Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review: 50 Days of Heaven

50 Days of Heaven: Reflections That Bring Eternity to Light. Randy Alcorn. 2006. Tyndale. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]

There is a world of difference between C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce and Randy Alcorn's 50 Days of Heaven. And it is a difference I appreciated. (Though oddly enough, 50 Days of Heaven has plenty of C.S. Lewis quotes. I get the feeling Alcorn is a fan of Lewis!) While The Great Divorce is an allegory of heaven and hell grounded in imagination and perhaps a bit of philosophy, 50 Days of Heaven is a more practical book grounded in Scripture itself. That's not to say that Alcorn doesn't offer his own impressions of what heaven--or the New Earth--may be like. He does. But his imagination doesn't let his theology get out of control.

There are 50 Reflections. One could easily take it slow and read one per day and make a devotional or study of it. But one wouldn't have to approach it as just a devotional book. For any Christian interested in the subject--which should be all of us, by the way--it offers food for thought. I definitely liked reading this one.

Each chapter begins with a Scripture verse and a quote. As I mentioned earlier, Alcorn is a fan of C.S. Lewis, but, other theologians are included as well. (Jonathan Edwards, John Donne, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, D.L. Moody, Augustine, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, A.A. Hodge, and Isaac Watts to name just a few.)

Every day, the command to think about Heaven is under attack in a hundred different ways. Everything militates against thinking about Heaven. Our minds are set so resolutely on Earth that we are unaccustomed to heavenly thinking. So we must work at it.
We tend to assume that we are automatically going to Heaven, but we overlook the fact that our sin is sufficient to keep us out: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Sin separates us from a relationship with God (Isaiah 59:2). "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong" (Habakkuk 1:13). Because we are sinners, we are not entitled to enter God's presence. Because we cannot enter Heaven as we are, Heaven is not our default destination. Before we can see God in Heaven, something must radically change-because, unless our sin problem is resolved, the only place we will go is to our true default destination: Hell.
In the Bible, Jesus says more about Hell than anyone else does (Matthew 10:28; 13:40-42; Mark 9:43). He refers to it as a literal place and describes it in graphic terms-including raging fires and the worm that doesn't die. He says the unsaved "will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:12). In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus taught that in Hell the wicked suffer terribly, are fully conscious, retain their desires and memories and reasoning, long for relief, cannot be comforted, cannot leave their torment, and are bereft of hope (Luke 16:19-31). He could not have painted a more bleak or graphic picture. Revelation 21:27 says, "Nothing impure will ever enter [the New Jerusalem], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."
If prayer is simply talking to God, presumably we will pray more in Heaven than we do now-not less. Given our righteous state in Heaven, our prayers would be more effective than ever (James 5:16). Revelation 5:8 speaks of the "prayers of the saints" in a context that may include saints in Heaven. Of course, there is only "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). We are never told to pray for the saints (in Heaven), or to the saints, or through the saints, but only to God, through his Son. But though we should not pray to the saints, the saints may well be praying for us.
We'll never forget that our sins nailed Jesus to the cross; for Christ's resurrection body still has nail-scarred hands and feet (John 20:24-29). Even though God will wipe away the tears and sorrow attached to this world, he will not erase human history and Christ's intervention from our minds. As I've said before, Heaven's happiness won't be dependent on our ignorance of what happened on Earth. Rather, it will be enhanced by perspective, our informed appreciation of God's glorious grace and justice as we grasp what really happened here.
God doesn't abandon his purposes; he extends and fulfills them. God-ordained friendships begun on Earth will continue in Heaven, becoming richer than ever.
Every thought of Heaven should move our hearts toward God, just as every thought of God will move our hearts toward Heaven.
When I meditate on Jesus and my future in Heaven, sin is unappealing. It's when my mind drifts from that person and that place that sin seems attractive. Thinking of Heaven leads inevitably to pursuing holiness. Our high tolerance for sin testifies to our failure to prepare for Heaven.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My Year With Spurgeon #30

God Alone the Salvation of His People
Charles Spurgeon
“He only is my rock and my salvation.”—Psalm 92:2.
If any one should ask you what you mean by a Calvinist, you may reply, “He is one who says, salvation is of the Lord.”
I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible. “He only is my rock and my salvation.” Tell me anything that departs from this and it will be a heresy; tell me a heresy, and I shall find its essence here, that it has departed from this great, this fundamental, this rocky truth, “God is my rock and my salvation.” What is the heresy of Rome, but the addition of something to the perfect merits of Jesus Christ—the bringing in of the works of the flesh, to assist in our justification? and what is that heresy of Arminianism but the secret addition of something to the complete work of the Redeemer? You will find that every heresy, if rough to the touchstone, will discover itself here, it departs from this, “He only is my rock and my salvation.”
Let us now explain this doctrine fully. By the term “salvation” here, I understand not simply regeneration and conversion, but something more. I do not reckon that to be salvation which regenerates me, and then puts me in such a position that I may fall out of the covenant and be lost; I cannot call that a bridge which only goes half-way over the stream; I cannot call that salvation, which does not carry me all the way to heaven, wash me perfectly clean, and put me among the glorified who sing constant hosannahs around the throne. By salvation, then if I may divide it into parts, I understand deliverance, preservation continually through life, sustentation, and the gathering up of the whole in the perfecting of the saints in the person of Jesus Christ at last. 1. By salvation, I understand deliverance from the house of bondage, wherein by nature I am born, and being brought out into the liberty wherewith Christ makes us free, together with a putting “on a rock, and establishing my goings.” This I understand to be wholly of God. And I think I am right in that conclusion, because I find in Scripture that man is dead; and how can a dead man assist in his own resurrection? I find that man is utterly depraved, and hates the divine change. How can a man, then, work that change which he himself hates? I find man to be ignorant of what it is to be born again, and like Nicodemus, asking the foolish question, “How can a man enter again into his mother’s womb, and be born?” I cannot conceive that a man can do that which he does not understand: and if he does not know what it is to be born again, he cannot make himself to be born again. No. I believe man to be utterly powerless in the first work of his salvation. He cannot break his chains, for they be not chains of iron, but chains of his own flesh and blood; he must first break his own heart before he can break the fetters that bind him. And how should man break his own heart? What hammer is that which I can use upon my own soul to break it, or what fire can I kindle which can dissolve it? Nay, deliverance is of God alone. The doctrine is affirmed continually to Scripture; and he who doth not believe it doth not receive affirmed continually in Scripture; and he who doth not believe it doth not receive God’s truth. Deliverance is of God alone; “Salvation is of the Lord.” 2. And if we are delivered and made alive in Christ, still preservation is of the Lord alone. If I am prayerful, God makes me prayerful: if I have graces, God gives me graces; if I have fruits, God gives me fruits; if I hold on in a consistent life, God holds me on in a consistent life. I do nothing whatever towards my own preservation, except what God himself first does in me. Whatever I have, all my goodness is of the Lord alone. Wherein I sin, that is my own; but wherein I act rightly, that is of God, wholly and completely. If I have repulsed an enemy, his strength nerved my arm. Did I strike a foeman to the ground? His strength sharpened my sword and gave me courage to strike the blow. Do I preach his word? It is not I, but grace that is in me? Do I live to God a holy life? It is not I, but Christ that liveth in me? Am I sanctified? I did not sanctify myself; God’s Holy Spirit sanctifies me. Am I weaned from the world? I am weaned by God’s chastisements. Do I grow in knowledge? The great Instructor teaches me. I find in God all I want; but I find in myself nothing. “He only is my rock and my salvation.” He only is the salvation of my body and the salvation of my soul. Do I feed on the word? That word would be no food for me unless the Lord made it food for my soul, and helped me to feed upon it. Do I live on the manna which comes down from heaven? What is that manna, but Jesus Christ himself incarnate, whose body and whose blood I eat and drink. Am I continually receiving fresh increase of might? Where do I gather my might? My salvation is of him: without him I can do nothing. As a branch cannot bring forth fruit except it abide in the vine, no more can I except I abide in him.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: Full Steam Ahead

Full Steam Ahead. Karen Witemeyer. 2014. Bethany House. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

I found Full Steam Ahead to be a very satisfying romance. I have enjoyed almost all of Witemeyer's historical romances that I've read. My favorite so far is Short-Straw Bride. So I expected to love Full Steam Ahead. I was not disappointed.

Our heroine is a young woman named Nicole Renard. She returns home to Galveston, Texas, when she learns that her father is dying. He runs the family shipping business--Renard Shipping. He wants his daughter to go to New Orleans and find a husband among his business associates if possible. He'd like his son-in-law to take on the family business. It would be ideal, of course, if he was already in the shipping business. That situation in itself would provide some pressure for Nicole. Your father is dying. Go and find a husband quickly. Pick wisely. Leave now. But that isn't the whole story. The Renard family has a multi-generational feud going on with the Jenkins' family. The Jenkins are, of course, in the shipping business too. The feud is about a historic dagger. The Jenkins brothers will do ANYTHING to steal the dagger.

So while the plan was for Nicole to go to New Orleans, that is not what actually happens. Nicole tries to outsmart the Jenkins' brothers. She ends up in Liberty, Texas. She ends up seeking work in town. She answers a help wanted ad for a secretary. She meets Darius Thornton. He reluctantly hires her.

I loved, loved, loved Darius Thornton. I loved the developing relationship between Nicole and Darius. Those weeks she spends with him hiding out on his place, well, they worked for me. So many scenes that I loved!!! Overall, such a satisfying romance with a great couple!!!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Week in Review: July 20-26


  • Psalms 42-72
  • Jeremiah 24-36
  • Habakkuk
  • Zephaniah
  • Haggai
  • Zechariah
  • Malachi
  • Matthew
  • James


  • Acts 21-28
  • Romans
  • 1 Corinthians

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: The Great Divorce (1945)

The Great Divorce. C.S. Lewis. 1945. HarperCollins. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

I seemed to be standing in a busy queue by the side of a long, mean street. Evening was just closing in and it was raining. I had been wandering for hours in similar mean streets, always in the rain and always in evening twilight. 

The Great Divorce is a weird allegory rich in dialogue, but, for me it was too bizarre and philosophical. At its best, it offers overheard conversations between Solid Beings and/or Bright Beings and the deceased spirits and ghosts who are on holiday. The bus travels from hell to heaven, if you accept those designations as such. Here's where it gets BIZARRE, if the travelers go back to hell AFTER their holiday, then it was hell all along. If the travelers stay  and become solider, if they go with their guides to the mountains, then it was purgatory and not hell. The bus is met by guides. The protagonist realizes that these guides are solid, and, that all of the travelers or vacationers are not. This may or may not be the first time he realizes that they are more transparent or ghost-like. I wasn't quite sure by what I read. Regardless, that is the moment first-time readers realize that these are dead people on holiday. (Apparently, they can travel to "heaven" for their holiday, OR, they can travel back to earth and haunt it. I'm not sure how long the vacation-time lasts. If it was a day or two? Or longer?)

Regardless, the protagonist is on the bus for heaven. The person or guide he talks to is George MacDonald. But the book is more than the protagonist's conversations with George MacDonald. In fact, their meeting comes late in this novel. The hero wanders around eavesdropping. These conversations are between people (both solid and ghost) that we really know nothing at all about. One could argue that they are meant to stand for abstract thoughts or ideas OR social stereotypes. One can lift sentences or paragraphs from these conversations and find true observations OR true-sounding observations. I'm far from convinced that all within is biblically or doctrinally sound.

To keep it simple, one problem I had was that it seems to allow for the idea of purgatory and endless amount of second chances to believe after one dies. I don't believe that purgatory is scriptural. And I definitely believe that it is unbiblical to promote the idea that the dead are given opportunities to believe in Christ and go to heaven. I think it's very irresponsible in fact. Even in an imaginative allegory that readers are clearly told near the last chapter is a dream. The Great Divorce is anything but instructional. And while I am sure there are worse books out there on humans who have had gone to heaven and back, fiction or nonfiction, not being the worst is no reason to recommend it.

That being said, it's not without its true moments. You just have to be able to discern the difference between truths and half-truths and all-out lies. It is a thought-provoking read. It has a weird premise perhaps. But some of the conversations have great observations about humanity.

From the preface:
I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot 'develop' into good. Time does not heal it. 
From chapter 4:
"But I got to have my rights same as you, see?"
"Oh no. It's not so bad as that. I haven't got my rights, or I should not be here. You will not get yours either. You'll get something far better. Never fear."
From chapter 5:
"But don't you know? You went there because you are an apostate"
"Are you serious, Dick?""
"This is worse than I expected. Do you really think people are penalized for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken."
"Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?"
"There are indeed, Dick. There is hide-bound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed--they are not sins."
"I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until the end of my life when I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions."
"Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I asserted them fearlessly. When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk."
"What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came--popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?"
"Dick, this is unworthy of you. What are you suggesting?"
"Friend, I am not suggesting at all. You see, I know now. Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of things that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment's real resistance to the loss of our faith?"

"You know that you and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn't want the other to be true. We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes."
"I am telling you to repent and believe."
"But my dear boy, I believe already. We may not be perfectly agreed, but you have completely misjudged me if you do not realize that my religion is a very real and a very precious thing to me."
From chapter 9:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God: "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened." 
From chapter 11:
But the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for his own sake.
From chapter 14:
Do not ask of a vision in a dream more than a vision in a dream can give. 
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review: Out of the Depths (2014)

Out of the Depths. Edgar Harrell, with David Harrell. 2014. Bethany House. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

Every survivor of war has stories to tell--stories of triumph and tragedy, faith and fear--stories like mine, where fact is often stranger than fiction. Since that fateful night in 1945 when I stepped off a sinking ship into the unknown depths of the Pacific Ocean, there has never been a day when I have not reflected upon the horrors I experienced in the four and a half days of swimming in shark-infested waters. However, while those frightening memories remain vivid in my mind's eye, one memory eclipses them all--namely, the unfailing presence of God that sustained me. 

What a testimony!!! Out of the Depths is an incredible book! It is the autobiography of Edgar Harrell, one of the marine survivors of the USS Indianapolis. The opening chapters provide context into Harrell's life, into the war, into the history of the USS Indianapolis before its tragic loss at sea in the summer of 1945. The heart of this book, however, may just be the five chapters detailing each day the survivors spent in the ocean waiting for a rescue that no one could be sure was coming. The final chapter provides context into the following decades. The survivors coming together seeking justice and recognition.

This autobiography is incredibly compelling. It is a powerful testimony. It is not just a powerful story of survival. It is a story that testifies of God's goodness and providence. It's a story that gives God the glory from cover to cover.

I loved this one. I absolutely LOVED it.
Gone was the attitude of pride that deceives men into thinking that there is no God, or if there is, they don't need Him. When a man is confronted with death, it is the face of Almighty God he sees, not his own. We were all acutely aware of our Creator during those days and nights. Our little seventeen-member prayer meeting attested to this. Every man knew he was dying. It was only a matter of hours. Only a miracle could save us. So we prayed for a miracle. Men prayed like I have never heard men pray. With inconsolable grief each man who was able to talk poured out his heart to God. With swollen tongues we did our best taking turns pleading with God for deliverance. And before one could finish, another would interrupt with his supplications. Another would then speak of his wife and children, and then cry out to God to be reunited with them. Because of dehydration, there were very few tears rolling down our grimacing faces. It was as though the ocean now contained them all. (100-1)
Our rescue was a marvel. And this doesn't even get into the fact that it is not humanly possible for a person to swim for four and a half days with next to no food or water. Not to mention swarmed by hungry sharks. Our survival truly defies reason. But I would also hasten to add that my survival, along with that of my comrades, was not the ultimate purpose in such a supernatural event. No, whenever God performs any feat that arouses the awe and wonder of His creation, He does so primarily to bear witness to His own glory. And it is to that end I remain committed, for indeed, such a story has no human explanation. Only a sovereign, omnipotent God could have orchestrated such a scenario, for our good and His glory. (119-20)
While there were other naval vessels sunk as a result of combat during the war, only the Indianapolis met her fate while leaving the enemy that sunk her completely unscathed. Worse yet, it was estimated that only one-third of the casualties suffered were a result of the initial attack. The other two-thirds were victims of Navy incompetence--a series of debacles that placed us in harm's way, unescorted and our SOS ignored, forcing hundreds of men to fend for themselves in the open sea. As I mentioned, the disaster is now considered the greatest naval catastrophe at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy. (149)
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Screwtape Letters (1942)

The Screwtape Letters. C.S. Lewis. 1942. HarperCollins. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

I reviewed this Christian classic in 2009 and 2010. It's a book that I like to revisit every few years. It is a thought-provoking imaginative work. It's topsy turvy theology because of the demon perspective. Screwtape is writing letters to his nephew, Wormwood. Both are demons or tempters. So when they speak of their Enemy, they are speaking of God. And when they are speaking of Our Father, they are speaking of the devil. Many subjects are covered by Screwtape, all practical for the most part. The letters give readers something to think about. It's a book that requires your participation--your engagement. Readers have to discern what truths--if any--are to be found within these letters.

Wormword's human has become a Christian. Will advice from his wise Uncle Screwtape prove useful in keeping his human from maturing in the faith? Will he be able to woo his human away from the Enemy? Can he make his human's faith ineffective and irrelevant? Will Wormwood be able to use the World War to his advantage?

I shared a handful of quotes in my earlier review. I will not repeat those here. I've selected other quotes to share this time:

From letter 1:
The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle on to the Enemy's own ground. He can argue too, whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting. He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient's reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it 'real life' and don't let him ask what he means by 'real.'
From letter 3:
Keep his mind on the inner life. He thinks his conversion is something inside him and his attention is therefore chiefly turned at present to the states of his own mind--or rather to that very expurgated version of them which is all you should allow him to see. 
In civilized life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face. To keep this game up you and Glubose must see to it that each of these two fools has a sort of double standard. Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother's utterances with the fullest and most oversensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him. Hence from every quarrel they can both go away convinced, or very nearly convinced, that they are quite innocent.
From letter 4
Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. 
From letter 14
Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, "By jove! I'm being humble", and almost immediately pride--pride at his own humility--will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt--and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don't try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humor and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible