Side by Side – A Book Review

Side By Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love, by Edward T. Welch. (Crossway, 2015)

This was an encouraging, easy, and super practical read. I was marking and underlining nearly the entire time I was reading!

As the title suggests, this is a book about walking through life with those around us, specifically in their times of need.

This book is divided into two sections:

1. We are needy
2. We are needed.

It is divided in such a way because Welch argues that, in order for us to help others, we must first recognize our own neediness for God’s help and for the help of those around us. Only after we recognize our own neediness will we then be able to reach out with humility and love to help those around us who are also in need.

In many ways, this book is simply a book on how to build relationships that are more than skin-deep. If we’re honest, we all can use help in this area, can’t we?

Personal Takeaways from the Book:

1. The Importance of Seeing the Unseen
In learning to walk side by side with each other, Welch encourages us to look for the unseen among that which is seen.

For example, when one shares a prayer request for a friend’s health or a strained relationship, listen for the burden that may be behind that prayer request. Often, the cares for the physical things in life are an indicator of cares beneath the surface.

It is these things lying beneath the surface that we want to take note of so that we might better understand those things that are near to another’s heart. (This may sound like Welch is encouraging his readers to “read between the lines” or “assume things.” That’s not the intention. Rather, I believe Welch is simply encouraging us to have a listening ear and a compassionate heart in order to take note of those often-missed details in another’s life that are plain to observe…if we would just take the time to observe them!)

2. The Value of Scripture-Saturated Prayer
Prayer is powerful, for it is communication between us and God. And God has given us the privilege of interceding for those around us.

For this reason, prayer comes up over and over again in Side by Side, both in the context of making our own requests known to God and also in the context of lifting up others before the throne of grace.

Welch suggests that our prayers should not only present the burden (for example, the prayer request for a family member’s health) but also the deeper need (perhaps the concern for the salvation of that family member.)

Over and over again, Welch reminds us of the importance of using Scripture to fuel our prayers. This is significant, for so often, when we pray, we end up just rattling off a list of requests instead of praying according to God’s character.

Welch suggests that once we have identified the deeper need behind a surface need, we can then “attach words of Scripture that capture both our real needs and God’s purposes and promises. That is, we pray for what we know our Father wants to give us.” (page 61)

In my mind, I think of this approach as simply holding God to His Word: “Lord, You have told us in Your Word that [insert Scripture]. And now I am praying that You would act according to what You have said.”

3. The Weight of Small Deeds
We all can think back to a time in our lives where someone’s simple act of kindness touched us in a significant way.

Simply taking the time to listen and express care and compassion can go a long way in ministering to the heart of one who is carrying a burden. It can also be the act that turns an acquaintance into a friend.

Welch gives many helpful pointers for interacting with people on a casual level that can then lead to a closer relationship.

He also gives some very practical advice on ways to minister to someone going through an intense form of suffering, such as grief. Anyone who has gone through suffering knows the significance of small deeds—both for good and for bad.

4. The Significance of Asking Good Questions
This somewhat overlaps with my previous point, but Welch goes into great detail (and a step-by-step how-to) on how to have a conversation that goes beyond the surface questions that we all love to ask: “How are you?” and “How was your week?”

It is almost laughable how simplistic Welch gets.

For example, there is an entire chapter dedicated to the importance of simply greeting people at church. I don’t think I’ve ever read a whole chapter on the need to be intentional about greeting people! Until now.

But think about it: how often do not we hear of an unbeliever (or even a believer) who visits a church, but is turned off because no one talked to him?!?

Yes, it’s the small things.

The ensuing chapters take the reader through the steps of how to ask questions to help “see the unseen.”

Welch aptly describes the importance of asking good questions and then listening to their answers:

“We hope to learn what is important to the person we’re talking to, which is another way of saying that we hope to hear what is on his or her heart. The way in is to listen for what is dear, what is loved, what is feared, what is hard–we listen for how someone feels.” (page 81)

With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I read it in just a couple days and found it to be super-practical, giving me lots to think about.

I think any believer could pick up this book and find it to be very helpful in a variety of really practical ways.

~Angie

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The Gift of Love

It’s Valentines Day: a day where we often choose to celebrate the gift of love. We focus on earthly loves; husband, children, brothers and sisters, parents, etc. and we find some way to express our love and gratitude to them. I personally love celebrating Valentines Day; always have! And yet, while I am extremely thankful for the many “loves” God has placed in my life I wonder how often I forget to celebrate the love of Jesus Christ that was poured out on Calvary.

God is a Holy God. He cannot be in the presence of a single sin. And sadly, the Bible says in Romans 3:10 that “there is none righteous, no not one!” which put me in a pretty bad state. I had sinned and was separated from the Holy God who alone could satisfy my longing heart. This was a problem! I had been created to “belong” and yet had been removed from the very One who was to give me the love and belonging I was ultimately created for. I needed Someone to help bring me back to God; a Mediator. So God sent Jesus. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” – Romans 5:6-9

The Bible also says in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death,” and so Jesus took that payment upon Himself, in my stead.

Lately, I’ve been hit with the reality of my Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection from so many different angles. His love, His human grief and compassion, His suffering; the emotions, the sacrifice, the redemption. As I’ve thought on these things, I’ve felt overwhelmed. Why did He do it? How could He do it? What drove Him? And where would we be without Him?

Jesus was every bit as human as you and I, and therefore He felt the pain of the cross through every agonizing moment. Yet, when He was hanging there on the cross, He doesn’t speak of the physical pain. He doesn’t cry out at the nails holding Him in place, at the spear thrust in His side, at the thorns shoved into His head, or even at the jeers that were thrown His way as the people mocked Him for who He truly was. No, at none of these things does Jesus speak out. Instead, to the very end His concern was for those He had come to save; for the thieves hanging by his side, for the people whose bloodthirsty cries had unjustly placed Him there. It was for these He prayed “Father, forgive them.” It was for you. It was for me.

I’ve thought on Jesus’ emotions as He cried “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” I think this is where the deepest hurt must have been. As a Son, who had always done everything with an eagerness to please His Father, to make Him proud, He was now being rejected and thrown out so that a stranger could be brought into the Home. I think about the times when my fellowship with God is broken because of some sin in my life and of how miserable I am; how empty I feel. Yet, I know that’s it my own fault that there is separation and that as soon as I come back to Him, my Father will always be waiting, with wide open arms. But Jesus, who had always experienced unbroken fellowship with His Father, was now put at enmity with God as He took on our sin. The Father had turned His back on Him. What emptiness our Savior must have felt. What complete devastation.

Oh to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

HOW COULD HE NOT HATE THEM?

He was dying for the very ones who were nailing Him to that cross and yet, even as He suffered for them, their ignorance and sin blinded their eyes and they laughed in His face.

HOW COULD HE NOT HATE ME?

As He hung there, He saw my face. He knew I would be born. He knew I would sin. He knew I would turn from Him. How true of me are the words to the following song… “I my Master have denied. I afresh have crucified. And profaned His hallowed name, put Him to an open shame. I have long withstood His grace, long provoked Him to His face, would not hearken to His calls, grieved Him by a thousand falls.” (“Depth of Mercy” by Charles Wesley)

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face
Bearing the awesome weight of sin;
Every bitter thought,
Every evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

This, the power of the cross:
Christ became sin for us,
Took the blame, bore the wrath:
We stand forgiven at the cross.

THE LOVE-

Though my mind can never, ever comprehend what took place that day, I know that through all the suffering, through all the sorrow, and through all the separation, Jesus was displaying the love of God; for though fully human, He was still fully God. It was for ME He died! If I had been the only person to ever be born on this planet, He would still have come and died for me. The death was necessary to restore the relationship and that just shows how much He loves me! He completed the work I could not do, and when He cried “It is finished”, my debt was paid in full.

Now the daylight flees,
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
‘Finished!’ the victory cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death,
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

“Having loved His own which were in the world. He loved them unto the end.”- John 13:2b.

It was love that drove Him—A love for for His Father…A love for us.—How can we not respond in worship?

This, the power of the cross:
Son of God, slain for us.
What a LOVE! What a COST!
We stand FORGIVEN at the cross.

*Words in red are taken from Keith Getty’s song “The Power of the Cross.”

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Some Date Ideas

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, our minds often jump to having a romantic date with soft music in the background and a table set with a white tablecloth, fine dishes, and flickering candles.

But for many of us who have young children, these kinds of dates don’t happen very often. Instead, we find that even the simple things can be an opportunity to spend quality time with our husband. Here are some of our ideas of ways we’ve put a little twist to the everyday-ness of life and turned it into an opportunity for a date!

Change up your meal routine. Sometimes it’s fun to just do something different for the evening meal. But different doesn’t have to mean extravagant–it can be very simple. For example, if you always make your meals from scratch, buy a frozen pizza and rent a movie for a pizza and movie night. Or, if you tend to make a lot of frozen meals, change up your meal routine by making pizza from scratch and setting out the nice dishes. Angie’s husband also surprised her once with a purchase from HelloFresh that ended up being an elegant, homemade meal!

Go out for dessert and coffee. This is cheaper than a full meal at a restaurant, but still gives you the same atmosphere. It’s also a relaxing time of evening where you can just unwind without feeling like there’s a to-do list waiting for you.

Play “Memory” together. For an easy twist to the classic game of “Memory” and a challenge for your over-tired, mommy brain, try just dumping out the box and leaving the cards scattered all helter-skelter rather than lining them all up. This makes it much harder to remember where things are at because there’s no specific point of reference. Chrystal and her husband have enjoyed many fun nights competing to grab the most matches!

Host your own “pop-up cafe”. The basic idea is to plan a menu and then give multiple options for sides. However, you can make this one as complicated or easy as you’d like.

For an easy version of a “pop-up cafe”, try something like lasagna, bread, carrots or green beans, cookies or brownies, water or juice, etc. Hand write out the menu and then assign a cost for each item with things like “1 hug, 2 kisses, 5 minute back rub, 1 foot massage, etc.” Husband can order what he wants off the menu but then you get to collect the payment at the end. Throw some lighted candles on your dinner table and voila! You have an easy but fun dinner for two! Cheesy, you say? Perhaps, but every marriage needs a little bit of cheesiness every now and then!

Go on a drive. Sometimes the best times of just enjoying each other’s company is in the car! So leave the kids with a babysitter, check out what others in your area recommend for a scenic drive, and then go for an afternoon drive when those fall colors are at their peak, spring is just making its most-welcome appearance, or when summer is in full-bloom. (And don’t forget to stop for some coffee at a quaint little coffee shop before heading home!)

Kidnap your husband. (This was Chrystal’s husband’s answer to the question “What date have we done that you’ve really enjoyed?”) It’s especially fun to do this with another couple.

Chrystal shares: “My SIL and I have gone together and planned several dates where we’ve kidnapped our husbands for the day. And boy, have we gotten them good! The first time my sister in law backed her car into our driveway and my husband came out to find his brother with a bewildered look on his face. They both asked ‘Do you know what’s going on? Are you in on this?’

“Another time my MIL came to pick up the kids and my husband was just chatting with her, thinking she was popping in to say “hi.” I nonchalantly asked my husband if he could grab the car seats and put them into her car for me. He readily agreed and then was like “wait, what?” Oh the glee! We’ve combined things like kayaking and a picnic lunch, dinner out and a play, an “Escape Room” and ice cream, etc. We girls have done all the planning, packing, surprising and driving. The surprise factor is really fun and the guys have had fun trying to guess where we’re headed next as we drive them around. And would you believe it? They even got us back and planned the last surprise date!”

Couples’ Mall Scavenger Hunt. Meet at the mall and hand out a list of items to find and take pictures of (such as red shoes, something patriotic, an umbrella, etc.). Split off as couples and then work to complete the list. The first couple to complete the list and arrive back at the host’s house wins. Have some dessert and then compare pictures! Here is that you can use for the scavenger hunt or you can come up with your own list!

Bundle up and get outside for a walk. Whenever you come to an intersection flip a coin. “Heads” you turn right. “Tails” you turn left. The fun part is that you never know where you’ll end up! Once, Chrystal and her husband did this and ended up in an entirely new neighborhood where they heard an older woman calling out “help!” She had fallen in her garage and had been laying there for a while trying to figure out how she was going to get up. What an unexpected adventure!

We hope this list has given you some fresh, new ideas of ways to spend some quality time with your husband! If you have an easy date idea of your own, we’d love to hear about it!

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Knowing God — A Book Review

“What were we made for? To know God.
What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God.
What is the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. ‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ (Jn 17:3).

“What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight and contentment than anything else? Knowledge of God. ‘This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me” ’ (Jer 9:23-24). [NIV]

“What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives God most pleasure? Knowledge of himself. ‘I desired…the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings’ says God (Hos 6:6 KJV)” (page 33)

Similar to Knowledge of the Holy, by A. W. Tozer, Knowing God by J. I. Packer is, simply put, a discussion of “the nature and character of God.” (page 18) However, while this is a book on theology, it is also a book on the practical implications of what this particular aspect of theology–the study of God Himself–means for the believer: How does the knowledge of God and His character bring joy and comfort to the heart of the believer? Furthermore, how does this knowledge of God bring the believer into a more intimate relationship with God?

It is significant to note that Packer is driving home the value of having more than mere head knowledge of God: to know God, one must have more than simply the ability to rattle off facts about God. Rather, to know God, one needs to understand His character to the extent to which one’s entire life is affected by this personal knowledge of God Almighty.  It is this concept that is at the heart of Knowing God.

Knowing God could be divided into two parts: first, the character and nature of God, and second, God’s character as it concerns mankind, particularly the gospel and His relationship towards the believer.

Packer sets the context for the entire book by beginning with a discussion of how God has made it possible for us to know Him. He then proceeds to expound on specific aspects of God’s character, including His majesty, His wisdom, His love, and His wrath.

As one reads these chapters on God’s nature and personality, it is important to keep in mind, once again, that these chapters were not written to satiate our craving for lofty thoughts about God and theology, but rather to help us grow in understanding how great and glorious God Almighty really is. Additionally, Packer isn’t content to simply elevate one’s thoughts about God: with each chapter, Packer takes significant the time to deliberate over how each aspect of God’s character directly affects the life of the believer.

The second half of the book could be grouped under the theme of how God’s character shapes the Gospel and His relationship towards the believer. Packer develops a careful study of Christ’s work on the cross; he then expounds on the glories of what it means to be called a child of God. Personally, the chapter Sons of God–on discussing the believer’s adoption–was perhaps the most comforting and humbling chapter in the entire book, for Packer hones in on what exactly it means for the condemned sinner to now be called a son of God, joint-heir with Christ.

To conclude the book, Packer describes the magnitude of God’s adequacy and love for the believer with an examination of Romans 8:31-39.

“31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.

34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

With close to 300 pages, Knowing God could be a somewhat intimidating book to pick up and read. However, any believer who desires to grow in his understanding of God will be greatly encouraged by reading this book and will not regret the effort put into reading it, for Packer does a fantastic job of causing the believer to marvel at who God is and to desire to know and love Him more.

~Angie

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