Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review: Why Believe the Bible?

Why Believe the Bible? John MacArthur. 1980/2015. Baker Books. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

For the most part, I really enjoyed reading John MacArthur's Why Believe the Bible? For the record, this is not a new book, but a newly reprinted book with a few pages of new material.

Why Believe the Bible? is divided into three sections: "Can We Really Believe the Bible?", "What Does God's Word Do For Us?", and "How To Get The Most From God's Word." I liked the last two sections better than the first. But the book is solidly good from start to finish.

My favorite chapters were: "God's Word: Guide to His Will," "God's Word: The Way to Grow," "God's Word: The Perfect Pruning Knife," "What Does God's Word Say?" and "What Does God's Word Mean (And What Do I Do About It)?"

I love that so much of this one is about why it's important to read the Bible and on how to read the Bible. I also love the first appendix. In it, he provides examples for people who want to read thirty minutes a day, sixty minutes a day, and ninety minutes a day.

When believers aren't growing, it can usually be traced to failure to be in God's Word. They go to church and sit. They take along their cups and fill them up and then spill them on the steps as they leave. They complain of not getting much out of church or the Christian life. They are weak and rundown when it comes to facing temptations, trials, problems and challenges… Their souls are starved for wholesome spiritual food. The Bible refers to itself as milk, bread and meat, but spiritually a lot of Christians are subsisting on French fries, Cokes, and M&Ms. They aren't growing because they have very little to grow on. Ironically, the solution to their problems is in the very thing they refuse to feed upon--God's Word. (115)
There is no magic in memorizing Scripture. (In fact, it can lead you into the driest kind of legalism.) But there is a tremendous blessing and power in knowing where various passages can be found and what kind of help and resources they can provide. (139)
The first step in Bible study is to read the Bible. I can't emphasize too strongly that effective Bible study has to begin with a systematic reading of the Scriptures. Other methods will be of limited benefit unless you get the entire flow and context of what God's Word is saying. (162)
Of course you need a plan for your reading. For the Old Testament I suggest reading through all of it once a year in a narrative manner (from Genesis to Malachi, no skipping around)… The best way to read the Old Testament is straight through, like a story. As you read, keep a pencil and notebook in hand. Put down notes regarding areas you want to come back to and study in depth later, preferably with the inductive method. (163)
With the New Testament I use a little different approach. Instead of reading through the entire New Testament from Matthew to Revelation, I read each book over and over for 30 days. (164)
If you want to know what the Bible says, this method will do the job like no other. Vary the length of the books you tackle. First a short one, then a long one, then back to a couple of short ones. In two-and-a-half years you will cover the entire New Testament 30 times, and somewhere along the way it will all start to come together as never before. (166)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Quotes from the Cloud #12

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.
Beware of light thoughts of sin. At the time of conversion, the conscience is so tender, that we are afraid of the slightest sin. Young converts have a holy timidity, a godly fear lest they should offend against God. But alas! very soon the fine bloom upon these first ripe fruits is removed by the rough handling of the surrounding world: the sensitive plant of young piety turns into a willow in after life, too pliant, too easily yielding. It is sadly true, that even a Christian may grow by degrees so callous, that the sin which once startled him does not alarm him in the least. By degrees men get familiar with sin. The ear in which the cannon has been booming will not notice slight sounds. ~ Charles Spurgeon, Morning, March 11
If you are Christ's let me advise you to do four things. You belong to Jesus--obey him; let his word be your law; let his wish be your will. You belong to the Beloved, then love him; let your heart embrace him; let your whole soul be filled with him. You belong to the Son of God, then trust him; rest nowhere but on him. You belong to the King of kings, then be decided for him. Thus, without your being branded upon the brow, all will know to whom you belong. ~ Charles Spurgeon, Evening, March 12
Before we can have any right idea of the love of Jesus, we must understand his previous glory in its height of majesty, and his incarnation upon the earth in all its depths of shame. But who can tell us the majesty of Christ? When he was enthroned in the highest heavens he was very God of very God; by him were the heavens made, and all the hosts thereof. His own almighty arm upheld the spheres; the praises of cherubim and seraphim perpetually surrounded him; the full chorus of the hallelujahs of the universe unceasingly flowed to the foot of his throne: he reigned supreme above all his creatures, God over all, blessed forever. Who can tell his height of glory then? And who, on the other hand, can tell how low he descended? To be a man was something, to be a man of sorrows was far more; to bleed, and die, and suffer, these were much for him who was the Son of God; but to suffer such unparalleled agony--to endure a death of shame and desertion by his Father, this is a depth of condescending love which the most inspired mind must utterly fail to fathom. Herein is love! and truly it is love that "passeth knowledge." O let this love fill our hearts with adoring gratitude, and lead us to practical manifestations of its power. ~ Charles Spurgeon, Evening, March 27
Take care that you never doubt your acceptance in Jesus. You cannot be accepted without Christ; but, when you have received his merit, you cannot be unaccepted. ~ Charles Spurgeon, Evening, March 28
God’s laws are like a finger that points to the right road. Fingers are a useful part of the body. However, if you don’t also have feet to take you there, a wagon to ride in, or even a horse to ride on, you’ll never be able to get to the right road. A finger can point you in the right direction, but it can’t get you there. In a similar way, God’s laws tell you what God wants done and how he wants things to be done. They show you that you are unable to obey them. God’s laws show you what human nature is really like—what it can do and what it can’t do. God’s laws were given to you in order to reveal your sins, but they don’t have the power to free you from sin or help you get rid of it. God’s laws hold a mirror in front of you. When you look at God’s laws, you become aware that you don’t have life or God’s approval. What you see in the mirror forces you to cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus Christ, help me and give me your grace so that I can do what your laws demand!” ~ Martin Luther, Faith Alone, March 30

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review: Help My Unbelief

Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. Barnabas Piper. Foreword by N.D. Wilson. 2015. [July 2015] David C. Cook. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Help My Unbelief is one of the best books I've read this year. It is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's an honest look at doubt: believing doubt and unbelieving doubt. It is about coming to terms with the tension of the Christian life. In part, it is inspired by an encounter found in Mark 9:17-29. I'll share the most relevant verse: I do believe; help my unbelief.

Barnabas Piper shares a bit of his testimony and what he's learned since his big "aha" moment when he realized the vast difference between knowing about God and knowing God.

His story was incredibly easy to relate to. I think many people who have grown up in the church can relate to it as well. The book is honest and straightforward. It isn't a book that promises to have all the answers to all the questions you might have today and in the future. It isn't a book that promises an easy fix to your current faith dilemma.

I should mention that one thing this book is not: it's not an apologetic book seeking to prove anything about God: his existence, his goodness, his perfection.

It is an explores questions like: what is faith? what is belief? what is doubt? is there more than one kind of doubt? can doubting ever be a good thing? where do I go with my doubts and questions? what can I know--what can anyone know--about God? Can I have peace even if I don't have all the answers? will I always struggle with sin?

I loved, loved, LOVED this one. I loved it because it was thought-provoking and engaging. I loved it because it was so very honest. I thought Piper made some great points as well. I thought the appendix READING THE BIBLE TO MEET GOD was absolutely wonderful. It should be must-read for every believer.

I want to share a few quotes from the foreword by N.D. Wilson along with a few quotes from the text itself.

From the foreword:
Thank God that our salvation is not dependent on an absence of our own fears. Our failures. Our doubts. In fact, our salvation is not dependent on us at all. It doesn't depend on how we feel. It doesn't depend on how well we answer challenges and questions, and it doesn't depend on how deeply and authentically we really, really feel our answers deep down in our hearts. Our salvation is on the cross. No matter how broken we may be, no matter how much we might struggle and fail to see and to know the truth (every truth) clearly, we can rest in the One who sees all and knows all. When we cannot see, we are still seen. ~ N.D. Wilson
From the introduction:
No amount of belief moves us beyond "help my unbelief." Rather the stronger our belief, the more urgent our plea.
What the Bible reveals of God is precisely what God wanted revealed of Himself, no more and no less. But it isn't everything about Him. Scripture raises as many questions as it answers. It asks the impossible and describes the miraculous. The Bible tells stories that are grotesque and stories that are heartwarming. Parts of it are horrifying and others are befuddling. It is written in multiple genres and has thousands of characters. In short, it is representative of the real world and God's relationship with it, not a book to simplify the world so we can understand it all. And it is just the way God wanted it. 
Questions indicate belief only if you actually want an answer.
God is infinite. While the finite human mind can understand aspects of His character, even those cannot be understood in full. His bigness is too big, His goodness too good, His wrath too terrible, His grace too profound, His knowledge too deep. Because of this, God is inherently mysterious to us. We simply cannot fathom the fullness, or even a portion of the fullness, of who He is or what He does.
The Bible gives everything we need but not every answer; all the necessary truth but plenty of room to wonder.
When we are in relationship with God, His Word becomes more than a book; it becomes alive…It is a window into who God is; one that He gave us to share exactly what we need to know of Him.
Scripture doesn't offer the answers to most mysteries that we want. It offers the ones God wants us to have. And if He wants us to have them, then they are the ones we need.
True belief is that which perpetually, magnetically pulls us toward the "not yet" of Revelation 21. 
Table of Contents

  • Foreword by N.D.Wilson
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Tension
  • Chapter 2: What is Belief?
  • Chapter 3: What Can We Know About God?
  • Chapter 4: A Prayer from Where?
  • Chapter 5: Unbelief and Doubt
  • Chapter 6: Belief in Action
  • Chapter 7: How Do We Believe?
  • Chapter 8: So What and What Now?
  • Appendix 1: Reading the Bible to Meet God
  • Appendix 2: Suggested Reading
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My Year with Spurgeon #12

Rahab's Faith
Charles Spurgeon
Hebrews 11:31
I shall have some things to say this morning concerning this notable victory of faith over sin, such as I think will lead you to see that this was indeed a super-eminent triumph of faith. I will make my divisions alliterative, that you may recollect them. This woman’s faith was saving faith singular faith, stable faith, self-denying faith, sympathising faith, and sanctifying faith. Let no one run away, when I shall have expounded the first point, and miss the rest, for you cannot apprehend the whole power of her faith unless you remember each of those particulars I am about to mention.
Oh! what a mighty thing faith is, when it saves the soul from going down to the pit! So mighty is the ever-rushing torrent of sin, that no arm but that which is as strong as Deity can ever stop the sinner from being hurried down to the gulf of black despair, and when nearing that gulf so impetuous is the torrent of divine wrath, that nothing can snatch the soul from perdition but an atonement which is as Divine as God himself.
Ah! but you cannot tell what a great thing it is to save a soul. It is only our Lord Jesus Christ who can tell you that, for he is the only one who has ever been the Savior of sinners. And remember, you can only know how great a thing faith is by knowing the infinite value of the salvation of a soul.
Now, “By faith, the harlot Rahab was delivered,” That she was really saved in a gospel sense as well as temporally seems to me to be proved from her reception of the spies which was an emblem of the entrance of the word into the heart, and her hanging out of the scarlet thread was an evidence of faith, not inaptly picturing faith in the blood of Jesus the Redeemer. But who can measure the length and breadth of that word — salvation?
I ask no man to-day to come to Christ, and then continue his sins. If so, I should ask him to do an absurdity.
But mark, Rahab’'s faith was a singular faith. She and she alone was delivered, a solitary one amongst a multitude. Now, have you ever felt that it is a very hard thing to have a singular faith? It is the easiest thing in the world to believe as everybody else believes, but the difficulty is to believe a thing alone, when no one else thinks as you think; to be the solitary champion of a righteous cause when the enemy mustereth his thousands to the battle. Now, this was the faith of Rahab. She had not one who felt as she did, who could enter into her feelings and realize the value of her faith. She stood alone. Oh! it is a noble thing to be the lonely follower of despised truth.
To be good we must be singular. Christians must swim against the stream.
Furthermore, this woman’s faith was a STABLE faith, which stood firm in the midst of trouble.
This woman'’s faith was A SELF-DENYING faith. O men and brethren, trust not your faith, unless it has self-denial with it. Faith and self-denial, like the Siamese twins, are born together, and must live together, and the food that nourisheth one must nourish both.
This woman’'s faith was a SYMPATHISING FAITH. She did not believe for herself only; she desired mercy for her relations.
The spirit of proselyting is the spirit of Christianity, and we ought to be desirous of possessing it.
Unless we desire others to taste the benefits we have enjoyed, we are either inhuman monsters or outrageous hypocrites; I think the last is most likely.
One more head, and then we have done. Rahab'’s faith was a sanctified FAITH. Did Rahab continue a harlot after she had faith? No, she did not. I do not believe she was a harlot at the time the men went to her house, though the name still stuck to her, as such ill names will; but I am sure she was not afterwards, for Salmon the prince of Judah married her, and her name is put down among the ancestors of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The faith that will save you is a faith which sanctifies.
The world has been trying all manner of processes to reform men: there is but one thing that ever will reform them, and that is, faith in the preached gospel.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: To The Glory of God

To The Glory of God: A 40 Day Devotional on the Book of Romans. James Montgomery Boice. 2010. Baker Books. 183 pages. [Source: Bought]

James Montgomery Boice loved to preach from the book of Romans. Marion Clark selected forty excerpts from his works to be used as devotional readings. (Clark had much to choose from: 239 sermons in all.) These readings cover all sixteen chapters of Romans.

The devotional readings are arranged into four sections: Justification by Faith, Romans 1-4; The Reign of Grace, Romans 5-8; God and History, Romans 9-11; The New Humanity, Romans 12-16.

The devotional readings are concise, very reader friendly, perfect for those who have the desire to read theology, but, not the time. The devotions have some depth, but not the depth you might expect from a commentary or heavy theological work.

Favorite quotes:

From the introduction:
At times one teacher or another has been enamored with the so-called simple teachings of Jesus and has rejected the writings of Paul as too doctrinaire, too technical, or too harsh. All we really need to do is tell people God loves them, these instructors have said. Others have maintained that it is not what we believe that matters as much as what we do. According to this perspective, the social teachings of Christianity are the heart of Christianity… Again, the problem is not that we need to know God loves us, though we often doubt that he does. Our hang-up is that we do not love God, as Luther, the pious monk, discovered. We are at war with God. In effect, we hate him; at the very least, we do not want him to rule over our lives and resent any meaningful attempts he makes to do so. Romans shows how God deals with this problem. And because it tells how God deals with this basic dilemma of human life, it necessarily also unveils the true solution to nearly everything else.
From Day 3:
Where do most people begin when making a presentation of Christian truth? Many begin with what is often called “a felt need,” a lack or a longing the listener will acknowledge. The need may involve feelings of inadequacy; a recognition of problems in the individual’s personal relationships, work, or aspirations; moods; fears; or simply bad habits. Here is the way Paul speaks of a felt need in another letter: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3). “What their itching ears want to hear” is a classic example of a felt need. In this passage the apostle warns Timothy not to cater to it. Another way we present the gospel today is by promises. Through this approach, becoming a Christian is basically presented as a means of getting something. We also commonly offer the gospel by the route of personal experience, stressing what Jesus has done for us and commending the gospel to the other person for that reason. Paul was God-centered rather than man-centered, and he was concerned with that central focus. Most of us are weak, fuzzy, or wrong at this point. Paul knew that what matters in the final analysis is not whether we feel good or have our felt needs met or receive a meaningful experience. What matters is whether we come into a right relationship with God. And to have that happen we need to begin with the truth that we are not in a right relationship with him. On the contrary, we are under God’s wrath and are in danger of everlasting condemnation at his hands. Our hope, then, is in Jesus, the Son of God. His death was for those who deserve God’s wrath. And his death was fully adequate, because Jesus did not need to die for his own sins—he was sinless—and because, being God, his act was of infinite magnitude. The place to begin for salvation is not with your own good works, since you have none, but by knowing that you are an object of God’s wrath and will perish in sin, unless you throw yourself on the mercy of the one who died for sinners, even Jesus Christ.
From Day 8:
I want to tell you that whoever you are or whatever you may or may not have done, the gospel is for you, because it is for everybody. I want you to see that if you come to God in the way he has appointed for you to come—that is, through faith in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for you—he will receive you and will never cast you out. Who may come? The answer is: everybody. All alike are lost in sin, and yet all alike are the objects of Jesus’s saving love. The gospel is for the very great sinner as well as for the apparently moral person. It is for the pagan as well as for the one who considers himself or herself religious. Even if you are a very great sinner, you may come. Even if you are extremely self-righteous, you may come—if you shed your self-righteousness. How may I come? You may come as you are. You are invited to come to Christ in whatever mental or spiritual attire you may find yourself in. Some come running to Jesus. Others come limping along with poor, faltering, hesitating steps. Some people come kicking and screaming. But that is all right. They may come too.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Week in Review: March 15-21

I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. ~ A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
The message is not that God loves us, but that he loves us with a love that cannot be defeated, even by our own stupidity. This is the gospel — the finished work of Christ on the cross, his resurrection and ascension and royal authority over everything. ~ Raymond C. Ortlund, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners
NIV Rainbow Study Bible

  • Matthew

NASB (text only)

  • Romans
  • 1 Corinthians
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians
  • Colossians
  • 1 Thessalonians
  • 2 Thessalonians
  • 1 Timothy
  • 2 Timothy
  • Titus
  • Philemon
  • Hebrews
  • James
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • 1 John
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude
  • Revelation

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Focus on Ephesians 2:8-10

One of my March memory verses is Ephesians 2:8-10. Though I've chosen to memorize this passage in the ESV, I thought it would be interesting to see how other versions of the Bible translate this verse. After all, almost more important than memorization is meditation and understanding. And reading in various translations can help with that!
  • For by grace ye be saved by faith, and this not of you [and that not of you]; for it is the gift of God, not of works, that no man have glory. For we be the making of him, made of nought in Christ Jesus, in good works, which God hath ordained, that we go in those works [that God made ready before, that in them we go].  (Wycliffe)
  • For by grace are ye made safe throwe faith, and that not of your selves: For it is the gift of God, and cometh not of works, lest any man should boast himself.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Iesu unto good works, unto the which God ordained us before, that we should walk in them. (Tyndale)
  • For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, Not of works, lest any man should boast himself. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath ordained, that we should walk in them. (1599 Geneva)
  • For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (KJV)
  • for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them. (ERV)
  • for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them. (ASV)
  • For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (RSV)
  • Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it. It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others. (Living)
  • For it is by God's grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God's gift, so that no one can boast about it. God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do. (GNT)
  • For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (NKJV)
  • For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)
  • For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (NASB)
  • You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God’s gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. It isn’t something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about. God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are. (CEV)
  • God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (NLT)
  • For you have been delivered by grace through trusting, and even this is not your accomplishment but God’s gift. You were not delivered by your own actions; therefore no one should boast. For we are of God’s making, created in union with the Messiah Yeshua for a life of good actions already prepared by God for us to do. (CJB)
  • For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (HCSB)
  • For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)
  • You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (CEB)
  • For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we should walk in them. (MEV)