Book Plunge: Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God

What do I think about C.J. Mahaney’s book published by Crossway publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many men are already looking at this title and seeing the connection. For us, sex is a form of romance in itself and certainly shows the glory of God. As Stephen and Judith Schwambach say in For Lovers Only, if an atheist ever asks you to prove the existence of God, just say one word. Sex. (It is an argument I’ve been tempted to use.)

Women might not see it as fast. Some do, but not all. Fortunately, Carolyn Mahaney has something at the end for Christian wives, but this book is mainly for the husbands. What does a Christian husband need to know?

If a guy picks up this book wanting a new technique in the bedroom or a new position to try, he’s going to be disappointed. Nothing like that is in here at all. Could it be that it’s simply not needed? Maybe instead of looking at new techniques and new positions, we need to look at new ways to love our wives and let great sex come from that.

If there is one main emphasis I think should be got from the book, it’s something that Mahaney says regularly. Before you touch your wife’s body, you must first touch her heart and mind. While there are high-drive wives, many are not. (And in the words of Mark Gungor, if any man is married to one, then I speak on behalf of all men when I say, we hate you.) A man can wonder endlessly what it can take to get his wife in the mood except forgetting the simplest way of all. Just be a good and loving husband.

That’s why Mahaney recommends some time seriously studying your wife. Oh sure. We men have no problem studying the physical nature of our wives, but find out what makes them tick. What is it that they love? What are they scared of? What do they have great passion for? What size clothing do they wear? What is their favorite color?

For instance, from time to time I like to buy Allie flowers and if I do, I know I cannot go wrong with one thing. I will always try to find flowers that are orange because I know that orange is her favorite color. My Allie also knows to be very careful about saying some small thing that she wants around me. Odds are I will remember it and try to get it as soon as possible.

Does this take work? Yep. Will you screw up from time to time? Yep. Of course, there are other tips to help with that. Regular date nights are encouraged even if you live on a budget. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or even any money in order to have a date night.

The book ends with a section from Mahaney’s wife Carolyn that is a note to Christian wives. It hilariously begins with her at a women’s conference and the question being asked, “What’s the one thing you can do for your husband that encourages him the most.” She knew the answer and yet apparently no one had said it. (Either they were incredibly dense or incredibly shy.) Finally, she just said, “Make love to him.” There were several laughs and then knowing nods.

Carolyn does write about how important this is to a man above all else. A man will settle for a less than immaculate house and a gourmet dinner if it means that he gets that time of passion from his wife. While husbands need to learn about their wives, the reverse is true. Instead of just looking at him as a sex maniac, why not ask why your husband is this way? What does this mean to him? What does it mean when it’s not given? Can you make your husband feel rejected? How will he be encouraged?

I follow a number of Christian marriage blogs and I regularly see men saying they just don’t ask any more. They’ve been told no so many times that they don’t bother. This is really a shame, especially when Paul tells us about not withholding ourselves from one another and both of us belonging to the other. I often tell wives that if they want a major attitude improvement in their husband and see him be more willing to help around the house, do this. Seduce him for two weeks. See what happens.

The Mahaneys have given us a book that is simple, but the advice is very good. Men need to learn again to touch their wife’s heart before touching their body. Perhaps the lesson to the women would be the way to touch his heart IS to touch his body. Now if only both of you can do your part….

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: How We Love

What do I think of Milan and Kay Yerkovich’s book published by WaterBrook press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Love. Love. Love. Love is what makes the world go around supposedly. Everyone loves love. We all speak so highly of love and we assume love is a universal good. Wherever there is love, well you have something good for sure. There are many questions that go unanswered about love. One such question is how we love. In this book, the Yerkovich’s speak about various love styles highlighting five that have their own weaknesses and they say are from unhealthy imprints. This means that as a child, you learned a certain way to love before you could really evaluate that and that affects the way you love today.

I can’t say I’m sold on the hypothesis yet, but it is an understandable one. There are many people for instance who cannot relate to God as Father and they have a hard time doing such because they had bad fathers when they were growing up. The Yerkoviches then move us into the various love styles, such as the avoider who tends to shy away from contact and does not open up about themselves. There’s also the pleaser who has a hard time saying no to anyone and wants to please everyone, which is often done to cover their own negativity. The vacillator style is one that sees relationships as valuable for certain needs that they meet and when these needs aren’t being met, they tend to want to move on. Then we get into two styles that go hand in hand due to abuse which are the controller and the victim.

The authors look at each of these and discusses how each of these styles love. They tell each person in the style what they can do to change and they also say what can be done to help your spouse if they are in that style, although they do emphasize that you cannot directly change your partner. You alone are the one that can change and even if your spouse does not go along, you can still play your part. The version of the book I read also came with a workbook.

If there were areas I’d like more on, I would like to see more clarification at times on the styles. When I took the online test, I was pretty similar for three of them, which I considered problematic. I was unsure where I ranked too often and unsure where my own spouse ranked. This made it difficult for me to get the full benefit of the book since I could see myself and I could see my wife in many of the styles. (Aside from the last two.)

I also would have liked more said about sex. There was one section where it was mentioned for a bit, but in books that talk about marriage, we really do need to talk about sex more. I would have liked to have seen something on how each of the love styles approached sexual intimacy and how partners on both sides could better relate to improve this area in their marriages.

Still, this is a book worth reading and worth considering. I did end it with much to think about.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Meaning of Marriage

What do I think of Tim and Kathy Keller’s book published by Riverhead? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This is the second Tim Keller book I’ve read and like the first one, I loved it and I hated it. I loved it because it’s just packed with excellent information and wisdom to help one be a good spouse and learn to appreciate marriage all the better. I hated it because in the midst of all of this, the Kellers smack you right between the eyes with what they’ve written so you have to take a good long look in the mirror and come to the conclusion that there are ways that you don’t shape up as the spouse that you are to be.

Tim Keller is the pastor of a church with thousands of people in New York and the overwhelming majority of those people are single, quite the rarity. Despite that, this book is based on a sermon series he did on marriage. Sermons on marriage are not just for married people. They need to be there for singles as well. Why? Because many of those singles just might want to get married someday and they need to learn to honor marriage the way God intended. If they don’t, they still need to honor marriage, such as avoiding having sex with other people, because they will be interacting with married people and even if you are not married, you can still work to build up the institution of marriage.

At the start, the Kellers want to dismiss with the idea of a Hallmark card. Marriage is usually treated like a fairy tale where you live your life feeling constant love for the other person. However, if this was what marriage was meant to be, then very few marriages would last. In fact, it could be the reason that many marriages do not last is because there are too many people who expect this. C.S. Lewis once wrote that the feeling of being in love is the explosion that gets the relationship started, but after awhile, it has to learn to rely on a deeper love that does not depend on the feelings.

The Kellers also give a history of marriage and show how in the Enlightenment, marriage came to be about fulfilling your own needs and not so much about self-denial. It came about fulfilling yourself as a person emotionally and sexually. Each person was entering more often for what the marriage would do for them and not what it would do for the other person. What a shock then that we wind up in a scenario where if the other person is not meeting our needs, well we just walk right out the door. Unfortunately, when we do this, we don’t realize that many of the problems from the marriage we still take with us and we just bring them into our next relationship, and then we probably bring even more since we’re trying to recover from a past relationship.

Tim Keller says that as a pastor, he points out to people that love is hard. Most anything that you want to do well, it requires sacrifice and effort. Look at the star athlete in any field. Could they have been born with some natural talent? Absolutely. Yet despite that natural talent, they had to work hard to do what they are doing today. We could in fact argue that love is very hard because it does go against our natural inclinations. Our natural mode of operation is to look to ourselves and take care of our own needs. Marriage calls you out of that to look to the needs of someone else.

The Kellers contend through their work that marriage is a picture of the Gospel. Of course, you can have a good marriage without knowing the Gospel, but if you know the Gospel well, it will improve your marriage. This is why they say that marriage is painful and wonderful. So is the Gospel. We can all appreciate good news about redemption in Christ and forgiveness, but with that good news comes the message that you are a human being who is not perfect and you are guilty of great wrong and need to seek forgiveness for your sins. We don’t like being told we’re sinners, and frankly, marriage has a great way of showing you the many things that you are doing wrong. I often tell guys that when you get married, it’s like God putting a big mirror in front of you and saying “Hey! This is what you’re really like! Do you like what you see?!”

The Kellers point out that at the heart of many divorces is a self-centeredness. You can see this because many times when someone divorces, they will often rail about what a jerk the other person was. Very rarely will they talk about all the things that they did wrong. (This is not to say there are no valid divorces. Sadly, there are.) This is of course our natural tendency. None of us really likes to look in the mirror and see who we are, but I often tell people who are married that the rule I apply in our marriage is when something goes wrong, I try my hardest to first look at myself and see if I did anything wrong. I’d like to say I always succeed at doing this, but I don’t.

Ironically, if we put the needs of our spouse first and seek their happiness, we can more often find our own happiness. The reality is many of us know this. A wife who provides a good romantic evening for her husband can enjoy the sexual act itself. Yet despite this, the greater joy she will often get out of it is knowing that her husband is going to bed that evening a happy man. (And yes ladies, we will go to bed happy men!) A husband will not normally enjoy spending money, but when he buys his wife some flowers, the great joy that he gets is not from spending the money, but from the joy that he brings his wife. We all know this! Why aren’t we living it more?

The Kellers then go on to speak about the people who ask why a piece of paper should matter so much. Keller says that if you say “I love you, but let’s not ruin it by getting married”, it’s a way of saying “I don’t love you enough to close off all my options. I don’t love you enough to give myself to you that thoroughly.” Getting that piece of paper is a public declaration with solid evidence that there is no one else and that all other doors are closed. Yes. The piece of paper does mean something. (Also, the Kellers are strongly against any idea of living together before marriage as that also increases your odds of divorce.)

Keller also talks here about our idea of passion and uses sex as an example. He writes that if you only have sex when you feel a time of great passion, then you will rarely do it and there will be fewer times of great passion as your spouse feels deprived. Why should they try to ask you for sex if they’re quite sure they will get a no answer? I happen to agree with those who say that many times someone should have sex even when they don’t feel like it. Once again, this is not about your needs. This is about the needs of your spouse. William Lane Craig has emphasized this as well.

There’s also the emphasis on what it means to honor your spouse. Breaking faith with your spouse means breaking it with God. It’s a shame that many couples enter the covenant of marriage and before a year is done, they’re looking to get out. When you got married, if it was in a church, you made vows to God and you made vows to man and you made vows to each other. Does that not mean anything to you? Those vows, the Kellers point out, are not just a vow of how you feel today, but they are meant to be vows that you will in fact keep loving your spouse in the future as well.

The Kellers also want us to know that in marriage, our goal is to shape the other person to be all that Christ wants them to be. We don’t just love them as they are. We love them as we see them becoming. We love to see what Christ is doing in them. You must be committed to your spouse’s holiness. As you do this, you will experience romance, sex, laughter, and fun, but those are not the cause of the great marriage. They are the result of it. The more that you are getting from your relationship with Christ and becoming like Him, the more also you will be able to impart that to your own family.

Aside from Christ, your marriage must be first. If your spouse does not think they are being put first, then you are not putting them first. That sounds hard, but it’s the truth. What would it mean if you have to convince your spouse that you are their first love? It would mean that you have done something to them to demonstrate to them that you are indeed not their first love. There has been someone or something else invited into the marriage and the person who feels rejected is just drifting into the background. You will not be able to have a great marriage if this is going on.

The Kellers also write about loving the other, and this in two chapters with Tim writing one first and his wife writing one on being a wife in the relationship. Tim writes about the power to transform, pointing out that he never really felt manly until he married. This is something I can relate to. I never did either, but now that I have a wife, I can fully delight in the masculinity that I do possess. This is also another reason why the sexual component means so much. It is the loudest way that a wife can scream to her husband “You are my man.” The rest of the world may look at me and see nothing special, but if Allie is looking at me and saying I am her man and her rock and the one she turns to, then I’m ready to conquer the world at that point.

Keller also writes to never withhold the primary love language. This goes both ways. A wife should not use sex as a weapon, such as punishing her husband by withholding herself when she doesn’t get her way. On the other hand, the husbands can often be quite guilty of this when they give the silent treatment.

The Kellers also have a chapter on the single life and marriage. It’s important to realize that if you are single, you are not looking for another Jesus. Your spouse is not supposed to be your savior. That is expecting too much of them. It is tempting to put your spouse in the place of God, but that is a recipe for disaster. Your spouse will not solve all the problems in your life. In fact, your spouse will quite often cause all new problems in your life.

The last chapter is on sex, and I think this is the way to go. OF course, this is the chapter most of us men want to skip ahead to, but we need to know all about marriage before we get to one of the greatest fruits of marriage. The Kellers write that sex is a covenant making activity. There’s a reason why in the bedroom, you will often get the greatest cries of love and passion. It is a passionate time and each person is practically under a spell. Earlier in the book, the Kellers write that it doesn’t necessarily start out this way. The Kellers write they were virgins when they married and the first time was frustrating, but like any other skill, it improves over the years. One of the greatest ways to improve it is to focus not on your happiness but on that of your spouse. Don’t try to perform. Just love one another. If you love one another, then there will definitely be times in enjoying that sex that you will indeed rock each other’s world.

Finally, sex is enjoyable not because it just includes awesome and incredible physical sensations, but because it reflects to the Trinity and the delight that our soul will have before God. Sex is often the closest we get to a moment of true ecstasy and an out-of-body experience in this life. (Is it any wonder some have even said that sex could be used as a proof that God exists?)

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book by the Kellers. I suspect I will be going through it again sometime, this time with my wife.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Fifty Shades of Freedom

What do I think of Daniel Eaton’s self-published Ebook? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As I write this review, you’re going to get some insight at the modern situation, because it is two days after Valentine’s Day and Fifty Shades of Grey has come out. This is a movie that has been described as “Mommy Porn.” In fact, Dakota Johnson who plays the lead female character Anastasia Steele has said she does not want her parents to see it. It’s not just her. Jamie Dornan who plays the lead male role of Christian Grey has been interviewed as well:

How do the actors feel about their movie? Not much better. Johnson says she doesn’t want her family to see it. Dornan says he was often uncomfortable playing his part. “I had to do stuff to [Dakota Johnson] that I would never choose to do to a woman,” he says, adding: “I’m a dad.” Dornan tells one interviewer that he went to a “sex dungeon” in preparation for his role, and that when he came home afterwards he was careful to shower before touching his wife and infant child.

Now in case anyone is wondering, no, I have not seen the movie. I have no intention to see it. I have also not read the books. I have no intention to read the books. Normally, I would recommend something like that, but with the dangers of pornography, I am making an exception. In fact, my wife has told me that she has heard that the female in the film has full frontal nudity. No. I am not doing a search to see if that report is true or not because I am concerned that search would come with images and I do not want that.

But while Fifty Shades of Grey goes to one extreme, the movie Old-Fashioned goes to the other. This is supposed to be a Christian response and frankly, as soon as I saw the trailer, I did not want to see the movie. I uphold love and that romance is created by God. I uphold that sex is something good and wonderful that God created. I am an upholder of chivalry. I still open the car doors for my Allie. I pull out her chair at restaurants and I do not sit down until she has sat down. Believe it or not, because people date and actually have physical contact (Not having sex, but having contact), they can still respect one another. If anyone is wondering what all we did, if you consider the twelve steps of intimacy, we did not do 9-12 until after we were married.

It wasn’t because of lack of desire, but because I knew as did Allie that once you reach a certain point, it would be hard to put the brakes on, yet her parents trusted me entirely with her. They did not have a moment of concern. When it came to the time that I asked them for her hand in marriage, (honestly, for respect, I get a little emotional just thinking about it) they said yes. They knew exactly who was marrying her daughter. If you had told them I was not treating their daughter with respect, they would have said that was ridiculous, this despite that yes, Allie and I did kiss on our first date.

When I see a movie like Old Fashioned I see instead a more gnostic approach to Christianity. It’s as if we’re all these creatures of hormones and we’re bound to listen to our wicked bodies and we need to avoid contact like kissing. I understand people wanting to have the first kiss at the altar, but I don’t think it’s wise. To go straight from kiss to total nudity with one another and sexual intercourse? Too much, too fast.

But the people behind Old Fashioned had this as a response to Fifty Shades of Grey and a challenge. How did that work? Not well. According to this reviewOld Fashioned brought in $258,000 since its opening day. I can quite assure you that was largely Christians, aside from perhaps some film critics who were probably forced to go see it and might have been sitting there wishing they could see Fifty Shades of Grey instead.

A movie, by the way, which brought in $30 million on opening day alone.

Yep. David when he took on Goliath took him on knowing how to fight and knowing what weapons to use and knowing what promises had been made to Israel through God. We today instead go out and enter the battle and count on God being behind our plans instead of looking to see if we’re really equipped. Had David not had experience fighting wild animals as a shepherd, he would not have gone out to fight the giant.

And this is also a problem. Note what the movie is said to be. It’s a response.

A response.

Do you know what that means?

It means that we are seeing what the world is talking about and saying “Whoa. We gotta get in on this.” As long as we are just in response mode, we will never grow. If anyone wants to change their life, they have to stop being reactive. They have to learn to be proactive. They have to learn how to act before an event happens and know what they will do if something happens. Oh sure, you have to know how to properly respond, but you also need to know that you have to act in advance. If you exercise only when you overeat, you will never lose weight. If you make love only when your spouse wants you to, you will never be taking the initiative he wants you to. If you wait until you’re in debt before you seek money, you will have a hard time getting out of debt.

As long as we are just reactive, it is the world that is taking the lead and the Christian church will not make an impact. Did we make an impact with Old Fashioned? Not a bit. In fact, we might have done more harm because people could say “This is the Christian ideal? What prudes.”

That’s why I’m thankful for books like Daniel Eaton’sFifty Shades of Freedom is meant to tell you what your pastor never told you about sex. In fact, the release of Fifty Shades of Grey should be a huge wake-up call for us. This might sound like a shock, but people are actually interested in sex. Yes. Believe it or not, Christians are even interested in sex. That’s right. Christians actually want sex. Can you believe it?

In fact, Friday night my wife and I were at a church event where Heaven Is For Real was being played. Now i won’t deny it. I did not care for the book. Why do I bring this up? Because there are scenes such as the one with the mother wanting to go on a trip to Denver for a reason I do not remember, but her husband, the pastor, says nothing she says could convince him to go. In response she says “Really? Because I was thinking” and at this point, she leans over and starts whispering in his ear.

“Kids! Pack your bags! We’re going to Denver!”

And that is a Christian movie with a pastor saying that. I love that. You know why? Because it’s real. Men really do think that way. This includes Christian men in ministry, including men like myself. As Eaton says

“Evolutionists would say this was some kind of necessary primal urge or something, but it seems like singles want to have sex. Real profound, I know”

While the statement is applied to singles, it fits on all levels. For Christians, when they get married, believe it or not, sex is often in the picture of things they want to do first. Those who do what we did and get a dinner first in fact do so because we want to be ready when the sex comes. At our wedding reception, after about twenty minutes or so, I was ready for us to go. Were my friends and family there and people who I hadn’t seen in a long time? Yep. Sure were. And frankly, no offense to them, but they weren’t on my mind. I just wanted to get my bride to our room and enjoy what I’d waited years for.

And that is a godly desire. Christians should not be ashamed about sex at all. It’s God’s idea. Just think about the male and female bodies. Look at how they go together. God designed it. He made the system. He made it also that it was to be enjoyed by both men and women. As Eaton says about how Christians handle the topic,

“Something tells me that if an accurate interpretation and translation of Song Of Solomon were to be published under another name, the average church would protest its inclusion in the local library. It would be called porn, or at the very least, seen as “dirty” erotica”

It’s almost as if we want to make sex a hands-off subject. (Pun intended)

As Eaton goes on to say about marriage retreats that he has been on

“It was all “romance” and “communication” and “parenting” and personality types and so forth. Nothing wrong with that. It is needed as well. But not even in the frank single-gender break-out sessions did they ever get anywhere near as open as what is talked about in other, less-Christian venues. Every guy in the room would, I’m sure, have loved a frank discussion on the topic. But it is guidance that Christian couples seem forced to get somewhere else”

Eaton is right in saying sex is a beautiful thing. Why turn into something taboo? We all want to talk about sex. A lot of us actually have questions about sex. We seem to be told that it is actually wrong to desire your spouse. Could it actually be that you might want to have sex with your spouse for a reason other than you want to procreate? Men need to talk about sex. It’s a way they can be held accountable and avoid pornography. Women need to talk about sex because as mind blowing as it can be, women desire sex also. If they didn’t, they would not be interested in Fifty Shades of Grey. As Eaton says

“Here in the Bible Belt though, most Christian ladies that I know would die of shame if one of their friends from church found out that they had purchased a revealing piece of lingerie from somewhere. And the activity on the church grapevine “prayer chain” would be enough to light up Vegas for a night if someone actually saw the head deacon’s wife in Victoria’s Secret! I believe that if the church was a bit more open to discussing the subject, you wouldn’t find so many Christian men addicted to porn and so many unhappy Christian marriages. It’s great to say that married couples should satisfy each other, but typically you end up with different interpretations of what all that can/ should entail and it becomes a source of stress instead of pleasure”

Eaton’s book is not a list at rules. It’s a look at many controversial topics and how to handle them. One such topic is lust. Eaton says he struggled with this one. Not in the sense of lusting, but in the sense of being told what was lust. Is it wrong to look at a woman and think she’s beautiful? No. It’s what you do with the thought. When you start thinking about how much you want to have sex with her, then it is wrong.

In fact, Eaton tells about his wife who went to a Christian college. One of the dorm matrons taught the females that all nudity was just dirty. This is even after you’re married. You should always be covered in some way. If you are going to be unclothed because you just had to be, then by golly you’d better make sure that the lights are off. God forbid that your husband actually sees you naked.

Now please tell me, if a wife wants to follow that rule, how on Earth can she help a married man follow the commandment that God gives in Proverbs 5 to a husband?

18 Let your fountain be blessed,

and rejoice in the wife of your youth,

19     a lovely deer, a graceful doe.

May her breasts satisfy you at all times;

may you be intoxicated always by her love.

Yes, believe it or not, men are to desire their wives physically. I know that’s a real shock, but yes. If a husband wants to see his wife naked, it is no sin. In fact, if a husband does not want to see his wife naked, he’s got a real problem. As was said in A Celebration of Sex, a young bride was told by her mother “Your husband is going to want to see you naked.” If women are getting messages like the one that Eaton’s wife reports, then there is a problem. Sex is not wrong. It is not in itself a sin. It is a gift from God. It can be used wrongfully. It can be sin in some situations, but in the context of a husband and wife acting in love towards each other, it is not a sin. Far from sin, it is a commandment. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7

2 But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

The main part I disagreed with Eaton on is that he thinks the church is doing an adequate job telling us that sex is a good thing. It is not. It is not doing that because it is hardly talking about sex at all. In fact, too many times when I have heard sex talked about from the pulpit, it has been in negative terms, especially to our young people. It’s okay to tell young people about the joy of sex.

From my perspective, I remember we used to have a speaker come to the schools and sometimes churches and he would say he was saving up money because when he got married, he was going to be having sex with his wife for two weeks. This is a guy who loved sex. He wanted sex. He was in fact still a virgin and encouraging other kids to wait until marriage like he was and then, go at it! I understand that he is married now so I hope those two weeks were excellent) I remember a message like that positively. I don’t remember the negative messages that way.

Fifty Shades of Grey should be a wake-up call as to how poorly the church is handling these issues and thankfully, there are books like Eaton’s out there.. This is also a short one. It’s 23 pages long on the Kindle and it can be read in half an hour to an hour, but that will be a half hour to an hour that is well spent. It is my sincere hope that the church could follow principles like these and learn the importance of talking about sex. Fifty Shades of Grey is one extreme. Old Fashioned is the other. As in many cases, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I think Eaton is closer to it than many.

In Christ,

Nick Peters