piece of your writing and it strips out all the words leaving behind only the punctuation. So what sort of punctuation patterns will emerge for you? Do you overuse question marks? A lot? Or maybe you like to really emphasize your points!!! Fighting addiction with brain surgery? An experimental surgical intervention may help combat addiction, but, as John Stonestreet warns, "any theory of treatment that treats the physical and medical side of a person, at the expense of the moral, interpersonal, or spiritual side misunderstands the human person." Six things I hate about small churches This title is misleading, but the points are good: 6 features of small churches are presented, like: "You will not be able to hide." Why pro-aborts are so committed "To abortion supporters, the prerogative of women to violently hinder the gender-specific ability of their bodies to bear children is central to their humanity. If we believe the biological realities of our bodies oppress or even limit our feelings and desires, we must force our bodies to comply in order to be fully human. Anyone who wants to stop us may as well be killing us." Dr. Jordan Peterson promotes homosexual "marriage" and parenting This is an important and curious article. It highlights how the conservative movement is making a fatal compromise with homosexuals, using as a specific example Jordan Peterson's endorsement of homosexual podcaster Dave Rubin's lifestyle. "'...our culture appears to have decided that gay marriage has become part of the structure of marriage itself,' Peterson stated at the outset of the hour and a half discussion, waving an enormous white flag of surrender." But in appealing for the rejection of this takeover, the article appeals to timeless principles, an immutable definition, a biological truth, eternal principles, ideas tethered to the permanent things, and an enduring moral order. But whose timeless principle are they? Whose enduring moral order is it? Who created this biological truth? We are never told. There is a surrender here too, in defending God's principles, but conceding to the other side their position that God Himself isn't relevant to these debates. Arguments that creationists should not use Do men have one less rib than women, going back to Adam giving up his rib for Eve? Did Darwin recant on his deathbed? No, and no. While biblical creation is true, not all the arguments used to support it are good. The folks at Creation Ministries International have created a list of 40-some arguments Christians sometimes use, but really shouldn't. For an 18-minute podcast on this same topic, click here. Is transgenderism logical? (5 min) God made us male and female, but the world denies there is any difference between the two. But if male and female can't be objectively distinguished, then it is impossible to be born into the wrong body. ...

Parenting, Recent Articles, RP App, Soup and Buns

“Mom, where’s my toothbrush?” 9 packing tips for before and during the trip

The well-circulated belief that "moms are supposed to know where everything is at every given moment" was humorously illustrated for me two years ago when we attended our son’s out of state wedding. Another son, who was a groomsman, was lodging for two nights beforehand at a separate location from us and yet he still called me on the morning of the wedding to ask if I knew the whereabouts of his dress pants! On a trip, a few organizational plans can keep Mom from going crazy from hearing constant requests for favorite t-shirts, swim suits or Sunday shoes. It’s also a good way for the rest of the family to learn responsibility. The following ideas will make the “suitcase living” a little easier. 1. Pack a “motel bag”: If there is a stopover on the way to your destination, pack a “motel bag” to significantly reduce the amount that gets carried in and out. Include a change of clothes and pajamas for each person, and toiletries. 2. Plan your vehicle-packing strategy: Take your empty suitcases out to the vehicle a day or two beforehand and determine the best way to fit them all inside.  Some families find that plastic bins or pillow cases or trash bags fit better than suitcases. Remember to make the “motel bag” the easiest to reach. A rooftop luggage pod or trailer might ease the crowding of the “stuff” also. 3. Give your husband his own suitcase: He will be out of his usual element too, and having his own space will make it easier for him to find his razor without having to dig through the baby’s onesies or your extra shoes. The goal is for no one to have to ask Mom questions.  (You won’t ever reach it, but you’ll get closer.) 4. Number your suitcases: Use masking tape or adhesive labels to number them, for easier recognition and accountability.  Even a four-year-old will be able to remember who uses which one.  When Mom needs something out of a suitcase, she can easily direct someone to #5 instead of “the small blue one…no, no, the small blue one.” 5. Give everyone 3 and up a list of what to pack and let them pack it… but be sure to inspect: Determine the general list:  five shirts, two hoodies, 2 pairs of jeans, 6 pairs of underwear, etc. Our 12 year old daughter Julie gladly made a pictorial list for her 3-year-old sister; Amy was thrilled to be able to pack her own suitcase and confidently mark off each item as she found it. Make photocopies of the lists to save for next time. Of course, you must inspect, because there’s always one who still completely forgets his underwear or his toothbrush. But their work saves you a lot of steps, teaches them how to do it, and puts all their pre-trip excitement to good use! Actually it’s a good time to buy new toothbrushes for everyone; that way you can pack them up and not have to wait until morning to finish packing all the suitcases – they can use their old one before they leave in the morning. 6. Write it down, don’t try to remember it all: While packing, if you are missing an item or two or three from someone’s case, write it down and tape it to the suitcase so that you don’t have to try to keep all those details inside your brain. And when you go to bed, put a pad of paper and a pen on the floor or nightstand next to you so that when you think of something that wasn’t packed you can write it down instead of jumping up to go and retrieve it “before you forget.” 7. Use ziplock bags for daily sets of clothing: When the kids are young, place a shirt, shorts, socks, and underwear in a gallon size ziplock bag and write “Amy – Monday” on it, etc.  This is especially helpful for Sunday clothes which might be kept in a separate suitcase.  Dad can just hand out the packets and everyone can dress.  8. All packed: Once a suitcase is declared “All packed,” close it up and stand it in line in a designated place, and make a rule that no one except you is allowed to open it again. They are numbered, so everyone will know when they are all there. I always like to pack them all into the car the night before, and let the children place their bookbags in the first seat they will sit in.  We lay out the clothes for the next day. Some families who are leaving in the middle of the night just have everyone sleep in their travel clothes. In the morning, we just use our old toothbrushes and share a comb or two, pack up the food and water and hit the road. 9. Packing to head home: To pack for driving home, you may need your “motel bag” as before. You should also appoint a suitcase or two to be only for “dirty clothes” and combine the clean clothes into other suitcases, taking note of the numbers on them. Now #1 and #2 can be left in the laundry room, #4 taken to the girls’ room, and so forth. This article first appeared in the February 2010 issue....

Politics, Recent Articles

Political tactics 101: reframing the aggressor

The concept of self-defense is easy to understand and its validity is recognized by most people, whether Christian or not. If somebody is attacked, it is easy to understand that fighting back is a proper and even moral thing to do. That’s why people sympathize with the victim in these situations – self-defense seems naturally just. I’m a victim! That’s also why when a political debate is being framed, each side wants to be seen as the side that is being attacked – they want to be the side that is simply fighting back, rather than the bully who is picking fights. So it should come as no surprise then that whenever Christians get politically active, they are portrayed as the aggressors. Every since the 1970s when today’s conservative Christian political movements first began to take shape, Christians have been accused of trying to force our morality on other people. Why, oh why can't we just leave others alone? But it just isn’t so. Christian political activism has been a defensive response to secularist attacks. If we look at things in their proper historical context, it leads to the question, “who was forcing what upon whom?” Did groups of Christians suddenly decide to organize politically to force other people to adopt Christian styles of living? No. The fact is, it was social movements on the Left that began forcing changes that led Christians to respond with social and political action of their own. The other side was (and is) on the offense, and Christians are simply responding. Reactions This was pointed out as far back as 1982 by a prominent American sociologist, Nathan Glazer. He wrote an article at that time explaining the efforts of the then newly-formed Christian political groups that had played an important role in the 1980 American election that saw the rise of President Ronald Reagan. His article was called "Fundamentalists: A Defensive Offensive" and was republished a few years later in a collection of essays entitled Piety and Politics: Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Confront the World. (Don’t be confused by the word “fundamentalist.” It is a common term used to describe conservative Protestants, although in many contexts it is meant in a disparaging way.) Glazer lists the various issues that were (and still are) of primary concern to conservative Christians to show that they are fighting defensive battles. “Abortion did not become an issue because Fundamentalists wanted to strengthen prohibitions against abortion, but because liberals wanted to abolish them.” Pornography did not become an issue because Christians suddenly decided to ban adult literature, but because by the 1970s porn was becoming ubiquitous and prominently displayed in stores. Homosexuality didn’t become an issue because Christians suddenly became obsessed with it, but because the homosexual rights movement began to make big political and legal strides. Feminism also emerged as a powerful political force leading to a Christian response. In each of these cases, the Christian activity was a response to a political offensive from the other side. This leads Glazer to write, “What we are seeing is a defensive reaction of the conservative heartland, rather than an offensive that intends to or is capable of really upsetting the balance, or of driving the United States back to the nineteenth century or early twentieth century.” Due to the initial surge of Christian political activity, many people viewed the Christians as being on the offensive. But even if their activity did amount to an offensive of sorts, its whole purpose was ultimately defensive. In this respect, Glazer calls it a “defensive offensive.” But it’s vitally important to keep the defensive nature in mind. “This ‘defensive offensive’ itself can be understood only as a response to what is seen as aggression—the aggression that banned prayer from the schools, or, most recently, the Ten Commandments from school-house walls, that prevented states from expressing local opinion as to the legitimacy of abortion, and that, having driven religion out of the public schools, now is seeking to limit the schools that practice it.” Conclusion Every society operates within some code of morality. All laws are based on a concept of morality, even traffic laws which protect people from the careless driving habits of others. Conservative Christians have not taken it upon themselves to introduce some new rules upon society but simply to defend the rules that have served well for hundreds of years. It is the other side that is trying to force a new morality onto society, and then accusing the Christians of doing so. Thus not only is their accusation false but it is also hypocritical. Christian activism is a form of political self-defense. Christians didn’t start this fight. They are responding to changes launched from the other side. This first appeared in the February 2011 issue under the title "Political self-defense: some people find Christianity quite offensive – it just isn’t so."...

Marriage, Recent Articles, RP App

The surprising secrets of highly happy marriages

What research and the Bible say about the best marriages **** Marriage is meant to mirror Christ and the church. One can scarcely imagine a higher calling than this, yet all marriages fall far short of the ideal. Thus we not only misrepresent Christ and the church but also experience sadness and disappointment. As we all know, the Bible has quite a few things to say about marriage. Unfortunately, both the secular culture and much of the Christian culture read the relevant passages through ideological glasses. This leads to endless controversy but brings about very little improvement to marriages. Shaunti Feldhahn’s book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things that Make a Big Difference, is a refreshing addition to the conversation. Feldhahn does not offer yet another opinion on what the Bible says but instead gives a research-based answer: this is what has been shown to work – try it. Not surprisingly, the results of her research mirror what the Bible says. WHAT HAPPY COUPLES DO DIFFERENTLY Feldhahn and her team, experienced researchers, studied almost 1,000 people, both Christians and non-Christians, to understand what the happiest couples did differently. The research showed that there are many “learnable” things that can make a big difference in a marriage, regardless of other challenges a couple may be facing. In other words, by learning what the happiest couples do, those in moderately happy or struggling marriages can improve their own relationships, although the most troubled couples will likely need other help besides this book. Before we act on anyone’s suggestions about anything, we need to verify that they agree with the Bible. Thus this discussion of Feldhahn’s research results also notes how, as expected, the truth about the happiest couples is in line with biblical principles and admonitions. First of all, “A handful of simple day-to-day actions increases the likelihood that our spouse feels that we care deeply about them, instead of feeling that we don’t.” These are little things, so seemingly insignificant that people are tempted to shrug them off, but people who adopt them will have a big impact on their spouse’s happiness. A man tends to be happier if his wife: Notices his effort and sincerely thanks him for it. Says you did a great job at_______. Mentions in front of others something he did well. Shows that she desires him sexually and that he pleases her sexually. Makes it clear to him that he makes her happy. A woman tends to be happier if her husband: Holds her hand. Leaves her a message during the day to say he loves and is thinking about her. Puts his arm around her or lays his hand on her knee when they are sitting next to each other in public. Tells her sincerely, “You are beautiful.” Pulls himself out of a funk when he’s morose, grumpy, or upset about something instead of withdrawing. From a biblical point of view, it is not at all surprising that these powerful, gender-specific actions involve respect, appreciation, kindness, and caring. The happiest couples have also discovered other individual little things that make their spouse feel loved. Usually what matters to men are things that make them feel appreciated, and what matters to women are actions that communicate, “I care about what matters to you.” From a practical point of view, these things are simple, learnable, and doable and have a huge impact on marriages because they communicate care in a way the other person values. Believing that your spouse cares about you changes everything. It turns out that over 95% of people, even in difficult marriages, sincerely care about their spouse and want the best for them. However, in struggling marriages almost half think that their spouse does not care about them. Feldhahn’s research shows that this is flat wrong. As mentioned above, there are things we can do to help our spouse believe they are cared for. On the other hand, spouses also need to choose to believe the best about each other — that our spouse does care and that when they cause hurt it is unintentional. We need to choose to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things, and to think about things that are true and honorable. A worthwhile sentence to ponder is, “He/she must not have known how that would make me feel, or he/she wouldn’t have done it.” The research shows this is almost always true. EPH. 4:26: “DO NOT LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON YOUR ANGER…” Another research result, surprising to Feldhahn who is a Christian, is that while many think the Bible instructs us not to go to bed mad, the happiest couples often do. Rather than staying up, exhausted, debating until they agree on a topic, they reconnect (i.e. assure each other that the relationship is okay even if they still disagree), put the issue aside until the morning, and go to bed. A careful reading shows that the biblical principle in Eph. 4:26 isn’t about delaying bedtime, but involves not allowing anger to drag on. This principle is part of the lifestyle of the happiest couples, whether they are Christian or not. Emotional reconnection, often a personal bit of sign language, needs to be both initiated and accepted, something that very happy spouses excel at but struggling spouses do not practice. 1 COR. 13:5 “LOVE…KEEPS NO RECORD OF WRONGS” In unhappy marriages, spouses tend to keep score of the bad things the other person does and the good things they themselves do. The happiest couples keep score, too, but differently. They focus on the good things the other person does and intentionally show gratitude. They also notice and express more kindness, admiration, respect, and forgiveness. Closely related is that the happiest couples actively work to change their negative feelings and responses. This countercultural idea of replacing unhappy or angry thoughts and actions with positive ones, instead of venting, has an enormous impact on marital happiness. The research is simple: Stop focusing on, thinking about, or speaking about what irritates you; rather, honor the other person in your thinking and base your responses on that instead. In fact, if you do and think what is right instead of what you feel like, then your feelings will change. Or in the words of a happy couple, “We have found that when we act loving, then eventually, wow, we are loving!” The happiest couples not only adjust their attitudes, feelings, and opinions, but also adapt their expectations of each other. A clear factor in unhappy marriages is a longing for the other spouse to be or do something that they find difficult or impossible. The happiest spouses, on the other hand, are grateful for the ways their spouse is able to meet their needs and do not ask for the impossible. In other words, they do not tell themselves, “If he/she really loved me, he/she would_____.” Closely tied to this, happy couples tell each other what they need, but struggling couples assume the other person can, and should, figure this out on their own. TOGETHER TIME Research shows that “Not only do happy couples spend time together because they are happy; a big part of the reason they are so happy is that they are spending time together.” They prioritize hanging out together and doing things together even during seasons of travel, busyness, or marital difficulty. What does this look like? It can involve romantic dinners, but more often it’s something simpler, like going for a walk, watching the kids play sports, or carving time out of a busy schedule just to be together. The happiest couples all see the other person as their best and closest friend, a friend they want to stay close to no matter what, and their actions reflect that. Finally, the happiest couples are kind, gentle, and self-controlled in how they talk to each other. Yes, they bring up all sorts of topics and they are honest with each other, but they do so without disrespect and they carefully avoid hurting each other. What’s more, they are at least as considerate in private as in public. “If you wouldn’t say it that way to a close friend, don’t say it that way to your spouse,” seems to sum it up. MANY OF THE HAPPIEST COUPLES ARE CHRISTIAN Feldhahn found that the happiest couples focus on something greater than their marriages and that many of them are Christian. In fact, couples who agree that “God is at the center of our marriage” are twice as likely to report that they are very happy than others. Many of the happiest couples worship together, share key values, focus on serving their spouses instead of being served, look to God for power to be selfless, and trust God for the outcome. They emphasize they do not look to marriage for fulfillment and meaning, but to God. The happiest couples are fully invested in their marriage and do not hold back emotionally, financially, or in other unhealthy ways. They do not have a secret stash of money “just in case,” they are open with each other, they trust each other, and they work at their marriage. In biblical words, they act as though they are one, even though the world says that is a dangerous thing to do. In most highly happy marriages, each spouse credits the other for the happiness in their marriage, “and they live in regular, conscious gratitude as a result.” They are amazed that things are so good, as this one quote from a grateful wife sums up, “The fact that I get to live with him over the course of my lifetime is one of the biggest scams I’ve pulled off.” Many spouses feel this way, but the happiest ones make a conscious effort to let the other person know. So, in a general overview, what do the research results suggest? Although Feldhahn does not discuss this, the happiest couples tend to be the ones who live according to biblical principles. They accept the fact that marriage means oneness and that divorce is not an option. They aim to show gratitude, kindness, respect, and consideration. They accept the biblical view that feelings are not the standard by which they must operate but rather adjust their feelings by adjusting their thoughts and actions. They do not expect happiness and meaning from their spouse but look to God instead. Conversely, research suggests that struggling couples are much more likely to be self-centered, seek meaning in their spouse or marriage, have unrealistic expectations, hold back, criticize, avoid each other, be nicer in public than private, and be negative. THE CHANGES ARE SIMPLE The good news in Feldhahn’s research is that, once people know what behaviors and attitudes are good for a marriage, once they understand how biblical principles apply, they can make an effort to change. They are no longer left wishing they knew what to do in practical, everyday terms. Now they know. What’s more, it turns out that even if only one person commits to change, the marriage will benefit. Feldhahn gives ten suggestions for implementing her research results, but the basics are simple: Rely on God, build only one or two new habits at a time, and set up daily reminders so you won’t forget them. Above all, be grateful for success and patient with setbacks; in this broken world learning godly habits and attitudes is no easy matter. How does this all apply to those who are not merely hoping to improve a good marriage but are struggling in a very difficult one? Struggling couples and those who help them can find hope in the statistics shown in the sidebar, especially #4 which emphasizes that these principles of a happy marriage are simple and can be learned. It may also help to note #2, that many of the happiest couples in Feldhahn’s research were deeply unhappy before they learned how marriage works. THE CHANGES ARE HARD Do note that, although the principles suggested by the research are simple, they are not easy for anyone, whether happily married or struggling, to apply. Change is never easy, nor are repentance, apologies, and forgiveness. The research reminds us that a good marriage requires the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We not only need to pray for the fruit of the Spirit, but we also need to make every effort to add virtue, godliness, self-control, affection, and more to our faith. In other words, we need to live close to God and humbly immerse ourselves in his wisdom instead of the world’s. This, one of the blessings of marriage, brings us closer to God as we seek to understand how He wants us to live with the spouse He has graciously given us. Although all of this is a work of the Holy Spirit, it also involves our deliberate, thoughtful effort, and in the case of struggling couples, it may require outside help. Our marriages are important and we need to obey God in them. Feldhahn’s research, reflecting the Bible, helps us make wise daily choices about our attitudes and actions that will simultaneously enhance our representation of Christ and the church and increase the joy in our marriages. May God bless us all as we strive to have better marriages to his glory and for the benefit of our spouses, children, churches, and communities. For a thorough explanation of Feldhahn’s research and results, please read her book “The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages.” For those who wish to work through these ideas systematically, some very helpful worksheets, great for thinking this through on your own, or with your spouse, are available here at AnnieKatesHomeschoolReviews.com. This first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue....

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Truth requires you to love and love requires you to be truthful

Contrary to popular opinion, love and truth don’t stand in opposition to one another. In fact, you can’t really have one without the other. To love truth, you have to be committed to love, and to love love, you have to be committed to truth. The most loving person who ever lived, so loving that he died a cruel and bloody public death for crimes that others committed, was at the same time the most forthright and honest truth speaker that the world had ever known. It was not just that the love of Jesus never contradicted his candor and his candor never inhibited his love. No, there was something more profound going on. His commitment to truth speaking was propelled by his love. The biblical call to love will never force you to trim, deny, or bend the truth, and the biblical call to truth will never ask you to abandon God’s call to love your neighbor. We see this graphically displayed in a very well-known moment in the life of Jesus Christ. It is recorded in Luke 18:18–30. A rich ruler comes to Jesus to ask him about eternal life. It is a very good question that gets a very hard and honest answer. As you read the conversation, it doesn’t look like Jesus is engaging in very successful evangelism by modern standards. In a moment of complete honesty, Jesus doesn’t work to make the gospel attractive. Rather, he hones in on and exposes the central idolatry of this man’s heart. Jesus tells this man the bad news he needs to hear if he is ever to want the good news he desperately needs. So Luke is recording something very important for us. In the face of Jesus’s honesty, the man walks away, and as he does, Jesus looks at him with sadness. You see, Jesus isn’t being cold and indifferent. He doesn’t lack love. The hard words are motivated by love, and Jesus’s sadness at the end of the conversation exposes the love that motivated the words he had said. There is no mean-spirited condemnation in the words of Christ. Those hard words are words of grace, spoken by the Savior of love, spoken to redeem. Truth isn’t mean and love isn’t dishonest. They are two sides of the same righteous agenda that longs for the spiritual welfare of another. Truth not spoken in love ceases to be truth because it gets bent and twisted by other human agendas, and love that abandons the truth ceases to be love because it forsakes what is best for the person when it has been corrupted by other motives. Today you are called to loving honesty and honest love. You will be tempted to let one or the other slip from your hands. Pray for the help of the One who remained fully committed to both, even to death. His grace is your only hope of staying true to his righteous agenda. For further study and encouragement: 1 Corinthians 13. Taken from “New Morning Mercies” by Paul David Tripp, © 2014, pp. August 6th Entry. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org. This was first posted on Oct. 11, 2017....

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