Monday, April 28, 2014

Cyber Parenting

Cyber Parenting: Raising your kids in an online world, James & Simone Boswell

I really liked this book: it is helpful, practical and biblical. The Boswells have done parents of today’s children a great benefit. Being Australian it fits perfectly with our context, although as it deals with an online world, it is appropriate for everywhere.

The most grounding part of this book is the reminder again and again that as parents today we are facing nothing new. Although some technology, social media, gaming, etc are new for our generation, the issues they raise are as old as time. The Boswells take us back to the words of Ecclesiastes, showing that all the issues with technology today are the same issues of the heart that people have faced for thousands of years – be they wisdom, self-control, where we find our value and what we make our idols. I found this incredibly reassuring, for at times I can feel a bit panicky about parenting children in our online world. This helped me to remember that all issues are heart issues and God knows about them all.

It is divided into four parts:

1. The basics: introducing the impact of technology and some basic technological details for those that need it. Here and throughout the book they emphasise again and again it is about the heart. “Parenting is more than setting up eternal rules. Parenting is about getting to the heart of our children, training them in right living, investing in their lives and helping them to understand a biblical world view” (p30).

2. A look at the basics of parenting – how we want to teach our children about the Lord and his word, and train them in godliness and character. With this in mind, they talk about a biblical world view and then many areas of character we want to train our children in: such as honesty, integrity, patience, etiquette, contentment and self-control. While all of these are applied to the world of technology it is clear that these are characteristics we want to raise our children in, no matter whether they are online or offline. This section then moves to consider issues such as trust and responsibility, teaching wise choices and developing maturity. All of this is very helpful.

3. Then they move to address the four main areas of the online world: social networking (with an emphasis on Facebook), cyber bullying, gaming and pornography. This was full of wisdom and practical suggestions, and is essential reading for parents of children who are already online or soon to be.

4. The final section deals with the practical areas of managing your networks, security, passwords and parenting controls. These are the tips to help you set up a safe online environment. Of course, these go alongside the active role of teaching in parenting, yet are useful things to have in place in the home and on various devices.

In the end, this book is an excellent reminder that as parents we are called to parent with wisdom and grace, to be involved and aware, and to deal with issues of the heart. We should have practical boundaries and measures in place, but not rely on them to do the job of parenting for us.

I will definitely continue to refer to this one in years to come as we navigate the online world with our children.

You can see a little bit of it online here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages

The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, Shaunti Feldhahn

This book, from the author of For Women Only (link to my review series) and For Men Only along with other books along the same lines, has now done further research on marriage and come up with this little gem. Like her other books, it is incredibly easy to read, presenting the results of research in an easily-digestible format.

Feldhahn’s research was to investigate couples who both independently described their marriages as very happy. Then through interviews and surveys she found 12 habits and traits that were common to those couples.
“[The authors] discovered again and again that contrary to popular belief, it’s usually not the biggies – in-laws, money, sex – that determine the level of day-to-day mutual happiness in a marriage. Much more often, it’s daily unspoken beliefs, assumptions, and practices that make the difference regardless of the big issues. In other words, it’s how we handle those issues that determines how much we enjoy marriage.” 
 They included things like:
  • choosing to believe the best of each other (eg. rather than they intended to hurt your feelings)
  • controlling their thought processes - stopping negative trains of thought and focussing on positive ones
  • being factual about their fantasies – not longing for things their partner can't deliver
  • choosing to spend time together
  • putting their trust in God foremost, rather than each other
  • being fully committed to each other – financially, emotionally, etc (against the world’s advice)
  • being constantly grateful for each other and find ways to communicate it
As someone who is in a ‘highly happy marriage’, I found it confirmed a number of things I already would have thought of and put words around others. I agreed with pretty much everything she said. For those who would like their marriage to be better, I think it could provide some good simple and achievable goals to work at together (ideally) or even on your own.
“Change – even in challenging marriages – most often starts with one immediate, practical, surprising choice. A choice made by just one partner. And you can make it. The day you put one surprise in secret to work in a relationship – and then another – may go unnoticed by your partner. But you have launched an insurrection against mediocrity and unhappiness.” 
It’s suitable for Christians and non-Christians alike. While supporting a Christian world-view, she doesn’t overstate it, so many unbelievers could still find much to use and apply. At the same time, because it is clear from her investigations that a faith in God and a commitment to the institution of marriage is highly beneficial for couples, it could open up conversations too.

Recommended, easy reading – treat yourselves and buy it for your wedding anniversary!


Having re-read this again in 2020, I still think this is a great book for couples looking to consider how to improve things in simple ways. It may not deal with all major problems, but will certainly help those who are a bit stuck. Many of her findings are similar to those found in Gottman, just expressed differently.

It's also my recommended book for 'non-readers' - short, to the point and easily applicable.

Monday, April 14, 2014

How People Change

How People Change, Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp

Having enjoyed and learnt much from reading When People Are Big and God is Small last year, I returned to another book by the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) this year and similarly have been greatly encouraged and challenged by How People Change.

It’s hard to quantify exactly how much this book has changed my thought processes and resultant action. It started when a friend presented a seminar last year which really challenged me to look at my heart in all things, rather than externals. Of course, you say, we all know we are supposed to do that. Yes, we do – but how do we actually do it? Her main thinking had come from this book.

How People Change is one of the few books I have read that clearly identifies the issues that face us in life, shows us how often we respond sinfully, and yet leads us to see that with the truths of the gospel shaping us, we can change to grow in godly responses and living. It is not a self-help book. Rather it is an examination of what drives us, how we live in response and how God working in us can change us.

The overarching idea is that our lives are full of heat - the various aspects of our lives that will produce a response; be it suffering, hardship, blessing, prosperity or anywhere in between. The response the heat produces can often be thorns, that is, ungodly responses to such situations, such as complaining, anger, materialism, narcissism, etc.

What Lane and Tripp drive us towards is the cross: how we can see what Christ has done for us in overwhelming and abundant grace, and how we let that become the focus and centre of our hearts and life. Like using a scalpel on your heart, they lead you to identify your deepest motivations and desires and then realign them according to what Christ has done. After that, because Christ dwells in us, instead of thorns, we can produce fruit.

In this second half of the book, which clearly identifies each of these stages, there are questions that you can work through for yourself. In identifying where the heat is in your life and which thorns you are likely to produce, you are then ready to come back to the cross in true repentance and humility, joyful that Christ brings about true, lasting change and fruit.

In the weeks that I was reading this book I found it practically applicable in many ways:
  • As I thought about my own ‘thorny’ responses to life situations & was challenged because of what Christ has done to make them more ‘fruitful’.
  • When I spoke with friends about their particular challenges and the decisions that led them there.
  • When I led a seminar on a Christian view of reading and challenged us all to examine our hearts when we thought about what we read.
  • As I worked through some personal issues with one of our children and tried to get them to see how their behaviour was coming from their heart and showed what they valued most.
For years I have heard people say things like “you have to come back to the cross”, “it’s all about letting the gospel shape you” or “it must change your heart”. While I fully agreed with the sentiment, the practical how of doing that always left me a little bewildered. How do I respond to my children according to what Christ has done? When is rest or relaxation just a good gift and when it is starting to become something I value more highly that Christ? I felt that this book helped me start to answer those questions and think about a way forward.

This is highly recommended reading for all Christians. All of our lives are full of situations that demand a response – but do we bear thorns or fruit in them? How do we change from a thorny response to a fruity one? How do we make sure it is Christ and his work in us that is what changes us, not just a desire to look good?

In addition, this book would be especially helpful for those who are in mentoring, pastoring and counselling roles. It made me so keen I went on to investigate the CCEF counselling courses online - perhaps a goal for another year!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Best Sex for Life

The Best Sex for Life, Dr Patricia Weerakoon

We have an ever increasing list of books to share with married couples and a whole list we give them about marital intimacy when we catch up after they have been married for six months. This one is definitely near the top of the list, it’s been promoted to one of my top three books on sex in marriage.

Patricia Weerakoon has done married couples a great favour with this book. She is open, honest, straight to the point, up to date, and has no qualms dealing with many of the sex issues that face those who are married. At the same time, it is well and firmly grounded in the truths of the gospel and how God’s view of sex should shape our lives. Her overarching idea is that marriage is a public, outward looking commitment which is enhanced and strengthened by a healthy, honest and strong sex life.

She covers various stages of sexuality in marriage, starting with the engagement period, moving to the honeymoon and early years, the main years of marriage and its potential strains (children, tiredness, etc) and then with a frank and open look at sex in the senior years. In doing so, Weerakoon has provided a resource for couples to last many, many years.

The book is broken into 3 parts:
  1. A theology of biblical sexology – how God’s views sex, how sin has marred it, and how it can be redeemed for God’s glory
  2. Understanding your body – helpful basics on sexual organs and response for men and women
  3. Sex and the life cycle – various chapters on different life stages and some issues raised within them.
All of this is very helpful and will provide good information for couples who are engaged or newly married, as well as extra information for those who have been married for some time. Some may find the biological and chemical details of what occurs during the stages of sex in section 2 in more detail than interests them.  

However, I thought the best part of the book was Appendices 2 and 3, which contain practical exercises for couples who are struggling.

Appendix 2 is a detailed up to 9-week program to help couples for whom sex is a struggle and  concern to try to work towards a better intimate life. Appendix 3 is a sheet to fill out and share with each other which addresses how we respond to each other and how things could be better.

These are brilliant resources. As anyone who is married can attest, talking about sex with your spouse can be difficult at times. When things are not great ‘in the bedroom’ that conversation is even harder. Yet the thought of going to a therapist or counsellor for such private matters does not appeal to many. In addition as Christians, this is an area where secular counselling often just does not fit the bill. I know of a few professional Christian sex therapists in Sydney, yet I know of none in Adelaide; which leaves Christian couples in many places unsure of where to turn. These appendices could be a great resource. Sort of like a counselling session without having to actually go to a counsellor. Even if things are good in your marriage, these exercises could be of great benefit.

A great book for marrieds to help make sure that intimacy stays a strong part of your life together.

After having re-read this in 2020, it still remains high on my recommended reading list. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Plans for this year

So, you are up to date and musings is finally up and running again!

At this stage, my plan is to keep sharing with you about the good books that I am reading.

There may be other thoughts thrown in along the way, but books is where our attention will focus.

I’m aiming for a weekly book review at this point – we’ll see how we go! First one: Monday.