The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages by Shaunti Feldhahn


So I’ve read a lot of books on marriage – some better than others – and this one is certainly one of the best.  While it does not provide the firm theological reason for marriage or explain the spiritual significance of marriage, it is perhaps the best book I’ve ever read on the practical, day-to-day, “how-to’s” of building and having a happy marriage.

Based on solid research data conducted, collected, and reviewed both first and second-hand by the author, Feldhahn identifies 10 actions and attitudes that are the key to building a lasting, happy relationship with your spouse.  Some seem like common sense (like #2: believing the best), while others seem down-right counter-intuitive (like #5: keeping score).  But all are simple things that can be instituted in any relationships.

Melissa and I actually read this book together, and we’ve individually tried to implement the strategies identified by research as vital to marital happiness.  And, speaking from experience, they work (both those we were already doing and those we weren’t).  Feldhahn’s research included interviews and data from both Christian and non-Christian couples, and the results are staggering.  Through research she identified three groups of couples: those identified as “struggling”, those identified as “mostly happy” and, finely, those identified as “highly happy”.  When the data are reviewed, “highly happy” couples (what she calls “Yes! Couples”) are identified very clearly in the results.

For example, one of the strategies identified is “believing the best” about your spouse.  This means that, regardless of what your spouse says or does, you choose to believe that they have your best interest at heart.  The data indicated that in 96% of “highly happy” marriages, both partners answered the question, “Is the following statement true or false?  ‘Even in the middle of a painful argument, I know that my spouse is fully ‘for me’ and deeply cares about me.'” with “true”.  However, in “struggling” marriages, only 59% of the time did both couples answer “true” (meaning that 41% of the time one or both couples answered “false”).  By choosing to believe your spouse has your best interest at heart – even in the midst of an argument – couples are more likely to report they are happy and have happy marriages.

This is a book I highly recommend for anyone who is married or is going to be married – I’m giving it 5/5 stars (which means you need to go out and buy this book).  If you’d like to read a sample of the first chapter, you can access one by clicking here.  For the record, I did receive a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

Real Marriage by Mark & Grace Driscoll


As a fan of Mark Driscoll, I was excited to have the opportunity to receive a free copy of Real Marriage when it was first introduced.  I’ve read many books on marriage, and this is certainly one of the better ones – but also not the best.

_225_350_Book.550.coverThe Driscolls’ book is frank and honest regarding marriage, and at times I found myself feeling like I didn’t live up to the ideal they described for the Christian husband.  That’s not to say shame on them, but rather shame on me – for everything I found myself convicted of was something that I agree with them on, and I do want to do better at.  The best part of the book was the first few chapters, but I was disappointed that nearly half the book focused on sex.  I understand why this is the case, but I also understand that while sex for Christians can only happen in marriage, marriage is much more than sex.  But it would be difficult to understand that from the way it is portrayed in this book.  I’m no expert on the topic, but my understanding is that just as many marriages fail due to issues of finances as anything else, so I find it interesting that they never once brought this up in the book.

Overall, I’ll give the book 4/5 stars.  I would recommend it for married couples and for newly-weds, but for those who haven’t read Gary Thomas’ Sacred Marriage or the Eldredge’s Love & War, I would recommend starting with those books.

For the record, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

How God Makes Men by Patrick Morley


The author of the classic Man in the Mirror has done it again with his latest book, How God Makes Men.  Patrick Morley is a common name for anyone who’s read books on Biblical manhood in the last decade, and this book is one that every man should read as well.

manhood-not-automaticUsing the stories of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, Solomon, Nehemiah, Job, Peter, and Paul, Morley creates a book which allows readers to grow closer to the Lord through the examples these disciples lived.  One of the things I love about the book is it’s emphasis throughout on the grace of God as demonstrated and given through Jesus.  While there are plenty of instances where the book gives very specific (and biblical) calls for action on our part, it is always in response to what God does first.  Morley makes it clear that God doesn’t only use “perfect” men to do his work, but rather meets us where we are at and then moves us to where He wants us to be – and the only thing we need is a willing and surrendered heart.

Speaking of the word surrender, one of my “aha’s” in the book was his distinction and explanation of the difference between the words “commitment” and “surrender”, and his observation that many Americans view their relationship with Christ as one of commitment rather than surrender.  But what Jesus calls us to is not commitment – where everything rests on us – but rather surrender, where everything depends on him.

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At the climax of the book Morley highlights how men mentoring men can have a profound impact on families, churches, and communities.  He doesn’t do this is a chauvinistic way, and neither does he dismiss the roll of women, he simply points out the importance of how God wants to use men to reach the hurting and the lost.  In fact, I truly believe the vast majority of the book is not specific to “men” but rather to followers of Jesus regardless of gender; the exception to that is some very specific instruction regarding the importance and impact men have in the lives of their families and society in general.

To reinforce how much I thought of the book, I actually shared an entire chapter with the leadership team from my church – something I’ve never done before.  Morley’s emphasis on discipleship, particularly men’s discipleship, is demonstrated throughout the book.  I truly believe if what he highlights from scripture were actually put into practice we would see a transformation in our churches and communities.  Morley preaches servant leadership throughout the book, of living a life surrendered to the King of Kings and reaching out to serve and meet the needs of those around us.  Throughout the book he also weaves multiple scriptural references, and none of them were taken out of context.

If you’d like to examine a free copy of the first chapter, visit this link.

Overall, I’m giving this book a 5/5 stars – meaning I highly recommend the book.  For the record, I did receive a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

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Serving


This is the third post reflecting on Kerry Wyatt Kent’s book Deeply Loved; if you’d like to read my first two reflections click here and here.  Today I want to reflect on her thoughts regarding service.

Kent’s words were, to me, comforting to read.  In some ways for me they almost “lowered the bar”, so to speak in regarding expectations for service, but the more I thought about it I realize how difficult what she’s writing about can be.  I’ll just be honest and say that one of the things that drives me crazy is always being asked to serve – I get tired of hearing it.  This isn’t directed at anyone in particular, so if you’re reading it and find yourself thinking, “He’s talking about me” rest assured I’m not.  Here’s my gripe though – we seem to have defined “service” as only doing some sort of formal work for the church or some community organization.  And while that’s important, service is so much more than that.  I get tired of the implication that when I don’t serve in some “official” capacity I’m not serving.

I really believe that I have three main acts of service God has given me – so when someone asks me to serve in another capacity I have to weigh it against those priorities.  I suppose it’s cliché to say it, but I take Colossians 3:23 literally – I don’t work for anyone but the Lord.  And right now he’s given me three primary responsibilities: my family, my job, and my school.  That means that I need to value family time with my wife and girls, I need to be devoted to my job and give it everything I have, and when it’s time to study I need to do that to the best of my ability.  Some people have accused me of using that to avoid service, but I don’t think it is – I truly believe I’m focusing on what is important and serving where God has called me to serve.  I will be the first to tell you I often struggle to give my wife and girls the best part of my time, which to me says I don’t need to add anything else to my plate right now.

But more than that, service is what we do every moment of every day.  It’s letting someone get off the elevator before me, or opening the door as I walk into a building.  Read what Kent writes:

“The simple things you do to care for your family, the work you do to provide for others, the way you treat customers or coworkers – all of this can be service to God, if you choose to see it that way.”

This is what I meant when I said that when I first read the chapter I felt like the bar got lowered – I was reminded that I need to view every act I do every day as service and I felt like I did that, so I felt vindicated against those who would try to convict me – here was a quote I could use to prove to them I was correct.  But then I got to the application part of the chapter, and that’s when the bar got raised again:

“A simple way to practice service is to be open to interruptions, to give your attention to those who ask for it.  When you are interrupted, decide that you will see that interruption as one that comes not from the person before you but from God.”

Well there went my feel-good moment!  I hate to be interrupted.  I’ll let the phone right (voicemail can answer) or close the office door to avoid interruptions.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but too often I’ll put off something with the girls until I finish what I’m doing.  I hate to be interrupted.    And, worse than that, I let people know I don’t like to be interrupted.  I don’t do it intentionally, but I recognize that my tone of voice and my body language communicate loud and clear that I’m not happy with the interruption.  I’m selfish, and there’s no getting around it when it glares me in the face.  Yet according to Kent, allowing for the interruption can be an act of service in itself.

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Last week I posted a link on my Facebook wall that someone had shared with me about the “iPhone Mom”.  I thought it was a great reminder to live in the moment, to literally allow for the interruption.  And, in all honesty, when I read it I didn’t read it as written to “mom” but to “dad” (since I’m a dad) – I wasn’t trying to put down mothers or say anything negative about them.  But boy was that a mistake – I quickly found out there was a massive back-lash against the author for writing what she wrote (you can read two of the responses here and here).  I’m not here to support or defend the post, since obviously sharing the original one got me in trouble!  But as I reflect back on it I think the reason it struck a chord with me was that author was trying to say is what Kent was saying in this application section – open yourself up to the interruption (at least that’s how I read it).

I have a long, long way to g(r)o(w) here, and I rest in the grace knowing that God is working in me, he is molding me into the person he wants me to be.  This particular day made me re-evaluate (again) my priorities, and recognize where I needed to change and improve.  And, with God’s grace, tomorrow will be better than today.

A Gay Son’s Journey to God


I’ve read a lot of books over the years, some good and some bad, and Out of a Far Country by Christopher Yuan and Angela Yuan is one of the best.  This true story chronicles the journey of Christopher as a gay man who experiences redemption in Christ and the parallel journey of Angela, his mother, as she experiences rebirth in Jesus, including a renewed marriage and new hope for the future.

I read this book in less than a day – I simply could not put it down once I started it.  Page and page I wanted to see what happened next in the story – the story both of Christopher’s journey into deep and devastating sin and its consequences, and then the beautiful story of hope, restoration, and redemption.  It was not an easy story to read, nor did the authors hold many punches when describing the life lived by Christopher; with frankness and honesty we read the stories of experiences that led to suicidal thoughts, anonymous sex, involvement with drugs, and even trouble with the law.

Chapters were written by either Christopher or Angela, offering each person’s perspective on the journey, each chapter switched from one to the other author.  While many books I read in this format are hard to follow and frustrating to read, the flow of the book and the transition from one author to the other was absolutely seamless.

One of the most insightful chapters in the book was the one entitled, “Holy Sexuality”.  In a world where both secular and sacred authors struggle with how to address the entire issue of homosexuality, Christopher re-focuses the discussion on what is important: Jesus Christ.  He writes, “I had always thought that the opposite of homosexuality was heterosexuality.  But actually the opposite of homosexuality is holiness.  God never said, ‘Be heterosexual, for I am heterosexual.’  He said, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.'”  He then concludes, “So the question is, if I continue to have these feelings I neither asked for nor chose, will I still be willing to follow Christ no matter what?…God’s faithfulness is proved not by the elimination of hardships but by carrying us through them.  Change is not the absence of struggles; change is the freedom to choose holiness in the midst of our struggles.”

Overall, I’m giving this book a 5/5 stars – it’s a must read for everyone.  It offers hope and truth rather than condemnation and judgement for anyone willing to listen.

For the record, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

Book Review: Our Choice by Steven Atwood


Our Choice: A Journey of Life and Faith by Steven Atwood is the story of a teenager in a Christian home confronted with the decision of what to do with an unplanned pregnancy – keep the baby?  Give the baby up for adoption?  Abort?  There are so many choices.

Overall the message of the book is a powerful one – it’s a message of hope, grace,  and redemption – a message we all need to hear.  But overall I found the book lacking in several areas. First, there was the over-use of stereotyping of characters.  The extreme leftist teaches who offer counsel to this teenager, while I know they exist (because I work in the public school system), are an exception rather than the rule.  The book would have you believe, however, that not a single teacher at the school held a genuine concern for either the student or her unborn child.  Then there were the teenagers that jumped from one sexual encounter to the next.  Are teenagers sexually active?  Yes.  Are some as active as the ones described in the book?  Yes.  Are all of them?  No, yet, again, the book would lead you to believe that every teenager is sleeping with multiple partners in a week.   Second, the whole issue of Christians dating non-Christians bothered me.  Believe me, I’m not by any sense suggesting that Christian teens don’t have sex before marriage and suffer serious consequences, but I didn’t understand why the parents of these girls, who seemed to take such an interest in their daughters’ lives, weren’t insisting that they date only Christian boys.  Third, and perhaps the biggest struggle I have with the book in terms of the story, is that the it doesn’t describe life after the baby is born.  Not to minimize the struggles the young girl and her boyfriend experience during the pregnancy, but as difficult as that time was it would have been nothing compared to the impact of what life was like after the baby was born.  Yet it glosses over that part of the story and almost leaves the impression of “happily ever after”.

Finally, there are some major theological misconceptions in the book regarding salvation.  In the chapter “Saved” the book states that one discussion focused on “how Jesus saved everyone from their sins.”  Yet the simple fact, Biblically speaking anyway, is that Jesus did not save everyone from their sins.  Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, but the state the he saved everyone implies a universalism that just isn’t true.  Similarly, the story at one point also states that one character “led the prayer that saved the souls” of another character, yet scripture teaches we are “by grace through faith” not that we are saved by a prayer.  Perhaps this is all semantics, but I believe it’s important semantics because one who doesn’t understand the nature of sin, death, salvation, and live could walk away from reading this story with an incorrect understanding (which could have eternal significance).  Just a couple of sentences after the previous quote one person actually asks the question of herself “How can she save him, too?”  Again, people don’t save people, Jesus saves people.

I honestly can’t imagine that this book would dissuade a young person from becoming sexually active, and neither do I believe it would change one’s beliefs regarding abortion.  As such, and because of all the reasons mentioned above, I can only give this book 1.5/5 stars.