Monday, February 8, 2016

Book Review: Valley of Vision

Valley of Vision: A Collection of Prayers and Devotions. Arthur Bennett. 1975. Banner of Truth. 223 pages. [Source: Gift]

I could see how people might be intimidated by Valley of Vision. Why? Two reasons. First, it is a collection of poems. Some people do really love poetry, the experience of reading--feeling--a poem. But others not so much. Some poems can be really hard to unpack and understand. Sometimes poems leave you feeling disconnected, like you just can't relate. Second, all of the poems are by Puritans. Within some Christian circles, there's a celebration--an appreciation--of Puritans. So the fact that this book is a collection of Puritan authors will be cause of rejoicing for some. But I don't think it's a stretch to say that Puritans have--on the whole--a bad reputation. Whenever I see a stereotypical Puritan in fiction, I cringe!

Though I was a little worried by the poetry aspect of this book, I was excited about the Puritan aspect!!! I decided to "risk" it and ask for Valley of Vision as a Christmas present with the hope that it would be a TREASURE that I'd want to read and reread.

Essentially I want my review to carry across the point: DON'T BE INTIMIDATED; READ THIS BOOK!

The book is divided into ten thematic sections:
1) Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
2) Redemption and Reconciliation
3) Penitence and Deprecation
4) Needs and Devotions
5) Holy Aspirations
6) Approach to God
7) Gifts of Grace
8) Service and Ministry
9) Valediction
10) A Week's Shared Prayers

Some sections are longer than others--feature more poems that is. And you might notice some overlap in the themes. All themes, in my opinion, could be filed under "Christian Living" or "Theology."

What should you know? A few things. One. All the poems are presented anonymously. Arthur Bennett includes a bibliographical list of books he referenced, but that is it. We simply do not know who wrote what. Does that matter? Yes and no. Yes, in that I would love to be able to read more from my favorites. No, in that it doesn't change the goodness--the greatness--of the book. You don't get distracted from the main point: the worship of God.

Two. The poems are relevant. Yes, I want to say that emphatically. The poems ARE relevant. Human nature hasn't changed all that much. We struggle. We sin. We doubt. We believe. We repent. We confess. We pray. We praise. We rejoice and give thanks. We seek. We bow down. We testify. The poems reflect who we are as believers. But our humanity is never the focus of the poems. The poems ARE God-centered, God-focused. Each poem points you to God. Each poem is theologically rich--substantive. I never felt detached from the poems. There was a connection.

Three. This would make a wonderful devotional. If you're looking to preach the gospel to yourself daily, then this is a GREAT place to start. For no matter the "theme" in the section you're reading, you're reminded again and again of the gospel.


© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Week in Review: January 31-February 6

Quote of the week:
The God of Christianity is the Creator of the whole world. He is sovereign over everything He creates. He is sovereign over the church and the state. He is sovereign over theology and over biology. So a “neutral” educator is an unvarnished myth. Every teacher and every curriculum has a viewpoint. Every teacher and every curriculum has a value system. Either God is integral to that viewpoint or He is not. There is no neutrality with God. Either He is acknowledged or He is ignored. Either way, a viewpoint is expressed. ~ R.C. Sproul, Pleasing God 
Verse of the week:
Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. Psalm 66:16

KJV

  • 1 Samuel
  • 2 Samuel
  • Job

NASB

  • Leviticus 1-14

ESV

  • Psalm 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126
  • Galatians

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, February 5, 2016

Book Review: I Am N

I am N: Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists. Voice of the Martyrs. 2016. David C. Cook. 304 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

I found I Am N to be a compelling read that I could easily recommend to all Jesus followers. The book shares first-hand experiences--stories--of being a Jesus follower (a Christian, "N") in predominantly Muslim countries. (Think Middle East, Africa, Asia).

Lest you think the goal of the book was to strike fear or terror into American readers about Muslims, you should know that the overall tone of the book is one of hope, love, joy, peace--not fear, not worry, not regret. Time and time and time again, Christians who have been persecuted have chosen to FORGIVE, pray for, in some cases even witness to those that have attacked/abused/persecuted them. Even in cases where someone was killed, the response has generally been one of forgiveness. Surviving members of the family saying we forgive those that did this, we forgive them, we are praying that God will forgive them, we are praying that they will be saved, we know they need Jesus, we were once like they are.

Most of the stories are of Muslims converting to Christianity and becoming Jesus followers. They 'convert' knowing that it could very well cost them everything: relationships with parents, relationships with siblings, relationships with a spouse and in-laws, relationships with their children, their jobs, their homes or apartments, their money and property, their freedom, their very lives. There are accounts of people being beaten, tortured, imprisoned, shot and left for dead, killed. And sometimes the abusers are family members or former neighbors.

Yet through these circumstances, the stories reveal the joy of being a Jesus follower. How they REJOICE to share in the sufferings of their Savior, how God is with them through everything, the comfort they get from feeling his presence. They passionately, zealously love the Lord. And they love Muslims. Just as Paul zealously desired to see all Jews come to faith in Christ, these believers long to share the good news with other Muslims. They know the risks, that the risks are HUGE. But they believe that heaven and hell are real, and, that they could never stand by and do nothing with so many lost souls in need of saving.

Perhaps that is what will be so striking to American readers--to see the great contrast between those willing to live and die for Christ and those that profess the faith and live how they want and blend completely into the culture.

The book is divided into sections: "Sacrifice," "Courage," "Joy," "Perseverance," "Forgiveness," and "Faithfulness." Between each section, readers are introduced to a handful of martyrs throughout history. The book concludes with a commitment prayer. The prayer is inspiring to say the least. And it follows the various sections of the book: sacrifice, courage, joy, perseverance, forgiveness, and faithfulness.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Quotes from the Cloud #4

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.
Oh, how foolish we are if we attempt to entertain two guests so hostile to one another as Christ Jesus and the devil! Rest assured, Christ will not be at home in the living room of our hearts if we entertain the devil in the basement of our thoughts… God's judgments are all numbered, but His mercies are innumerable; He gives His wrath by weight, but without weight His mercy. ~ Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon's Daily Treasures in the Psalms, January 9
Let us learn to think of tears as liquid prayers. My God, I will weep when I cannot plead, for You hear the voice of my weeping. ~ Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon's Daily Treasures in the Psalms, January 12
We must not doubt what the true and faithful God promises to do. He promises to hear our prayers—yes, he even commands us to pray. He promises this so that we might firmly believe that our prayers will be answered. As Christ says, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24; see also Matthew 21:22). Christ also says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9–10). By trusting in these promises and obeying these commands, we can pray with confidence. ~ Martin Luther, Faith Alone, October 30
Nothing in this world will in any way feed our passion for God. We must leave the world behind us and pursue on to know God in His arena. The closer I get to God, the further away from the world I become. ~ A.W. Tozer, Delighting in God
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Book Review: Is God Anti-Gay?

Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions About Homosexuality, the Bible and Same-Sex Attraction. Sam Allberry. 2013/2015. Good Book Co. 93 pages. [Source: Gift]

I recently read Sam Allberry's revised and expanded edition of Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions about Homosexuality, the Bible and Same-Sex Attraction. The book opens with Allberry sharing his own struggles with same-sex attraction, something that he has struggled with since he was a teen. He notes that he was introduced to God through Christian friends around the same time that he was admitting to himself that he was homosexual.

I liked how straight-forward he is in the introduction, "God's message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone. Repent and believe. It is the same invitation to find fullness of life in God, the same offer of forgiveness and deep, wonderful life-changing love." I agree wholeheartedly that everyone--every man, every woman, every boy, every girl--needs the same gospel message or invitation. We all need to hear the gospel; we all need to repent and believe; we are all equally in need of grace and redemption.

He continues, "what Jesus calls me to do is exactly what he calls anyone to do." He then shares Mark 8:34 which reads, "Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'" He reminds his readers "EVERY Christian is called to costly sacrifice. Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behavior here and there. It is saying "no" to your deepest sense of who you are, for the sake of Christ. To take up a cross is to declare your life (as you have known it) forfeit. It is laying down your life for the very reason that your life, it turns out, is not yours at all. It belongs to Jesus. He made it. And through his death he has bought it."

I would say if the book is making one point, it would be this: The whole Bible is relevant for all. One shouldn't lift five or six verses from the Bible that are "about" homosexuality as if that is all the Bible has to say for the gay person. These passages should never be taken out of context of the whole Bible message--the whole gospel message. The gospel is MORE important than any one passage "about" the sinfulness of homosexuality.

Does the book go passage by passage or verse by verse through those verses specifically about homosexuality? Yes, it does. But it also stresses in almost every chapter, that the gospel is what is key, what is needed. It is Jesus that is needed, not condemnation or judgment. There is a time and place to address homosexuality, but, people need to hear the good news that Jesus loves them, that Jesus died for them, that God is bigger and greater than their sins and desires.

For example, he writes:
Sometimes there is a danger of Christians thinking that a gay couple needs to be confronted with their sexuality almost the moment they walk through the [church] door; that this needs to be talked about immediately and the couple told what the Bible's teaching is on the whole issue. This is simply not the case...my initial concern is for them to know they are welcome and that we are glad to have them with us, and for them to come under the sound of the gospel through the church's regular ministry. Another way to put this is to say that I would rather start at the center and work outwards, than start at the edge and work in. The center is the death and resurrection of Christ. That is where God reveals himself most fully. That is where we see his glory most clearly. It is also where God most clearly shows his love, righteousness, power and wisdom. This is what I most want people to know--for them to be bowled over by the God of the cross and resurrection. And, once they are gripped by this, to help them think through what trusting in this God will involve--what will need to be given over to him.
The book provides food for thought for individual Christians to consider and also for churches as a whole, as a body.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My Year with Spurgeon #4

God, The All-Seeing One
Charles Spurgeon
1858
Proverbs 15:11
In nine cases out of ten, and perhaps in a far larger and sadder proportion the doctrine of Divine Omniscience, although it is received and believed, has no practical effect upon our lives at all.
The mass of mankind forget God: whole nations who know his existence and believe that he beholds them, live as if they had no God at all. Merchants, farmers, men in their shops, and in their fields, husbands in their families, and wives in the midst of their households, live as if there were no God; no eye inspecting them, no ear listening to the voice of their lips, and no eternal mind always treasuring up the recollection of their acts.
Ah! we are practical Atheists, the mass of us.
For if there were no God, and no hereafter, multitudes of men would never be affected by the change; they would live the same as they do now — their lives being so full of disregard of God and his ways, that the absence of a God could not affect them in any great degree.
I would endeavor to set before you, God the all-seeing one, and press upon your solemn consideration the tremendous fact, that in all our acts, in all our ways, and in all our thoughts, we are continually under his observing eye.
If you mean to go to hell, say so. “If God be God, serve him. If Baal be God, serve him.” Do not serve Baal and then pretend to be serving God.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, February 1, 2016

Book Review: Judges and Ruth

Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos. Barry G. Webb. 2015. Crossway. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos is the third book I've read in Crossway's Preaching the Word commentary series. (The other two books I've read are Isaiah: God Saves Sinners and John: That You Might Believe.) This title released just a few months ago--late Fall 2015. Though I knew it would require a time commitment, I knew that it would prove worth it in the end.

Judges is not a "happy" book. It is strange, violent, offensive, depressing. Webb sums it up by calling it chaotic. Readers meet lost people greatly in need of saving; people who do whatever they want, whenever they want, without really ever considering if it's right or wrong, good or bad, wise or foolish. It is very much a book showing the consequences of sin, of immoral lifestyles. But Webb points out that it is also a book illustrating God's grace and mercy. He emphasizes the fact that God pities the Israelites even when they don't repent, even when they don't return to following and worshipping him. It is not a cyclical book where they have a change of heart, and, God seeing that they deserve his favor, decides to rescue them. No, they don't deserve or merit a rescue. But God loves them in spite of their sins, their hard-heartedness, their inabilities. God is a gracious God who saves. Yes, he's a God who judges between right and wrong, a God that loves justice and will act justly at all times. Readers meet judges--human judges--that are often just as flawed as the people they're "saving" or "leading." One never gets the idea or impression that God is super-impressed by them. Rather that God uses imperfect people, that God can turn our very weaknesses into strengths. Perhaps strengths is the wrong word. What I mean is that the very fact that we, on our own, CAN'T do something gives God the perfect opportunity to show what weak, foolish, imperfect people can do when they're filled with the Spirit of God and His power is flowing through them into their lives and situations. God is GREAT. God is POWERFUL. God ACTS. He acts on behalf of HIS people. They are his because he wants them to be, declares them to be, calls them to be.

Is it a commentary? a proper commentary? Yes and no. It does cover each chapter of the book of Judges (and Ruth). But it doesn't cover each chapter, verse by verse by verse. It is a series of expository sermons covering each and every chapter of Judges (and Ruth). For those interested in reading and studying the entire Bible, it's a great book. Perhaps for those just interested in looking up more information on a specific verse or passage--as a reference book--it might not be the best resource.

So. The book covers Judges AND Ruth. I don't "love, love, love" the book of Judges. I don't. But I do love, love, LOVE the book of Ruth. And Webb does it justice here!!! Ruth is just four chapters in length, but, so much theology is packed into this little book. So much about redemption and grace! God is very present in the book. God is present in the book of Judges too, of course, but Ruth is like a little love letter.

I do love how this book shows how relevant the Word of God remains, in particular, of course, the book of Judges and Ruth. It isn't always "obvious" how a book like Judges can still speak to us, and apply to us today. But Webb does a good job.

From the preface:
Judges and Ruth are both books for our times, an age of individualism when every man or woman does what is right in his or her own eyes, when love has been divorced from commitment, and when people need more than ever to discover, or rediscover, the redeeming love of God in Christ.
From chapter one:
Doing something that is inconsistent with being faithful to God can always be made to sound reasonable, but it is always wrong. And in our own day the temptations to do so are legion, and often very subtle. Under the pressure to act “kindly” (1: 24), to be tolerant, we can begin to compromise our commitment to the uniqueness of Christ and the truth of the gospel, especially in the pluralistic context in which most of us now live, in which truth is relativized and tolerance is promoted as the supreme virtue. But, of course, it is all a lie. Tolerance is a relative, not absolute virtue. Whether or not it is good depends on what is tolerated. To tolerate evil, however attractively it is packaged, is to bed with the devil and make a covenant with death. It is to be unfaithful to the Lord who saved us and rightly demands our obedience, and when we do it we lose strength, vitality, and victory. We lack moral strength, find ourselves weak in the face of the enemy, and end up weeping and ashamed. And if we manage to preserve some appearance of virtue in this life, a day will come when we will stand before the God we have betrayed and be exposed for the shams we have become.
From chapter three:
What is evil in the eyes of human beings is a matter of personal judgment: what one person considers evil another person may not. But what is evil in the sight of the Lord is unambiguously evil— it is that simple. The Lord is the one described in Genesis 2 as the Lord God, the Creator of human beings, and therefore one who has the absolute right to distinguish right from wrong and determine the bounds within which life is to be lived. He who ordered the physical universe by his word, separating heaven from earth, light from darkness, and land from sea (Genesis 1), also separated right from wrong by that same word (Genesis 2). To do what is evil in his sight is to repeat what Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3. It is to commit the primal sin, the one sin that is the source of all others, to declare one’s solidarity with fallen humanity in its defiance of its Creator. It is to choose moral autonomy. But in reality this is not to choose another good— an alternative and equally valid morality— but to do evil.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible