Monday, December 5, 2022


Safeguards: Shielding Our Homes and Equipping Our Kids, Julie Lowe (New Growth Press, 2022) 

I continue to be impressed by the resources that Julie Lowe provides parents. As a biblical counsellor, mother of six, and author of Child Proof and Building Bridges, she has much wisdom and experience. Her new offering, Safeguards, encourages parents to “establish a home and a worldview that protects your children.” Her overarching principles are that: 

  1. We live in a broken, fallen world.
  2. We teach children to navigate the world by helping them learn to discern good from evil and right from wrong. Safety skills are a fruit of this. 
  3. Yet, we trust that our safety ultimately rests in the hands of our God. 

She opens with wisdom as the foundation for equipping children with safety skills. This recognises the dangers in our modern world that is technology rich, peer influenced, and self-oriented. Yet, as in every age, our hearts are sinful and our motivations are never pure, and we are called to be salt and light. Neither worry nor denial are safety skills, and we don’t want to raise fearful kids, but equipped kids. A parent’s role is to know their children, where they are vulnerable, and to equip them discerningly for the realities of life and things they may experience. 

 The middle section covers numerous areas in which to equip children with safety skills. This covers a wide range of topics and scenarios:

  • sexual abuse 
  • teaching kids to evaluate behaviour 
  • using role play to practice managing situations 
  • key topics to discuss: abuse, sex, respect & privacy, when it’s OK and not OK to be uncomfortable, and being able to say no 
  • technology and how to use it 
  • bullying, if kids get lost, sleepovers, babysitters, & safety plans. 

Each has wise advice and suggestions, acknowledging that each family will make their own decisions. 

The final section considers safety with teenagers and young adults. The chapter headings give a fair idea of what is covered: 

  • Teenagers needs genuine relationships with God and their parents
  • Comparison, peer pressure and treating others with respect 
  • Sex and dating 
  • Social media and technology safety 
  • Pornography and sexting 
  • Alcohol abuse, drugs and smoking/ vaping 
  • Navigating mental health struggles (of kids and their friends) 
  • Safety skills for growing independence - when in public, driving, etc. 
  • Online dating, consent, and campus life 

Lowe finishes with the comfort and encouragement that God is our refuge and strength and very present help in trouble. Whatever situations we and our children will face, we can still turn to the Lord for help. 

Some parents may read this and feel overwhelmed. But much of it is proactive, wise, common sense applied to the challenges of parenting. Only some will be applicable for the stage you are at, so you can read what is relevant and come back to the rest later. The advantage of this information in one book means that it may operate as an alert to remind you of things you have put off addressing with your kids, or may raise issues you have not yet thought about. A helpful resource for parents. 

I received an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Angry with God

Angry with God: An Honest Journey through Suffering and Betrayal, Brad Hambrick (New Growth Press, 2022) 

This is the fifth and final book in the new Ask the Christian Counselor Series by New Growth Press. Brad Hambrick skilfully leads the reader through an exploration and processing of their anger and grief due to suffering, betrayal or loss. As such, it’s quite specific - aimed at the Christian who is angry with God or others for what has happened to them. Hambrick helps with processing the hot emotions of grief in a way that allows for self-reflection, honesty, discovery, and growth. 

With very small, bite sized chapters, Hambrick logically leads through a compassionate exploration. He starts by considering anger itself, and how to pace oneself along the path of exploring it. He guides in the construction of a timeline of events and topography of pain to chart the emotion connected with it. He strongly encourages the finding of close friends with whom you can walk the path. These are helpful set-ups for the deep work he later encourages. Starting to address the theological complications of how to view pain and suffering, he comforts with the truth that your pain is not a riddle to be solved (why? why me?), but an experience to be processed and a journey to be endured. 

Section 2 (Articulating your pain) leads the reader to analyse the events that led to the anger and distress. Explore what was good amongst the pain, what happened factually (enabling you to move from primarily emotions to learning and considering). Whether things that God’s people did affected your relationship with God, and what other things made the pain worse. All of these help to move from angry grief to memorialising grief. Section 3 is a detailed exploration of the multifaceted effects of the pain played out in emotions, thoughts, relationships, choices, and our view of God. This is where honest assessment of how we have reacted to our situation has played a part and how we have choices moving forwards. Section 4 is where resolution begins to come as our faith matures, we understand suffering as part of life, we accept that we only understand partially. So, we make decisions of how to live moving forwards, and how to move towards hope. Section 5 brings the reader back to the gospel through the lens of creation, fall, redemption, sanctification, and glorification. Having done the hard work of grief and anger processing, hopefully the promises of God for this life and the life to come now bring further hope and understanding. 

There is a lot of value in this short book. Hambrick uses counselling skills and processes skilfully, and sensitively combines them with gospel truths. It is a counselling tool in your own hands. Additionally, a counsellor could use this to assist a client through a grief process. While not naming them, many concepts he flagged were familiar to standard counselling practice - the timeline, Neimeyer’s meaning making through grief, Stroebe’s & Schut’s dual process grief model, and various CBT concepts. A very helpful resource.

I was given an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  

Monday, November 14, 2022

When the Noise Won't Stop

When the noise won’t stop: A Christian guide to dealing with anxiety, Paul Grimmond (Matthias Media, 2022)

Current figures indicate that anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia, with 1 in 4 people experiencing it at some stage in their life (Beyond Blue). Therefore, this new book by Australian pastor and teacher, Paul Grimmond, is a timely offering exploring anxiety for Christians. Grimmond shares his own long-term struggles with anxiety as well as that of others. It is theologically and biblically rich, considering how anxiety impacts the believer, whether anxiety is a sin, and how to live with its challenges.
“This book is an attempt to create a biblically faithful framework for understanding anxiety and then to apply the framework to living with anxiety” (p. 19)
The book engages with anxiety as a mental health condition (not the stresses of day to day life). Its main focus is for “people who struggle with the distress and difficulty of living with anxiety”, but also for those who support others, be they family, friends or pastors. Grimmond notes that the the topic is neither simple nor does he want to be simplistic, so the book goes a bit deeper because it requires considered thought. I appreciated this warning, but at 200 pages it doesn’t feel overly long. It is longer than most books these days, but its structure, style, and personal touches means it doesn’t feel overblown.

Starting with a quick history of psychology and some presuppositions, Grimmond then turns to God’s word. Up front he concedes that Phil 4:6 (Do not be anxious about anything…) is the most challenging passage for many with anxiety, and has led some to conclude that anxiety is sin. He wants us to have a broader, more nuanced lens considering anxiety, concerns, and fear as presented in the bible. Fear and
anxiety are “emotional responses to God and his world that can be either helpful or unhelpful, healthy or sinful” (p. 53).

Exploring the concept of living in fallen minds and bodies, Grimmond points out that anxiety exists because we live in a world broken by sin, because our biology is affected by the fall, and because there is a psychological component to it.

The then draws three conclusions which shape the remainder of the book:
  • anxiety is a complex problem with a complex solution 
  • those with anxiety are both sinners and sufferers (as is every person), and 
  • we need to take responsibility, while also acknowledging that we are not fully in control 
He leads the reader to see the that gospel is indeed the answer to anxiety, but not in a simplistic way.
“If anxiety is a complex reality, affected by the fallenness of the world, shaped by the chemistry occurring in a body that awaits its final renewal, and arising in a person who still struggles with sin, then shouldn't our normal expectation be that rather than beating anxiety, the goal is to learn to live wisely with it in a way that honours Jesus?” (p. 87)
He then considers how sin contributes to anxiety. I felt he explored the balance carefully here. He is quick to point out that having anxiety is not sin, yet our sinfulness can contribute to our anxiety. So, sometimes that will mean facing the unhelpful patterns and behaviours that contribute to our sinfulness (which every person on earth has), and how they might feed our anxiety, or be impacted by it. Then, he exhorts the reader to find the security to confront sin - by confessing, trusting in our heavenly Father as his beloved and precious children, trusting the Lord knows our hearts and struggles, and always resting in God’s grace and mercy.

In exploring how to respond to anxiety, first we are to engage our minds in fellowship with others. This chapter explored the benefits of counselling, the importance of healthy self-talk (“stop listening to yourself and start talking to yourself”), and persevering in the basics of the Christian life (church, fellowship, bible reading, etc). We are also to care for our bodies with good diet, exercise, sleep, breathing and relaxation. He notes how that medication can be of value, and that we should make wise choices to expose ourselves to our anxiety (rather than avoid situations that lead to it). There is discussion about prayer, and how it can be hard for the anxious person, yet God keeps inviting us to come to him.

One chapter focuses on those who support others with anxiety, encouraging godly friendship with emotional awareness and healthy mutuality not dependence. He also has some very pastorally gentle encouragement for those who care for those with anxiety while also struggling themselves (eg. parents with their children).

In the end, Grimmond encourages hope for those who are wearied by anxiety. It will get better, God will use the struggle, and in the end, he will bring us home.

This is a great book for the Christian with anxiety and those who want to help them. It is biblically rich and theologically sound, giving a framework for understanding. Grimmond is pastorally sensitive and gentle, he speaks the truth in love, and encourages change and hope for believer with anxiety.

Monday, November 7, 2022

I Want to Escape

I want to escape: Reaching for hope when life is too much, Rush Witt (New Growth Press, 2022) 

On first glance at this title, I assumed it was about someone contemplating suicide. While it does indeed address that topic, the escapes that Witt talks about are much more wide ranging. As such this book is more widely applicable that I first thought.

Witt notes the overwhelming desire we have to escape. Whether it’s through distraction, denial or destruction, we all have a tendency to avoid the challenges of life and to choose what seems to be an easier path.

I liked Witt’s honesty throughout. He is compassionate as he explores the many reasons and ways we choose to escape. Yet, he calls us to a better way - a courageous dependence on God in midst of our challenges. 
“When life overwhelms us, we often see escape as our only option. But through Scripture, God welcomes us to walk his better way: the way of grace-enabled, faith-directed, Christ-centered, Word-delivered, glory-focused dependence on God.”
His goal is:
  • To gain a better understanding of why escape appeals to us 
  • To learn to draw near to Jesus, who remains closer than a brother 
  • To develop practical plans to shape our response to trouble
Early on he chooses 1 Cor 10:13 as a key verse:
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
On this he notes: “our trouble is common, our God is faithful, and that courageous dependence is the way toward peace and rest”.

The plan moving forwards is three-fold:
  • pray with humility 
  • believe with gospel hope 
  • act with courageous dependence 
This plan is then applied over following chapters to the four main escape routes that people take:

1. Denial 

Denial doesn’t work in the end, we need to face our problems. There is benefit to enduring trials - they prove the genuineness of our faith, they make the beauty of faith appear, and they purify & increase our affection for Christ.

2. Distraction

We distract ourselves in so many ways - some more mindless (maybe TV, gaming, social media). Others may cause more harm - substances, overeating, etc. Others might look good - always being busy or always saying yes to serving, but still function as a distraction from our concerns.
“Our idolatry takes center stage when we turn to a myriad of distractions and discredit God’s power and purposes. As we’ve seen, every escape route begins with a false belief or promise. I often find in my heart the belief that some distracting activity is surely better or more enjoyable than facing trouble with God.”

3. Deflect & destroy (deflecting responsibility and behaving in self-destructive ways). This one is harder to face because it’s anchored in us showing we are right, others are wrong and someone else is to blame.

However, we meet our challenges with gospel hope:
“When facing a difficult situation we should profess with confidence, I am here (1) by God’s appointment, (2) in his keeping, (3) under his training, and (4) for his time. The only way to work through overwhelming hardships is by remembering God’s loving care in all times. When we feel cornered by circumstances we can’t control, we can know God holds us and our circumstances in his hands.”
4. Death

This honest and gentle chapter included a detailed contribution from Witt’s wife Kathryn who shares her personal struggles with depression and wishing for the release of death.

He focuses here on 1 Cor 10:13 again - you are not alone, your troubles are ‘common to man’, others have faced what you are walking through and help is found in Christ through his Spirit.

Witt finishes bringing the reader back to the reminder that “after darkness, there is light”. We have hope in Christ, he walks with us, and so we turn to him in prayer, we believe the gospel, and we act with courageous dependence, trusting in him to be alongside us as we walk the difficult path.

A gospel-focussed, short and instructive book that helps people to identify their own escapes and avoidances, and encourages a more fruitful path. Another helpful addition to the Ask the Christian Counselor series.

I received an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 31, 2022

I Have a Psychiatric Diagnosis

I Have a Psychiatric Diagnosis: What Does the Bible Say? Edward T. Welch (New Growth Press, 2022)

This very short book tries to address some very big topics, and overall does a pretty solid job of it. Welch is trying to bridge the divide between the reality of psychiatric diagnoses and what that means spiritually, so that we can understand:
- What God says, &
- How the bible speaks in ways that help you find wisdom, rest, and hope in Jesus, with a diagnosis
“Psychological categories help us see important human struggles. Spiritual categories include those struggles and help us see more. Spiritual indicates that God speaks in every detail of our lives, and we need him in every detail.”
He carefully balances the wisdom of learning from the world, medicine and health, with what we find in God’s word. 
“Careful observations, like those of the mental health sciences, help us to see important things; Scripture reveals what is most important. It opens our eyes to what is unseen and eternal.”
So, his approach is to:
  • Listen to God and get help from his people. This including returning to the gospel and understanding that Jesus calls us to speak to him about our struggles, and to believe the gospel and how it practically impacts our lives with mental health struggles 
  • Listen and learn from those who have experience. This includes medical specialists, those who understand and live with it, and exploring options such as medication. 
“These two approaches anchor the rhythm in what is ahead—listen to Scripture and God’s people, listen to those who have experience, listen to what God says. Back-and-forth. Listen, learn, ask for help. The cycle continues until you understand your struggles (or another’s struggles) better and have ways to help. What is important is that Scripture has the final words of hope.”
From this point, Welch explores four areas:

1. Anxiety and panic disorders. This is a helpful simple chapter, pointing to the wisdom of the world in recognising panic and anxiety and that all is not right, then turning us to God and how seeking him and the gospel speaks to our deepest anxieties and give us freedom to bring them to the Lord. 
“Faith simply acknowledges that you are desperate and needy, and only Jesus can give what you most deeply need. Your panic attacks have exposed the delusion that life is just fine—you can manage on your own—and it is good news when delusions are exposed. When we feel in control, we have no reason to turn to the Lord.”
2. Trauma. This is really a primer on trauma, helping the reader to understand its impacts and challenges. Turning to the gospel, we can see that God knows you and loves you, he has entered dark places to find you, he cleanses you from shame, and makes your future new. He encourages the person who has experienced trauma to find words to describe their experience, and speak them to God and to others. 

3. Depression. This chapter encouraged starting with listening to God and his people, and speaking our concerns, doubts, worries and melancholy to the Lord remembering that Christ is our faithful helper and friend. There is an encouragement to share your life with others, no matter how hard it feels.

4. Narcissism - this was a confusing chapter, for it was aimed at the person interacting with the narcissist, not the narcissist themselves. It does seek to find common ground for we are all sinful, we get to know their story, and assume they are normal human beings. But even this felt discordant with the rest of the book, and a little condescending.
“The narcissist has no problem, at least none that he or she feels. If there is any problem, it is you. Your disloyalty, your base ignorance and overt stupidity, your lessness. So you begin by finding words that help you understand someone else. You first go out and listen to what others are saying.”
The book abruptly ends after this chapter, with a list of further reading recommendations. I couldn’t figure out why more wasn’t included. The introduction mentions anorexia, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia. I was surprised that narcissism was included over some of the others, and would have appreciated a reason for choosing to address only those four. Each chapter finishes with questions, but they were so open ended as to almost be unhelpful, with each including: “What questions do you have?”. I’m not sure that helps anyone unless you provide a way for them to explore it further.

You can hear Welch’s care & compassion for people in his writing, but I felt this book fell a little short on what it was trying to offer.

I received a ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Art of Rest

The Art of Rest, Adam Mabry (The Good Book Company, 2018)

I often have a book about rest on my shelf waiting to be read. I’m sure it is due to God’s gentle prompting that I grab it when we go on holidays. For me, times of leave are good times to think further about rest and its purpose. In the past, I have delved into The Art of Rest (Claudia Hammond), and Refresh (Shona & David Murray) as well as others that touch on this idea: The Busy’s Christian’s Guide to Busyness, Serving without Sinking, Zeal without Burnout, Going the Distance, and so on.

I really liked this short book from Adam Mabry. He starts acknowledging he is an unlikely candidate to write about rest, having pushed himself too much for way too long. Yet, he also concedes - if he has been able to learn how to rest, you can too.

Overarching the book are two themes - rest is a gift (from God, given for very good reasons) and rest is an art (there is no one way to do it, but rather to find ways that suit you).

Beginning with a history lesson of rest and why God has given it to us, we are reminded that it is truly a gift from a loving God: 
“If God is a hurried taskmaster constantly turning knobs and pushing buttons, frantically refining his work, it's hard to imagine resting with him. But if God the Father, Son, and Spirit are the very definition of love, and fundamentally relational, and the idea of resting with him becomes more than imaginable. It becomes desirable.” 
What struck me was his link to the fact that once the temple was a place to meet God, now that we have the spirit and our bodies are a temple to the Lord. So, he calls the Sabbath a time temple - a chance for us to stop and rejoice in God in our lives, “but do we have the time -do we make the time - to Sabbath, to experience a time holy to God?”

Following chapters explore:
  • Rest allows remembering - God, ourselves, the meaning of life, and grace. 
“The story of the whole Bible is in many ways the story of a people who always forget their God and a God who always remembers his people”
  • Rest is resistance. All work is done for one of two ends - to glorify God or justify your existence, “rest is an act of profound resistance against the siren call of self justification”. Rest helps us to resist anxiety, autonomy, coercion and idolatry. 
  • Rest restores relationships - with God and others. There were four questions for self-examination: 
  1. Are you really interested in having a relationship with God? 
  2. Where is rushing ruining your relationship with God and others? 
  3. In what ways have your tried to silence your inner murmur of self-reproach? 
  4. Will you stop waiting to rest? 
  • Rest brings reward. ”Rest anticipates the destination along the journey, because it offers an experience akin to being at the destination even while we are on the journey.” 
  • Gifts of real rest - reward of memory (who we are in Christ), reflection, security (in our sonship), endurance (“if we want to keep going, we need to keep stopping”) and anticipation.
He finishes with what resting might actually look like. First, it’s not about following a rule, rather finding patterns that suit you daily (small allowances to breathe, pray, eat, reflect and worship), weekly, and annually. He suggests including: sleep, reading, prayer, reflection, avocation (eg hobbies, something that is not your job), recreation, eating, and singing, but with the encouragement to find your own activities of rest.

A very helpful book. Short and concise, but with enough to prompt thought and encouragement, and hopefully a desire to rest, understanding it is indeed a gift and an art, and necessary to grow in in order to thrive.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Anxious About Decisions

Anxious about Decisions: Finding Freedom in the Peace of God, Michael Gembola (New Growth Press, 2022)

Do you find yourself overwhelmed by decisions? Find it hard to make them, or feel anxious about the implications, that “what ifs?” Do you overthink, gather lots of advice, feel self-doubt, feel unable to trust others, or delay in decision making so long that you lose opportunities? If this is you, you are likely to find some helpful guidance here. Michael Gembola’s general message is:
“God uses your decision-making to help you grow up and mature as a Christian. Decision-making is an arena for spiritual formation.” 
As such, decisions are not usually about discovering God’s will in the specifics, rather God uses times of decision making to make us more peaceful and to make us better stewards.
“My own conviction is that God is more interested in growing us up as Christians and helping us learn how to make wise decisions, rather than making decisions for us via impressions or authority figures.”
Part 1 explores decision anxiety - how it works (by trying to eliminate risk), and how we make it worse (by overthinking, overconsulting, overchecking, and avoidance). He notes that God tells us his moral will, but not the answers to nonmoral questions. There are helpful warnings about relying on feeling and testing God for his guidance:
“It’s hard to live with the reality that we don’t know all we’d like to know before we make decisions, and that in most nonmoral decisions, we won’t ultimately know with perfect assurance we’re making the right decision, or the decision that will lead to the outcomes we desire.”
Part 2 explores where decision anxiety comes from - notably the cultural challenges of young adulthood, and family background.

Growing into spiritual maturity is the key:
“But what a beautiful thing it is to be deeply at peace, to be spiritually steady, to be loving and serving others even when you feel stuck, to be able to take small, constructive steps even when you feel confused or anxious.”
Part 3 explores three main areas: marriage, vocation, and the smaller things.

With marriage - the key advice is that you need to know God and know yourself to have wisdom to make this major life decision.
“As you have a better sense of your goals and dreams in life, you have a better sense of who would be a good fit to pursue those with you—and whose goals and dreams you’d like to sign on to as well.”
He encourages the prayerful consideration of a partner’s compatibility, character and your connection with them. I thought these were wise considerations for anyone in the discernment stage of a relationship. And he does advice listening to your anxiety in this area - it may be telling you something you haven’t yet managed to put into words. 

With vocation he encourages working toward faithful stewardship and peace, and we steward in community.
“We must learn to be faithful stewards of the little corner of creation that God has invited us to cultivate. Knowing what job is a good fit for us requires us to go a step further than interests and talents. So vocation—calling—is not primarily something found inside us. It suggests that someone is doing the calling—there is a voice; there are words for us from outside of us”
The final chapter explores smaller decisions that cause anxiety and also touches on the traits that tend toward obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): “I want you to consider decisions about the small stuff as small steps of faith and trust.” He advises that decision making is a learned skill, so take the risk, accept our imperfections and mistakes, and see incremental progress.
“One final piece of ancient advice from believers long ago who were quite familiar with the overscrupulous conscience is this: whatever anxiety tells you to do, do the opposite. If it tells you not to risk going out, go out. If it tells you to pray longer, don’t. Consider anxiety an unreliable guide.”
Gembola explicitly does not provide a protocol for making good decisions, but does provide resources at the end for those who would like that. It does also seem aimed slightly more at young adults, who are working thought some of the major decisions he discusses, however I think it has applicability for many.  decisions. He finishes with the encouragement of our goal:
“we aim to follow Christ with a humble confidence that leads to neither a deficit nor an excess of decisiveness. If we are rooted and grounded, we’ll be able to say no when we need to, and our yes will be meaningful and not only conflict avoidance. We’ll step out to love and serve neighbors. We’ll follow God’s calling and God’s will in our lives. And with these roots, we’ll be steady.”
This is a useful contribution to the Ask the Christian Counselor series. It’s a somewhat specific topic, but will be very helpful for those to whom it applies.

I was given an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, October 7, 2022

Build a Stronger Marriage

Build a Stronger Marriage: The Path to Oneness, Bob Lepine (New Growth Press, 2022)

I have had the opportunity to review a new series of books by New Growth Press called Ask The Christian Counselor and I’ll tell you about them over coming weeks.

First up is Build a Stronger Marriage: The Path to Oneness, Bob Lepine

Aimed at couples in struggling marriages, Lepine has written a gospel-focussed book that gives hope and guidance for those that may have lost their way. He starts considering the wrong reasons and expectations many have when they marry, then brings the reader back to remind them of their true purpose:
“If your goal is to have a marriage that pleases you, you will face ongoing, perpetual frustration and disappointment. But when your goal is to have a marriage that is pleasing to God, each challenge you face along the way will be a fresh opportunity to fix what’s broken and make ongoing progress toward that goal.”
He explores the four main problem areas of the past that influence a marriage: family of origin issues, childhood trauma, issues of shame and guilt related to sex, and unaddressed relational wounds. These are not dealt with in depth, but have enough content for you to identify whether you are impacted by them and may need additional help in working through them. The reader is then brought back to their restoration in Christ, and the encouragement that our past does not define our future.

Lepine proposes that the essentials in any marriage are: putting anger to death, determining when to overlook things and when to confront, and the crucial role of repentance, confession, and forgiveness. These were honest chapters laying responsibility for our behaviour clearly at our own feet. I was also pleased to see the caveat that gracious forgiveness does not extend to abusive or controlling relationships without repentance.

Encouraging us to put off sin, and put on the fruits of the spirit, he posits four best practices of marriage - generous forgiveness, extravagant love, enthusiastic encouragement, and common convictions.

Considering the length of the book (100 pages), I was surprised by the amount of quality content. Each chapter is punchily short, but with enough to consider, challenge, and engage with, as well as illustrations and examples to make his points clearer.

Each chapter ends with a section “Practical steps for real change” where the real work is done personally, with the encouragement to write answers to the questions. The focus is on you, the reader, and Lepine asks you to honestly consider the part you play in your marriage, not your spouse - for the only person you can change is you. Obviously, couples that work through this together with a desire for change will reap the most benefit.

An excellent short book for those wanting godly guidance, wisdom and suggestions for growth and change.

Monday, September 26, 2022

This is how your marriage ends

This is How Your Marriage Ends, Matthew Fray (Souvenir Press, 2022)

This new relationship book stands out with its raw honesty and frank assessment of just how awful divorce is. Fray’s life came apart when his wife left with their young son. Once he worked through his anger and blame of her, he started to think more about his role in the breakdown of their marriage. This led to a blog, relationship coaching, and now a book.
“My overarching premise is that good people who want to be married accidentally hurt one another and betray each other's trust without either partner being aware of it as it is happening until their marriage slowly becomes toxic and/or ends.” (p8)
Fray thought he was a good guy - he never hurt people intentionally, he provided, and he cared. But he came to the conclusion that good people can make bad spouses when they do not try to understand their partner’s emotions. He frames one of his key concepts around the “invalidation triple threat”.

#1 - My wife’s thoughts were wrong - what she thinks happened is wrong.
#2 - My wife’s feelings were wrong - how she feels about it is wrong.
#3 - The justifiable defence - defending or explaining your actions to justify the two things above.
“Constantly, and most of the time unconsciously, we invalidate the lived experiences of the people we love. With great conviction, we tell them to their faces that their thoughts and beliefs are wrong. We tell them that their feelings are wrong. And we tell them that their treatment of us is wrong - that it’s unfair.” (p127)
Rather, he has come to realise:
“I want to be a person who chooses to comfort and support the people I love when they feel hurt or sad or afraid rather than try to convince them that they SHOULDN’T feel these things. (p147)
“If any of us want to succeed in dating, marriage, parenting, or friendship, we need to replace this habit of judgment with something else. Curiosity. Empathy. Encouragement.” (p122)

He proposes with 6 key relationship skills to practice and master:

#1 - Choosing safety and trust over being ”right”
#2 - Know your partner almost as well as you know yourself
#3 - Differentiating between character flaws and habits
#4 - Arguing or criticising effectively - goal is not to win, but to arrive at truth.
#5 - Connection rituals
#6 - Move the dots closer
“Every day - every conversation, every moment - is an opportunity to move closer to one another or further apart. You get to choose.” (171)

Some things I liked about this book:
  • His raw honesty. A man who will share in detail his emotional and physical reactions when his wife left, and his owning of his own mistakes as a result is worth listening to. It has value if it stops a divorce that could have been prevented by alarming people so much as to the consequences. (Note: he thinks his wife was right to leave him, but he grieves that it had to be that way). 
  • His assessment that people are not taught how to relate well, have few skills at it, and this is something that is crucial for youth and young adults. 
“One of the ways we can make this world a better place is by getting collectively serious about educating both ourselves and younger generations about the knowledge and skills we will need to excel in our human relationships." (p39)
“We are not taught, nor are we teaching our kids the truth that nothing in life will affect us more profoundly as our closest interpersonal relationships - namely, marriage or a romantic relationship that looks and feels like marriage.” (p79)
  • He challenges couples to honestly consider that their marriage should come before their kids. 
  • He challenges men never to put their wife in the position of having to do something for them that their mother did. So, work together to manage the mental load, the second shift, and the emotional labour in the home. 
Other things to note:
  • It’s written from a secular point of view. Which is totally fine, just different from most relationship books I review here. He is somewhat ambivalent about pornography use. It’s crass at points and includes a fair amount of swearing. I’m not convinced all concepts are referenced (e.g., his 6 second hug is very close to Gottman’s 6 second kiss). Practically, it was a bit too wordy and could have used a cleaner edit. At the same time, some more specific relationship examples might have been beneficial (often examples were about other aspects of life). 
  • It really is aimed at men and how they fail their wives. Because he is a man who has done so, it has credibility, but it does seem very one-sided. I’m not sure how well it would go for a wife to read this, decide it describes her husband, and then put it in his hands. So, perhaps men need to recommend it to men. 
  • On a broader note - it continues the stereotype that women are emotional and men are rational, and neither can do the other well. 
  • I can see it’s usefulness for those relationships with regular conflict and with accusations of not understanding each other. It could be of help to those who are new to considering emotions and their partner’s point of view.
In conclusion, it was an interesting read. I am appreciative of extra voices in the relationship space, and there is something refreshing about someone openly admitting their failings and learnings. Having said that, if you need relationship help and want to use a book to guide you, I’d probably suggest Gottman over this (either The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) or his newer one with his wife Schwartz Gottman: Eight Dates.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Ticket to Paradise

This new offering from Universal Pictures is a fun, light-hearted romantic comedy with two big names as
the leads - Julia Roberts and George Clooney. Georgia (Roberts) and David (Clooney) have been divorced for almost 20 years, cannot stand each other, and only agree on one thing - how much they love their daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever).

Before she starts work as a lawyer straight out of college, Lily heads to Bali for a well-earned holiday. She meets and falls in love with Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a local seaweed farmer, and they plan to marry straight away. Georgia and David put their differences to the side and head straight out to try stop her making the same mistake they made 25 years prior.

Its filmed in absolutely beautiful settings with gorgeous tropical islands, sunsets, and oceans (apparently filmed in Queensland). As such, it feels luxurious. It’s quite a lot of fun seeing Clooney and Roberts in action, they make a good pair and the chemistry and conflict between them is enjoyable. Overall though, there’s not a lot of substance to the story, none of it goes into much depth, there’s no real major climax or surprise, and it plays it out exactly as a feel-good Hollywood romance should. Which is perfect - if that is what you’re in the mood for!

I was a guest of Universal Pictures. 

Monday, September 12, 2022

God Made Babies

God Made Babies, Justin & Lindsay Holcomb (New Growth Press, 2022)

What a fantastic addition this is to the God Made Me series, as Justin & Lindsay Holcomb give parents of little ones a head start on the conversation about where babies come from.

Like all the books in this series (10 at last count) they are aimed at toddlers and pre-schoolers, and again Trish Mahoney demonstrates her skill with eye-catching and engaging illustrations.

What I loved the most was their angle into the topic. It didn’t leap straight to people, but started with God creating the world, plants, animals, and people. 

Then they break down how reproduction works across the variety of life God has made, starting with flowers, then reptiles and birds, and finally to mammals.

Scant but adequate details are given about how a mom and dad both give a small part and they join together in the mom’s body to make a baby. Then details show how the baby grows from the size of a poppy seed to the size of a watermelon, and how it develops over that time. I think they have hit the mark with just the right amount of information for this age group. It’s accurate, with the correct words used (reproduce, sperm, egg, womb, vagina), but not too detailed. This means parents can use it as is, or if it prompts more questions they have the groundwork laid to give more information.

The explanation about flower pollination was more complicated than it needs to be at this age. But that’s a very minor quibble, and overall it’s very helpful.

If you read books to little ones, you'll want to add this one to your collection. 

I was given an ebook in exchange for an honest review.  

Monday, September 5, 2022

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex (updated)

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex, Sheila Wray Gregoire (Zondervan, 2022)

Some readers may recall that I have reviewed a number of Gregoire's books over the last 12 months - The Great Sex Rescue, The Good Guy's Guide to Great Sex & The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

When I reviewed the Good Girl's Guide I noted how it was likely travelling back in time in an author's mind, seeing I first read her newer writing, then turned to what was written in 2012. Thankfully, Gregoire has done a complete update, re-releasing this book alongside the new one with her husband - The Good Guy's Guide - for men. 

As such, this is not a detailed review, because much of the content from 10 years ago is similar, and I have already reviewed it, Having said that, every question I raised with the last book has pretty much been addressed or changed. I'm still uncertain whether two books are needed to cover married Christian sex. I feel like one addressed to both partners could have more value. However, the Gregoires have chosen this path, and they've done it well.   

With the overarching premise that great sex is pleasurable, intimate, and mutual, Gregoire helpfully explores three aspects of intimacy – physical, spiritual, and relational. She covers sexual intimacy, orgasm, differences in libido, and challenges that couples face, and ways to grow in love, service, and pleasure with each other. It addresses many common questions and issues, as well as areas of disappointment or concern. 

I noted that at a number of points her message to women is "you're not broken". It's sad to consider how  often she must have heard this sentiment in order to keep addressing it.

An appendix covers honeymoon sex in detail, with lots of helpful tips and guidance, without being overly prescriptive. 

This is a detailed, frank, balanced, and honest book that promotes mutual pleasure in the bedroom. It works well on its own, but will have most value being read alongside the companion volume (and in fact, the questions for couples to work through are the same in each). 

My hesitations raised at the end of The Good Guy's review remain, especially regarding the Gregoire's online presence.

Despite that, these two books are now solidly near to the top of my recommended reading for married intimacy. 

Monday, August 22, 2022

Mini fiction reviews

Time and Time Again, Ben Elton

I do appreciate Ben Elton’s writing. He and Lionel Shriver are the authors that get me thinking the most. Hugh Stanton, talented ex-soldier is challenged to consider - if you were going to go back in time to change history where would you go? What if you could go back to 1914, could you change the course of the 20th century? And if you did, would it actually be for the better? 

It’s a great premise, and a powerful one because it’s written with the arrogance of a 21st century mindset that assumes that we know more, and would have done things better. Elton challenges the reader to ask - how much damage could result, all the while trying to make improvements.

Meltdown, Ben Elton

Like all Ben Elton’s writing, it is very relevant when written, so this one published in 2009 is all about the Global Financial Crisis. Jimmy has lived the highlife for 20 years as a financial trader and he and Monica live in luxury with their kids and lots of paid help. Their friends all have high paid jobs in the industry and they help each other out with tips and investments. But what happens to them all when it all comes crashing down? A book about what’s really important when you lose everything that you thought mattered. Funny and insightful, as per Elton’s usual fare.

You Be Mother, Meg Mason

Having enjoyed other writing of Mason’s, I was eager for this one and was not disappointed. Abi, a poor uni student in the UK, has a fling with Stu, an exuberant Australian on exchange. When she discovers she’s pregnant, they decide to make a go of it in Australia. She heads out with 4-week-old Jude and turns up to discover Stu is pretty useless, his parents are unhelpful, and she is stuck in a flat in Cremorne (Sydney) in the heat of summer. On an outing, she comes across Phil, a recently widowed mother of four adult children. They connect over books, but also discover that they share similar griefs. Abi is clearly in dire need of support, and Phil seems to enjoy a project. But neither are being completely honest about their challenges, and soon Phil’s family starts to interject. I enjoyed the complexity of the characters, but also the reminders of some very familiar parts of Sydney.

The Motion of the Body Through Space, Lionel Shriver 

After years of constant solitary exercise, 60-year-old Serenata, has finally had to stop with an injured knee that now requires a replacement. Struggling to adjust to the change to her previously active life, she is somewhat surprised when her usually sedate husband Remington declares at age 62 that he is going to do a marathon. She struggles to support him, but he is determined. As his exercise regime becomes more and extreme and hers becomes more limited, it strains their relationship as they struggle to find common ground. There is a comparison to ultra exercising as a form of religion, like a cult. In fact, Shriver also deals religion a fair serve with their daughter being a recent convert to Christianity. 

Having considered the vast range of social issues and perspectives that Shriver tears down in her novels, it does raise the question of whether she is positive about anything at all. Having said, I do appreciate her dry commentary on many aspects of modern life.


Monday, August 8, 2022

Fight, Flight and Faith

Fight, Flight and Faith, Nikki Florence Thompson (Ark House Press, 2020)

I heard this book recommended on the Counsel Culture podcast and ordered it online sight unseen, after hearing Nikki speak about her experience of anxiety.

It was somewhat of a surprise when the book arrived and discovered that I knew several of the people who had endorsed it. Then, on starting to read it, I realised I knew who she was from many years ago, and part of the story she shared was one I was personally very familiar with.

Nikki has written a moving and poignant story of her struggle with anxiety over the last 20+ years, which developed after the accidental death of her older brother when she was 19.

This is not a theological exposition of anxiety, nor it is a treatment manual. Rather, this is a personal story that graciously invites the reader into her life and experience. We are allowed to see her journey in all its ups and downs, and in so doing, to witness her pain, challenges, and joys over the years. Her honesty is raw and open, as she shares her struggles through different seasons of grief, relationships, and fertility issues, and how anxiety continued to rear its head in various ways. Each time her own faith was stretched and matured.

The early part of the book is anchored around her brother Greg. It starts with early stories of their family and gives the background of a loving, stable home, with an older brother that Nikki adored and who had already matured beyond his years in his own faith. Their upper teenage years were the same as my own* - part of a robust, loving youth and young adults group that were on fire for Jesus in the 1990s. A time of coming to faith, of being challenged to wonder what it meant to live for Jesus, and a time of being surrounded with other young friends who were all asking the same questions. Many from those years have gone on to serve Christ in wonderfully various ways around the world. But as Nikki notes, they were the early days of heady faith, still absolutely real and true, yet not really tested by the trials of life to come: 
“I do not mean to say my faith then was not real. I believe with all my heart that it was. But it was also just the beginning. In the beginning my faith was a pure, secure space. Genuine, but tender. Grounded, but on untrodden ground. True, but untested. Encircling, but also enclosed. In the beginning my faith was safe. But, in many ways I didn't realise yet, it was also very, very small.” (p. 21)
Her retelling of the times prior to and after the accident were personally very moving to read and quickly recalled my own recollections of those years. For any reader, this will be a powerfully sad and moving story, I just found it additionally so because of the personal connection.

Nikki is honest about how anxiety started in those early months of grief, and how it impacted her.
“The truth was, anxiety didn't sit outside my relationship with God, as I suppose I expected or wanted it to. It came in there too. Anxiety … made me second-guess everything, until even my own faith felt uneasy… Was God the father in the Prodigal story, with his arms out stretched waiting to welcome me home again from the long distance I've travelled, or a disappointed parent, wagging his finger at me while I hung my head in shame? If I knew he was the first, I often felt he was the second." (p. 153)
Anxiety remained a recurring element over the years, and one she has learnt to manage through medication, good counselling and mental health care, as well as strong family and friend support, and a faith that God is with her through it all.
“The fact that anxiety is in the Bible is proof that it exists. Further, it is proof that God understands. (p. xviii)
“This isn’t a story about overcoming. But it is one about coming closer and drawing near. It is a story of becoming aware of a widened, expanded faith…This, then, is a book for anyone who shares a similar but particularly strong should voice in their ear; for anyone who thinks they ought to be better. (p. xix)
This book is beautifully written. Nikki has a PhD in Literature, and it shows. Her phrasing is wonderful, the way she weaves words together adds to the richness of the whole story. So, while it is a sad story at points and I was moved to tears, it is also delightful to read and laden with creative expression. I really appreciated how she has gently woven the story of others into her own, most notably the support of her husband Mike, but also her parents, friends, and her health care professionals (e.g., the Wise Woman and the Wise Man).

This is highly recommended reading. As I said, it’s a story of anxiety, not a “how to manage it” guide. But those who live with anxiety and those who support them will likely find much here that helps them to sort through the platitudes that some have, and instead to help them rest in their Heavenly Father’s care, despite the challenges that he allows them to face:
“I like to think anxiety taught me to accept my humanity – to be humble and realistic in my humanness in this now-and-not-yet space – and to expand to see the Father’s embodied compassion and divinity, not as something I need to stretch to touch, but as always wrapped around me, coming down to meet me. Anxiety has opened my faith-eyes to see him more clearly.” (p.218)

*I was also a friend of Greg’s. Not on the “inner circle” as it were, but more part of the main group.

Monday, July 25, 2022

His Grace is Enough

His Grace is Enough, Melissa Kruger

I loved reading rhyming books to my children. We have fond memories of time spent curled up on the couch, or before bedtime, enjoying the clever ways that authors made words fit together.

Rhyming picture books were the first books my children could ‘read’ back to us, having memorised the lilt of the familiar sounds and how they fit together. Our shelves still groan under the weight of favourites, whose words are easily recalled years later. I think of Goodnight Moon, The Little Yellow Digger, My Friend Bear and There’s a House Inside My Mummy to name but a few.

If I had still young children, this charming new picture book by Melissa Kruger would also make it to the favourites section, especially because rather than teaching about animals or machinery, it teaches little ones about God’s generous gift of grace.

His Grace is Enough starts with children hiding because they know they have done something wrong, but the mum says:
I’ve got something important
To tell you today
It’s TRUE and it’s HOPEFUL
And helps guide your way

God’s grace is enough
It’s so BIG and so FREE
His grace is enough
Both for YOU and for ME.
Kruger explains the message of sin and grace in an accessible and engaging way for young children. So, whether you make mistakes, or tell lies, or are mean to people, God knows and he offers grace. If you try to make it all better and do everything right, God still knows your heart and that you need grace.
Here’s how it works:
Jesus died on the cross
WE gain new life
Because HE suffered loss

Though we don’t deserve it
Our God is SO KIND
That’s grace pure and simple
The BEST thing to find
The repetition of God’s grace being big and free is likely to stick in little minds and become something families say together. The message is spot on, helping little ones begin to grasp God’s grace which saves freely yet also calls for change.

Indeed these are the truths proclaimed by Paul to the Ephesians:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:4-9)
For parents and carers who are reading aloud, this fresh reminder of God’s grace might just be the balm we need as well. We also sin. We make mistakes, we hurt people, and we try to make it on our own. Just like the children around us, we need to be reminded God’s grace is freely given and his mercies are new every morning. Indeed, many of us already know the refreshment offered by God’s truths through well-crafted rhyme:
Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Isobel Lundie has shown her considerable illustrative skill, bringing to life fun, dynamic kids and adults of numerous cultures and various situations. For me, there were echoes of the wonderfully detailed Richard Scarry books I grew up on. The words are crucial to a picture book, but it’s the illustrations that sell it, and these certainly do that.

I’m excited to see that Kruger and Lundie they have another collaboration coming out later this year (Wherever You Go, I Want You to Know). It’s a treat to have wonderful Christian resources to share with the little ones in our lives.

This review was first published on TCGA last month. 

Monday, May 23, 2022

Should we stay or should we go?

Should we stay or should we go?, Lionel Shriver 

Lionel Shriver (The Mandibles, So Much For That) returns to her usual insightful self with her new release Should We Stay Or Should We Go?

The story begins in 1991 when Kay and Cyril, in their early 50s, have returned from Kay’s father’s funeral. Having watched her father’s “four years of steady deterioration and ten years of nothing but degradation” to Alzheimer’s, they make a pact to die together when they are 80, partly to avoid the same decline themselves, but also out of a strong view to avoid being a drain on the public purse. Time marches on over the following 30 years, until the fateful day of March 29, 2020 approaches. But will they go through with it? What follows is a similar idea to her earlier book,

The Post-Birthday World
where two alternate timelines play out simultaneously. Here Shriver has concocted 12 different scenarios of how it could turn out - whether one or both go through with the suicide or not, and what might follow if they do not. Each cleverly picks up a different point in the original storyline and takes it somewhere else. Some are funny, some wryly sad, some are pleasantly utopian, some science fiction, and some a horrific dystopian version of institutionalised care. There’s even an amusing self-referential nod to Shriver herself as an author. As usual, Shriver has managed to contain something of humanity at its best, worst and most mundane throughout, with the usual searing social commentary on pretty much everything from healthcare, Brexit, Covid, economic policy, and of course ageing, death, and care for the elderly.

Shriver really is one of my favourite writers.

Monday, May 9, 2022


Jack, Marilynne Robinson

I was so looking forward to reading this, the fourth of Robinson’s books that started with Gilead. In preparation I read the first three again.

With Gilead I was reminded of the gentleness of John Ames and his love for his young family as he writes to them as he ages. Home stood out more than previously, with the reality of two clerical men facing the frailty of ageing. On this read, I found Boughton more crotchety and less gracious, but also his son Jack maddeningly impotent. Lila again brought Ames’ wife to life charting her history of poverty and hard living, and changed by her slow romance and possible faith.

(Spoilers included below for those who haven’t read the first three)

I was hoping Jack would pick up again where Home left off, with Jack hopefully somehow getting his life together with Della. But Robinson chose to turn back the clock and have it set earlier than all three previous books, where Jack and Della meet and how they slowly come to be together. It’s the late 1940s and it’s illegal for a white man and a coloured woman to be together. Yet, they meet. Him in all his poverty, aimlessness, thievery, and often homelessness. Her, a Christian, and teacher with a bright future, as long as she doesn’t get in trouble and have stories circulating about her and a white man. So begins a romance that will get them both into trouble. I can see why some will love this book and everything it stands for. I just found it depressing. A search online will cover ground like Robinson’s Calvinism, which raises more theological questions than it answers. I appreciated this assessment, and agree that her concept of grace extended with no actual change or repentance seems to cheapen it. Assessing it on face value, and not theologically though, I find myself depressed by two characters who just kept moving towards each other without really being willing to face the obvious consequences. Perhaps sometimes love does conquer all. But I wonder in this case, if love conquers them instead.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Liberated: How the Bible Exalts and Dignifies Women

Liberated: How the Bible Exalts and Dignifies Women, Karen Soole

Note: this review first appeared on Themelios

Everyone who reads the Bible comes across passages that make them deeply uncomfortable and raise questions about who God is, what he values, and how his people behave. I recall my 5-year-old son asking me what rape was after reading his new “grown up Bible” and arriving at Genesis 34. Let alone my own feelings of horror upon reading Judges 19. When you take the accounts of the mistreatment of women in the Bible, and add to them the growing societal view that God is a misogynist, that Christians are patriarchally overbearing, and that the Bible regards women as second-class citizens responsible for the fall, it’s no wonder that we start to ask questions: Is God sexist? Does he value women?

Karen Soole’s refreshing offering, Liberated, seeks to “address the fear that God does not exalt or dignify women” (p. 13). She takes readers from Genesis to Revelation, encouraging them to ask “does God offer me liberation or oppression? Can I trust that God is good?” (p. 14). The bulk of attention is given to the Old Testament, acknowledging it “stands accused of being a book that has been used to establish male power and confine women” (p. 22). She does not “directly address the differences in church practice concerning women’s ministry” (p. 13), noting that this has been done extensively elsewhere.

Over the course of twelve chapters, Soole honestly and sensitively addresses the concerns raised by the presentation and treatment of women in the Bible. She explores both current and historical cultural climates, naming errors in both, for “could it be that that it is the traditions of men, not the Word of God, that is the heart of the problem?” (p. 22). She then turns to show how these concerns are met by the gospel. Each chapter brings the reader to Jesus and what he has done, for women and men alike. So, while this is indeed an informative and well researched work, it is also winsomely apologetic and evangelistic. Each chapter also finishes with questions for further thought or conversation and a small Bible study.

Beginning with creation, we see that “men and women are equally created by God, equal in dignity, and equal in worth” with a “beautiful interdependence and mutuality” (p. 30). Genesis 2 “is not pointing to the imperfection of woman; rather, it reveals the incompleteness of man, he was the one lacking” (p. 37). Exploring the fall, and the accusation that Eve was somehow more sinful than Adam, Soole observes, “Adam and Eve share responsibility, but their sin is defined differently: Eve was deceived, and Adam was disobedient. Both are guilty” (p. 47).

Continuing through the Old Testament, Soole explores the fallout of sin in relationships (e.g., Tamar and Judah) and then arrives at Judges 19, an account of such evil that no one can be unaffected by it:
Why does the Bible describe such ugliness? Not because God approves of it.… It isn’t there to show us how to live but how we do live. It is here because God doesn’t hide from us the depths of savagery we are capable of. We may want to close our eyes and ears to this woman’s cries, but God wants us to see and understand. What happened to this woman is a reflection of what has happened to other young women. (p. 92)
These hard passages are dealt with sensitively and openly. I appreciated Soole’s willingness to deal with almost every uncomfortable presentation of women in the Bible. At points I wondered if these chapters moved a little too quickly past the issues they raised and to the gospel message. Sometimes we need to dwell in God’s compassion and mercy and meditate on how he stands by us in our pain and our distress. Suggestions for how to manage these passages with pastoral sensitivity may also have been helpful, although she models this implicitly.

Chapter 8 (“Worrying Laws”) addresses the Old Testament teaching concerning polygamy, rape, trials, and purification. Soole presents an interesting interpretation of Numbers 5 (the test for an unfaithful wife), suggesting that it is entirely determined by a supernatural answer, rather than being a trial by ordeal. She also suggests that the purification laws of Leviticus 12:1–8, which decree fourteen days of uncleanness after delivering a daughter (compared to seven for a son), could be for physiological reasons, to avoid the temptation of cult fertility practices, and to protect a woman from the retrying for a son too soon after delivery (p. 120). Not all passages that describe intriguing ways of treating women were addressed (e.g., Lev 27:1–9, Num 30–31), but the general principles were mostly covered.

Regarding education and wisdom, she draws on the wise woman of Proverbs 31 and Abigail’s interactions with David (1 Sam 25), noting that God values women with integrity, skills and wisdom, which can be used for good inside and outside the home. By way of application, she argues,
There is considerable freedom for women to engage in intellectual pursuits, choose challenging careers, or work at home or in their communities. But their minds should stir beyond the domestic sphere, and their eyes should be raised far beyond career opportunities. God’s Word encourages women to lift their thoughts to even higher things and to seek true wisdom. (p. 139)
Soole reflects on how the Bible uses the image of an adulterous wife to demonstrate Israel’s rebellion against God. It is a graphic illustration that “is there to help us grasp the impact of our rejection of God and to feel the weight of our indifference and dismissal of God” (pp. 153–54). Finally, she turns to marriage, noting that “some Christians give the impression that marriage is the ultimate goal in life” (p. 157). She honors both singleness and marriage, and rightly laments that a distortion of submission has resulted in the abuse of some women. Instead, “God’s design for marriage is not one of control and ownership but a relationship for the mutual good of the other” (p. 168).

While there is no chapter on Jesus’s interactions with women, many of these are woven throughout as a way of bringing the reader to the gospel (e.g., the woman at the well). There may have been value in drawing these together more explicitly, and including some other passages (e.g., the woman anointing Jesus with perfume, and the Syrophoenician woman).

Her conclusion, straight from God’s heart and written in his word, is that women (and men) are valuable and created in God’s image. God cares for them and loves to protect them, even though there are times when the world’s evil is all too prominent. Yes, all are sinful and fall short. Yet Jesus came to save women (and men), offering them new life—honoured, respected, loved, and redeemed.

While many who are drawn to read Liberated will likely be women, it is a book written for everyone and relevant for all, whether new Christians, those exploring who God is, those established in churches, or those in church leadership.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Being There

Being There: How to Love Those Who Are Hurting, Dave Furman (Crossway, 2016)

Are you walking alongside people who are suffering? Perhaps your friend has cancer, your spouse has a disability, your sister struggles with infertility, your work friend has recently lost their parents, or you have a pastoral care role in your church. How do you care for people well and wisely, bringing the aroma of Christ with you?
“The goal of this entire book is to point you to Jesus, who is your only hope, and to walk you through some ways you can love those who hurt with the strength God provides.“ (p. 19)
Dave Furman is a pastor, married with four children, and has lived with intensive nerve pain in his arms for over ten years. He cannot do many things, like hold his children or help with wife with practical tasks, and needs assistance with tasks like putting on his shoes.
“I am writing out of my experience of being helped in incredible ways by others in my disability… This is not another book about suffering for the one who suffers. It’s a book for everyone who knows people who suffer from pain and loss and wants to see the Rock of Ages underneath their feet. I think it’s safe to say that this is a book for all of us.” (p. 18)
The first two chapters give an anchor point. Firstly, he allows the carer to grieve their loss in another’s pain. We can grieve the circumstance, and weep at what we might give up to serve another, yet still have hope that sustains us through it all.

Secondly, Furman encourages the carer to invest in their own relationship with God. Only if we are anchored in Christ and his certain hope can we keep helping, but if we are not walking with God, we will have no strength to help. “Your strength to care for the hurting comes directly from Christ.” (p. 38)

The remainder of the chapters explore practical ways to help those who hurt. These include:
  • Being a faithful friend. This includes being silent when needed, sticking around for the long term, being honest about your own life and challenges, forgiving their failings when they are rude, and finding things to laugh about as appropriate. 
  • Speaking language of hope. This book is aimed at Christians and he gives some excellent practical examples about how to do this, but he does also address how to speak to unbelievers. 
  • Serving like Jesus. Being willing to do the menial tasks, being careful with our words, and analysing our hearts to see if we are serving to be noticed and thanked. 
  • Praying for the sufferer, including prayer for healing, and encouraging the sufferer to persist in prayer as well. 
  • Being able to have hard conversations, for “when you are caring for the hurting, it is inevitable that their circumstances will bring out their sin”. He encourages us to lovingly and carefully rebuke and bring them to Christ. 
  • A list of things not to do. There are similarities here with Nancy Guthrie’s What Grieving People Wish You Knew...  These include don’t be the fix it person, don’t compare, don’t make it their identity, don’t be hyper spiritual and don’t pledge general non-specific help. 
  • The church’s role in graciously pursuing and caring for the hurting. 
I really appreciated his honest conclusion:
"I hope you’re not disappointed after reading this book to discover that I don’t have the perfect equation for loving the hurting. There’s no recipe you can follow that will give you the finished product in the precise way you’d like. This side of heaven there will be pain and sorrow, and we will at times be helpful and at other times we will be hurtful. Only Jesus perfectly loves the hurting." (pp. 144-145).
This is a wise and honest guide about the challenge of being a helper, with the encouragement to find your strength in Jesus, who leads us in the way of service.