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Book Review: This Is Your Brain in Love

Dr. Henslin’s first book, This Is Your Brain on Joy, presented a good introduction to the physiology of some common biochemical disorders of the brain and steps to diagnose and treat them.  I was expecting this new book to be a helpful exploration of the physiology and biochemistry of love.

However, this book really isn’t much about the biochemistry of love at all, but is instead an uneven and disappointing mashup of various topics, some helpful, some confusing. There is a short first chapter which serves as a warm introduction to the concept of romantic love and its biochemistry.  Next is a chapter on sexuality and spirituality, which was a nice read but has really no connection to the rest of the book.

Suddenly, he launches into the main part of the book– talking about the five “love styles” which are trumpeted on the book’s cover but are really just a thinly retooled rehash of his first book— describing five basic types of brain pathology.  I was frankly confused— “wait, this is just talking about pathology, this isn’t about love at all”  ”what if my spouse and I don’t have any biochemical pathology, do I just skip the next 130 pages?” “where does personality style end and pathology begin?” “Is he implying that most people have deficient biochemistry that needs treating?”

He ends the book with another unrelated chapter titled “The Secret to Lasting Love” (short version: be kind, patient, honest, & forgiving), and then appendixes on brain-healthy eating, sexual addiction, brain scans, and hormone therapy for women.

Overall, the book has some helpful new information, but fell far short of my expectations.  Read his first book instead.

Book Review: L.O.V.E.

There’s no shortage of books on marriage: Amazon currently lists over 14,000 under the search term “marriage help.” And there’s no shortage of books by the married psychologist couple Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott: they have already written over a dozen.

So what does this book add that is useful? It is a good discussion of personality temperament psychology as it applies to marriage. Originating in ancient Greece, temperament theory poses that there are four basic flavors of personalities, that cause people to desire and react differently. In the ancient system, these were known as choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic. Forty years ago then young Christian writer Tim LaHaye re-popularized this theory with a series of books including his classic Spirit Controlled Temperament. In the 1990s psychologist Gary Chapman repackaged the four temperaments concept in his popular marriage book Making Love Last Forever using the animal word pictures of lion, beaver, otter, & golden retriever.

In L.O.V.E, the same basic breakdown is used, but repackaged as “love styles” with the labels Leader, Optimist, Validator & Evaluator (that spells out L. O. V. E. in case you weren’t looking.) There are chapters that explain each of the four types, and then chapters on how to best relate to each of the four types in a relationship.

The material is well written and organized, and provides some useful insights both into yourself and your mate. Reading through L.O.V.E. I had some new “aha!” moments even though I have read other personality typing books in the past.

A few qualms: I didn’t appreciate that the four “styles” are presented as original, even though they are obviously based on previous typing systems. Second, I was bugged by the book’s repeated references to the extra cost online typing test that the Parrots’ have on their website. Lastly, except for a few generic Bible verses, this shouldn’t be considered a “Christian” book— there is no talk of grace, no talk of the role of the Spirit, no talk of God’s plan for marriage or the differing roles of husband and wife. Overall, however, L.O.V.E. is a good read that should be useful for any marriage.

Book Review: Love & War

This is the most honest book on marriage that I’ve ever read, and the one that has the most promise to be truly helpful.

I’ve read marriage books that basically say follow these principles, or just learn these handy techniques, and all your troubles will melt away. And I’ve read other well-meaning books that are some variation of a Bible lesson: here’s what God intends for you to be as a godly husband and wife, so just obey all these verses to guarantee you a picture-perfect relationship.

John & Stasi Eldredge take a different approach: that marriage is hard, and that it is hard because of our own sin & brokenness, and that no principle, technique, or even Bible verse will magically fix the mess that is our souls. Eldredge writes, “So long as we choose to turn a blind eye to how we are fallen as men or women, and to the unique style of relating we have forged out of our sin and brokenness, we will continue to do damage to our marriages.”

What is the solution? It is first to realize the nature of the battle and the nature of what marriage can be, then to let God use the crucible of marriage to change you, transform you into the holy man or woman that He has intended you to be, while battling against the Enemy. Eldredge summarizes it thusly:

  1. Find life in God.
  2. Deal with your brokenness.
  3. Learn to shut down the spiritual attacks that come against your marriage.

Love & War contains a lot of Biblical wisdom, a lot of honest, hard, and humorous stories, and a lot of very blunt tell-it-like-it-is in-your-face challenges. It’s unlike any other book on marriage I’ve come across, that lays out the true nature of the soul ugliness behind marital dysfunction, and shows a path to growth and healing. You need this book: for you, for your spouse, for your friends. Get it, read it, and have the courage to move forward with your marriage and your life.

Sacred Doesn’t Have to Be Solemn

 

(wedding dance)

Courtesy of that great purveyor of pop culture YouTube, millions of people have seen this wedding processional.  I must admit that it didn’t look like any wedding I’ve ever been to, and my first reaction was, “That’s looks great, but isn’t a wedding supposed to be, you know, serious?  It’s a measured, solemn, sacred time, right?”

But as I thought about it, I concluded that sacred doesn’t have to mean solemn.  Yes, a Christian wedding is a sacred thing, for it is the living representation of the supernatural bond between Christ and His church.  But I don’t see any Biblical requirement to use 19th century opera music to introduce the bride & groom (Yes, that’s what “Here Comes the Bride” actually is).

But dancing? In a church?  Those are fighting words for some Baptists I know.  But as we ought to do in any circumstance, I turned to the Bible.  Hmmm…. dancing in the Bible on a very serious, sacred occasion…

So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing.  And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal.  And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn. (2 Samuel 6:12-15)

Sacred? Serious? Oh yes indeed! Bringing the ark of the Lord, the holiest object in the world, into the holy city of Jerusalem for the first time.  Something so serious and sacred that a priest was struck dead by God for just touching the ark.  Surely if there was a time to be reserved & solemn, this was it.

Clearly, King David, the man who followed God with all his heart, didn’t think it was a time to be solemn; he was dancing his heart out in joy and wild abandon.  Maybe we need to remember that the next time we approach God: sacred doesn’t have to be solemn.

Book Review: The Wholehearted Marriage

Everyone would agree that marriage is a matter of the heart.

Then why do marriages grow stale and fail? Once again, it is a matter of the heart.

In their book The Wholehearted Marriage, counselors Greg Smalley & Shawn Stoever pound home this one simple point: you can’t improve a marriage relationship without focusing on the heart. All the conflict resolution, financial planning, dating tips, & sex guides in the world will not help a marriage unless you have “two hearts fully open and engaged.” Consequently, the book guides the reader through steps to “understand, unclog, & unleash” the heart in marriage.

In the first part of the book the authors deal with understanding the heart and its central role in life & relationships. Their basic principle that a closed heart will not be able to love and engage in a relationship is important, and I think many marriages fail for precisely this reason. We’ve all seen marriages where two people pledged themselves to each other & to God, and yet ended up turning away. The underlying reason often comes down to one person closing their heart to the other.

From understanding the heart the authors move on to unclogging the heart. There are chapters on helping to heal the wounded heart, helping to open up the fearful heart, and helping the exhausted heart to gain strength. Their view of the heart is similar to that of popular author John Eldredge and some other psychologists. I find their views and advice to often be helpful but also theologically shallow. There are some real problems with the heart, especially concerning the sin nature, which are not adequately covered in this view. Like Eldredge, they also make mention of the Spirit directly revealing specific information to us, which likewise wades into some murky waters.

The final division of the book becomes more practical, with chapters on caring and speaking to your mate’s heart, as well the importance of laughter and enjoyment in the context of a relationship. These chapters are a helpful read, but are fairly standard relationship booster material.

Overall, I think their one simple point remains the great strength of the book: there’s no point in working on any issue in a marriage until you start working on the heart first. We all would do well to keep the heart at the heart of every marriage.

Book Review: Loving Your Wife As Christ Loves the Church

This book should be in the hands of EVERY Christian husband.

I don’t make that statement lightly.  There are many books on marriage, some good, some not so good.  Some are heavy on philosophy & theology, some on psychology, some on practical advice.  Some are slanted toward newlyweds while others focus on troubled marriages.  Some are thoroughly Biblical while many give the Bible only lip service even though they are marketed as Christian.

Loving Your Wife as Christ Loves the Church, however, is truly in a class by itself among the marriage books that I have read.  It is:

Bible based:  It’s not self-help pop psychology with Bible verses to back it up: every chapter, every point comes from a strictly Biblical foundation from the ground up.  Frankly, a non-Christian wouldn’t understand this book at all, and frankly, that’s the mark of a thoroughly Biblical book.

Christ focused: this book takes seriously the truth that God designed the role of a husband to his wife to be a unique representation of Christ, and that EVERYTHING that a husband thinks, says, or does in relation to his wife has to be based on that truth.  Every single teaching on every single page  is rooted & grounded in the character of Christ.  Wow.

Pastoral:  This is a pastoral book.  By that I mean you see this man’s heart as a pastor, a shepherd.  He sits you down as a friend & mentor, as Paul would to Timothy, & speaks in both truth & love.  His words are straightforward & easy to grasp, but targeted to one end: helping you become a husband that is a reflection of Christ. 

Honest:  This book doesn’t pretend that marriage is easy if you just follow these five simple steps.  He’s honest about the difficulties & shares some of his own failures as a husband.  Not many books would dare say, “It is often harder to live for your wife than it would be to die for her.  It involves dying daily… a readiness to lay down everything he holds dear to care for her.”

Change-Oriented:  This book both challenges the reader to change with its in-your-face truth and with specific action steps at the end of each chapter.  If you don’t change as a husband by the end of the book it is only because you have decided to reject the truth presented in it.

Designed for Group Study:  The author specifically recommends to go through the book with a group of other men, & there are discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

If you are a husband, buy this book.  It will challenge you to become a better reflection of Christ to your wife & to the world.  Whether you have a marriage that is the envy of your friends or you are one step away from divorce, this book is for you.  If you are a wife, buy this book and then put your husband’s best friend in a head lock until he agrees to give it to him to read (it wouldn’t be very submissive to put your husband in a head lock until he buys it).  Bottom line:  buy this book.

Book Review: The Love Dare

Half of all marriages end in divorce.  That means most marriage relationships are either severely dysfunctional or headed that way.  What is the answer?

The Love Dare’s answer is that we don’t really understand how to live out the love that marriage requires.  Inspired by the movie Fireproof, this book is a forty day devotional that covers various aspects of the true sacrificial love which is missing from many marriages.

There is a lot to like about this book.  It clearly explains the nature of mature love & practically challenges you to live it out.  It emphasizes how YOU have to be the one to take responsibility and change, regardless of how your partner does or does not respond, and it shows how the strength for that kind of love is powered by a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  This book has had a powerful impact on thousands of people, and I am very thankful for the truth it teaches.

However, the book does have some shortcomings.  First, the book is unnaturally constrained to fit the plot of the movie.  The movie’s plot confronted the main character with his need for a personal relationship with God mid-way through, and so the book follows suit.  Halfway through the forty days, we suddenly shift to a presentation of how living out sacrificial love should make one realize his absolute need for Christianity.  For Christians reading a book on marriage, the discussion of how our relationship with Christ should structure our marital relationship should be foundational, should be page 1.  On the other hand, a non-Christian reading the book frankly is unlikely to be impressed by this sudden foray into an altar call in the middle of the book.

Second, the book spends little time on the differing roles of the husband and wife in a marriage.  From a Biblical standpoint, there are real & crucial differences in how a man loves & responds to his wife vs. how a woman loves & responds to her husband.  The Love Dare doesn’t address these differing roles which are very important to the success of any Christian marriage.

Third, I felt there was this unwritten “if you do these steps your marriage will be transformed” aura to the book.  While all marriages can benefit from going through this devotional, I think that many seriously troubled marriages will not have the movie’s storybook happy ending at the end of forty days.  Consequently, I fear people will either conclude they failed in some way or that God failed in some way.  Neither would be true.  Many marriages need more than just a good devotional; they need intensive personal intervention by a  person of wisdom such as a counselor or pastor plus two partners who are both committed and humble.  In my experience true humility is seldom found in both halves of a troubled relationship.

The Love Dare is forty days of wisdom and challenge that will benefit any marriage; just don’t consider it to be the complete cure-all for every troubled relationship in the world.

The Faith of a Wife: The Three-Fold Example of Sarah

One of the great Biblical examples of faith is Abraham. Much has been written and spoken about him, and rightly so. Much less has been said of another striking example of faith, the faith of his wife Sarah. Her life of faith was different, and in some ways much harder, than that of her husband. She demonstrated a three-fold faith that is an example for every wife, and for every believer, male or female.

First, Sarah had faith in God’s direction & provision. Hebrews 11:8 says Abraham set out “not knowing where he was going.” Certainly, that took faith on Abraham’s part, but put yourself in Sarah’s sandals. At least Abraham had some type of vision or message from God, but all Sarah had was her new husband telling her, “God told me to go.”  “Where, my husband?” “I don’t know.” “How long will we be gone?” “I don’t know.” “How will we eat and stay alive? Will there be any other people there? Will there be any civilization or laws? Will I ever see my home or family again? Will we lose everything we have or be enslaved or worse?” “I don’t know. God just told me to go.”

Remember, this was before national governments, wikipedia, savings accounts, or any type of long-distance communication. Setting out from your own village literally meant “not knowing where he was going,” with no guarantee at all of what it would be like. Imagine that, and realize the faith Sarah had to have in God. None of us will ever be called to that kind of faith. Even the missionary called to a far off land will know quite a bit about what lies ahead: the people, the geography, the government, his mission board and support team, how he will travel, how he can get out if there is danger.  Sarah knew absolutely nothing: she needed massive faith in God’s direction & provision.

But, Sarah also had to have faith in her husband’s ability. Let’s get real, Sarah: Did your husband really hear from God? Maybe it was his midlife crisis instead, or over zealous optimism, or misdirected desires. If you’re a wife, it can be a scary thing to put your faith in your husband. And what’s scarier is that God has a track record of sometimes leading people through rough seas— the same chapter in Hebrews that lists Abraham & Sarah’s faith also lists people of faith in chains & torture & death.

I don’t think it’s easy for any wife to have faith in her husband, especially when the direction that he is pointing in doesn’t seem to square with where she thinks God would lead. But what is the alternative, when you look from God’s perspective? A godly college student named Ruth was absolutely convinced that God had called her to be a missionary, but her boyfriend didn’t feel that call. How was she to know at the time that her lanky young Billy Graham would one day become the greatest evangelist of the century with her love and support? She had to take it on faith. Another young college student named Noel was engaged to a pre-med major, when he suddenly told her that he wanted to go to seminary instead. Would she search for a more stable, more secure husband, or would she choose to follow & support John Piper so that one day his ministry would put his theological writings in the hands of millions of believers?

Of course, not every case of a woman having faith in her husband has such a happy ending. Sarah’s life wasn’t all roses, either. Abraham stumbled badly at times, even putting Sarah’s life in danger by his foolish decisions. Even the best of husbands is a flawed & sinning human, and the worst of husbands can be much worse. That’s why Sarah, and every other wife, must have faith in God’s sovereignty. This is the hardest kind of faith to have: to believe that God still has a purpose and will still work for His glory and her good in a flawed, even deeply flawed, mate & marriage.

If you are a wife, why not commit to Sarah’s three-fold faith: to have faith in God’s direction & provision through your husband, to have faith in your husband’s ability, and have faith in God’s sovereignty even in your husband’s weakness, failures, & sin.  If you say that you can’t see how you can have that kind of faith with your husband, well, that’s why it’s called faith. You believe it not because of who your husband is, but because of who you know God to be.

If you’re not a wife, you can still look to Sarah’s example of trusting God. Every husband is tempted like Adam to complain to God about “the woman who You gave to be with me.” (Genesis 3:12) Don’t complain— trust God for your mate. Everyone can also apply this faith principle to their friends & church— just because they’re not perfect doesn’t mean you can’t have faith in them & in God working through them.  No matter who you are or what people are in your life, God challenges you to live this three-fold life of faith today.

Book Review: This Momentary Marriage by John Piper

Don’t Waste Your Marriage…

That’s what the title of this book could have been, because that’s what John Piper is trying to communicate to his readers in his latest offering. There are marriage books aplenty, Christian and secular, that talk about how to fix your marriage or enrich your marriage or have a happy, fulfilled, & mutually satisfying marriage.

But this book is different: it starts at its very outset to lay a different foundation, that the standard concept of marriage is horribly deficient in God’s eyes. In fact, just as we cannot see Christ for who He truly is until God opens our eyes, Piper states that we cannot see marriage for what it truly is without God’s help:

The greatness and glory of marriage is beyond our ability to think or feel without divine revelation and without the illumining and awakening work of the Holy Spirit. The world cannot know what marriage is without learning it from God. The natural man does not have the capacities to see or receive or feel the wonder of what God has designed for marriage to be. I pray that this book might be used by God to help set you free from small, worldly, culturally contaminated, self-centered, Christ-ignoring, God-neglecting, romance-intoxicated, unbiblical views of marriage.

So what is this greatness & glory of marriage that God wants us to see? Piper develops two main Biblical points:

1. Foundationally, marriage is the doing of God.

2. Ultimately, marriage is the display of God.

These statements form a foundation that build a picture of marriage that ends up being very different than business-as-usual. As an example, it means that two people do not get married; rather, God marries two people, and they have no right to undo this bond. It also means that marriage is not primarily about being in love or staying in love at all; it is about displaying the covenant love of Christ for all to see.

Beyond laying this foundation, the book also addresses love, forgiveness, sanctification, the roles of husband & wife, singleness & divorce, sex, children, & more.

This Momentary Marriage is a marriage book unlike any other you have likely read. It will challenge your concept of marriage as well as your practice of it. Don’t expect “five easy ways to make your mate more like you want them to be”— expect to think deeply about what it means to be joined to another by God and for God.

This Momentary Marriage is being released in hardback by Crossway in April 2009, but Piper’s ministry is releasing the book in paperback for $6.49 and FREE in downloadable PDF. More information is available here.

Cherishing Fidelity

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart. (Proverbs 3:3 ESV)

When you mention Proverbs Chapter 3 to many Christians the fifth verse “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” immediately comes to mind. But just a few verses before it there is a short three phrase instruction that has captivated me in the past few days. I have pondered it, studied it, meditated on it, and marveled at its truth.

In the original Hebrew the verse is just eight words. The first word is hesed, which many English translations render as “mercy” or “kindness.” It is a very rich wonderful word in Hebrew that encompasses love, zeal, kindness, mercy, & favor. There is no one English word that does it justice, but the ESV rendering “steadfast love” comes close. God often uses hesed to describe His faithful covenant love for His people.

The second word in the verse is emeth, which is often translated “truth” in English but in Hebrew literally means stability, reliability, firmness, & faithfulness (which is, after all, what truth is supposed to be).

Reading a commentary on this verse I learned that these two Hebrew words, hesed emeth, are often used together when describing the character of God, and they form a “nominal hendiadys.” No, I didn’t know what that meant either until I researched it. A “nominal hendiadys” is two nouns linked together, with the second noun behaving like an adjective for the first noun to make it sound more powerful. For instance, “sound and fury” has more punch to it than “furious sound.” So in this verse, these two character qualities, steadfast love and faithfulness, are linked, with faithfulness emphasizing an essential quality of true love.

Solomon pleads for us not to azab (forsake) this steadfast faithful love. The Hebrew word azabcan mean to forcefully leave or forsake, but a primary meaning of the word is to loose the rope of an animal and let it wander off. Both of these meanings are apt warnings for us. There are times when in our self-centeredness or pain or pride we deliberately reject faithful love, but often we are guilty of allowing it to “wander off” when its bond to us has been allowed to loosen.

Because of this danger of wandering, we are next enjoined to qashar (bind) faithful love to us. The Hebrew word qashar“bind” would have instantly brought Solomon’s readers to think of God’s commandment from Deuteronomy 6:8, “You shall bind them (God’s laws) as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”

We are to bind faithful love to our gargĕrowth, our neck. This Hebrew word is only found in the Bible in Proverbs, always referring to binding a character quality. To bind faithful love to our neck is to put it on public display, to let anyone who sees us to immediately recognize that we are marked by faithful love.

But having it on public display is not enough. We must also write it on the tablet of our heart. The Hebrew word for tablet luwach would also draw Solomon’s readers back to Moses, for it is the same Hebrew word for the stone tablet that the finger of God inscribed the Ten Commandments. In the same way that God inscribed the stones, we are to permanently inscribe our hearts with faithful love.

So, in eight words Solomon tells us to be marked by hesed emeth, faithul love, both in outward visible actions and inward heart motives. These are two powerful images of cherishing this faithful love, putting it in such high esteem that we bind it to our bodies and write it in our hearts.

Where are we to cherish and live out this faithful love? The Bible makes clear that first we are to faithfully love God, as He faithfully loves us. But the second most important area is in our marriages. Read this verse with your marriage in mind, to hold fidelity in such high esteem that you bind it to you for all to see, and inscribe it permanently within your heart.

Fidelity is not regarded with such esteem in our culture, and with the divorce rate of Christians in America no different than the divorce rate of non-Christians, it is not regarded with sufficent esteem in the modern church either.

How do we bind this fidelity, this faithful love, to our marriages? We often use romance, because we start out marriage thinking the cords of romance are surely unbreakable. But even in the happiest of marriages, bonds of fidelity based only on romance can weaken and fail with time. We sometimes then resort to bonds of duty, and yet when the pressures build and temptations come the restraint of duty is often thrown off.

No, the only bond strong enough to bind fidelity to us for life is the bond of cherishing fidelity itself, as something precious to God, something that reflects the nature of God, and something that God desires to be inscribed in our hearts and lived in our lives. Cherishing fidelity in these ways will forge a bond that we can be confident that no storm or trial will loosen. We can then rejoice that we are people of hesed emeth, people of faithful love, to our God, to our spouses, and to the world.