Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

I highly recommend this book.
Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: Expanded Edition. 2nd ed. Crown & Covenant Publications, 2014.
Here are some quotes:

 

How do I tell you about my conversion to Christianity without making it sound like an alien abduction or a train wreck? Truth be told, it felt like a little of both. The language normally used to describe this odd miracle does not work for me. I didn’t read one of those tacky self-help books with a thin coating of Christian themes, examine my life against the tenets of the Bible the way one might hold up one car insurance policy against all others and cleanly and logically “make a decision for Christ.” While I did make choices along the path of this journey, they never felt logical, risk-free, or sane. Neither did I feel like the victim of an emotional/spiritual earthquake and collapse gracefully into the arms of my Savior, like a holy and sanctified Scarlett O’Hara having been “claimed by Christ’s irresistible grace.” Heretical as it might seem, Christ and Christianity seemed eminently resistible. (Kindle: 177)

 

Christians always seemed like bad readers to me, too. They appeared to use the Bible in a way that Marxists would call “vulgar”—that is, common, or in order to bring the Bible into a conversation to stop the conversation, not deepen it. “The Bible says” always seemed to me like a mantra that invited everyone to put his or her brain on hold. “The Bible says” was the Big Pause before the conversation stopped. Their catch phrases and clichés were (and are) equally off-putting. “Jesus is the answer” seemed to me then and now like a tree without a root. Answers come after questions, not before. Answers answer questions in specific and pointed ways, not in sweeping generalizations.

(Kindle: 204)

 

Ken stressed that he accepted me as a lesbian but that he didn’t approve of me as a lesbian.

(Kindle: 398)

 

I learned the first rule of repentance: that repentance requires greater intimacy with God than with our sin. How much greater? About the size of a mustard seed. Repentance requires that we draw near to Jesus, no matter what. And sometimes we all have to crawl there on our hands and knees. Repentance is an intimate affair. And for many of us, intimacy with anything is a terrifying prospect.

(Kindle: 506)

 

 

Conversion put me in a complicated and comprehensive chaos. I sometimes wonder, when I hear other Christians pray for the salvation of the “lost,” if they realize that this comprehensive chaos is the desired end of such prayers.

(Kindle: 602)

 

Sometimes in crisis, we don’t really learn lessons. Sometimes the result is simpler and more profound: sometimes our character is simply transformed.

(Kindle: 629)

 

A mistake is a logical misstep. Sin lurks in our heart and grabs us by the throat to do its bidding. (Kindle: 871)

 

This experience taught me a powerful lesson about evangelism: The integrity of our relationships matters more than the boldness of our words.

(Kindle: 1,169)

 

 

Even when faced with the blinding sting of someone else’s sin, it really is not someone else’s sin that can hurt us. It is our own festering sin that takes the guise of innocence that will be the undoing of us all.

(Kindle: 1,464)

 

What good Christians don’t realize is that sexual sin is not recreational sex gone overboard. Sexual sin is predatory. It won’t be “healed” by redeeming the context or the genders. Sexual sin must simply be killed. What is left of your sexuality after this annihilation is up to God. But healing, to the sexual sinner, is death: nothing more and nothing less. I told my audience that I think too many young Christian fornicators plan that marriage will redeem their sin. Too many young Christian masturbators plan that marriage will redeem their patterns. Too many young Christian internet pornographers think that having legitimate sex will take away the desire to have illicit sex. They’re wrong. And the marriages that result from this line of thinking are dangerous places. I know, I told my audience, why over fifty percent of Christian marriages end in divorce: because Christians act as though marriage redeems sin. Marriage does not redeem sin. Only Jesus himself can do that. The audience seemed a little shocked to hear this.

(Kindle: 1,648)

 

 

The more God-centered our worship practice, the more mercy-centered our life. Worship is our rehearsal for how to live today and how to glorify God in heaven. It is not merely a Sunday morning exercise meant to make us feel good.

(Kindle: 1,788)

 

 

Learning to be refreshed in the context of intense labor is important spiritual work. God truly gave us what we needed. When Christ was at the center, we learned to “draft” off God’s word the way cyclists draft off of another cyclist during a long race. Perhaps even more importantly, when Christ was at the center, we learned to say no and to close the door.

(Kindle: 2,073)

 

I learned, during those years, that the idea that one is ever too busy to pray is delusion of the most dangerous variety.

(Kindle: 2,083)

 

 

Over the years, I have contemplated what this really means. What does it really mean to “lack fellowship”? At least as it regards the handful of families that showed immediate excitement and then after a month a changed heart, this is what “lacking fellowship” means. It means that the family needs to be in a church made up of people who are just like they, who raise their children using the same childrearing methods, who take the same stance on birth control, schooling, voting, breastfeeding, dress codes, white flour, white sugar, gluten, childhood immunizations, the observance of secular and religious holidays. We encountered families who feared diversity with a primal fear. They often told us that they didn’t want to “confuse” their children by exposing them to differences in parenting standards among Christians. I suspect that they feared that deviation from their rules might provide a window for children to see how truly diverse the world is and that temptation might lead them astray. Over and over and over again I have heard this line of thinking from the fearful and the faith-struggling. We in the church tend to be more fearful of the (perceived) sin in the world than of the sin in our own hearts. Why is that?

(Kindle: 2,118)

 

 

When God brings children out of neglect, abuse, dysfunction, gangs, drugs, and hate, and places them in a covenant home, he has just moved a mountain in the hearts and families of men. When God gives a childless couple a child of any age using the means of his powerful will, he has just moved a mountain in the hearts and families of men. When mountains move, the earth shakes. When you stand as close as we have to real-life miracles, you will get roughed up. Mountains are big and we are small. A moving mountain can crush us. Splinters fall from the cross. They travel a long distance and they pierce the skin—maybe even the heart. And wrapped in this risk and danger are God’s embrace and promise to work all things (even evil ones) to the good of those who love him.

(Kindle: 2,287)

 

 

God is not crushing the dreams of parenthood when he deals the card of infertility. God is asking you to crush the idolatry of pregnancy, to be sure. And, he is saying: Dream My dreams, not yours!

(Kindle: 2,515)

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Book: Keller, Timothy. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Books, 2013.

Point: Christianity has the unique answer to meaningful suffering because Christianity is about Christ, the suffering yet conquering King.

Path: This book is divided into three parts, Worldview, Theological, and Practical. All are well articulated and helpful. 

Sources: Keller’s standard bibliography ranging from contemporary theologians and philosophers to ancient sources.

Agreement: This is the first book I would hand to someone dealing with, or walking alongside someone in the midst of suffering.

Personal App: Suffering is an incredible opportunity to see my inadequacy and God’s sufficiency.

“God allows evil just enough space so it will defeat itself.” (Keller)

Top Shelf Book: Making Sense of God

Book: Keller, Timothy. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical. Viking, 2016.

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Point: Every single individual lives a life based on a complex tangle of “experiences, faith, reasoning, and intuition.” Although the materialist or secularist can claim that belief in a God outside of space and time is unreasonable, that position is only tenable if the presupposition “God cannot exist” is there prior.

Path: In three main parts, Keller patiently and systematically guides the reader through the reasonability of faith in God, and not just any God, but the God of the Bible. Those parts are titled “Why does anyone need religion?”; “Religion is more than you think it is”; and “Christianity makes sense”. The middle part is by far the largest and most comprehensive, dealing with meaning, satisfaction, freedom, self, identity, hope, morals, and justice. His purpose is not to give a definitive argument for God, but demonstrate that arguments against a God are unfounded and fail repeatedly.

Sources: Keller does his normal deep digging and provides the reader with a lifetime of supplementary reading ranging from early church fathers to reformers, philosophers to militant atheists.

Agreement: After reading nearly every chapter I thought, “I just had this conversation last week!” This book both opened my eyes to a greater understanding of the problems and a greater appreciation to how Jesus solves them.

Personal App: The greatest compliment one of my unbelieving friends can pay me is “you understand and state my belief better than I could!” I feel as though this book helps me do this.

Favorite Quote: There is no way to pick a favorite, but one which points to a strength of the book is this one: “The point is rather that science alone cannot serve as a guide for human society.”

Stars: 5 out of 5

It would be worth another read and I would recommend it to someone who:

  • Believes science has all the answers.
  • Is struggling to believe in the God of the Bible while surrounded by “real life”.
  • Wants to better understand their neighbor, coworker, or family member who thinks “faith” is a crutch.
  • Anyone trying to engage the modern and postmodern man.

Other books along this theme would be:

Anderson, James N. What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions. Crossway Books, 2014.

Craig, William Lane. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. New. David C. Cook, 2010.

Keller, Timothy J. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Riverhead Books, 2009.

Koukl, Gregory. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Zondervan, 2009.

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ. 1st ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

The Vine Project

Book: Payne, Tony, and Colin Marshall. The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture around Disciple-Making. Matthias Media, 2016.

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Point: Making and maturing disciples is not something that a church does, it is something a disciple does. Here is a workbook on how to pursue disciple making in all of church life.

Path: The authors lay out five phases to work through, making sure that everyone understands that this is not as much of a how-to-manual, but rather a workbook. They lay a biblical foundation, explain logical truths, and give practical examples. This isn’t a book to just read, but to work through with others.

Sources: Based on their previous book and the interactions they have had since then, the authors do a great job at walking the reader through both biblical truth and e

 

veryday experience.

Agreement: Top shelf book. I am so thankful how they presented these truths not as a “five steps to your best church now” but “take time to think through these principles with others and you will change”.

Personal App: Am I seeing every relationship as an opportunity to encourage the other individual to take one step toward Christ?

Favorite Quote: Engaging unbelievers on Sunday is ”like taking in a gues

 

t at your house for Christmas dinner. This often happens in our part of the world. If there’s someone at church who doesn’t have any family to share Christmas with, then you invite them to join your family for Christmas lunch. Now in doing so, you don’t change who you are or what your family does in any significant way at all. But you make very sure that your guest is looked after. You warmly welcome them, and introduce them around. You explain what is going on at different points— why Uncle Fred always has to sit in that chair, what the background is to your funny family games or rituals, how to play, and so on. You put yourself out to make your guest feel at home and part of the family, even though it’s not their home or their family. Likewise in church— outsiders are not part of our church family. We don’t stop being who we are, or pursuing God’s purposes, just because we have guests present. But we do welcome our guests, who, like the ‘outsiders’ in 1 Corinthians 14, turn up and (God-willing) come to know and worship the living God in our midst.” (Kindle loc. 2967).

 

Stars:  5 out of 5

It would be worth another read and I would recommend it to someone who:

  • is planting a church
  • is leading a church
  • is
    serving in a church

Other books along this theme would be:

Anyabwile, Thabiti M. What Is a Healthy Church Member? 9Marks. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Expanded. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2004.

Marshall, Colin, Tony Payne, and Matthias Media. The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything. Kingsford, N.S.W.: Matthias Media, 2009.

Rainer, Thom S., and Eric Geiger. Simple Church. B&H Publishing Group, 2010.

Taking God at His Word

Book: DeYoung, Kevin. Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me. Crossway, 2014.

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Point: If we would recognize God’s Word for what it is we would value it like Jesus did.

Path: DeYoung lays out an accessible introduction and valuable meditation on the accessibility, necessity, and sufficiency of Scripture. He begins with the end by taking a look at Psalm 119 and how we ought to view Scripture. He then compares Scripture with subjective approaches to knowing God. Chapters 3-6 deal with the sufficiency, clarity, finality, and necessity of God’s Word. Chapter 7 addresses Christ’s view of Scriptures, and then chapter 8 is a challenge to value God’s Word for what it is. He ends with an annotated bibliography on bibliology.

 

Favorite Quote: “We need the revelation of God to know God, and the only sure, saving, final, perfect revelation of God is found in Scripture.” (Kindle 1103)

For a full review, follow the link above

 

Encounters with Jesus

Book: Keller, Timothy. Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. Reprint edition. Penguin Books, 2013.

For the full review, click on the title above

Path: Keller has given us a unique book which is both apologetical and devotional.

Keller takes a chapter to explain the interactions of various individuals with Jesus and how they can challenge us. Those individuals are: Nathanael the skeptic, the Insider – Nicodemus and the Outcast – the Samaritan woman, Mary and Martha the Grieving Sisters, the disciples and town at the wedding party,  Mary Magdalene, Satan and his temptations, Jesus at his Ascension, Jesus in the Garden, and Mary after the Angel’s revelation.

Keller explains the interactions in an interesting and enlightening way, and then applies them to skeptics, seekers, and mature believers.

 

Favorite Quote: “Jesus not only died the death we should have died in order to take the law’s curse for us, he also lived the great life of love and fidelity we should have lived in order to earn God’s blessing for us.“

Stars: 4.5 out of 5

It would be worth another read and I would recommend it to someone who:

  • Is skeptical about Jesus
  • Is seeking to know more about Jesus
  • Is seeking to love Jesus more

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Prayer by Keller

Book: Keller, Timothy. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. Dutton, 2014.

For a full review click on the link above

Point: Prayer is a privilege and power beyond what we could ever imagine. Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 6.01.55 PM

Path: Keller does what he always does, he gives an excellent background, thorough treatment, and clear application of an important topic. The book has five main parts: Desiring Prayer; Understanding Prayer; Learning Prayer; Deepening Prayer; Doing Prayer.

Agreement: Probably the top book on prayer I have read.

Favorite Quote: “In short, God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knew.”

 

The Art of Neighboring by Pathak and Runyon

Book: Pathak, Jay, and Dave Runyon. The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012.

For a full review – click the link above

Point: Until we recognize that “neighbor” in the second greatest command in Scripture can actually mean “someone living next to us,” we will fail to see our responsibility to those God has placed in our lives to love.

Agreement: I appreciated the challenge. How easy is it for me to generalize “neighbor” to everyone, and miss the individual right next door. It was very convicting to see what was, and at the same time, exciting to see what could be.

Personal App: Am I loving my neighbor specifically? Do I know my neighbor?

Stars:  4.5 out of 5

It would be worth another read and I would recommend it to someone who:

  • Is interested in obeying the Great Commandment
  • Is looking for good ideas about how to love their neighbor

Other books along this theme would be:

  • Coleman, Robert E. The Master Plan of Evangelism. Revell, 2006.
  • Dever, Mark. The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. First Edition. Crossway, 2007.
  • Stiles, J. Mack. Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus. Crossway, 2014.

Do More Better by Challies

Book: Challies, Tim. Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity. Challies, 2015.

Pages: 119

Point: To be productive is not merely to complete more tasks. Productivity means that one does what is most important and does it well. “Productivity is effectively stewarding my gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.”

Path: Challies does an excellent job of defining what productivity is, what it is not, why it is necessary, and how one can plan to be productive through the effective use of tools.

Sources: This book is not a composite of “prodicutivity gurus.” In the pages you can find hints of David Allen, Peter Drucker, and other time management specialists, but you don’t find strings of quotes.

Agreement: This is an excellent book and I found it very helpful. I went through Matt Perman’s book, “What’s Best Next” early this year and also Challies’ blog series on productivity, so my habits have not changed dramatically, but it was an excellent read. His brief but thoughtful critique of our obsession and misunderstanding of productivity was challenging to me. Everyone with a computer or smart phone would benefit from reading his chapters on tools.

Personal App: Am I just trying to get things done, or am I intentionally investing my time in meaningful pursuits in a manner of excellence?

Favorite Quote: “Productivity is not what will bring purpose to your life, but what will enable you to excel in living out your existing purpose” (10).

Stars:  5 out of 5

It would be worth another read and I would recommend it to someone who:

  • feels like they are daily spinning their wheels
  • wants to streamline their workflow
  • struggles with disorganized living
  • is way to busy to read a book
  • is just starting college or a new job

Other books along this theme would be:

  • DeYoung, Kevin. Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem. Crossway, 2013.
  • Perman, Matthew Aaron. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. Zondervan, 2014.
  • Glei, Jocelyn K., and 99U. Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind. Amazon Publishing, 2013.
  • Allen, David. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review

Top Shelf Book – Dispatches from the Front

Book: Keesee, Tim. Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places. Crossway, 2014.

Point: The person of Jesus Christ knows no boundaries, only fronts through which he confidently treads.

Path: Tim Keesee gives wartime correspondent information in a poetical and provoking narrative. He invites us to pick up the war cry of our King as he boldly leads his children in a victory of love. The stories which are written are meant to direct us to the task and revel in the Savior’s plan. In nature, they are both exciting and difficult, joyful and painful.

It would be worth another read and I would recommend it to someone who:

  1. Is interested in missions.
  2. Wants to get a global view of their local faith.
  3. Would like to hear what Christ is doing around the world.

For a full review, use the link above.