What We Read to Our Children

I can’t say it enough: I love my momma.  She is the sweetest, kindest, and strongest spiritual giant that I know.


I am the baby of the family, the youngest by about 8 1/2 years, the “surprise”.  And yes, for that reason alone, I was spoiled, not so much with material things growing up, but my mom just had more time to devote to me than had I been born closer to my brother and sister.  One of my favorite times with her was bedtime.  In fact, it was at bedtime one night when I was around 5 years old that I prayed the sinner’s prayer and accepted Christ into my life.  Never underestimate the power of the gospel in a child’s life.


And it was at bedtime that my mom would read to me, and of course the themes and stories progressed and matured as I did (one of my favorite stories as a wee one was Sleeping Beauty, I think it was the crazy beautiful colors and the beguiling look of pure evil in Maleficent’s eyes that captivated me).  If I had to pick, though, these would be the two most formative books that she read to me:


Joel (Spanish Edition)

The first is Joel, a biography of a boy who, on September 15, 1979, when he was only 22 months old, was involved in a devastating accident that left him with burns over 85% of his body. He was burned after a tractor trailer crashed into the car he was in, resulting in the rupturing of its fuel tank. He was rescued from his parent’s burning car by a stranger. The tissue damage he suffered included the loss of the fingers on his right hand, his left hand entirely, his ears, and damage to his skull.  This is his story and his parent’s story.



The second story is one that 99% of you will recognize, that of Joni, this is a woman, who at the age of 17, dove into a shallow part of the Chesapeake Bay.  She suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical levels and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down.

During her two years of rehabilitation, according to her autobiography, she experienced anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, and religious doubts. However, she learned to paint with a brush between her teeth, and began selling her artwork. To date, she has written over fifty books, recorded several musical albums, starred in an autobiographical movie of her life, and founded Joni and Friends (JAF) in 1979, an organization for Christian ministry in the disabled community all over the world.


Of course I can’t tell you every last detail of their stories, but these two, out of the many titles that my mom read to me over the years as I snuggled up against her shoulder, had the most impact–and who knows, it’s possible that these titles were the ones that gave me the courage to write my very own story.  I think a lot of times, we can get so caught up in projecting this perfect image of ourselves, “I’m healed, I’m better, I swear!” when, truthfully, here are two people who can’t hide the deep hurts because they are physical and that’s what I find so inspiring, we share in the struggle with them, but we also gain this galvanizing perspective that God can use anyone, at any time under any circumstance no matter how devastating the loss.  

So yes, Charlotte’s Web is great (we’re reading that right now), but how about throwing George Mueller’s biography in there too next story time?

What have you been reading with your kids lately?

Book Review Fri–Er, Sunday: Radical

This past Sunday, I found myself getting angry with a toilet, more specifically, with the auto-flush toilet at my church and the water waste that it represented and it got me thinking about issues of “big church”, missing Uganda, with regard to this post (Every Day’s Best: A Study in Contrasts), knowing some of it had to do with a book that I just finished reading: “Radical: Tacking Back Your Faith from the American Dream” by David Platt. In this book, Platt puts forward what it means to be a Christ-follower and how, as Americans, we have warped our faith into looking like something completely contrary to the gospel we are trying to emulate.

From the beginning of the book, Platt admits that this book comes from a place of challenge in his own life, as “the youngest megachurch pastor in history”—finding himself, in his words, “on a collision course with an American church culture where success is defined by bigger crowd, bigger budgets, and bigger buildings.” Seeing that this was not was what Jesus meant to “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Platt had to ask himself 2 big questions:

Was I going to believe Jesus?

Was I going to obey Jesus?

Answering these 2 questions began his journey and out of that comes this book. He says that we can continue with business as usual in the Christian life, measuring success by the standards around us, or we can take an honest look at what it truly mean to believe and obey Jesus.

This book begins with a first-account experience in another country with a secret meeting among a body of believers–church leaders whose member’s lives and the lives of their children are being threatened because of the Gospel and how they kneel to pray in a darkened room. Their prayers centered not on themselves but on who Jesus is and their trust in Him. Juxtaposed to this scene, Platt describes his first Sunday as a pastor in America: theater-style lights, fine clothes, cushioned chairs, not much at stake there.

Throughout the book, Platt introduces and offers solutions to several important questions for every believer:

“How can I fulfill the great commission?”

“What specific steps can I take in our daily lives to go against what we have always perceived as a our God-given “right” to the American dream of success, money, fulfillment. What exactly do these sacrifices entail?”

Platt gives tenants of WHY the great commission and our answer to it is so important. In his chapter titled, “There is no Plan B”. He explains that there are 4.5 B people in the world today without Christ and he highlights a few basic principles:

-all people have knowledge of God

-all people reject God

-all people are guilty before God, saying to the argument, “What about the innocent guy in Africa?” The innocent guy doesn’t exist…there are no innocent people in the world just waiting to hear the gospel. Instead, there are people all over the world standing guilty before a holy God, and that is the very reason they need God.”

-all people are condemned for rejecting God

-God has made a way of salvation for the lost

-people cannot come to God apart from faith in Christ

-Christ commands the church to make the gospel known to all peoples

Concluding this with, “We are the plan of God, there is no Plan B.” Going on to say, “If more than a billion people today are headed to a Christless eternity and have not even heard the gospel, then we don’t have time to waste our lives on an American dream.”

This book isn’t going to stroke your ego, assuage the restlessness you feel as a Christian or justify any behavior you have even thought might be contrary to what God wants for you. I think, if I could give this book an alternate title, it would be “Uncomfortable: What you need to be doing as a Christian”. It’s that convicting and yes, it calls for change. That call is addressed in Platt’s last chapter, “The Radical Experiment”, which offers practical, challenging ways we can live the calling out, but you’ll have to read the book to find exactly what those are.

Knowing that we are not alone in this challenge, Platt reminds us from the start of the book of our supreme dependence on God’s strength for making these changes, saying, “the gospel beckons us to die to ourselves and to believe in God and to trust in his power. In the gospel, God confronts us with our utter inability to accomplish anything of value apart from him.”

Book Review Fri–Er, Sunday: Radical

This past Sunday, I found myself getting angry with a toilet, more specifically, with the auto-flush toilet at my church and the water waste that it represented and it got me thinking about issues of “big church”, missing Uganda, with regard to this post Every Day’s Best: A Study in Contrasts, knowing some of it had to do with a book that I just finished reading: “Radical: Tacking Back Your Faith from the American Dream” by David Platt. David Platt puts forward what it means to be a Christ-follower and how, as Americans, we have warped our faith into looking like something completely contrary to the gospel we are trying to emulate.

From the beginning of the book, Platt admits that this book comes from a place of challenge in his own life, as “the youngest megachurch pastor in history”—finding himself, in his words, “on a collision course with an American church culture where success is defined by bigger crowd, bigger budgets, and bigger buildings.” Seeing that this was not was what Jesus meant to “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Platt had to ask himself 2 big questions:

Was I going to believe Jesus?

2) Was I going to obey Jesus?

Answering these 2 questions began his journey and out of that comes this book. He says that we can continue with business as usual in the Christian life, measuring success by the standards around us, or we can take an honest look at what it truly mean to believe and obey Jesus.

This book begins with a first-account experience in another country with a secret meeting among a body of believers–church leaders whose member’s lives and the lives of their children are being threatened because of the Gospel and how they kneel to pray in a darkened room. Their prayers centered not on themselves but on who Jesus is and their trust in Him. Juxtaposed to this scene, Platt describes his first Sunday as a pastor in America: theater-style lights, fine clothes, cushioned chairs, not much at stake there.

Throughout the book, Platt introduces and offers solutions to several important questions for every believer:

“How can I fulfill the great commission?”

“What specific steps can I take in our daily lives to go against what we have always perceived as a our God-given “right” to the American dream of success, money, fulfillment. What exactly do these sacrifices entail?”

Platt gives tenants of WHY the great commission and our answer to it is so important. In his chapter titled, “There is no Plan B”. He explains that there are 4.5 B people in the world today without Christ and he highlights a few basic principles:

-all people have knowledge of God

-all people reject God

-all people are guilty before God, saying to the argument, “What about the innocent guy in Africa?” The innocent guy doesn’t exist…there are no innocent people in the world just waiting to hear the gospel. Instead, there are people all over the world standing guilty before a holy God, and that is the very reason they need God.”

-all people are condemned for rejecting God

-God has made a way of salvation for the lost

-people cannot come to God apart from faith in Christ

-Christ commands the church to make the gospel known to all peoples

Concluding this with, “We are the plan of God, there is no Plan B.” Going on to say, “If more than a billion people today are headed to a Christless eternity and have not even heard the gospel, then we don’t have time to waste our lives on an American dream.”

This book isn’t going to stroke your ego, assuage the restlessness you feel as a Christian or justify any behavior you have even thought might be contrary to what God wants for you. I think, if I could give this book an alternate title, it would be “Uncomfortable: What you need to be doing as a Christian”. It’s that convicting and yes, it calls for change. That call is addressed in Platt’s last chapter, “The Radical Experiment”, which offers practical, challenging ways we can live the calling out, but you’ll have to read the book to find exactly what those are.

Knowing that we are not alone in this challenge, Platt reminds us from the start of the book of our supreme dependence on God’s strength for making these changes, saying, “the gospel beckons us to die to ourselves and to believe in God and to trust in his power. In the gospel, God confronts us with our utter inability to accomplish anything of value apart from him.”

This Great High Priest


Having recently started a study on Hebrews, we have of course been concentrating on the Supremacy of Christ, greater than the angels, greater than the Law, greater than our efforts to keep the law (Hebrews was written primarily to an audience of Jewish converts), and because of His supremacy, Christ, the spotless Lamb of God was the only one worthy enough to offer a perfect sacrifice of our sins.

We looked briefly at the duties of the high priest in Leviticus 16: he entered the sanctuary in a prescribed manner with animals for sin offerings and burnt offerings, dressed in pure linen, ritually washed in order to make atonement. And what does atonement mean? In verse 21 of this chapter we see that on the head of a live goat is to be placed all the sin and wickedness of Israel. Once this has happened, it is to be sent away into the desert in care of a man appointed for the task.

I’ve also been reading the book A Reason for God by Timothy Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. This scapegoat theme hit me hard when I read the following excerpt from page 29 of Keller’s book, under the chapter title “How could a Good God Allow Suffering?”. In it, Keller talks about the suffering of God himself.

Because here’s the thing: we’re no longer talking about a goat or a lamb or a bird or whatever, we’re talking about a person. And we’re not just talking about any person, we’re talking about the Son of God, who was there from the beginning. There’s no way for us to fully comprehend the pain of the separation that Jesus had to experience in his last hours, but Keller puts it in these terms:

“To understand Jesus’s suffering at the end of the gospels, we must remember how he is introduced at their beginning…The Son of God was not created but took part in creation and has lived throughout all eternity “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18)—that is, in a relationship of absolute intimacy and love. But at the end of his life he was cut off from the Father.

There may be no greater inner agony that the loss of a relationship we desperately want. If a mild acquaintance turns on you, condemns and criticizes you, and says she never wants to see you again, it is painful. If someone you’re dating does the same thing, it is qualitatively more painful. But if your spouse does this to you, or if one of your parents does this to you when you’re still a child, the psychological damage is infinitely worse.

We cannot fathom, however what it would be like to lose not just spousal love or parental love that has lasted several years, but the infinite love of the Father that Jesus had from all eternity. Jesus’s suffering would have been eternally unbearable. Christian theology has always recognized that Jesus bore, as the substitute in our place the endless exclusion from God that the human race has merited. In the Garden of Gethsemane, even the beginning and foretaste of this experience began to put Jesus into a state of shock. New Testament scholar Bill Lane writes: “Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before his betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before him, and he staggered.” On the cross, Jesus’s cry of dereliction—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—is a deeply relational statement. Lane writes: “The cry has a ruthless authenticity…Jesus did not die renouncing God. Even in the inferno of abandonment he did not surrender his faith in God, but expressed his anguished prayer in a cry of affirmation, “My God, my God.” Jesus still uses the language of intimacy—“my God”—even as he experiences infinite separation from the Father.”

So here we have this great high priest and sacrificial scapegoat rolled into One. The ritual cleansing, sacrificing, and scapegoat procedure was take place once a year for all the sins of Israel. Not only did Aaron need to make atonement for the people but for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar–and only then could he bring forward the live goat, place his hand’s on it’s head and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites. But, here’s the amazing thing: Christ did it once, for all time, splitting in two the curtain that separated the Holiest of Holies so we now have direct access to the Father.

And so, in this, we receive our confirmation that Christ is the fulfillment of this law (in his own words) in Matthew 5: 17-18 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

picture licensed under Creative Commons by John H Wright Photo

Book Review Friday: The Art of Listening Prayer


Ever had a huge decision to make and just wished that some kind of sign would appear in the sky–perhaps a lightening bolt or a burning bush? Our desire is to hear from God. We want not only to be assured of His Calling, but we also want to be certain that we are in sync with Him in our thoughts and actions, allowing Him to guide some of the smallest decision in our lives. This book is an amazing guide to accomplishing just that. The key to his book, however, is in the title: listening. It is more about who God is, than what we want.


Today’s book came out in 2005. It is written by Seth Barnes who is the founder of Adventures in Missions, a organization that leads mission trips over the world. With what I have read about his ministry and what he has had to say about it on his blog, I can see that Barnes truly reflects the principles in this book.


Barnes’ book is set up as a month-long devotional, but I went through it in just under two weeks. He begins the book by encouraging the reader to have some essential tools: your bible, a journal, different colored pens and a silent room with at least 45 minutes of uninterrupted time (I understand, that for a parent, this can be extremely challenging but the point is time alone).


He also encourages the reader to have an accountability partner or counselor, someone to run questions by, in other words, if we’re getting a really wacky “answer” it’s best to run it by a fellow Christian before making any life-altering decisions. Barnes ends each chapter with a few simple questions–questions to ask the Lord in your quiet time, to really examine your heart and motivations. Most importantly, he encourages us to begin with Scripture.


The book examines potential barriers of time alone with God, like dealing with distractions, overcoming obstacles like worry, the desire for riches, pleasures, but also highlights the benefits of truly being in tune with His voice–helping others to hear God, learning to pray continuously, allowing the Holy Spirit to work.


As mentioned above, an essential tool is the journal, when we get our prayers out on paper, we can refer back to them. We can tangibly see God’s answers–even His times of silence. I’ve seen myself that when God was particularly silent, it meant that I didn’t need the answer right there and then, or perhaps I wasn’t prepared to hear His answer in that moment. The concepts contained in Barnes’ writing are basic, but it is wonderful to have a guide to really focus you on a potentially rich, fulfilling and challenging prayer life.


Seth Barnes was kind enough to answer a few questions for me regarding his writing and work and I wanted to share that with you readers:


EDB: Your book gives quite a few powerful examples, in both your life and others of the effect of earnest, hear-felt seeking after the One who hears all our utterances, would you mind sharing a more recent, specific instance of a major decision you had to make and after spending time in prayer and meditation you heard audibly from God. Have you been able to see some long-term effects of that major decision?


SB: I haven’t ever heard audibly from God. I’ve heard mostly his voice in a way that seems similar to my own thoughts. Here’s a blog about it that contains an example: http://www.sethbarnes.com/?filename=god-often-sounds-just-like-me-thinking

Here are my more recent writings about listening prayer: http://www.sethbarnes.com/?category=Listening%20Prayer


EDB: How did this book come about? Where there any outside resources (incl. people) that helped you particularly in writing this book?


SB: I had a lot of help. Zihna Gordon and Mark Almand were the most helpful in the writing process. And Clint Bokelman has done more than anyone else to encourage me to pursue my heart to lead from a place of listening to God.


EDB: Can you tell me a little bit about your organization, Adventures in Missions?


SB: http://www.adventures.org/about/about.asp


EDB: How many countries have you been to since it’s founding and are there any you would you prefer to live in aside from the US? If so, why?


SB: AIM is in 39 countries. I’ve been to most of them. I’m happy here in Georgia, but I love being wherever God is moving.


EDB: Do you have any more books in the works?


SB: Yes. I have a book called “Journeys” mostly written. It’s in its fourth draft now.

You can buy this book now: http://www.missionsresources.com/product/381.htm

I’ve got manuscripts for 8 other books that I’ve been working on for a while now. At some point I hope to be satisfied enough to publish them.


Book Review Friday: Streams in the Desert Devotional

I have to admit, my copy of Streams in the Desert holds a lot of weight. Inside the front cover is the first initial and last name of my grandfather, and opposite on the front page is my mother’s name. Knowing their stories, their personal struggles and picturing their searching fingers thumbing through these pages, the book itself takes on more depth. However, I would recommend this devotional even without all these invisible familial fingerprints. I would recommend it for the tired, the weary, the despondent, the inquisitive, but especially the tired, because that is when I received this book from my mother when she came down for a visit over a year ago. This is the book I laid hands on every morning along with my Bible and the words in this book know hurt, they know despondency, and take it up boldly with every other emotion.


This devotional is authored by L.B. (Lettie) Cowman, wife of Rev. Charles B. Cowman, who was the founder of the Oriental Missionary Society. This organization was founded in with the purpose of setting up native ministries in Japan, Korea, China, and Formosa. Rev. and Mrs. Cowman served in Asia from 1901 to 1917 until Rev. Cowman’s failing health forced them to return to their home in California. Lettie Cowman turned her attention to caring for her husband until his death six years later. Out of these experiences, out of her heartbreak, came this book in 1925, which has a companion, Springs in the Valley. During the next twenty-five years, Mrs. Cowman inspired several nationwide Scripture distribution campaigns and wrote seven more books.


The words of L.B. Cowman from the introduction: In the pathway of faith we come to learn that the Lord’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways. Both in the physical and spiritual realm, great pressure means great power! Although circumstances may bring us into the place of death, that need not spell disaster–for if we trust int he Lord and wait patiently, that simply provides the occasion for the display of His almighty power. “Remember His marvelous works that He has done; His wonders and the judgments of His mouth.” (Psalm 105:5)

Book Review Friday: Forgive and Forget

As you may be able to tell by now, I’m not necessarily reviewing your latest NY Times bestsellers. I like books that challenge, that make me think, that change my life–those I find myself referring back to throughout my day. The power of words is transformative, which is why I will mainly be sharing those titles that have affected me the deepest. However, there will be the ocassional light reads, ’cause who doesn’t like a little Twilight every now and then?

Today’s book is Forgive and Forget by Lewis B. Smedes, which first came out in 1984. It is a small book, not even 200 pages, but the ideas are powerful. Whether you are suffering hurts large or small, intentional or unintentional, this will revolutionize your thinking and provide so much release.
The subtitle speaks for itself: healing the hurts we don’t deserve. All of our wounds are different, some involve human atrocities, some betrayal of trust, some abandonment but all are unfair. We know that every human deserves to be treated with honor and respect and we all fall short of that, every minute of the day.
In his introduction is this thought: “Forgiveness is God’s invention for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. He began by forgiving us. And he invites us all to forgive each other.”
I do want to share how the book is set up to know what you’re getting into. It’s divided into three parts:
Part I: The Four Stages of Forgiving
Part II: Forgiving People Who are Hard to Forgive
Part III: How People Forgive
Relief spreads across my face when I reread his table of contents and under Part III, the title of the first chapter is “Slowly”. Isn’t it good to know that there isn’t a little pill can take to instantly cause us to see past the hurt, the pain the heartache and know that the time we need to process it and to heal is ok? No matter how long it takes, the point the author strives to drive home: we must forgive, because, in the end, it’s best for everyone.
A few other titles by Smedes you may want to check out:

  • A Pretty Good Person What it Takes to Live with Courage, Gratitude, & Integrity or When Pretty Good Is as Good as You Can Be, Harper, 1990
  • Choices: Making Right Decisions in a Complex World
  • How Can It Be All Right When Everything Is All Wrong?
  • All Things Made New
  • Love Within Limits
  • Sex for Christians
  • Mere Morality: What God Expects From Ordinary People
  • A Life of Distinction
  • The Art of Forgiving
  • Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve
  • Keeping Hope Alive

Book Review Friday: Don’t Make Me Count to Three!

Any good book, no matter what the subject should challenge us personally and this is just what Ginger Plowman’s book, “Don’t Make Me Count to Three!” accomplished for me. I came away from the book with a personal conviction that if I am to practice the central concept of her teaching, quoting scripture to my child as reasoning for good behavior, i.e., “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” I had to make sure that the way I was “living out” complied with scripture in the best way I knew how.


From the same publishers that brought you Tedd Tripp’s “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”, comes Plowman’s work, which draws on similar themes of carefully, circumspectly guiding your child in right behavior. What does a child’s disobedience spring from? The heart. Her message is clear “the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart”. Getting to the core of a child’s disobedience: whether it is jealousy, hatred or envy, we must ask ourselves “Why?” She wants us to encourage our children to grow in wisdom and see God’s viewpoint on all situations.


I appreciate the author’s tone. This is a mom of two who has gone through the daily struggle of raising children well, of getting to the heart of instruction, obedience and Godly guidance. Plowman sprinkles her writing with personal, often humorous stories of how she has tried and oftentimes failed, and emphasizes the need for personal humility, for when you see glimmers of “the fruit of your labor”, your children will most certainly bring you back to reality.


I would say that a good portion of this book is most applicable to children who have begun to reason for themselves (around 5 and up), because at the core at her behavioral correction technique is verbally reminding your child of scripture. For instance, “Love does not delight in evil” (we would need to assume those words have definitions in our child’s vocabulary). However, I should emphasize that her concepts would not be lost on the new mom. She encourages us to reinforce our words of correction with role playing–that once you have corrected wrong behavior, it is the parent’s job to instruct them in right conduct and this will help in the learning process. “When we correct our children for wrong behavior but fail to train them in righteous behavior, this provokes them to anger.”

God’s design for discipline drives out foolishness and replaces it with wisdom. She admonishes us to never use the rod without reproof and expounds on this even more later in her book, giving some awesome guidelines for parents who spank: telling the reader when the rod is necessary and guidelines for administering biblical chastisement. Just as the rod should not be used in the heat of the moment, neither should scripture with a “This is why you’re being naughty” statement. Instead, it is important that we teach our children what the Bible says regarding the particular struggle they are going through and to instruct them in accordance with the child’s need to learn. However, she also spends time on the concept of teaching in the context of the moment–which is something as a parent we must do over and over, and then gradually, this will become like second nature. She likens this process to a master craftsman/apprentice relationship. She encourages us to use God’s word in a conversational manner, to teach our children from our hearts.


Plowman also offers tips on how we can identify young and old manipulators and how to respond accordingly.


For me, one of the toughest to process yet the most important to hear pieces of advice would have to be that of:

1) Pray through your motives before you administer any form of discipline

2) Examine your life: Ask yourself “Am I exasperating my child?”

3) Choose the right time and place for discipline.

4) Use biblical terminology when you can i.e. foolish vs. stubborn, “lie” vs. “fib”.


I also appreciated her personal “Standard of Obedience”: “All the way, right away and with a happy heart.” I find this “right away” concept to be so applicable in my own life with the concept that delayed obedience is disobedience.


Over and over again, the author reassures the reader of her fallibility and reinforces it in her statement, “Actually, if you could visit my home and see my failures you probably would not have purchased this book.” Under this underlies the importance of the parent’s role in walking the talk.


As with any skill, good parenting takes practice, the ability to accept yours and your child’s failures and the determination to seek God’s guidance while doing it. Plowmen reassures the frustrated, sometimes despondent parent with the verse in Galatians 6:9 “We will reap a harvest if we don’t give up.” Keep going, you will see that fruit some day.


Book Review Friday: Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity

We have only to watch t.v. for five minutes, stand in the grocery store check out line or glance at a billboard on our evening commute to be confronted by sexual images and in most cases, the unreal, to know sex sells. That, and this being the Month of Love was one reason that I wanted to review this book first. In her book, Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, Lauren Winner approaches the subject of abstention from sex outside of marriage with reverence, experience and frankness. And she makes no bones about it, she is examining chastity through the lens of Scripture.


I became acquainted with Winner’s writing upon reading her first novel, Girl Meets God: A Memoir a few years ago, which is a story of her personal journey from Judaism to Christianity in the her last years of undergraduate studies into graduate school. It wasn’t until I reread it recently, that I fell in love with this author’s academic and spiritual depth, which in turn led me to this book.


The thing that I appreciate most about Winner’s writing is that it is honest to a fault, she talks about her past sexual experiences, so she is not approaching the subject hermetically, this is a warm-blooded, living, breathing woman in her late 20’s, early 30’s who has been there, done that, and can defend her stance that chastity is a good thing.


Winner’s book is divided into two halves, the first half of the book is a study of how we think about sex and chastity, the biblical view of sex, the messages we get from culture about it, and how we evaluate those views in a biblical context. From the start of the book, Winner states, “God made us with bodies; that is how we begin to know that he cares how we order our sexual lives.” He made us, and yes, he does know how hard it can be to control those urges, He was tempted in every way we are yet without sin. We don’t have a Savior who is ignorant of our struggles. She acknowledges that yes, God made us with bodies, but it is how we conform them and it’s desires that we can begin to grasp his purposes for their use.


She also examines our role as fellow Christians in the practice of accountability, urging Christians to speak “courageously and transparently” about the their struggles in marriage, pointing out that speaking to one another about our sexual selves is just one (admittedly risky) instance of a larger piece of Christian experience.

“To acknowledge that premarital sex–or any other sinful act–might feel good is not to say that premarital sex is good. It is rather to say that our feelings are not always trustworthy. Our emotions and our hearts were distorted in the fall, which is one reason we need the community of the church and an articulated Christian ethics in the first place.”


“That people have sex outside marriage is understandable; we fornicate for the same reason we practice idolatry. Idolatry carries in it the seed of a good impulse–the impulse to worship our Maker. Idolatry is that good impulse wrongly directed to disastrous ends. Like idolatry, fornication is a wrong reflection of a right creational impulse. We were made for sex. And so premarital sex tells a partial truth; that’s why it resonates with something. But partial truths are destructive. They push us to created goods wrongly lived. To borrow a phrase from Thomas Cranmer again: they are ultimately destructive to our selves, our souls and our bodies.”


In the second half of her book, Winner offers some ideas on how, as individual Christians and as a community we can be chaste. Winner also introduces chastity as a spiritual discipline. She explains, “chastity is something you do, it is something you practice. It is not only a state–the state of being chaste–but a disciplined, active undertaking the we do as part of the Body. It is not the mere absence of sex but the active conforming of one’s body to the arc of the gospel.” She also clearly states, “having sex with your husband or wife is a discipline”, even the marrieds don’t get off easy. It isn’t always magic, candy hearts and roses. She reminds us that chastity as a discipline has it’s basis in another spiritual discipline: prayer–spending time, asking God to reshape your heart and desires so that we want the things he wants for us. She points out that the unmarried Christian who practices chastity refrains from sex in order to remember that God desires your person, your body, more than any man or woman ever will.


This isn’t an easy book to read, mostly because the practice of chastity isn’t easy. The book analyzes, it probes and it gets personal, but I believe it’s a very important work on a subject that the Church doesn’t give a lot of time and attention to. I think it’s ignorant to put “Christian singles” in a room and assume that they automatically know how to act. I believe this book, used as a thoughtful teaching tool could be one of the first steps in the right direction.