Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert – a short review

A few weeks ago, I completed a book titled The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, in it’s entirety. I had begun reading this book when it first hit the market, but never finished it. I loaned my copy to a friend, for her to read, and frankly, allowed the book to ‘fall off my radar’. After a number of months, my friend actually bought me a brand new copy – which happened to be the ‘Expanded Edition’ – because she had marked my copy up so much – so with a new copy in my possession, I placed it at the top of my reading list, and launched in, with a view to complete it. Doing so was quite a journey. I was moved profoundly.

Rosaria-Champagne-ButterfieldSecret Thoughts, as the title implies, recounts the unlikely conversion of the books author, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, to Jesus Christ. She saw her conversion as ‘unlikely’ because, as she relates: ” When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian. I was at the finish of a PhD in English Literature and Cultural Studies. I was teaching associate in one of the first and strongest women’s studies departments in the nation. I was being recruited by universities to take faculty and administrative roles in advancing radical leftist ideologies. I genuinely believed I was helping to make the world a better place.”

At age 36, she continues, I was one of the few tenured women at a large research university, a rising administrator, and a community activist. I had become one of the ‘tenured activists’. She goes on to say how by all standards, she had made it – but how that same year, Christ claimed her as His own (Secret Thoughts, page x).

How did this happen, you may ask? Chapter one, ‘Conversion and the Gospel of Peace’, answers this question in quite a bit of detail – and it in itself is a powerful testimony about the overarching and providential working of God’s grace as it is fleshed out in someones life. I was moved profoundly by this chapter, writing on a blank half page in the book, “This is perhaps the most honest chapter I have ever read about someone’s conversion and the questions a true encounter with Jesus surfaces – and I find I desire this level of honesty and this type experience of God – although I have supposedly walked with Him for years – it’s the raw honesty that speaks to me.” 

The account of Rosaria Butterfield’s conversion to Christ is definitely NOT all her book is about, however. Chapters two and three speak just as honestly and profoundly about repentance, sexuality, sanctification, public worship, and family life. About repentance, she observes, “In this crucible of confusion…I learned the first rule of repentance: that repentance requires greater intimacy with God than with our sin” (page 21).

About sanctification she writes, after quoting Paul’s profound statement about forgetting what lay behind him in his life and reaching forward to those things that lay ahead (Phil. 3: 13), how “this forgetting was a painful process. Like grief, the cost of relief is the you that you used to be. Surviving means sacrificing something of you.” (page 41). She then goes on to share what her faith and following of Jesus cost her practically and personally – when she dared come out, as a follower of Jesus, in a most public fashion (page 41-50).

MIS86-2.gifRegarding sexuality, she observes, “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” (page 83). And in another place she asks and answers, “How did the Lord heal me? he way that he always heals: the word of God got to be bigger inside me than I” (page 25).

On worship, one insight, found on page 92, explains: “The more God-centered our worship practice, the more mercy centered our life. Worship sour 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.” And after stating the pressure the Regulative Principle places on real issues, she continues, “Either Jesus comes to worship with us and the Holy Spirit fuels and fills us and God is honored, or we have, simply, painfully, nothing at all.” (page 92).  

For many, the first chapter alone will be worth the price of the book – but to stop with chapter one is to see this book far short! I found chapters two through five and the Expanded Edition Features to be equally insightful, compelling and encouraging. Fully half the book, from The Home Front, which begins on page 95, and Homeschooling and Middle Age, which ends on page 148, addresses family life, the home and adoption of children in need – and I was often brought to tears, and/or compelled to lift up praise and prayer to God as I reads those portions.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is a book I highly recommend to every follower of Jesus – and especially in our present day. But, it will prove to be an excellent read for Christian and non Christian alike, for that matter. I ended my reading journey feeling the book came to an end too abruptly. But then, one mark of a solid piece of literature, in my opinion, is that one doesn’t want it to end. To my joy though, it seems the story will continue in the sequel – Openness Unhindered – Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.    

Sips from Ancient Wells

images-24Much of a Christians spiritual strength lies in secret prayer, as Samson’s did in his hair. Nothing disarms Satan and disarms sin like this. Secret prayers are the pillars of smoke wherein the soul ascends to God out of the wilderness of this world. Secret prayer is Jacob’s ladder, where you have God descending into the soul, and the soul sweetly ascending to God. Secret meals are very fattening, and secret duties are very soul enriching.”  Thomas Brooks 

Sips from Ancient wells

“Sin turns all God’s grace into wantonness; it is the dare of His justice, the rape of His mercy, the jeer of His patience, the slight of His power, the contempt of His love…Take heed of giving yourself the liberty of committing one sin, for that will lead to another; till, by an ill custom, it becomes natural.” 

Dying Sayings of John Bunyan

Sips from Ancient Wells

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“Have a special care to sanctify the Lord’s day; for in the way you keep it, so it will be, with you, all the week long. Make the Lord’s Day the market for your soul; let the whole day be spent in prayer, repetitions, meditations; lay aside the affairs of the other part of the week; let the sermon you heard be converted into prayer: Shall God allow you six days, and will you not afford Him, one?” from John Bunyan’s Dying Sayings 

An Encouragement to Christian Women to Action after Obergefell

images-18As I scanned articles on the First Things web site (a periodical hailed, by the way, to be america’s most influential journal of religion and public life), I came across a little  gem I found refreshing. Titled ‘Renewing My Plea: Humanae Vitae after Obergefell‘, author Luma Simms issues a call to women to resist the present downward moral spiral of our culture – and specifically SCOTUS – not politically but rather, by ‘rising up and using their feminine genius”. What does she mean?

Here’s an excerpt from her article: “The culture that now finds itself in a post-Obergefell mishmash—whereby marriage is whatever anyone wants, for as long as everyone involved thinks it’s still fun for them—blossomed out of no-fault divorce. Every act of faith within this sphere, then, is an act of resistance to the SCOTUS decision and to the culture that bred it. At the heart of this resistance are mastery over concupiscence, a deeper understanding of the spousal meaning of the body, and a grasp of sacramental marriage.”

Further, she suggests: Women must stand athwart current feminism, yelling “No!” to contraception. And “No!” to abortion.“No!” to sex outside of marriage. “No!” to men who want to “try things out” by cohabiting. “No!” to the temptation to act on same-sex attraction. “Yes!” to sacramental marriage. “Yes!” to an open and fruitful womb. “Yes!” to adoption if the womb is closed. “Yes!” to religious vocations. “Yes!” to spiritual motherhood. “Yes!” to life at home with young children, even if it means less income. “Yes!” to anything and everything that makes the woman fruitful both in and out of the home. “Yes!” to the abundant life that typifies womanhood qua womanhood rather than as “feminine machismo.” 

Simms writes as a Roman Catholic while I’m clearly Protestant. But despite this difference, her article challenges me and convicts me (in a good way) to continue to stand fast and hold the line in upholding the true worth and support of women and motherhood, the sanctity of covenant marriage, the value of celibacy, and the blessing of many children (whether through natural birth of adoption), or both.

In this post-SCOTUS world, many who follow Jesus Christ wonder what to do. For both women and men of faith, Simms journal article reminds us that a significant part of the answer abides closer than we might think; and clearly, ANY woman who purposes to live out the challenge Simms puts forth, will be absolutely, totally, counter-cultural.You can read the full article here.

Cultivate: Growing in Grace through the Psalms #5 (Psalms of Thanksgiving)

Of all people, Jesus followers should be (and often are) people who are filled with thanksgiving – and we have every reason to be so. Let me explain.

As I consider my life I have to admit, I once was lost, in the darkness of self centeredness, in the consequence of evil things done to me, of my own evil done to others and to the personal evil passions and attitudes that my own sinful nature bred; and before a holy God, I was fully worthy of judgement, of punishment, of God’s real wrath on my life. I can safely say I was a rebel to God’s will. AND, left on my own, I had no interest in seeking God, and I had no interest in knowing God. I didn’t want God to rule over my life. I was a slave to sinful passions – just like every other person who is born a descendent of Adam.

BUT, while I was in that state, God was at work in my life – and through a series of providential events, my life somehow intersected with the good news that Jesus Christ had come to save people from themselves and from their sins, and that he had actually given His life as a sacrifice to ransom sinners. I also learned that the forgiveness and the salvation he offered was free of charge – not because it didn’t cost anything, but because Jesus had paid the price for what it cost, Himself. And this meant what He had to offer was a free gift.

So, through a series of events I don’t have time to relate, I came to a place where I realized I WAS separated from God AND had offended Him greatly – and I saw that, admitted that, and one night, confessed my sins to God and asked Him to forgive me and to save me. Now, after that, something very interesting began to take place. I started discovering that I had come to the place where I cried out to Him, seeking forgiveness, because He, in the most gracious way, had opened my blind spiritual eyes, had given my dead soul life, and had done this so I could understand my need and HIs remedy, to the end that I believed – which reconciled me to God the Father, making me His child.

On the one hand, every person who belongs to Christ has a different story about how becoming God’s child happened in their life. But every person belonging to Christ passed through a similar process as I did, on the other hand. The detail differs from person to person but the result is always the same – new life, in Jesus Christ., by God’s gracious activity, through faith. And this alone, is enough to fill us with thanksgiving.

In addition to this though, there follows grace upon grace and blessing upon blessing – many of which are spiritual, but many of which are physical/temporal. I began to follow Christ Jesus ‘sort of’, in 1970 – 45 years ago; but after straying from Him for five years (1972 to 1977), came back to Him for real, 38 years ago – and as I look back over my life, there are SO many reasons to be thankful!!

We are great sinners, but Christ is a GREAT Savior – and through Him we have forgiveness, but we also come to know the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

On this backdrop – the backdrop of God, who He is, the benefits He extends to those who love Him, the scripture teaches us that thanksgiving is both fitting, and a proper attitude of Christ’s followers – and we learn about this in many ways from the Word of God.

1) Some offerings during the OT era, for example, were offered as Thank Offerings – or, Offerings of Thanksgiving (Lv. 7: 11ff; 22: 29;
2) Thanksgiving was an attitude Jesus commended (Lk. 17: 15);
3) In several places in the NT letters, the apostles instruct us to do things with Thanksgiving (Phil 4: 6; Col. 2: 7, 4: 2);
4) We learn from other places that Thanksgiving should be an integral part of our praying (1 Tim. 2: 1-2) and that even our food should be received with Thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4: 3-4)
5) And in Revelation 7: 12, we learn how Thanksgiving is an integral part of the worship that takes place before the throne of God and of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.

It seems safe to say that in the same way that God is Love and love characterizes Him, so Jesus’s followers are children of God and members of Christ’s kingdom and thanksgiving should characterize us, toward God and others. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that in the book pf Psalms, we have a number of Psalms that fall into the category of Psalms of Thanksgiving.
I. Thanksgiving Psalms: How would you define a thanksgiving Psalm?

By definition, a Psalm of Thanksgiving is a psalm where the psalmist expresses a deep gratitude and appreciation for God’s grace, love, blessing – sometimes to himself, and sometimes to God’s covenant people.

Many of the Psalms identify as Psalms of Thanksgiving: Psalm 8, 18, 19, 29, 30, 32-34, 36 and 40 are Psalms of Thanksgiving, as are Psalm 40, 41, 60 103-106, 111, 113, 117, 124, 129, 135, 136, 138, 139, 146-148 and 150.

Psalms of Thanksgiving have a few unmistakeable characteristics. They will sometimes start with an exclamation – “Praise the Lord!” (see Psalm 149); Or, the refrain will be a call to praise or thank God for a certain benefit or other (see Psalm 107: 1, 8, 15, 21, 31-32, 43).

Sometimes, a Psalm of Thanksgiving will be FILLED with related calls to praise the Lord (see Psalm 150); and sometimes, they simply list out a number of blessings and benefits which come from God and which he bestows upon those who trust Him (see Psalm 40).

And so, in various forms, Psalms of Thanksgiving offer up praise and thanks to God for Himself, for His benefits and deliverances, for HIs salvation, for HIs blessing.

II. Thanksgiving Psalm considered: I have several personal favorites in this category of Psalm – but tops on my list is Psalm 103. Let’s take some time to consider Psalm 103.

Structure and Focus: Psalm 103 is a medium length Psalm, having 22 verses – and the Psalm follows a clear structure.

1st, the opening and closing verses of the Psalm (vs. 1-5; 20-22) form a crescendo of Blessing of the Lord;

2nd, vs. 6-14 name many of the Lord’s acts and qualities;

3rd, vs. 15 to 19 are a comparison – between man, who is temporary at best, and the Lord and his covenant faithfulness. So, breaking Psalm 103 down, I could outline it like this:

a) Introductory Praise Offering (vs. 1-5)

b) Praiseworthy works and benefits of the Lord (vs. 6-14)

c) Man’s Fading, God’s Abiding (vs. 15-19);

d) Exhortation to Praise the Lord (vs. 20-22)

Analysis: That’s how the Psalm breaks down. In light of this, it is helpful to read the psalm slowly, and then take some time – perhaps ten to fifteen minutes, to list out as many SPECIFIC benefits the Lord extends, specific works the Lord does or acts the Lord performs, or promises the Lord makes, to His people.

For those who take the time to do this exercise, one will find over twenty benefits, and a few promises to believers, in this psalm.

III. Praying the Thanksgiving Psalms: How would one go about praying this or any other Thanksgiving Psalm?

Cultivate: Growing in Grace through the Psalms #4 (Imprecatory Psalms)

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As we read through the Psalms, we inevitably come across some that have requests of God, requesting him to do bad things to people. These may be requests for justice, or for vengeance, they may be requests for protection, and they may be prayed to God about individuals, or about national enemies.

Consider Psalm 140: 1-3, 8-11, as an example. The Psalmist says to God: Deliver me, O LORD, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. They make their tongues sharp as a serpent’s and under their lips is the venom of asps….and the, starting in verse 8, Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted.

As for the head of those who surround me, let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into fire and not miry pits, no more to rise! Let not the slanderer be established in the land; let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!

Psalm 10: 2, 15 is another example: In arrogance, the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the scheme they have devised….Break the arms of the wicked and the evildoer; call his wickedness to account until you find none.

In Psalm 137 we have the Psalmist praying or singing, Oh daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them again the rock!

And finally, Psalm 69: 22-28 contains similar requests. There the Psalmist prays, Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. Let their eyes become darkened so they cannot see and make their loins tremble continually. Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.

May their camp be desolation; let now one dwell in their tents. For they persecute him whom you have struck down and they recount the pain of those you have wounded.

Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.

Psalms such as these may cause some of us some discomfort; and they often raise questions in our minds such as, ‘What is up with this type prayer? What are Psalms like these about?”. To many 21st century followers of Jesus Christ, prayers for God to do bad things to people seem out of step with the ‘Spirit of Christ’, whose fruit is love, and contrary to He who was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. So, what IS going on in these Psalms?

I. Psalms such as these are classed as Imprecatory Psalms – and there are a number of these Psalms in the book of Psalms. What is an Imprecatory Psalm?

A. Defined, ‘to imprecate’ means to “pray evil against”, or “invoke a curse against”, and so these Psalm are called Imprecatory Psalms because the psalmist is praying evil against or evoking a curse on someone – and enemy, individual or national. The Psalmist is actually calling on God to avenge him or avenge Israel by bringing judgement, wrath and punishment on enemy nations or adversarial people.

B. Justified: Some might ask here, ‘Is this ok? Why would someone like King David pray this way? And since we are in a different age – since we live since Jesus came, lived, died and rose, are these prayers relevant for us today – or did they have something to do with the OT era only? Shouldn’t we be praying that everyone come to know Christ?These are fair questions.

One of the reasons many 21st century Christians struggle with Psalms such as these traces back to a common view of God, which is held by many in our day. In our day, many only see the love side of God – seeing His primary attribute as being universal love. But, the scriptures show us that though God is love (per 1 John 4: 7, 8) God is also just, righteous, holy and true – and while he loves His covenant people with an everlasting love and that love is steadfast, God also has enemies, called ‘the wicked’ in Scripture – and these show up on the pages of history and in our world as enemies of His people – or to put this another way, the friends of God’s people are friends of God and those who are against his covenant people are enemies of God. We see this throughout the OT. Consider a few examples:

a) Genesis 3: 14-15 – seed of the serpent is seen as an enemy of woman, to be defeated by her seed;
b) Genesis 12: 1-3 B – God will bless those who bless Abraham and will curse those who curse Abraham – meaning he, and His descendants. Thus, those who ‘curse Abram’ are considered enemies;
c) Exodus 8: 22-23 – God sees a difference between His (God’s) people and Egyptians. Thus, the Israelites land is spared the judgement of the plagues;
d) In Genesis 15: 13-16, it is recorded how God told Abraham that his descendants would be strangers in a land not theirs (meaning, Egypt) for 400 years and how God would judge the nation where they served, after which they would be brought back to Abraham’s land – the land of Canaan – because at the time of the promise to Abraham the ‘sin of the Amorites is not yet full’. Some four hundred years later, Israel was delivered from Egypt, and eventually arrived back at Canaan. Joshua was then commanded to go into Canaan and take over the lond, as it had been promised to Abraham. The book of Joshua gives account of this conquest and what we would call today, a genocide – a genocide carried out on the command of God because Canaanite civilization by this time had become so utterly wicked, that God wanted everyone destroyed. In other words, when Joshua entered Canaan with the armies of Israel, the sin of the Amorites WAS full. Looking honestly at this story, it is clear that due to sin, the Canaanites ad become God’s enemy – for sin is repulsive to Him. Thus, they became Israel’s enemy too.

During the OT period, it is clear that God showed favor to His covenant people, Israel, while viewing other nations as enemies. Many other scriptures show this. Does this attitude carry over to the NT period? Consider the following:

a) 2 Thess. 1: 5-10 suggests that in the NT era, the same is true as in the OT period;
b) 2 Peter 2: 1-16 has strong words about false teachers – and the whole of the 2nd chapter shows that these are at enmity with God. The are enemies of the truth, enemies of the church and therefore enemies of God.
c) Jude’s letter paints a similar picture. Jude verse 5-13 suggests that apostates are both depraved, and doomed, by God. Does this not suggest that these people are enemies of God?

In both the OT and NT, clearly some are God’s friends, while others are God’s enemies. Thus, the scriptures class people as righteous vs. wicked, as elect of God vs. non-elect, as those hardened vs. those chosen (see Romans 11: 7b). No wonder the scriptures say, ‘God loves the righteous, but the way of the wicked he will bring to ruin’.

Once we understand that there are both friends and enemies of God, and that enemies of God are enemies of His people and vice versa, then we have the foundation and basis behind Imprecatory Prayers – for these prayers are actually asking God to exact vengeance and judgement on the enemies of God’s King or upon the enemies of God’s people.

C. Several Psalms are identified as Imprecatory Psalms: Psalm 5, 7, 10, 17, 35, 40, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140 are all Imprecatory Psalms to a greater or lesser extent.

II. Imprecatory Psalms Examined: Read through the three Imprecatory Psalms below and mark the verse or verses showing this is an imprecatory psalm:

A. Psalm 5: Read this short Psalm and mark out the part of the psalm that shows this is an Imprecatory Psalm (see vs. 5, 6, 9-10)
B. Psalm 55: What part or parts of this Psalm show it is an Imprecatory Psalm? (see 9, 15, 23)

C. Psalm 109: Find the parts of this Psalm that show it is an Imprecatory Psalm (see vs. 6-20)
III. Imprecatory Prayers Practiced: Should Jesus’s followers pray Imprecatory Psalms? I answer, yes, with a few conditions, which I list below:

1st, it is important to keep in mind that though these prayers may be prayed by Jesus’s followers, it is God who is judge and savior, while WE are saved by God’s grace alone, meaning apart from that grace we would not be a part of God’s people at all – and that attitude should keep us humble toward those who oppose us;

2nd, as we pray this type Psalm, there should be a gospel filter that we pray these Psalms through – because we live in a different era than the OT saints lived in; and the gospel filter should be a sincere desire to see people actually find the mercy and forgiveness of God, and be saved if at all possible, through the gospel;

3rd, the focus of Imprecatory Prayers was always against enemies of God, seeking Him for revenge, for justice, for retribution by and for His king or for His people. They were never prayed for personal vengeance, toward someone the Psalmist simply didn’t like; and the infraction which illicited the prayer, was generally really serious. This suggests when and where a church might pray Imprecatory Psalms – during times of legal, economic or physical persecution – not so much because people are coming against us as individuals but because they are standing up against Christ and against His cause;

4th, praying to the Father like this is a very serious thing to do – because God is alive, and powerful, and he does visit vengeance on the enemies of His people. It is important to keep in mind then, that this type praying was done in extreme situations. And at least for me, to consider praying like this is sobering and serious.