Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book Review: The Golden Braid

The Golden Braid. Melanie Dickerson. 2015. Thomas Nelson. 368 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I definitely enjoyed reading Melanie Dickerson's The Golden Braid. I really should treat myself and reread all of her fairy tale romances. I think a second reading would help me see all the possible connections between the books. (The books can stand alone, however.)

The Golden Braid is a retelling of Rapunzel. I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. I loved, for example, how Rapunzel does not start off locked away in a tower like you might expect. Rapunzel's "mother" does seem odd from the start, but, her slip into definite madness comes with the passage of time--over the course of half the book. She does not come across as PURE EVIL from page one. Though, of course, one does know it IS coming sooner or later.

Rapunzel's character was nicely done. Readers learn early on that Rapunzel is eager to learn anything and everything. Well, everything perhaps midwifery! Rapunzel, more than anything perhaps, wants to learn to read and write. Unfortunately, Rapunzel and her mother rarely stay in any town or village long enough for Rapunzel to go about seeking a teacher. Her mother knows that Rapunzel's dreams lean towards learning and not towards romance. But that doesn't stop her from lecturing her daughter day and night about the evils of the opposite sex. Rapunzel holds hope that they will eventually travel to a village or town and her mother will consent to her learning to read and write. It hasn't happened yet, but, Rapunzel holds onto her dream.

The novel opens with mother and daughter about to move again. On their journey, the two are attacked. They are "saved" by a knight. Readers can very well guess that this knight will be THE KNIGHT to save Rapunzel from her tower-fate. But predictability can be a great thing in a romance, particularly a fairy tale adaptation. Gerek is his name, I believe. And the two do not fall instantly in love with one another, which is a good thing, in my opinion. Rapunzel has heard a million bad things about guys, and, she's not ready to give her heart away within seconds of meeting a handsome knight. Rapunzel is curious, but, curious for all the right reasons. He seems smart, well-traveled, like he might know how to read and write in multiple languages. Perhaps he can tell her more about where they're heading, and if there is someone that might be willing to teach her. The two remain guarded with each other. He puts up boundaries because he doesn't want temptations. Boundaries are second nature with Rapunzel.

After Rapunzel ends up saving HIM, he ends up with two broken bones, and a long duration in bed; he stays at a monastery to recuperate. She ends up working--cleaning the women's rooms--in exchange for lessons. Her big dream of learning to read and write, well, it gets off to a good start. Good but oh-so-grumpy start.

But the lessons end up being a BIG, BIG, BIG secret from her mother, and, when she does find out--we all knew it was coming--threats are made. Rapunzel has a BIG choice to make. To stay with her mother no matter what, or, to run away from her only family...

I love that so much of the book is spent away from the tower. The book has familiar touches of the Rapunzel story without a doubt, but, it is unique too.

I would definitely recommend this one.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My Year with Spurgeon #35

Fear Not
Charles Spurgeon
Isaiah 12:14
I SHALL speak this morning to those that are discouraged, depressed in spirit, and sore troubled in the Christian life. There are certain nights of exceeding great darkness, through which the spirit has to grope in much pain and misery, and during which much of the comfort of the Word is particularly needed.
This much I know, if it be not so with all of you it is so with me. I have to speak to-day to myself; and whilst I shall be endeavoring to encourage those who are distressed and down-hearted, I shall be preaching, I trust, to myself, for I need something which shall cheer my heart — why I cannot tell, wherefore I do not know, but I have a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me; my soul is cast down within me, I feel as if I had rather die than live; all that God hath done by me seems to be forgotten, and my spirit flags and my courage breaks down with the thought of that which is to come.
I need your prayers; I need God’s Holy Spirit; and I felt that I could not preach to-day, unless I should preach in such a way as to encourage you and to encourage myself in the good work and labor of the Lord Jesus Christ.
First, before we can do any great things for Christ there must be a sense of weakness. Secondly, there must be trust in promised strength; and thirdly, there must be fear removed by that promise: “Fear not, for I will help thee.”
Depend on this: God will empty out all that thou hast before he will ever put his own into thee.
Your emptiness is but the preparation for your being filled, and your casting down is but the making ready for your lifting up.
He that thinks, will always think himself little. Men who have no brains are always great men; but those who think, must think their pride down — if God is with them in their thinking.
Give God to a man, and he can do all things. Put God into a man’s arm, and he may have only the jawbone of an ass to fight with, but he will lay the Philistines in heaps: put God into a man’s hand, and he may have a giant to deal with, and nothing but a sling and a stone; but he will lodge the stone in the giant’s brow before long; put God into a man’s eye, and he will flash defiance on kings and princes; put God into a man’s lip, and he will speak right honestly, though hie death should be the wages of his speech. There is no fear of a man who has got God with him; he is all-sufficient; there is nothing beyond his power.
Let us labor to get rid of fear, when we are certain we are serving our Master. And let these be our reasons: Get rid of fear, because fear is painful. How it torments the spirit! When the Christian trusts, he is happy; when he doubts, he is miserable. When the believer looks to his Master and relics upon him, he can sing; when he doubts his Master, he can only groan.
Fear, too, is weakening. Make a man afraid — he will run at his own shadow; make a man brave, and he will stand before an army and overcome them.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Week in Review: August 23-29

KJV Audio Bible (Dramatized)

  • John

ESV Reader's Bible

  • Psalms
  • Acts
  • Romans
  • 1 Corinthians


  • 1 Samuel
  • John

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, August 28, 2015

Book Review: John

John: That You Might Believe (Preaching the Word) R. Kent Hughes. 1999/2014. Crossway Books. 528 pages. [Source: Bought]

This is the second book I've read in Crossway's oh-so-excellent PREACHING THE WORD commentary series. The first I read was Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr.'s Isaiah: God Saves Sinners. I loved, loved, LOVED it. Isaiah is among my favorite books in the Old Testament. (The only other book that might top it is Psalms. I also love Deuteronomy.) John is one of my favorite New Testament books. (I also love, love, love Revelation). I would definitely say that this expository commentary was well worth reading.

It did take me three months to read it all. (My goal was to complete it by the end of August.) I tried to read a chapter or two per week. But it wasn't a chore or a duty to keep on reading it. Far from it. It was a book I picked up with pleasure and joy. For each chapter is packed with information and insight and grace and hope. No matter the chapter, there was always something thought-provoking or engaging. So even if you don't typically read commentaries--consider this one! It isn't so much a commentary--though it does examine every verse and chapter of the book of John--as it is a collection of expository sermons preached from the book of John.
It has depth and substance, but it's oh-so-accessible. Yes, five hundred pages is a commitment. But taken a chapter or two at a time, it's well worth your time. And I do recommend reading it slowly, and, alongside the book of John. (It was my summer project to read the book of John thirty times over three months.)

I think the more of yourself you give to the reading, the more you'll learn. Engage with the text. Consider it. Be willing to ask hard questions and be honest with your answers.

I learned so much from each and every chapter. Here's a small taste of what to expect.
OUR SPIRITUAL GROWTH is inextricably bound up with the size of our vision of Christ. Once we get away from a one-dimensional or overly narrow picture of Christ, once we see the fullness and glory of Christ in the Scriptures, our lives will be enlarged. I believe most of us need a bigger vision of Christ.
We learn a great deal about sin in Genesis 3, and we learn much about grace in the first chapter of John. Grace, God reaching out to us in our sin, is best understood when we contrast it with the dark tableau of the garden. It is tremendously important to understand grace since it is the pipeline through which we receive all of God’s tremendous benefits—the greatness of Christ, the greatness of his love, the greatness of the gospel.
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, is a concept that has been so overworked that many today preach and follow a Christ who has no resemblance to the Christ of the New Testament. That Jesus is an idol, drained of his deity—a weak, good-natured deity whose great aim is to let us off the hook. Do not get me wrong. Jesus is meek and mild. In fact, he describes himself in that way in Matthew 11:29 when he invites those who have burdens to come to him. Dozens of Scriptures in the New Testament testify to his gentleness. But we need to balance this with other descriptions of our Lord. For instance, in Mark 3:5, the passage describing the man with the paralyzed hand, Jesus looked around at all those who were questioning whether or not he would heal on the Sabbath, and “he looked around at them with anger.” Jesus’ anger was a swelling wrath. There was nothing gentle in the fierce message he sent to Herod either: “Go and tell that fox . . .” (Luke 13:32), or in his response to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). I am sure the Pharisees in the temple saw nothing of his gentleness, meekness, and mildness when he said, “You are like whitewashed tombs” and “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:27, 33). The scene described in our text is a wild scene! Men were grasping at their moneybags and tables as Jesus applied the whip to those not moving. But the fact is, Jesus was as Godlike here as he was when he hung on the cross. He was revealing as much of God on this occasion as he did at Calvary. He was displaying a great underlying truth: Love presupposes hatred. A love for the downtrodden, the poor, and the oppressed also brings about a hatred for the conditions that caused their suffering.
The measure of someone’s love is how much he is willing to give. The measure of our Lord’s love is the cross!
Do we really know our own hearts? As we get to know ourselves, we find more and more that needs healing. But the question is, do we really want to be healed? I am speaking primarily of bitterness, unresolved conflicts, and things that lie hidden within us. Sometimes when we experienced these things, we were aware of them but didn’t deal with them. We cauterized them, layered them over. But they are realities within us, and they do affect our lives. Even though we cannot put a finger on them, they take their toll. As a result we do not feel God’s power; we do not feel the authenticity of grace we know we ought to feel. We know we should be joyful in all the things we confess and while we are doing the right things—reading the Word and praying—but we have little power or inner peace. The question remains, do we really want to be healed? Do we really want to have those things resolved? I believe with all my heart that if we do and if we take the time to ask God to do his work within us, he will reveal to us the things that must be washed away—the refuse, the filth, the sin.
Abiding begins with being students of the Word of God. If we were to compare the various ages of Protestant church history, we would have to say that today is an age of Biblical ignorance. People do not take the first step in abiding in the Word of God. Yet the importance of basing our lives on the Scriptures is urgent. We all need to know the Word of God. We must be students of the Word—not only the preachers, not just the educated, but all believers. And yet even if that takes place, we are not necessarily abiding. To abide in the Word we must obey it. And that is how freedom comes. We learn the Word of God, we obey it, and then we are free. The exhilaration of that freedom motivates us to study the Word of God more, and when we again obey it, more freedom comes. And on and on and on it goes—from freedom to freedom to freedom. The reason many Christians are not experiencing spiritual freedom today is that while they may be Biblically literate, they are not Biblically obedient.
Prayer is not a means by which we get God to do what we want. Rather, it is a means by which God does through us what he wants.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Quotes from the Cloud #34

This year, I hope share weekly posts of quotes. These quotes are from authors I'm reading and enjoying from the Clouds of Witnesses Reading Challenge

For fellow participants, what I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to see is for people to share quotes from what they're reading. I'd love for you to share quotes occasionally with your readers and let me know about it. If you don't have a blog, you could always leave quotes in the comments here.
God is merciful. He is just — as just as if he were not merciful. He is merciful — as merciful as if he were not just, and in very deed more merciful than if he were too lenient; instead of blending a wise severity of justice with a gracious clemency of long-suffering. ~ Charles Spurgeon, 1857, "Fast-Day Service"
True freedom is being free from sin. How does this happen? It happens when we hear his Word—Christ was born of Mary, suffered, was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again from the dead on the third day. We must preach this message again and again so that all of us may be satisfied and filled with its teaching. My hunger, however, has not yet been satisfied. This teaching is like bread. No one ever grows tired of eating bread. We fill ourselves with all kinds of food, but we never have enough bread, unless we are ill and can’t eat. A healthy person will never grow tired of bread. In the same way, Christians will never learn this completely during their lifetimes, whether they are saints or even Mary or John the Baptist. ~ Martin Luther, "Faith Alone," August 2
All teachers of Scripture conclude that the essence of prayer is simply the lifting up of the heart to God. But if this is so, it follows that everything else that doesn’t lift up the heart to God is not prayer. We should consider our spoken words to be like a trumpet, drum, organ, or other kind of sound that moves our hearts and lifts them up to God. We shouldn’t attempt to pray without words, relying on our own hearts, unless we are well trained spiritually and skilled in removing stray thoughts from our minds. Otherwise, the devil will lead us astray and quickly destroy the prayers in our hearts. So we should cling to the words and let them lift us up—lift us until our feathers grow and we’re able to soar high without the help of words. ~ Martin Luther, "Faith Alone," August 7
There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross. Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner…that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I'm humbled to the dust…Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility. ~ Martyn Lloyd Jones

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bible Review: The Study Bible for Women, Large Print

The Study Bible for Women: HCSB Large Print Edition. Dorothy Kelley Patterson and Rhonda Harrington Kelley. 2015. B&H. 2208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I am very happy to be reviewing the Study Bible for Women. This study bible is written and designed for women by women. And it's a serious (not-fooling-around) STUDY Bible. (Not every Bible labeled "a study Bible" actually IS a study Bible. I've found this to be quite true.) I really appreciate the amount of notes within this Bible, and the assumption that women are capable learners. (And the fact that so many notes focus on specific words in the original language--Hebrew or Greek. I've always found word studies to be fascinating. And not all study Bibles meet this need.)
Overwhelmingly women purchase more Bibles and more Bible study materials than men do. By all rights, just the amount of materials in the marketplace should make women the best equipped Bible students of the modern era. However, one only has to peruse those materials to see that there is a great gulf fixed between most of what is being produced by women for women and even the most basic devotional commentary. Inspirational thoughts, practical application, and systematic topical studies are all important, but women need more. Women can study the Bible in depth; they can learn to do genuine exposition or verse-by-verse interpretation of God's Words, using the best hermeneutical principles; and this study tool is a step in making available to women resources produced especially for them. Here is a clarion call to women to demand the best in biblical scholarship--even resources prepared by women and men who have been formally trained in biblical studies--and to spend the time necessary to dig deeply into God's Word and pull out its rich truths and full knowledge. (1907, Biblical Womanhood: Digging Deeper Into God's Word, Titus)
This edition of the Study Bible for Women is large print. If ever a large print edition was needed it was here. Why? The font size in the original was teeny-tiny. I had to squint to even see the text of the Bible. (Yes, the font-size of the notes was teeny-tiny as well. But squinting didn't really help with the notes. It was just a personal impossibility.) Is the font size improved? Yes and no. Mostly. The size of the Bible text is larger. I wouldn't exactly call it "large print." But it is definitely larger than the original font size. And I can read it somewhat comfortably--that is without squinting! So that's a very good thing. The font size of the notes is still tiny. I can read it if I squint. It is definitely a larger font size than it was. But I can't comfortably read it either. That is slightly disappointing if I'm honest. But it's not a huge problem either. (I do wish that publishers of large print study Bibles would take into consideration that if your sight is poor enough that you need a large size print to read the Bible text, that one would also need the study notes in large print too. That is why people buy study Bibles after all, because they're interested in reading study notes. At the same time, I realize that the larger the print--the heavier the weight. And if the study notes were written in a comfortable-to-read size, then the weight of the Bible would probably double. And a six pound Bible wouldn't be practical or comfortable!!!) Overall, a definite improvement upon the original edition.

Strengths of the Study Bible for Women:
  • black letter, not red letter
  • two column, not single column
  • plenty of notes for each chapter of the Bible, notes appear in the side column, some notes feature Hebrew or Greek word studies and definitions
  • thorough book introductions, question and answer format, plus book outlines and timelines
  • additional Hebrew/Greek word studies
  • charts, articles, maps, and other features throughout each book of the Bible
  • beautiful layout
  • HCSB translation
Weaknesses of the Study Bible for Women:
  • the Bible text is in a nice font size, however, the study notes seem TINY to my eyes
  • I've caught a few theological flaws*, so far; just a small reminder that only the text of the Bible itself is infallible! 
*Are the notes Reformed? That is a big question for me when approaching any Bible. I am Reformed. And I have strong opinions! I know there are others out there with some of the same questions and/or hesitations. I do not think the notes are especially Reformed. There are a few places where the notes are decidedly unReformed.
The spirit helps sinners understand the reasons for their separation from a holy and awesome God. Atonement has already been graciously accomplished by the Son, the Second person of the Trinity, thus making restoration and fellowship with God possible. When sinners accept that atonement made on their behalf, the Holy Spirit performs the work of regeneration, what Jesus called being "born again" (John 3:3). Further the Holy Spirit of God takes up residence in and continues to sanctify the believer. ~ Doctrine: Holy Spirit: Ezekiel 36:24-37:1-14, p. 1343
Salvation is a gift for all who believe and trust in the Lord. god is the sole author of salvation. Yet each person has a choice on how he responds. ~ Doctrine: Salvation: John 3:16, p. 1677
There are no helpful notes for John 6. Notes on John 6:44, 45, 46, 63, 65 would have been most helpful in discerning the position the editor takes on election and predestination.

There are no notes specifically for Romans 8:28, 29, 30 concerning interpreting these verses and how they relate to election and predestination. Though they do GREEK WORD STUDIES for the words foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. This is on page 1784.

There is one article that specifically addresses Election. It is found on page 1873. In part, it reads:
The doctrine of election has been debated and misunderstood in the history of Christian thought. Election does not mean a person is not required to repent to come to faith in Christ. However, all those who do repent and come to faith have been elected. Election does not mean that Christians do not need to share the gospel. It is through the sharing of the gospel that people see their sin and need for repentance. The response to the concept of election should be gratitude to God and should encourage believers during difficult times. ~ Doctrine: Election: 1 Thessalonians 1:4, p. 1873
There is nothing in that article that I disagreed with. It doesn't really explain the doctrine of election. But it does clarify what it isn't. Which is helpful.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Year with Spurgeon #34

The Mysteries of the Brazen Serpent
Charles Spurgeon
John 3:14
It is not in the power of mortal language to depict the horrors of the death-bed of a man who has lived without God and without Christ.
I challenge all the orators that have ever lived, to draw forth from their vocabulary, words full enough of horror and of terror to depict the departing scene of the man who has lived at enmity with God, and who dies with his conscience quickened then.
“Now,” says the infidel, “I cannot see how men are to be saved from sin by the preaching of Christ.” “Truly sir,” he says “you go and tell men that though they have sinned never so much, if they do but believe, their sins shall all be washed away! Why they will take advantage of that, and they will be more wicked than ever they were. You tell men that their good works are of no avail whatever, that they must rest on Christ alone!” “Why,” says the sceptic, “my dear fellow, it will be the destruction of all morality, instead of a cure, it will be a death. Why preach it?” Ah, the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved, it is Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
But when you come to study and understand the marvellous scheme of God’s justice vindicated, and man pardoned through the atoning blood of the cross, I say, that not even the mighty intellect of God could have conceived a wiser plan, than the wisdom of God displayed in Christ Jesus crucified.
There are some ministers who forget that their errand in the world is to lift up Christ.
Note first that Jesus Christ was put on the cross on purpose for you to look at. The only reason why he died, was that poor sinners might look at him and be saved.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible