Friday, February 24, 2017

Book Review: Gospel Fluency

Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus Into The Everyday Stuff of Life. Jeff Vanderstelt. 2017. Crossway. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]

From the foreword: Every human being on earth needs salvation, not only from the wrath to come, but also from the flimsy theology permeating our Christian communities. That might sound a bit extreme, but in essence it is true.

From chapter one: I’m an unbeliever. So are you. “Wait,” you’re thinking. “What are you doing writing a book about the gospel of Jesus Christ if you’re an unbeliever? And what do you know about me? Who do you think I am?” I grew up believing that people fall into two categories: you are either a believer or an unbeliever—; you either believe in Jesus Christ and what he has done for us or you don’t.

Do you know the gospel? Do you need the gospel? Do you love the gospel? Do you live the gospel? Do you SPEAK the gospel, not just in the words you say in front of others, not just in the words you say to justify yourself to yourself, but in the way you live your life? Vanderstelt's book is about becoming fluent in the gospel.

What does it mean to be gospel fluent? In his own words, 
"We need to know how to believe and speak the truths of the gospel—the good news of God—in and into the everyday stuff of life. In other words, we need to know how to address the struggles of life and the everyday activities we engage in with what is true of Jesus: the truths of what he accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection, and, as a result, what it true of us as we put our faith in him. The gospel has the power to affect everything in our lives."
He continues, 
"Gospel-fluent people think, feel, and perceive everything in light of what has been accomplished in the person and work of Jesus Christ. They see the world differently. They think differently. They feel differently. When they are listening to people, they are thinking: “How is this in line with the truths of the gospel? What about Jesus and his work might be good news to this person today? How can I bring the hope of the gospel to bear on this life or situation so this person might experience salvation and Jesus will be glorified?” When they see movies, they see the themes of the gospel, and they also notice which themes represent a false gospel. They begin to evaluate the storylines of their surrounding culture in light of the story of God’s redemptive purposes in Christ Jesus, and they learn to perceive where God might already be at work around them, preparing the soil of a community and individual hearts for the seeds of the gospel to be sown. Most significantly, those who are growing in gospel fluency are experiencing ongoing transformation themselves."
This book is divided into five sections: Gospel Fluency, The Gospel, The Gospel in Me, The Gospel with Us, and The Gospel to Others.

This one is good and basic and fundamental. Don't assume because it covers all the basics that "mature" "advanced" believers can skip it, that this is one for baby Christians. I'm convinced that we need the gospel every day, no matter what. And sometimes it's the people who think they know the gospel inside and out and back again that need the most basic principles of the gospel fleshed out for them...again.

The ideas are really good. The narrative has a lot of illustrations in it--dialogue situations--that I haven't quite decided if I like or not. I think his coaching you through how to speak the gospel to others--or to yourself--in love can come across at first as a little condescending. There were certain passages that I just felt were slightly awkward or unnatural. But. That being said, do I disagree with his theology? No.

I found his ideas thought-provoking for the most part. I liked what he had to say about stories and storytelling especially. "Listening to one another’s stories enables us to learn about God’s work in one another as well. Every one of us has a story, and all of our stories are part of the true story. Really, our story is God’s story. Though we regularly believe they are about us, our stories are really all about him, for “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)."

His ideas about gospel fluency stayed with me as I read two books: John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress and Taylor Caldwell's No One Hears But Him. Both would be great examples of gospel fluency, in my opinion. Caldwell's book in particular stood out to me in terms of stories and finding ways to connect the gospel to our lives, our stories, our needs. But Christian and Faithful OR Christian and Hopeful (depending on where you are in their journey) are also great at speaking truth in love into any and every situation.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, February 23, 2017

My Year with Henry #8

This year I will be reading Matthew Henry's Concise Bible Commentary alongside the American Standard Version (1901). I will share quotes a few times a month.

Matthew 13

  • The seed sown is the word of God. The sower is our Lord Jesus Christ, by himself, or by his ministers. Preaching to a multitude is sowing the corn; we know not where it will light. Some sort of ground, though we take ever so much pains with it, brings forth no fruit to purpose, while the good soil brings forth plentifully. So it is with the hearts of men, whose different characters are here described by four sorts of ground. Careless, trifling hearers, are an easy prey to Satan; who, as he is the great murderer of souls, so he is the great thief of sermons, and will be sure to rob us of the word, if we take not care to keep it. Hypocrites, like the stony ground, often get the start of true Christians in the shows of profession. Many are glad to hear a good sermon, who do not profit by it. They are told of free salvation, of the believer’s privileges, and the happiness of heaven; and, without any change of heart, without any abiding conviction of their own depravity, their need of a Savior, or To show the excellence of holiness, they soon profess an unwarranted assurance. But when some heavy trial threatens them, or some sinful advantage may be had, they give up or disguise their profession, or turn to some easier system. Worldly cares are fitly compared to thorns, for they came in with sin, and are a fruit of the curse; they are good in their place to stop a gap, but a man must be well armed that has much to do with them; they are entangling, vexing, scratching, and their end is to be burned, Hebrews 6:8. Worldly cares are great hindrances to our profiting by the word of God. The deceitfulness of riches does the mischief; they cannot be said to deceive us unless we put our trust in them, then they choke the good seed. What distinguished the good ground was fruitfulness. By this true Christians are distinguished from hypocrites. Christ does not say that this good ground has no stones in it, or no thorns; but none that could hinder its fruitfulness. All are not alike; we should aim at the highest, to bring forth most fruit. The sense of hearing cannot be better employed than in hearing God’s word; and let us look to ourselves that we may know what sort of hearers we are.
  • This parable represents the present and future state of the gospel church; Christ’s care of it, the devil’s enmity against it, the mixture there is in it of good and bad in this world, and the separation between them in the other world. So prone is villainy man to sin, that if the enemy sow the tares, he may go his way, they will spring up, and do hurt; whereas, when good seed is sown, it must be tended, watered, and fenced. The servants complained to their master; Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? No doubt he did; whatever is amiss in the church, we are sure it is not from Christ. Though gross transgressors, and such as openly oppose the gospel, ought to be separated from the society of the faithful, yet no human skill can make an exact separation. Those who oppose must not be cut off, but instructed, and that with meekness. And though good and bad are together in this world, yet at the great day they shall be parted; then the righteous and the wicked shall be plainly known; here sometimes it is hard to distinguish between them. Let us, knowing the terrors of the Lord, not do iniquity. At death, believers shall shine forth to themselves; at the great day they shall shine forth before all the world. They shall shine by reflection, with light borrowed from the Fountain of light. Their sanctification will be made perfect, and their justification published. May we be found of that happy number.

Nehemiah 3

  • Every one must begin at home; for it is by getting the work of God advanced in our own souls that we shall best contribute to the good of the church of Christ. May the Lord thus stir up the hearts of his people, to lay aside their petty disputes, and to disregard their worldly interests, compared with building the walls of Jerusalem, and defending the cause of truth and godliness against the assaults of avowed enemies.

Acts 13

  • The doctrine of Christ astonishes; and the more we know of it, the more reason we shall see to wonder at it. 
  • When we come together to worship God, we must do it, not only by prayer and praise, but by the reading and hearing of the word of God. The bare reading of the Scriptures in public assemblies is not enough; they should be expounded, and the people exhorted out of them. This is helping people in doing that which is necessary to make the word profitable, to apply it to themselves.
  • By Jesus Christ we obtain a complete justification; for by him a complete atonement was made for sin. We are justified, not only by him as our Judge but by him as the Lord our Righteousness. What the law could not do for us, in that it was weak, the gospel of Christ does. This is the most needful blessing, bringing in every other. The threatenings are warnings; what we are told will come upon impenitent sinners, is designed to awaken us to beware lest it come upon us. It ruins many, that they despise religion. Those that will not wonder and be saved, shall wonder and perish.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: The Pilgrim's Progress

The Pilgrim's Progress. John Bunyan. 1678. 301 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: As I walk'd through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a Denn; And I laid me down in that place to sleep: And as I slept I dreamed a dream.

Premise/plot: The first part of The Pilgrim's Progress concerns Christian and his journey--his pilgrimage. The first book opens with him greatly grieving his sins and desperate for answers on how to rid himself of the burden on his back. His family, his neighbors, his friends no nothing of this burden, this weight. They're thinking: CHRISTIAN HAS LOST HIS MIND. WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM? The time has come for Christian to decide between the old and the new, to count the cost, if you will. He decides to go on a quest, to find relief or deliverance. He's soon directed to the wicket gate and the narrow path within. But his journey won't be quick and easy and painless. It won't be a path leading to health, wealth, fame, and happiness. It won't be a comfortable path, a take-it-easy path, a this-is-your-best-life path. It will have hills and valleys and DITCHES. He'll have to FIGHT for every step and breath. There'll be plenty of blessed moments on this path. He'll find close friends--Faithful and Hopeful. He'll learn A LOT from the people he meets--the guides and porters and watchmen. He'll learn even from his enemies. There's not a dull moment on the way. The second part of The Pilgrim's Progress concerns Christian's wife, Christiana, and their four children: Matthew, Samuel, Joseph, and James. Mercie joins them from the start. And they are led by a conductor, Greatheart. Her journey is not the exact same as her husbands. Some familiar places are revisited--old friends are met again. But Bunyan uses this second book to further his instruction.

Both books are allegories. Both are "dreams" the author had. Both are definitely didactic in nature. But didactic in a creative way. I've about determined that my Pilgrim's Progress name would be Reads-all-hours.

My thoughts: Pilgrim's Progress remains relevant. I think every generation could learn something from this one, if they'd make the attempt. It might take reading it with open minds and an awareness of what is at stake--then and now. It is a book of IDEAS.

For example, early in the book there's an exchange between Pliable and Christian.
Pliable: And do you think that the words of your Book are certainly true?
Christian: Yes verily, for it was made by him that cannot lye.
Isn't this question and answer still relevant today?! Aren't Christians still doing battle for God's Word?

Favorite quotes:
To go back is nothing but death, to go forward is fear of death, and life everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward. (36)
Therefore thought I, what God says, is best, though all the men in the world are against it. (60)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My Year with Owen #8

I will be sharing some John Owen quotes this year. The first book I'll be reading is Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656).

There will be no mortification unless a man be a believer. ~ John Owen
Unless a man be a believer--that is, one that is truly ingrafted into Christ--he can never mortify any one sin; I do not say, unless he know himself to be so, but unless indeed he be so. ~ John Owen
I have proved that it is the Spirit alone that can mortify sin; he is promised to do it, and all other means without him are empty and vain. How shall he, then, mortify sin that has not the Spirit? A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit. ~ John Owen
To kill sin is the work of living men; where men are dead (as all unbelievers, the best of them, are dead), sin is alive, and will live. ~ John Owen
Be sure to get an interest in Christ--if you intend to mortify ay sin without it, it will never be done. ~ John Owen
To break men off particular sins, and not to break their hearts, is to deprive ourselves of advantages in dealing with them. ~ John Owen
Can sin be killed without an interest in the death of Christ, or mortified without the spirit? ~ John Owen
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, February 20, 2017

Check In With The Cloud

  • What have you been reading? What are you currently reading?
  • Have you finished anything for the challenge?
  • Have you read any new-to-you authors yet?
  • Have you found any new favorites?
  • Are you writing down favorite quotes? Have any to share?
  • Have you learned anything that you'd like to share?
  • Would you be interested in reading a book together? If so, what month would be good for you?

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: No One Hears But Him

No One Hears But Him. Taylor Caldwell. 1966/2017. Open Road Media. 212 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Many years have passed since old John Godfrey, the mysterious lawyer, built his Sanctuary in a great city for the hopeless, the grieving, the despairing, the churchless, the cynical, the defeated, the dying and the bereaved, the betrayers of men and the betrayed, the burdened and the old, the young and the lost. Here, in the Sanctuary, waits the Man who Listens, who waits and listens endlessly and patiently to the anguished stories told to him in a blue and marble silence. There is no experience that he has never heard before. There is no grief with which he is not familiar. There is no crime against God or man that he has not seen with his own eyes. He has heard the blasphemies of the self-congratulatory. He has heard the cry of all parents and all children. He has listened to all prayers and all excuses. The experiences of all men are his own. Nothing disturbs him except hatred and violence. He knows them, too.

Premise/plot: No One Hears But Him is a collection of twelve short stories. Each story is a 'soul'. Readers hear from twelve distinct voices. At some point in each story, the character goes to the Sanctuary, waits his or her turn, and goes into the room to speak with the Man Who Listens. Most choose to press the button to meet this Listener face-to-face, but, not all do. Each story ends with hope; all stories are tied together by hope. The stories can be dark, gritty, pessimistic, angry, doubting, critical, questioning, sarcastic--essentially anything and everything under the sun but the connection each makes with THE MAN WHO LISTENS brings hope.

In the preface or the introduction of this one, the author makes a startling statement: This book is deliberately designed to anger many.

Soul One: The Watchman (Fred Carlson, disgruntled cop)
Fred Carlson had had an excellent lunch with his prospective employers. They had parted from him with expressions of great cordiality, for they respected good and dedicated and intelligent men.
Soul Two: The Sadducee (Dr. Edwin Pfeiffer, unbelieving minister)
“Is that all you can tell me?” asked the desolate woman. What is it you want me to say to you? the man commented to himself. Do you want old-fashioned and sentimental cant in which I don’t believe and which is absurd in these enlightened and sophisticated days? I am no parson, dear lady, full of soothing platitudes and maudlin aphorisms. I am a teacher, a leader, a guide to my congregation. Do you expect me to soothe you with evangelical hysteria or invoke some tribal god?
Soul Three: The Afflicted (Francis Stoddard, contemplating murderer)
“I didn’t come here for counsel,” said Francis Stoddard to the hidden man behind the blue curtain. “I’ve had plenty of that stupidity. When I lost my business fifteen years ago, you should have heard all my self-appointed advisers! I should have listened to them; I shouldn’t have done this, I should have done that, if I’d only watched my step here, or been plenty smart there—it wouldn’t have happened to me. Then when I made my comeback, they were almost offended. I hadn’t asked their advice; I’d done it all myself. When I was down, they could feel superior and pity me—and avoid me, too, afraid I’d ask them for money.
Soul Four: The Ostracized (Paul Winsor, black man who wants to first and foremost be seen as a man)
He supposed they had been offended when he had left the lunch so abruptly. He had ended his talk on a note of despair, but they had not heard the despair. Of that he was positive. They never heard anything but their self-congratulation and the applause of their colleagues for their “tolerance” and “liberalism.” When he had quoted Seneca and had demanded “Am I not a man as you are a man?” they had only nodded their heads solemnly and had looked at each other with grave eyes of assent. But they did not know what he had meant. He had meant it for them. They had not known or were too stupid and self-engrossed to know.
Soul Five: Only A Kid (Johnnie Martin, a spoiled brat with many ex-wives and many children who won't grow up)
He came smiling rosily into the waiting room, walking with his usual boyish insolence and waiting for every eye to turn on him indulgently and every woman’s eye to warm. But no one seemed to know he had entered.
Soul Six: The Senior Citizen (Bernard Carstairs, does NOT want to retire)
The mauve-blue twilight lay over the snowy city and the street lamps began to bloom like faint golden balls.
Soul Seven: The Shepherd (Mr. Henry Blackstone, a minister who believes but is losing his congregation because he's not keeping up with the world)
The month of May, the flowering month, the month of the Queen of Heaven. Isn’t that what his friend, Father Moran, called it? Yes. A beautiful month, full of light and promise, gold and green and blossoming, with the heady scent of jubilation and rejoicing. But when did I feel that last? asked the Reverend Mr. Henry Blackstone of himself. I am as old as death, honestly, in these days, though by modern calculation I am only sixty. I’m not with it, as my younger parishioners would say. No, I’m not “with it.” It’s strange; I was always such an optimistic man until the last few years. Now I feel totally despondent; I walk despondently; I think despondently. Who is wrong, the world or I? Am I of the past, hopelessly? I’m so damned confused, so helpless.
Soul Eight: The Husbandman (Adam Faith, farmer about to lose the farm)
“Well, hello, Parson,” said the old man with gravity as he faced the calm blue curtain of the alcove. “You are a parson, ain’t you? That’s what everybody says, anyhow. You listen to folks’ troubles and then you tell them what to do. That’s real kind of you. Didn’t know there was that kind left in the world, no sir. Everybody loving each other and nobody loving anybody: that’s what goes on now. Like the patriotism you read about in the newspapers and nobody’s patriotic, seems like. Why, there was a time, I remember, if folks had trouble, even in the city, everybody’d come with baked goods and fruit and maybe a roast chicken, and there’d be real sympathy. Now it’s all fake, newspapers full of brotherly love and the rights of everybody, and people talkin’ and the pastors telling you, in their pulpits, to do good to everybody, ’specially people you don’t know in foreign parts, and nobody gives a damn about their next-door neighbor. Easy to be sympathetic about people a thousand miles away or more; costs you nothin’ to roll your eyes and make your voice all deep and soft. But gettin’ off your butt and doin’ something about the people next door, with your own money and your own work: Oh, no. That doesn’t mean anythin’ now. It isn’t havin’ a sense—what do they call it with their mealy-mouths?—of world-wide responsibility.
Soul Nine: The Richest Man in Town (John Service, Has everything, satisfied with nothing. Can't decide if he's more angry than bored or more bored than angry)
It was enough to make, a man kill himself. He, John Service, had been seriously considering this for over six months. Or was it longer? He could not remember. He was bored to death, bored by pleasantness, smoothness, affluence, laughter, cocktail parties, wood-paneled offices, amiable employees, serene wife, well-established children, rosy fat grandchildren, summer homes, winters in Florida or the Caribbean, or in those exotic out-of-the-way places in Mexico and Central America, or in Paris, or London or Madrid or Mallorca. The world was really small; one finally ran out of places to visit and explore. Besides, everything had become Americanized and sterile and cellophaned and sanitary, with excellent bathrooms, fast jets, gourmet meals, and tender stewardesses. Sweet and Lovely. As he waited in the quiet room John Service hummed that old popular song from his boyhood. It rang in his brain now, not liltingly, but with a kind of horror and terror, mocking, a refrain of demons, a refrain from the very black pits of hell. Sweet and lovely. An excellent epitaph for a world—and especially for a human life.
Soul Ten: The New Breed (Lucy Marner, young and desperate)
“Where’re you going, Lucy?” asked a young girl of her companion as they moved together to the parking lot of the campus. “Well, I thought I’d just run around—someplace,” said Lucy Marner. Her friend peered at her inquisitively. “Something wrong? You haven’t been looking on the ball for a couple of months.” The friend giggled. “Nothing wrong, uh?” Lucy flushed. “No,” she said in a short tone. She did not invite her friend to accompany her. “But I—well, I’m going to the doctor for the early summer check-up. No use waiting until the end of the semester, when things begin. ’Bye now, Sandy.” She walked very fast to the parking lot. She was usually proud of her smart white convertible and would glance over it to be sure no hot-rod had marred its bright finish. But today she merely threw herself onto the red leather seat and roared off the campus. Friends, young men and women, hailed her but she did not reply for she did not hear them.
Soul Eleven: The Dream-Spinner (Maude Finch, past-her-prime liar)
The golden spring day was no fresher than the air in the white and blue waiting room.
Soul Twelve: The Adversary and the Man Who Listens (a show-down between the devil and Christ)
The waiting room was almost filled when he entered, but no one seemed to see him except for a very young girl with mad eyes. He became aware that she saw him and he stopped, and it was as if a dark shadow had fallen over her distraught face. She most certainly saw him and he half-smiled. He knew at once what troubled her and what had caused that dilated appearance in her pupils, and the long, fixed stare. He knew her very well. There was no pity in him, no regret, but only contempt. Weakling. Wretch. Contemptible animal. She was only eighteen, he recalled, but her soul was shriveled within her like a bud that had withered before it had opened. Anathema, anathema, he thought. It was no triumph to him that he had brought down that meager soul so easily. She had needed little tempting! “Emily?” he said, very softly.
My thoughts: I loved, loved, LOVED this one. I thought the stories were compelling and relevant. Yes, the stories are perhaps a bit dated here and there. But I'm of the opinion that truth is never out of date even if it it seen as out of style. Caldwell meant the book to be critical of society in 1966, and, today's readers should probably still feel offended by the gospel truths on display in this one.

Favorite quotes:
When somebody tells me they’re awful happy, I think, ‘You’re either a liar or a fool.’ ’T’ain’t possible to live in this world and be happy, after you’re about three years old.”
He shook his head. “I’m remembering something. When it was a choice between you and a criminal the people chose the criminal. They always do; it never fails. But you didn’t hold that against them. You’ve been watching all through the night, and you’ll be on hand when the last night comes.”
We speak only of the world and never question the stars, for the world is all we know—and all we want to know. Our little bright corner is enough for us, and there we can sit and talk our blasphemous and urbane nonsense, and utter our words of peace in a world where there is no peace, and offer up well-rehearsed prayers which are empty of content, as we are empty of content. Who shall forgive us?”
“What is it that is so frightful in most men these days that they must pretend to ‘love’ others?” asked Paul. “Never was the world so loveless as it is now, so degraded, so full of hate. Yet, you can’t go anywhere but that you hear love, love, love. A steamy bath of it. A miasma. It is particularly smothering for my people. They are choking in it, especially in the North. But it isn’t really love, is it? It is hatred. It is the self-righteousness of the cruel Pharisee.”
No one has ever earned the right to leave the harvest.
“They never said you were like this—When I heard about you, they said you were a terrible person; it scared me; they said you were the Judge. I only heard about you a few times, so long ago I don’t remember, but I thought you’d hate me—all the lies and everything. They said you hated liars and hypocrites, and I guess I’ve been that all my life, and maybe it don’t mean anything to you that it was the only way I could live, lying like that to myself and everybody else, and pretending. After all, you are the Judge, and you’re terrible. That’s what they said, all those years ago, and it scared me.” She opened her eyes and the man was still regarding her with gentle suffering and love, and she began to weep again, but softly. “I see! You don’t hate me for what I did, do you? And all that I went through in my life—it wasn’t even all that as bad as one day of yours, was it? And you didn’t have anybody to talk to, either, did you? Oh, they listened to you, they sure did, but what good did it do? They didn’t believe you, but people believed me a little, and that’s something. They don’t even believe you now. “You didn’t have anyone to talk to except yourself. And God.” Her eyes suddenly shone with wonder and she sat upright. “That’s it, you had God to talk to! And so do I! That’s what you mean, isn’t it? I can talk to you, any time I want to, anywhere! If only I’d known a little more about you in the beginning. That’s what the real depriv—the real not-having—not having you in all those years. “But now I have you!” The wonder brightened on her face and the years left her and she was a child again, hoping. But this time the hope had verity and truth. “That’s what you’re trying to tell me, isn’t it, that I have you, and that if I have you you’ll always listen and help me, and that I mustn’t be afraid any longer.”
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Week in Review: February 12-18


  • Judges
  • Ruth
  • Psalm 42-62
  • Isaiah 40-66
  • Joel
  • Luke 1-14


  • Numbers 16-36
  • Deuteronomy 1-11
  • Psalm 1-15
  • Matthew

J.B. Phillips

  • Matthew 1-9


  • Matthew 1-9


  • Matthew 1-9


  • Matthew 1-9


  • Matthew 1-9


  • Matthew 1-9

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible