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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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