Laudable Linkage

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Here are some noteworthy reads and a couple of listens discovered this week:

When Furrows Fight Back, HT to The Story Warren. This is timely, with Labor Day on Monday: God’s creation of work before the fall and redemption of work after the fall.

Navigating Cross-Cultural Relationships, HT to Challies. “It is becoming increasingly common that, wherever you live, you will find yourself relating with someone from another culture. This is true in workplaces, neighbourhoods and churches. When confronted with a different culture, there are three common reactions.”

On Divisions and the Kingdom, HT to Challies. “So are you growing in righteousness, and peace, and joy? All the things which we are absorbing, all the debates we are throwing ourselves into, all of our stances, all of our focus and attention on the things which divide, all of our talking points….are these bringing about righteousness and peace and joy? Maybe, then, they aren’t the stuff the kingdom is made of.”

How to Speak with Grace, HT to Lisa. “How do we ensure we heal rather than hurt? Compliment rather than crush? Encourage rather than extinguish? How on earth do we speak with grace?”

10 False Versions of Jesus People Are Falling For. “Our culture presents us with so many versions of Jesus, letting us make Him in our own image. Maybe you’ve come to depend on a false Jesus and didn’t even realize it. If you are struggling to find peace, read about these false Jesuses with an open mind. Consider what Jesus said about Himself and test your beliefs against the truth from Scripture.”

Preaching the Funeral Sermon I Once Dreaded, HT to Challies. Beautiful.

5 Things Special Needs Families Wish the Church Knew. “We expect the world to shun us for being different, but not the church. Youth and children’s ministers are missing an enormous blessing for themselves and rich experiences for everyone involved by ignoring this issue.”

The “Revive Our Hearts” radio program for women with Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. I read the blog, but I don’t hear the program—the Christian radio station I listen to doesn’t carry it. They have the episodes online, but I just don’t think to find and listen to them, unless I hear about something special like Valerie Elliot Shephard’s episodes about her parents, Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. But I enjoyed this “Birth Story” of the broadcast as well as On the Eve of Twenty Years for Nancy’s journal entries and prayers as she considered stepping out to start this ministry.

If you’re a podcast listener, ThinkBible for women has just started a new one with the same name. I’ve been reading their blog for a few months now. I was not familiar with the main blog owner/podcaster, but she used to have a list of contributing writers on the blog, and I knew a few of them personally. One of my favorite people of all time, Claudia Barba, is interviewed in the second podcast. I could not find the podcast on Apple podcasts, but it’s on Spotify and other venues and can be listened to on the ThinkBible website as well.

30 Creative September Activities for Kids, with a printable list, HT to The Story Warren.

This is interesting: time lapse of a dandelion over a month:

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30).

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

31 Days of Inspirational Biography: Louis Zamperini, Olympian, POW, Christian

The preface of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand tells of three men in a raft in the Pacific Ocean. Their plane had crashed, the rest of the crew was dead, they’d been on the raft for 27 days. Finally they rejoiced to hear a plane. They shot flares into the sky and put dye in the water to make their raft more visible. But then the plane started shooting at them: it was Japanese, not American. One of the men jumped into the water, but the sharks came toward him…

And then the author cuts away to the childhood of Louis Zamperini, one of the men in the boat. He had been on the fast track to becoming a juvenile delinquent until his brother intervened for him with the high school principal who had banned Louis from participating in sports as a punishment. The principal relented and allowed Louis to run track, where Louis found focus and purpose.

Louis did so well, in fact, that he ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and was expected to be the first man to break the four-minute mile. His dream of the 1940 Olympics was shattered when they were cancelled due to WWII.

Louis joined the Army Air Force and became a second lieutenant and a bombardier. On one harrowing mission, his plane was ravaged by over 500 bullet holes, yet made it safely back to base.

But on one May day in 1943, their plane crashed into the Pacific, killing the other eight crewman. Louis and the other two survivors stayed afloat for 27 days until the event described in the preface occurred.

I had thought that would be the climax of the story, but it was just the beginning of Louis’s troubles. The crew was eventually captured by the Japanese and taken to a place off the grid from the other POW camps. It was not registered with the Red Cross, no one knew about it, the men were given up for dead, and ultimately the Japanese could do what they wanted with the prisoners with no fear of consequences.

When we think of WWII we often think of the atrocities of the Nazis, but the Japanese were uncommonly cruel. Hillenbrand explains that their concept of “saving face” makes surrender the ultimate humiliation, and the soldiers’ surrender to them gave them license, they felt, to degrade them in any way that came to mind.

At several points in Louis’s story, I thought, “How much more can one man endure?” He must have wondered the same thing at times.

Even after he returned home, his troubles did not end as he was afflicted with post-traumatic stress syndrome, severe nightmares, and succumbed to alcoholism.

But the subtitle to Unbroken is “A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.” Louis’s survival, resilience, and redemption make for an exceptionally touching and inspiring book.

The story is told primarily through narrative, with very little dialogue, but it is captivating. I listened to it via audiobook, and Edward Herrman did an excellent job narrating.

There are those who would want to be forewarned that there is a smattering of bad language in it, understandable in the context, including one particularity vulgar word that could have been left out. But other than that, this is an excellent book.

A movie is being made of Louis’s life, and I hope they won’t leave out the faith element. After Louis got back to the USA, his troubles weren’t over, but God used them to lead him to Himself.

(Reposted from the archives)

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For the 31 Days writing challenge, I am sharing 31 Days of Inspirational Biography. You can find others in the series here.

 

31 Days of Inspirational Biography: Rosaria Butterfield

I don’t know when 148 pages of someone’s life story has impacted me more. There are sections where I have sticky tabs and markings on several pages in a row.

Unlikely ConvertThe Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith is Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s story of how she, as an atheist, leftist, feminist, lesbian professor specializing Critical Theory, or postmodernism, and whose specialty was Queer Theory, who hated Christians, encountered and embraced the truths of Christianity in what she calls a “train wreck” of a conversion.

After a few pages detailing how she came to her professorship and worldview, she describes a kind and inquiring letter from a pastor in response to an article she had written.

The Bible makes it clear that reason is not the front door of faith. It takes spiritual eyes to discern spiritual matters. But how do we develop spiritual eyes unless Christians engage the culture with those questions and paradigms of mindfulness out of which spiritual logic flows? That’s exactly what Ken’s letter did for me – invited me to think in ways I hadn’t before (pp. 8-9).

The letter had invited her to call him, and after a week, she did. He invited her to have dinner with him and his wife at their home, and she accepted. She was also at this time doing research for a book on the Religious Right and figured he could answer some of her questions. “Even though obviously these Christians and I were very different, they seemed to know that I wasn’t just a blank slate, that I had values and opinions too, and they talked with me in a way that didn’t make me feel erased” (p. 10). Thus began two years of regular meetings and studying Scripture before she ever set foot in a church, which Ken and his wife knew would probably be “too threatening, too weird, too much” (p. 11) for her. “Good teachers make it possible for people to change their positions without shame. Even as Ken prayed for my soul, he did it in a way that welcomed me into the church rather than made me a scapegoat of Christian fear or an example of what not to become,” (p. 14.)

Gradually she came to believe, but she knew it would cost her. “I clung to Matthew 16:24, remembering that every believer had to at some point in life take the step I was taking: giving up the right to myself, taking up his Cross (i.e., the historicity of the resurrection, not masochism endured to please others), and following Jesus.” “I learned that we must obey in faith before we feel better or different. At this time, though, obeying in faith, to me, felt like throwing myself off a cliff” (p. 22). “One doesn’t repent for a sin of identity in one session. Sins of identity have multiple dimensions, and throughout this journey, I have come to my pastor and his wife, friends in the Lord, and always the Lord himself with different facets of my sin” (p. 23).

She tells of a woman she knew and counseled who was in a Bible-believing church but was in a secret lesbian relationship. Her secret denied her the help and prayers of other believers and only resulted in shame and pretense. When Rosaria asked why she didn’t share her struggle with anyone in her church, she replied, “If people in my church really believed that gay people could be transformed by Christ, they wouldn’t talk about us or pray about us in the hateful way they do” (p. 25). Rosaria then asks readers, “Do your prayers rise no higher than your prejudice? I think that churches would be places of greater intimacy and growth in Christ if people stopped lying about what we need, what we fear, where we fail, and how we sin” (p. 25).

Rosaria was a tenured professor in subjects that would now radically change because of her conversion. When she let it be known that she was now a Christian, both she and her gay friends felt she had betrayed them and turned traitor. “I…was alert to the reality that God had ministry waiting for me. I prayed that I would be strong for the task at hand. Yes, I was still a laughing stock in the gay community. Yes, I was still a traitor and an example of what not to be. But so too was Paul the Apostle shamed among Pharisees, and I trusted that God would take my life and make a place for me” (p. 50).

The rest of the book tells how God did just that, both in her career and ministry to others, leading her to marry a pastor, to eventually adopt four biracial children, and to become a homeschooling mom.

Along the way, she shares an eye-opening perspective of what Christianity looks like to others. For instance, when she moved to a community where there were Bible verses on bumper stickers and placards, instead of it looking like people were sharing a bit of light, it looked to her like the community was for “insiders” only. Christians seemed like “bad thinkers” or even anti-intellectual to her before this journey, using Scripture to shut down conversations rather than to shed light. Unfortunately, that is too often true: instead of truly discussing what the Bible has to say and being “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15b), some Christians take offense at being asked and use Scripture to bludgeon. I’ve known some who have been turned off, not so much to all Christian truth, but to Christian community because of this experience.

One theme that comes out throughout the book is the willingness to engage people who are different from us in any way. Thank God the pastor and wife who first shared Christ with her looked past her butch haircut and gay and pro-choice bumper stickers to the need of her heart. But even after she became a Christian, she ran into this phenomenon in various churches. When her husband was the guest speaker at a church and she was getting out of the car holding one of her adopted children while the other was asleep in the car seat, a man said to her, “So, is it chic for white women to adopt black kids these days?” After asking him if he was a Christian, she said, “So, did God save you because it was chic?” When her husband started pastoring a small church plant made up mostly of college students, families would come for a month or so and then leave because of a “lack of fellowship” with people just like themselves. I could step on a small soapbox here: I get so discouraged when people within the same church only want to fellowship with people just like themselves — same age bracket, same marital or parental status, same way of educating or disciplining children, etc., etc.

If I shared everything else I marked, I’d be nearly rewriting the book here, so I can’t do that. But here are just a few more things that grabbed me:

“Since all major U. S. universities had Christian roots, too many Christians thought that they could rest in Christian tradition, not Christian relevance” (p. 7).

“When we read in the book of Romans, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (8:28), we are not to be Pollyanna about this. Many of the ‘things’ we will face come with the razor edges of a fallen and broken world. You can’t play poker with God’s mercy – if you want the sweet mercy then you must also swallow the bitter mercy. And what is the difference between sweet and bitter? Only this: your critical perspective, your worldview. One of God’s greatest gifts is the ability to see and appreciate the world from points of view foreign to your own, points of view that exceed your personal experience”  (p. 125).

“Many people in our community protect themselves from inconvenience as though inconvenience is deadly. We have decided that we are not inconvenienced by inconvenience. The needs of children come up unexpectedly. We are sure that the Good Samaritan had other plans that fateful day. Our plans are not sacred” (p. 126).

When a teenage girl in foster care with mental illness heard a pastor speaking about God’s call, afterward she “approached Pastor Steve and said, ‘Steve, I hear voices all the time. How do I know the difference between hearing the voice of God and hearing the voices of my own sick mind?’ Pastor Steve said, ‘Dear one, we all have the check the voices of our own sick mind with the Bible. Daily. You are no different’” (p. 128).

One thought that came to mind while reading the book was, “Why don’t we see this happening more often?” If the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and it is, then why don’t we see such transformative conversions more often, and why are those raised in Christian culture often so anemic? Sometimes I long with the Psalmist “To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary” (Psalm 63:2). Is it because we don’t share the gospel in a kind and loving way enough? Or is it because not many people are truly willing to examine the claims of the Bible and bring themselves under its authority? Maybe both. I’ve seen online encounters where non-Christians have as much of a “smackdown” way of encountering Christians as Christians do encountering them. I know I would have been scared to death to engage someone like Rosaria before she was saved: I’d have been afraid that I wouldn’t be able to answer her questions and she’d be able to run rings around me with her reasoning ability. But I have to remind myself that those whom God brought across her path with just the right thing to say at the right time were operating under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, not their own wisdom and insight. Sometimes we look for a formula: we see articles or pamphlets about “How to witness to atheists” or whomever else, and those can have some helpful points, but we can’t memorize a script and then present it to people. We need to share a Person and show His love to others and trust Him for the right words to say and pray for His working in hearts.

Rosaria writes now from a Reformed Presbyterian perspective, and since I am not from that perspective, I’d disagree with a few minor points here and there, but I am not going to nitpick about them. I do believe Christians can agree on the big issues and agree to disagree about smaller ones.

There is a condensed version of her testimony here, but I do encourage you to read the book as well. I was one of my top ten books read in 2013, and it is one of my top ten of all time.

And if you think of it, you might pray for her ministry now. I’ve caught a few news items since reading this book where she has gone to speak at a university and faced student protests from those who are close-minded about her message. She understands where they are coming from because she used to think the same way. May the light of God’s truth open many more hearts.

(Reposted from the archives. I was just going to post a quick summary – but I couldn’t. 🙂 )

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For the 31 Days writing challenge, I am sharing 31 Days of Inspirational Biography. You can find others in the series here.

Book Review: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

SeekingIn Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity Nabeel Qureshi first gives a window into a loving and devout Muslim home, with all its practices, disciplines, and teachings, as well as a peek into the perspective of growing up Muslim in a non-Muslim culture.  Wanting to be a faithful representative of Islam, having been taught critical thinking in school and having a mind geared for it, he often turned the arguments of some of his Christian classmates on their heads, bringing up aspects they had not thought about before and were not ready to defend.

In college God brought to him “an intelligent, uncompromising, Non-Muslim friend who would be willing to challenge” him, someone who was “bold and stubborn enough” to deal with him but also someone he could trust “enough to dialogue…about the things that mattered to [him] the most.” Nabeel and his friend, David, were both on the forensics team and knew how to get to the heart of an argument and draw out and refute key points. For the most part they did this with each other’s worldviews good-naturedly, but when a given topic became too heated, they’d table it for a while. Muslims particularly have trouble with the reliability of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the connection between Christ’s death on the cross and how it atoned for others’ sins. For three years Nabeel studied the Bible and its claims and others’ claims about it, fully confident that he’d be able to disprove those claims, and then to study the history of Mohamed and the claims of the Quran, fully confident that Islam would be justified. Though he was obviously biased toward the Quran, he really wanted to know the truth. He discovered the Bible’s claims were justified and Islam’s to be on shaky ground.

For some time he resisted acting on this knowledge. Being a Muslim was a matter of identity as well as religion: his whole life, everything he had always believed, his relationship with his family and community, everything would be turned upside down if he became a Christian. Yet he could not continue on, knowing what he now knew. In one of the most beautiful and touching passages in the book, he was seeking time to mourn before making the decision he knew he had to, and he opened the Bible for guidance this time, not simply to look for information to refute. He came to Matthew 5:4, 6:

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Nabeel writes further:

There are costs Muslims must calculate when considering the gospel: losing the relationships they have built in this life, potentially losing this life, and if they are wrong, losing their afterlife. It is no understatement to say that Muslims often risk everything to embrace the cross.

But then again, it is the cross. There is a reason Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

Would it be worth it to pick up my cross and be crucified next to Jesus? If He is not God, then, no. Lose everything I love to worship a false God? A million times over, no!

But if He is God, then yes. Being forever bonded to my Lord by suffering alongside Him? A million times over, yes!

All suffering is worth it to follow Jesus. He is that amazing.

I feel I must comment on one aspect of the story that I questioned at first and I am sure other readers might as well: When Nabeel mentioned early on being “called to Jesus through visions and dreams,” I admit I inwardly winced and wondered what kind of story I’d be reading. For reasons too long to go into here, I am of those who believe that once God gave us His completed Word in writing, then dreams, visions, tongues, and the like fell away as unneeded.  The few modern instances I have ever heard or read of that seemed most in line with Bible truth were in cultures which didn’t have the Bible, often didn’t have a written language at all. Another problem with relying on dreams Nabeel discovered himself: one questions what it really means (his Muslim mother and Christian friend had completely opposite interpretations for what Nabeel’s dreams meant), wonders how much was due to wishful thinking, asks “Could I really hinge my life and eternal destiny on a dream?” etc. If that’s all he had to go on to become a believer, I would question what he was really trusting, but these dreams came after years of intense searching and study. In an appendix by Josh McDowell on this topic, he states, “Dreams and visions do not convert people; the gospel does,” but he explains, “In many Muslim cultures, dreams and visions play a strong role in people’s lives. Muslims rarely have access to the scriptures or interactions with Christian missionaries.” As in Nabeel’s case, “the dreams lead them to the scriptures and to believers who can share Jesus with them. It is the gospel through the Holy Spirit that converts people.”

One of many passages that stood out to me was in the chapter “Muslims in the West,” which described how Muslims view the West and Christians and, because they think both have corrupting influences and Westerners they are against Islam, they tend to keep to themselves. “On the rare occasion that someone does invite a Muslim to his or her home, differences in culture and hospitality may make the Muslim feel uncomfortable, and the host must be willing to ask, learn, and adapt to overcome this. There are simply too many  barriers for Muslim immigrants to understand Christians and the West by sheer circumstance. Only the exceptional blend of love, humility, hospitality, and persistence can overcome these barriers, and not enough people make the effort.”

I didn’t agree with everything Nabeel’s Christian friend said in the section about the Bible, in regard to believing some sections in the Bible were added later and not part of the original canon, but I do acknowledge that some do believe that.

There are multiple good aspects of this book: the window into another culture and mindset and the understanding of the difficulties a Muslim would have in coming to Christianity; the example of David and other friends who shared truth kindly and politely rather than belligerently or condescendingly, who genuinely cared about Nabeel as a friend rather than a “project”; the  wealth of information Nabeel found and shared from his studies which give a valuable apologetic (supplemented by several appendices>); and the touching yet agonizing conversion of a soul truly hungering and thirsting after the one true God.

This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Book Review: The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

I don’t know when 148 pages of someone’s life story has impacted me more. There are sections where I have sticky tabs and markings on several pages in a row.

Unlikely ConvertThe Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith is Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s story of how she, as an atheist, leftist, feminist, lesbian professor specializing Critical Theory, or postmodernism, and whose specialty was Queer Theory, who hated Christians, encountered and embraced the truths of Christianity in what she calls a “train wreck” of a conversion.

After a few pages detailing how she came to her professorship and worldview, she describes a kind and inquiring letter from a pastor in response to an article she had written.

The Bible makes it clear that reason is not the front door of faith. It takes spiritual eyes to discern spiritual matters. But how do we develop spiritual eyes unless Christians engage the culture with those questions and paradigms of mindfulness out of which spiritual logic flows? That’s exactly what Ken’s letter did for me – invited me to think in ways I hadn’t before (pp. 8-9).

The letter had invited her to call him, and after a week, she did. He invited her to have dinner with him and his wife at their home, and she accepted. She was also at this time doing research for a book on the Religious Right and figured he could answer some of her questions. “Even though obviously these Christians and I were very different, they seemed to know that I wasn’t just a blank slate, that I had values and opinions too, and they talked with me in a way that didn’t make me feel erased” (p. 10). Thus began two years of regular meetings and studying Scripture before she ever set foot in a church, which Ken and his wife knew would probably be “too threatening, too weird, too much” (p. 11) for her. “Good teachers make it possible for people to change their positions without shame. Even as Ken prayed for my soul, he did it in a way that welcomed me into the church rather than made me a scapegoat of Christian fear or an example of what not to become,” (p. 14.)

Gradually she came to believe, but she knew it would cost her. “I clung to Matthew 16:24, remembering that every believer had to at some point in life take the step I was taking: giving up the right to myself, taking up his Cross (i.e., the historicity of the resurrection, not masochism endured to please others), and following Jesus.” “I learned that we must obey in faith before we feel better or different. At this time, though, obeying in faith, to me, felt like throwing myself off a cliff” (p. 22). “One doesn’t repent for a sin of identity in one session. Sins of identity have multiple dimensions, and throughout this journey, I have come to my pastor and his wife, friends in the Lord, and always the Lord himself with different facets of my sin” (p. 23).

She tells of a woman she knew and counseled who was in a Bible-believing church but was in a secret lesbian relationship. Her secret denied her the help and prayers of other believers and only resulted in shame and pretense. When Rosaria asked why she didn’t share her struggle with anyone in her church, she replied, “If people in my church really believed that gay people could be transformed by Christ, they wouldn’t talk about us or pray about us in the hateful way they do” (p. 25). Rosaria then asks readers, “Do your prayers rise no higher than your prejudice? I think that churches would be places of greater intimacy and growth in Christ if people stopped lying about what we need, what we fear, where we fail, and how we sin” (p. 25).

Rosaria was a tenured professor in subjects that would now radically change because of her conversion. When she let it be known that she was now a Christian, both she and her gay friends felt she had betrayed them and turned traitor. “I…was alert to the reality that God had ministry waiting for me. I prayed that I would be strong for the task at hand. Yes, I was still a laughing stock in the gay community. Yes, I was still a traitor and an example of what not to be. But so too was Paul the Apostle shamed among Pharisees, and I trusted that God would take my life and make a place for me” (p. 50).

The rest of the book tells how God did just that, both in her career and ministry to others, leading her to marry a pastor, to eventually adopt four biracial children, and to become a homeschooling mom.

Along the way, she shares an eye-opening perspective of what Christianity looks like to others. For instance, when she moved to a community where there were Bible verses on bumper stickers and placards, instead of it looking like people were sharing a bit of light, it looked to her like the community was for “insiders” only. Christians seemed like “bad thinkers” or even anti-intellectual to her before this journey, using Scripture to shut down conversations rather than to shed light. Unfortunately, that is too often true: instead of truly discussing what the Bible has to say and being “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15b), some Christians take offense at being asked and use Scripture to bludgeon. One of my own family members has been turned off, not so much to all Christian truth, but to Christian community because of this experience.

One theme that comes out throughout the book is the willingness to engage people who are different from us in any way. Thank God the pastor and wife who first shared Christ with her looked past her butch haircut and gay and pro-choice bumper stickers to the need of her heart. But even after she became a Christian, she ran into this phenomenon in various churches. When her husband was the guest speaker at a church and she was getting out of the car holding one of her children while the other was asleep in the car seat, a man said to he, “So, is it chic for white women to adopt black kids these days?” After asking him if he was a Christian, she said, “So, did God save you because it was chic?” When her husband started pastoring a small church plant made up mostly of college students, families would come for a month or so and then leave because of a “lack of fellowship” with people just like themselves. I could step on a small soapbox here: I get so discouraged when people within the same church only want to fellowship with people just like themselves — same age bracket, some marital or parental status, same way of educating or disciplining children, etc., etc.

If I shared everything else I marked, I’d be nearly rewriting the book here, so I can’t do that. But here are just a few more things that grabbed me:

“Since all major U. S. universities had Christian roots, too many Christians thought that they could rest in Christian tradition, not Christian relevance” (p. 7).

“When we read in the book of Romans, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (8:28), we are not to be Pollyanna about this. Many of the ‘things’ we will face come with the razor edges of a fallen and broken world. You can’t play poker with God’s mercy – if you want the sweet mercy then you must also swallow the bitter mercy. And what is the difference between sweet and bitter? Only this: your critical perspective, your worldview. One of God’s greatest gifts is the ability to see and appreciate the world from points of view foreign to your own, points of view that exceed your personal experience”  (p. 125).

“Many people in our community protect themselves from inconvenience as though inconvenience is deadly. We have decided that we are not inconvenienced by inconvenience. The needs of children come up unexpectedly. We are sure that the Good Samaritan had other plans that fateful day. Our plans are not sacred” (p. 126).

When a teenage girl in foster care with mental illness heard a pastor speaking about God’s call, afterward she “approached Pastor Steve and said, ‘Steve, I hear voices all the time. How do I know the difference between hearing the voice of God and hearing the voices of my own sick mind?’ Pastor Steve said, ‘Dear one, we all have the check the voices of our own sick mind with the Bible. Daily. You are no different'” (p. 128).

One thought that came to mind while reading the book was, “Why don’t we see this happening more often?” If the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and it is, then why don’t we see such transformative conversions more often, and why are those raised in Christian culture often so anemic? Sometimes I long with the Psalmist “To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary” (Psalm 63:2). Is it because we don’t share the gospel in a kind and loving way enough? Or is it because not many people are truly willing to examine the claims of the Bible and bring themselves under its authority? Maybe both. I’ve seen online encounters where non-Christians have as much of a “smackdown” way of encountering Christians as Christians do encountering them. I know I would have been scared to death to engage someone like Rosaria before she was saved: I’d have been afraid that I wouldn’t be able to answer her questions and she’d be able to run rings around me with her reasoning ability. But I have to remind myself that those whom God brought across her path with just the right thing to say at the right time were operating under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, not their own wisdom and insight. Sometimes we look for a formula: we see articles or pamphlets about “How to witness to atheists” or whomever else, and those can have some helpful points, but we can’t memorize a script and then present it to people. We need to share a Person and show His love to others and trust Him for the right words to say and pray for His working in hearts.

Rosaria writes now from a Reformed Presbyterian perspective, and since I am not from that perspective, I’d disagree with a few minor points here and there, but I am not going to nitpick about them. I do believe Christians can agree on the big issues and agree to disagree about smaller ones.

There is a condensed version of her testimony here, but I do encourage you to read the book as well. I believe it’s going to go down as one of my top ten of the year.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)