Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My Year with Owen #21

I will be sharing some John Owen quotes this year. The second book I'll be reading is Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It.

Sin will not long seem great or heavy unto any to whom temptations seem light or small. ~ John Owen
The daily exercise of our thoughts with an apprehension of the great danger that lies in entering into temptation, is required of us. ~ John Owen
Temptation despised will conquer; and if the heart be made tender and watchful here, half the work of securing a good conversation is over. ~ John Owen
Therefore are we to pray that we may be preserved from it, because we cannot save ourselves. ~ John Owen
This is another means of preservation. As we have no strength to resist a temptation when it does come, when we are entered into it, but shall fall under it, without a supply of sufficiency of grace from God; so to reckon that we have no power or wisdom to keep ourselves from entering into temptation, but must be kept by the power and wisdom of God, is a preserving principle (1 Pet. 1: 5). ~ John Owen
The first beginnings of temptation [are] insensible and plausible, so that, left unto myself, I shall not know I am ensnared, until my bonds be made strong, and sin has got ground in my heart. ~ John Owen
This will make the soul be always committing itself to the care of God, resting itself on him, and to do nothing, undertake nothing, etc, without asking counsel of him. ~ John Owen
We are to pray for what God has promised. Our requests are to be regulated by his promises and commands, which are of the same extent. ~ John Owen
To pray that we enter not into temptation is a means to preserve us from it. ~ John Owen
It is not my business to speak of it [prayer] in general; but this I say as to my present purpose— he that would be little in temptation, let him be much in prayer. This calls in the suitable help and succor that is laid up in Christ for us (Heb. 4: 16). This casts our souls into a frame of opposition to every temptation. ~ John Owen
The other part of our Savior’s direction— namely, to “watch”— is more general, and extends itself to many particulars. I shall fix on some things that are contained therein. ~ John Owen
Watch the seasons wherein men usually do “enter into temptations.” ~ John Owen
A season of unusual outward prosperity is usually accompanied with an hour of temptation. John Owen
A time of the slumber of grace, of neglect in communion with God, of formality in duty, is a season to be watched in, as that which certainly [has] some other temptation attending it. ~ John Owen
A season of great spiritual enjoyments is often, by the malice of Satan and the weakness of our hearts, turned into a season of danger as to this business of temptation. ~ John Owen
A fourth season is a season of self-confidence; then usually temptation is at hand. ~ John Owen

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, May 22, 2017

Book Review: God's Story in 66 Verses

God's Story in 66 Verses. Stan Guthrie. 2015. Thomas Nelson. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]

From the introduction: HOW DO YOU, AS THE OLD SAYING GOES, EAT AN ELEPHANT? ONE bite at a time. How do you digest the Bible? One verse at a time. The Bible can be a difficult book for the average person to understand. Written over the span of a millennium and a half, and completed nearly two thousand years ago, the Book of books sometimes seems like a mishmash of stories and literary styles. We can get so caught up in the Bible’s details that we lose sight of its big picture. So how are we to get a handle on Scripture as a whole and on these sixty-six unique books without becoming Bible scholars? This book, God’s Story in 66 Verses, is my answer. It will offer you quick, lay-level access into Scripture via one key verse for each of the Bible’s books, from Genesis to Revelation.
Premise/plot: Guthrie seeks to provide a 'big-picture' guide for reading, understanding, appreciating the Bible as a whole. He has selected one verse from each book of the Bible to represent the book. "They are highlighted because I believe they most accurately represent the books in which they reside and Scripture as a whole." Each chapter is essentially an introduction to the book and its main theme(s). He writes, "God has given each Bible book to his people for good reason, and this volume will help you get something out of each one. As you read through, absorb, and refer to this volume, you will learn how the key verses (and the books they represent) fit together in a unified message, what the main thrust of Scripture is, and what difference it should make in your daily life."

My thoughts: God's Story in 66 Verses is the exact opposite of The Good Book which I reviewed last week. Guthrie provides concise commentary--an overview--of each book of the Bible. He provides an outline of the book, explains how the key verse represents the main theme(s) of the book, connects that book to other books in the Bible. Often--almost always--he tells how that book relates to Jesus Christ.

What you won't find in God's Story in 66 Verses are stories and anecdotes. This isn't meant to be a light, devotional, fluffy read. The goal isn't entertainment, in other words. He assumes that you're reading the book because you want to know God better, because you want more out of your Bible reading experience.

I found it interesting to see which verses he selected as key verses. Some were obvious choices. (For example, Ruth 1:16, Lamentations 3:22, Micah 6:8, Ephesians 2:8, Philippians 4:4) Some were not.

In case you're curious:

  • Genesis 15:6
  • Psalm 16:11
  • Proverbs 1:7
  • Isaiah 40:9
  • Jeremiah 31:33
  • Ezekiel 36:22
  • Matthew 16:15
  • Mark 10:45
  • Luke 4:18
  • John 1:14
  • Revelation 1:19

THE OLD TESTAMENT SURELY IS ONE OF THE MOST TRAGIC BOOKS in all of literature. It begins with a majestic Creator who graciously sets a man and a woman in a garden. They rebel against his loving, kingly rule, however, and are expelled from his presence, setting in motion a devastating series of events that culminates in a global deluge. God begins again, with Abraham, seeking to establish a righteous people who will draw the nations to himself, under the royal line of David. But despite nearly countless displays of the holy Lord’s patient faithfulness, the people of Israel rebel and face his judgment—expulsion from the promised land. By his grace, a chastened remnant eventually returns, looking for God to fulfill his promises of a coming King and kingdom. The glory days are past, however. Israel is now subject to one pagan empire after another, its pivotal role in the divine plan seemingly over. Matthew tells the story of how God intervenes personally, continuing the divine plan in a way that his people never expected. Matthew, one of four ancient biographies in the New Testament called the Gospels, begins with “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1).
If love for the truth characterizes the Christian, however, then so does its flip side: hatred for falsehood. That is because lies, especially those that deny Christ and his teaching, come from the devil, “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Those who promulgate these deceptions wage war against Christ and his church, threatening men’s souls and our heavenly rewards.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Week in Review: May 14-20

KJV Reformation Study Bible

  • Numbers 
  • 2 Kings 14-25
  • Proverbs 21-31
  • Isaiah 1-22
  • Ephesians


  • Psalm 66-90
  • Luke 7-24

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, May 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: Sold Into Egypt

Sold Into Egypt: Journeys Into Human Being. Madeleine L'Engle. 1989/2017. Convergent Books. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: He was a spoiled brat, Joseph, the eleventh brother. Indulged, self-indulgent, selfish. He clung to his father and the women. Whined. Got his own way. If one of the wives said no, another would surely say yes. When he was crossed he wailed that he had no mother.

Premise/plot: Sold Into Egypt completes Madeleine L'Engle's Genesis trilogy. (And It Was GoodStone for A Pillow). The book is a blend of memoir and biblical fiction. Sold Into Egypt is a memoir in that Madeleine L'Engle is reflecting on her life, specifically her GRIEF over losing her husband, Hugh. She's also sharing her spiritual reflections on what it means to live, to die, to be human. Sold Into Egypt is biblical fiction in that within each chapter--or most of the chapters--L'Engle speculates on the last chapters of Genesis. She presents accounts from different points of view.

My thoughts: I've mentioned it before, but, it's always worth mentioning again: L'Engle's theology is dangerous. Her theology is not devoid of all truth. And, at times, she speaks the unadulterated truth. But most of the time, the "truth" is filtered through her all-too-human-lens of what is right and what is wrong in her own eyes, in her own reckoning. And God as revealed in the written Word, the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, the Scriptures that are not to be added to or subtracted from does not match L'Engle's God. And so when given the choice to believe God's Own Revelation of Himself and her own idea of God, she goes with her own idea of God. L'Engle claiming that the Bible was never meant to be static, and that God is always changing, that "I AM" really means "I will be what I will be." Here's the thing: we all have a choice to make. No matter who we are, how we've been raised, how seasoned or experienced we are "in the faith." When our thoughts are in conflict with the Word of God, what will we do--who will we trust?! Will we trust the Word of God even when it doesn't seem right to us? even when it conflicts with what we want to do, with what we want to believe? even when it conflicts with our comfort zone? L'Engle is an advocate of the theory the Bible only has meaning when we--the reader--read it. And that meaning changes reader to reader. The Bible means what it means to us at that moment in time. What it means to me today is not what the Bible meant to me two decades ago. And of course my Bible is going to be different from your Bible because we're two different people! I hope you can see that L'Engle is dangerous, and dangerous precisely because she's not alone in her madness.

The three books are a product of her times. All three were written in the eighties. All three were written in the midst of the Cold War. All three deal with "current news" and "current politics."

Because we have failed to listen to each other’s stories, we are becoming a fragmented human race.
It is an amazing thing that Jacob wrestled with an angel and yet seldom wrestled with himself.
There seems to be an illusion in some of Christendom today that Christians are always happy. No matter what tragedies happen, Christians are supposed to be happy if they truly have faith. It’s only an illusion and can cause enormous trouble. Jesus was not always happy. He was, indeed, the suffering servant Isaiah talks about. Happiness, blind, unquestioning happiness, is not the sign of the Christian. Even the Holy Family was not, in the superficial sense of the word, happy. Simeon warned Mary that a sword of anguish would penetrate her own heart. And, indeed, it did.
God reproves us whenever we decide that El is like us, or like our own particular group. There is only one criterion to use in deciding whether or not the image of God we are finding within us is really God’s image, or a projection of ourselves. The one thing we know about God for certain is that God is love. Where there is not love, even if there is righteousness, or justice, it is not God.
There are many things in Scripture that are not to be understood, perhaps because so many years have passed that things have been left out, or added to, or shifted around.
Our visions of God are partial and incomplete at best. But the God who shines through the Old Testament is the mighty Creator who made the brilliance of all those stars he showed Abraham, the God of the universe. There have been many times in history when people must have wondered what kind of God we Christians have—for instance, when crusaders slaughtered Orthodox Christians in Greece; when the Spanish Inquisitors burned people at the stake for tiny differences in interpretation of faith; in Salem where a woman could be hanged as a witch if an angry neighbour accused her out of spite. Perhaps God needs less of our fierce protectiveness for his cause, and more of our love to El, to each other.
But God, El, the God of Joseph and the patriarchs, seems to be almost two separate gods, the tribal god whom Bilhah found so offensive, and who still offends many people today, and the God who was the Maker of the Universe, Creator of the Stars, the All in All, the God of Love who still lights our hearts. The tribal god can be described and defined. The God of love, the God of beginnings, cannot. And we have the desire to define, to encompass, to understand with our minds, rather than our hearts, the God we proclaim.
Truth is eternal, but our knowledge is always flawed and partial.
If we are responsible for the being of things, if we are, as this new theory implies, co-creators with God, this gives the sentient, questioning human being an enormous responsibility. Rather than swelling our egos, it should awaken in us an awed sense of vocation. We human creatures are called to be the eyes and ears and nose and mouth and fingers of this planet. We are called to observe all that is around us, to contemplate it, and to make it real.
The important thing is that the universe was made by Love, and belongs to Love.
So many people do not know what death means, and that is the cause of their embarrassment. My faith affirms that it means something, and I don’t have to know what.
Who knows what the God of love has in store for us? There are many important lessons to be learned before we are ready for the unveiled glory of the Presence.
To be human is to be able to laugh, to cry, to live fully, to be aware of our lives as we are living them. We are the creatures who know that we know, unlike insects who live by unthinking instinct. That ability to think, to know, to reflect, to question, marks us as human beings. And our humanness includes an awareness that we are mortal. To be a human being is to be born, to live, to die. We have a life span.
We tell stories, listen to stories, go to plays, to be amused, to be edified, but mostly so that we can understand what it means to be a human being.
Story is the closest we human beings can come to truth.
Story was a mirror in which I could be helped to find the image of God in myself.
Normal is the reality of living with precariousness, of never knowing what is around the corner, when accident or death are going to strike. Normal is cooking dinner for friends in the midst of this precariousness, lighting the candles, laughing, being together. Normal is trusting that God will make meaning out of everything that happens.
To be a human being is to be able to listen to a story, to tell a story, and to know that story is the most perfect vehicle of truth available to the human being.
Wait! Did I imply that Scripture is not infallible? Scripture is true, and fallibility and infallibility is not what Scripture is about. According to Scripture it is perfectly all right to have slaves as long as you treat them kindly. Slaves are told to be diligent and loyal to their masters. The psalmist says that he never saw the good man go hungry or his children begging for bread. Yet we know that good men do go hungry and their children do beg for bread every day. In his letter to the people of Thessalonica Paul’s harsh words about the Jews have encouraged the ugliness of anti-Semitism: It was the Jews who killed their own prophets, the Jews who killed the Lord, Jesus, the Jews who drove us out, his messengers. Taken out of the context in which Paul was writing to the suffering Thessalonians, his words can do untold harm, and they have often done so. So what do I believe about Scripture? I believe that it is true. What is true is alive and capable of movement and growth. Scripture is full of paradox and contradiction, but it is true, and if we fallible human creatures look regularly and humbly at the great pages and people of Scripture, if we are willing to accept truth rather than rigidly infallible statements, we will be given life, and life more abundantly. And we, like Joseph, will make progress toward becoming human.
My writing teaches me. It gives me truths I didn’t know and could never have thought of by myself. Truth is given us when we are enabled to believe the contradictory and impossible.
One of the bits of dogma that used to concern me was that Jesus is exactly like us—except he’s sinless. Well, of course if he’s sinless he’s not exactly like us; he’s not like us at all. And then I arrived at a totally different definition of sin. Sin is not child abuse or rape or murder, terrible though these may be. Sin is separation from God, and Jesus was never separate from the Source. Of course if we were close to our Source, if we were not separated from God, it would be impossible for us to commit child abuse or rape or murder. But when we are separated from God, that sin makes all sins possible.
To be human is to be able to change, knowing full well that some change is good and some change is bad; some change is progressive and some is regressive, and we often cannot discern which is which. But if we lose the ability to change we stultify, we turn to stone, we die.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, May 19, 2017

Book Review: The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Words

The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Words. Chris Bruno. 2017. Crossway. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from chapter one: We begin at the end, because the end actually starts in the beginning. Confused? Just hang with me for a little while, and hopefully you’ll see where we are heading. If you knew in advance that Frodo survives the journey to Mordor in The Lord of the Rings, but only barely; that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s dad in Star Wars; and that Bruce Willis is dead the whole time in the Sixth Sense, would it ruin these stories? You might think that it would, but according to a 2011 study published in Psychological Science, people actually enjoy stories more when they know the ending.

Premise/plot: This one is a companion book to Chris Bruno's The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Verses. Bruno stated the purpose for his new book quite clearly in his introduction, "In this book, I want to change our analogy. Instead of talking about the forest and the trees, I want us to see the whole story of the Bible as a rope that is woven tightly together. The goal of this book is to pull out sixteen key strands that compose this rope, look at how they contribute to the overall message, and then put them back in place." Or, "In this book, we are going to trace sixteen words that help us better understand and apply the whole message of the Bible."

The sixteen words: "The End," "God," "Creation," "Covenant," "Kingdom," "Temple," "Messiah," "Israel," "Land," "Idols," "Judgment," "Exodus," "Wisdom," "Law," "Spirit," "Mission."

Each chapter includes two connecting verses. One verse from the Old Testament and one verse from the New Testament. Each chapter ends with a GREAT summary statement.

My thoughts: Like Deron Spoo's The Good Book, Bruno seeks to address the BIG ideas of the Bible, seeks to help readers--no matter their background--understand and appreciate the big picture of the Bible.

But. Bruno does it better. He stays on-task, on-focus. The book is better focused on God and God's Glory. And this one is very meaty, very substantive, and extremely rich in insight. He is also straightforward, "If you want to know the message of the Bible, then you need to read the Bible."

I felt that Spoo's book was like a bag of potato chips--technically food--but not ultimately satisfying like a good MEAL with meat and vegetables.

Some of my favorite quotes:
This reality [Revelation 21:3-5] should change the way we see everything in the world—and the way we read everything in our Bibles. We need to see that the end of the Bible is closely connected to the beginning of the story. But we also need to see that the end of the story changes the way we live right now, because the end has already been brought into the present. 

Even if you haven’t read Genesis recently, you probably know the main idea of the creation story. God made the world and everything in it. He created humans in his own image and put them in the garden of Eden. But Adam and Eve doubted God’s kindness to them and wanted to be like him, so they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (the only fruit they weren’t allowed to eat). Because of their disobedience, the world and everything in it was broken. And that is basically what we see when we look out the window or turn on the news today. We live in a world where we can still see God’s hand in both the beauty of creation and the creativity of people, but it is also a world filled with broken people looking for some way to fix everything that has gone wrong. If we really want to understand the story of the world and the story of the Bible, we need to see that God told us about the solution almost as soon as we broke the world. And he started to provide for that solution as soon as he told us about it. In Genesis 3:15, he told Adam and Eve that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the Serpent. In other words, he would undo the fall and restore his good creation. From the very beginning, God was committed to stepping into history to change it, renew it, and make it better than we could ever imagine—for our good and his glory. And that, in a nutshell, is what we mean by eschatology. While we need to see that eschatology is heading toward the end, we also need to see that the end shapes the whole story. In fact, that is how I would define eschatology—the study of God’s work in history to bring the story to his intended end. So when we talk eschatology, we have to start in Genesis.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, May 18, 2017

My Year with Henry #20

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 19

  • When the gospel is really embraced, it makes men kind relatives and faithful friends; it teaches them to bear the burdens, and to bear with the infirmities of those with whom they are connected, to consider their peace and happiness more than their own.
  • It is well for us, that Christ has more love and tenderness in him than the best of his disciples have.
  • The gospel is the only remedy for lost sinners.
  • The beginning, progress, and perfecting the work of salvation, depend wholly on the almighty power of God, to which all things are possible.

Nehemiah 9

  • The word will direct and quicken prayer, for by it the Spirit helps our infirmities in prayer. The careful study of God’s word will more and more discover to us our own sinfulness, and the plenteousness of his salvation; thus it calls us to mourn for sin, and to rejoice in him. Every discovery of the truth of God, should render us more unwearied in attendance on his sacred word, and on his worship.
  • When confessing our sins, it is good to notice the mercies of God, that we may be the more humbled and ashamed. The dealings of the Lord showed his goodness and long-suffering, and the hardness of their hearts.
  • Instead of keeping away from God under a sense of unworthiness, let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. He is a God ready to pardon. 

Acts 19

  • We ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly; to do nothing in haste, of which we may repent at leisure. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Book Review: The Good Book

The Good Book: 40 Chapters That Reveal the Bible's Biggest Ideas. Deron Spoo. 2017. David Cook. 397 pages.

From chapter one: You’re more like God than anything else he created. At times you might feel worthless. Perhaps this is why the first chapter of the Bible sends the unmistakable message that you are priceless. Even on days when you feel barely human, you are, in fact, more like your Creator than anything else in existence.

Premise/plot: This book is meant as a guidebook to the Bible for spiritual ignostics; the term describes those "with no God history and no Christian memory." In other words, those new believers or near believers that have not grown up in the church or in Christian culture. Spoo has selected forty chapters of the Bible to serve as the "basis of the faith we know as Christianity…" and which are "absolutely essential for understanding the big ideas of the Bible."

The book is divided into eight sections with five chapters apiece. Each chapter is prefaced with one of the forty chapters of Scripture. So at the very, very least--if readers don't skim the reprints--one will have read forty whole chapters out of the Bible. Spoo encourages his readers to read these scriptures before and after his "brief exploration" of each passage.

The forty chapters: Genesis 1, 3, 6, 12, 22; Exodus 3, 14, 20; Judges 16; 1 Samuel 17; Job 1; Psalm 23, 51, 139; Proverbs 1; Isaiah 53; Jeremiah 1; Daniel 3, 6; Jonah 1; John 1, 3; Luke 2, 8, 15; Matthew 5, 6, 7, 28; Mark 15; Acts 1, 2, 9, 10; Revelation 22; Romans 8; 1 Corinthians 13; Galatians 5; James 1; 1 John 3.

My thoughts: I have very mixed feelings on The Good Book.

Spoo seems to be suggesting that new believers need to read books about the Bible more than they need to read the Bible itself--that handing a new believer, a new disciple, a copy of this book, for example, would be more beneficial than handing them the very Word of God. He assumes that they simply are not ready for the Bible.

Spoo promises much in the introduction. "After understanding these chapters, you’ll be able to recognize the rhythm of the Scriptures and tap your toes to the cadence." Also, "Finally, I encourage you to reread the Bible chapter with the benefit of knowing more about the context and content." I was led to believe that Spoo's exploration of these passages would be MEATY, providing actual content and context. I didn't find that to be the case.

Though the introduction seems to be God-centered, gospel-centered, Spoo has a tendency to wander into it's-all-about-you land. In some of his discussions, the focus doesn't seem to be on God but on YOU and what YOU can get from the passage to make you feel warm and fuzzy.

But. My main issue with this book, however, is the dominance of stories, more stories, even more stories which overbalance any focus on the text of Scripture itself. There may be the barest of backbones of context--capable of being detected within each chapter--but, the focus isn't on the Word of God, isn't on the divine or human author of the book, isn't on what it meant to the original audience or even what it means today to you and me. If you're clueless--truly clueless--about the Bible, about the faith, hearing anecdotes and personal stories that have just the smallest link to the Scripture passage itself will not strengthen your faith and shine light on your path.

For example, what in the world does his growing of jalapeños in his garden have to do with Galatians 5?!?! There were times I wanted to shout STOP TALKING ABOUT YOURSELF AND GET TO THE GOOD STUFF ALREADY.
I grow jalapeños. My love for cultivating peppers is a product of my Texas upbringing. I enjoy every aspect of the pepper-growing experience. The starter plants must be pruned and planted deep. The backyard must be guarded against rabbits—protection is provided courtesy of my schnauzer. The first white buds that appear on the plants inform me that the hot pain of peppers is but a few weeks away. And because I plant a dozen or so plants, it isn’t long before the production of peppers outpaces my capacity to eat them. That’s when the pickling begins. I don’t grow jalapeños because I enjoy the plants themselves. Nor do I grow jalapeños for the beauty of the blossoms. I grow them because I want the produce; I want the fruit. 
Some of his 'extra' stuff is slightly more on-topic--this example is also from Galatians 5.
Have you ever penned an angry letter? Abraham Lincoln had a practice worth imitating. After writing an angry note, he would set it aside for several days. After his emotions had cooled, he would rewrite the letter, revising any rough tones in his correspondence. In many cases, Lincoln never sent the letter at all. In a day when we’re tempted to fire off an angry electronic message, we need to develop this kind of restraint. However, there are occasions when we need to let others know exactly how we feel. Galatians is the angry letter of the New Testament. The apostle Paul, its author, was a passionate follower of Jesus and a bold leader in the early Christian community. Paul’s teaching about the love of God was simple and direct. Paul used the word grace to describe God’s act of initiating a relationship with humanity. And the term faith was used to describe our best reaction to the love of God. God reaches. We respond. The result is relationship. Simple, right?
One passage got me flustered and thinking. I didn't agree with his choice, by the way, but it did get me thinking about MY choice.
If someone told me I could choose only one tiny piece of the Bible to read for the rest of my life, I would unhesitatingly choose Matthew 5, 6, and 7. Commonly called the Sermon on the Mount, these three chapters offer nitty-gritty guidance on the daily experiment of following Jesus. Stranded here on the island of earth, our call is to pursue a life pleasing to God. Jesus said many things in these chapters that challenged the conventional religion of his day. After two thousand years, his wisdom still surprises. 
I'll swing over to the positive side for a minute. He said two things in the introduction that I wholeheartedly agree with.

1) Reject the tendency to be satisfied with your current understanding of the Bible. Refuse the temptation to think that what you grasp of the Scriptures today is somehow enough.

2) Remember that the ultimate benefit of reading the Scriptures isn’t greater familiarity with the Bible but deeper intimacy with God.

And there were plenty of solidly true statements for new believers to digest within the book itself.

For example,

  • Our greatest challenge with God’s commands isn’t understanding them but obeying them.
  • The wishful thinking that following Christ automatically makes the rest of life convenient is a cultural concept, not a biblical one.
  • Challenge, not comfort, is the lifestyle of those who wish to follow God.
  • The truth may be summed up like this: thinking we’re strong is a weakness, but acknowledging our weakness makes us stronger.

In conclusion, IF I bought the premise that new believers need books for new believers and not the Word of God itself, would I hand them Spoo's The Good Book, OR, would I choose another book instead? That's a question I think is worth asking--and answering. I don't think it would be my top choice--or even in my top five.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

My Year with Owen #20

I will be sharing some John Owen quotes this year. The second book I'll be reading is Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It.
It may be inquired: (1) How a man may know when he is entered into temptation; (2) What directions are to be given for the preventing of our entering into temptation; (3) What seasons there are wherein a man may and ought to fear that an hour of temptation is at hand. ~ John Owen
When a man is drawn into any sin, he may be sure that he has entered into temptation. All sin is from temptation (James 1: 14). Sin is a fruit that comes only from that root. ~ John Owen
When they are overtaken with a sin they set themselves to repent of that sin, but do not consider the temptation that was the cause of it, to set themselves against that also to take care that they enter no more into it. Hence are they quickly again entangled by it, though they have the greatest detestation of the sin itself that can be expressed. He that would indeed get the conquest over any sin must consider his temptations to it, and strike at that root; without deliverance from thence, he will not be healed. ~ John Owen
Men’s lusts will infallibly (if not mortified in the death of Christ) carry them into eternal ruin, but oftentimes without much noise, according to the course of the stream of their corruptions; but let the wind of strong temptations befall them, they are hurried into innumerable scandalous sins, and so, broken upon all accounts, are swallowed up in eternity. ~ John Owen
Entering into temptation may be seen in the lesser degrees of it; as, for instance, when the heart begins secretly to like the matter of the temptation, and is content to feed it and increase it by any ways that it may without downright sin. ~ John Owen
I told you before that to enter into temptation is not merely to be tempted, but so to be under the power of it as to be entangled by it. Now, it is impossible almost for a man to have opportunities, occasions, advantages, suited to his lust and corruption, but he will be entangled. ~ John Owen
When a man is weakened, made negligent or formal in duty, when he can omit duties or content himself with a careless, lifeless performance of them, without delight, joy, or satisfaction to his soul, who had another frame formerly; let him know, that though he may not be acquainted with the particular distemper wherein it consists, yet in something or other he is entered into temptation, which at the length he will find evident, to his trouble and peril. ~ John Owen
What general directions may be given to preserve a soul from that condition that has been spoken of? And we see our Savior’s direction in the place spoken of before (Matt. 26: 41). He sums up all in these two words: “watch and pray.” I shall a little labor to unfold them and show what is enwrapped and contained in them; and that both jointly and severally. There is included in them a clear, abiding apprehension of great evil that there is in entering into temptation. That which a man watches and prays against, he looks upon as evil to him, and by all means to be avoided. ~ John Owen
Always bear in mind the great danger that it is for any soul to enter into temptation. ~ John Owen
Let no man, then, pretend to fear sin that does not fear temptation to it. They are too nearly allied to be separated. Satan has put them so together that it is very hard for any man to put them asunder. He hates not the fruit who delights in the root. ~ John Owen

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, May 15, 2017

Book Review: The Imperfect Disciple

The Imperfect Disciple. Jared C. Wilson. 2017. Baker Books. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: My gospel is a little sweaty and ragged around the edges. The print is smeared a little bit, and it’s flat and conformed to the contour of my upper thigh from hiding in my front pocket. Maybe your gospel looks like mine. Sometimes it can feel weird to show it to somebody.

Premise/plot: Jared C. Wilson addresses the subject of Christian discipleship in his newest book. What does it mean to follow Christ? What does it mean to be a disciple? What does the 'Christian life' the 'Christian walk' look like in the real world, in the honest-with-yourself world? Wilson writes, "This book on following Jesus is for all of you people who, like me, are tired of the mass-marketed, self-helpy “be a better Christian” projects."

My thoughts: I really enjoyed reading this one. IT was quite a joy to read a solidly biblical book after reading Madeleine L'Engle's horrid theological ramblings. I love how he begins each chapter with a "my gospel" statement. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • My gospel is well worn. Its pages are thin from use. I’ve run over it and over it—by myself and with others, and for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to wear completely out. It feels like cloth now, delicate and soft. I dare not replace it, though, because it’s the only one I’ve got. I bring this gospel out when I’m discipling others—Okay, wait. Discipling is not a word we find in the Scriptures. Nor do we find discipleship, for that matter. Let me start over—I bring this soft-as-cloth gospel out of my pocket when I am helping others follow Jesus.
  • My gospel is smudged. It doesn’t seem at first glance much to look at. If I had inadvertently dropped it on the sidewalk, you might step over it like you would a penny. Who stops for a penny? 
  • My gospel is an old hymn. My gospel is sheet music printed in antiquarian typeface on a yellowed page in a dusty book. It’s the “old, old story” and the “old rugged cross.” My gospel is four verses—and please don’t skip the third verse to expedite the invitation! My gospel is an invitation to a bygone time that feels new again, even in our age of ever-dawning progress and modernity. My gospel gets “dug up” and “trotted out” and sung ironically and apologized for by leaders too clever for their own good. But then it lands in the ears of those led as sweetly familiar, warms their souls like celestial comfort food, and always gets sung louder than those Jesus-is-my-boyfriend ditties.
  • My gospel has been both a welcome mat and a place mat. It is a little messy. Scrape it with your fingernail and you’ll disturb the crust of dusty footprints and dribbles of spaghetti sauce. This gospel gets passed around a lot. It’s been under a lot of noses, in front of a lot of eyes. We’ve held hands around it, held it together before our faces like a shared song sheet at a Sunday night hymn sing, perhaps even wiped our tears with it. This gospel has all of our DNA on it, I’m afraid.
  • My gospel is burning a hole in my pocket. It’s an ember smoldering, singeing my threads and my thigh. It is leaving a mark. It is branding me. It cannot be contained. My gospel is a wildfire waiting to happen. It scorches dry earth, lays waste to dead limbs.
  • My gospel is a Narnian wardrobe. It seems simple enough from the outside—discernible, shaped, and dimensioned. But when I get myself inside of it, the dimensions expand. Its inside is bigger than its outside. 
  • My gospel is a time machine. It goes all the way back. And it goes all the way forward. At the same time, for all time. My gospel fits in my pocket, and yet when I grasp it with my trembling fist, it takes me everywhere and everywhen. It gets my name in the Lamb’s book before time began and it puts my name over the door of some heavenly abode as yet unseen. I’m getting ahead of myself. 
  • My gospel is a handful of crumbs. It does not look like much. But it is more than enough. Some see the crumbs and move on. The plate seems distinctly un-regal; the illusion of this meager offering does not comport with the desires of their belly-god. Some hear in the call to feast on the words of the Lord a provocation calling them in some way a dog, and they scamper away yelping rather than leaning in, head bowed to be patted. My gospel is fuller than it appears, more satisfying. A morsel of grace is vastly delicious, greater in taste and sustenance than the biggest buffet at the world’s shiniest banquet. My gospel is desert manna, a widow’s miracle-cake, Elvish lembas bread. You must trust me on this.  
I love how basic and yet comprehensive it is of the Christian life. It covers prayer, Bible reading, fellowship, worship, evangelism and missions, etc. It is authentic and straightforward. It is a call to turn your eyes upon Jesus. It is a call to LOVE.

Favorite quotes:
You introduce the truth of Romans 8 to every corner of the room, every dark place in your heart, as often as you can, as much as you can, as fiercely as you can. Every day. It has to happen every day. Because what’s wrong with you and me is that we’re still on this side of glory, and so long as we’re on this side of glory, there will always be more sanctifying to go through. This is how I like to think about discipleship, then—not just following Jesus, but refollowing Jesus every day. We go off track so easily. Bit by bit, day by day, turning and returning, we reorient the engine of our life around Jesus. The problem is the same every day but the mercies are new, and the disciples of Jesus will plunder them with abandon. He wants us to! You’ve got to maintain your soul this way or you will not maintain it at all. You’ve got to hook your soul on this anchor called Christ or you will lose it, I assure you.
There is virtually no part of Jesus’s life and ministry that isn’t vastly misunderstood. We have turned the incarnation into a once-a-year precious moment, the parables into moralistic fables, the miracles into production values. We’ve managed to somehow turn the message of the cross into one of mere martyrdom (which scandalizes almost nobody) and the reality of the resurrection into a metaphor for turning over a new leaf (which convinces fewer still). And then you come to the Sermon on the Mount. This is our Lord’s pièce de résistance, his monumental line in the sand for all humanity. This is the passage of Scripture from which fans of Jesus most often quote. “Don’t judge.” “Love your enemies.” “Turn the other cheek.” All of which they’re quoting out of some lame self-interest. They think they’re being revolutionary when really they are only backing religious business as usual—using holy words for personal gain. We are idiots when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount. And, in fact, the Sermon on the Mount makes us idiots. We come up against it and see what it makes of our striving, our ambition, our jockeying for position, and it puts us in our place. But rather than humble ourselves before it we try to co-opt it and spin it, turn it into a set of Christian fortune cookies. No portion of the Sermon is more ripe for this thievery than the introductory announcement we have traditionally called the Beatitudes.
Our discipleship has to deal with this tension—the tension between the glorious reality we believe in and yearn for and the hard reality we currently live in every day—or else it’s not the real Jesus we’re following.
You and I come to Jesus looking for some kind of pick-me-up, and Jesus offers his flesh. We come looking for Jesus the Life Coach when what we really need is his glory. We need to behold him.
The law is good and holy and necessary. The glory of the law is incredible. But the glory of the law is fading; it is passing away. The glory of Christ so exceeds the glory of the law, as Jonathan Edwards once said, it is like the sun rising in its strength and eclipsing the stars.5 In verse 11 Paul describes the glory of Jesus revealed to us in the gospel as “permanent,” implying that the glory of the law is somehow temporary. If you think about it, we won’t need the law in the new heavens and the new earth, because there will be no more sin to restrain, no more curse to adjudicate, no more death to administer. But the glory of Christ? It will be the virtual sun of the new heavens and new earth, enlightening all the restored creation with its cosmic beauty. Yes, the gospel is better than the law. And yes, in fact, beholding is better than behaving. This is why, as odd as it sounds, making your entire Christian life about trying to look like a good Christian is a great way to become a terrible Christian. Or at least a weak and defeated one. This is so important to understand. It is crucially important. It is so important that I want to violate a cardinal rule of sophisticated composition and employ every means of emphasis that I can to restate it: YOU CANNOT GET POWER TO OBEY THE LAW FROM THE LAW ITSELF!!! POWER TO CHANGE CAN ONLY COME FROM THE GLORY OF CHRIST!!! Man, that looks terrible. Please forgive me for that assault on the eyes. But it’s an idea worth looking foolish to emphasize because it is so counterintuitive to the flesh, so contra the wisdom of the world—and contra most religious ideology—that it’s worth writing it like some junior high school girl’s tweet about Justin Bieber. This idea ought to be tattooed on our inner eyelids. And if you just happened to pick this book up in a store and flipped through it, this would be the one idea I’d want to catch your eye. We think we know what will do the job of making us holy: us doing the job of making us holy. And seeking holiness is integral to discipleship. But more central to our discipleship is the news that actually makes Christianity Christianity: we are holy not because of what we’ve done but because of what Jesus has done. This is why the good news is so good! The essential message of Christianity isn’t “do” but “done.” The good news is news, not instruction, and it announces to us not “get to work” but “it is finished.” And so it turns out that the direct route to God-honoring behavior is born not of good behavior but of good beholding.
We have at our fingertips the very revelation of God to us, and yet we treat Scripture like a blunt instrument, like a dry reference book, like a prop for our propaganda, anything but the wellspring of God’s truth to be drunk deeply from. If we’re going to look at following Jesus as “abiding in Christ,” we have to dwell in God’s Word. This means meditating on Scripture, chewing on it, and savoring it. This does not come easily at first, but the more we do it, the more natural it will feel. After a while, we will experience having been shaped by the message to automatically live the message. But this all begins with simply listening.
The Bible is a book that teaches us how to read it as we read it.
The glory of Christ is actually blaring from the pages of the Bible. God is not only not giving you the silent treatment, he is practically yelling. The problem is not with his voice but with our ears. The more and harder we listen, however, the more of heaven’s glorious music we will hear, and thus the more of heaven’s glory we will see. And then our soul finds the rhythm of heaven.
Our daily life communicates where our hope and trust is placed; we are actually “praying” with our words and deeds every day. Many of our prayers may look like this: My self on earth, Awesome is my name. My success come and my will be done. Give me lots of things I want (but think I need). Don’t even think about debt (unless it’s someone else’s). Don’t worry about giving in to temptation, because you deserve it. Deliver me from guilt anyway. For this life is mine, and the world revolves around me. Amen. Okay, so that’s pretty silly. But don’t we live like that, or at least fight the temptation to live like that, all the time?
The truth is there is always something to be afraid of. And the more bored you are with the things of God, the more vulnerable you will be to this fear when difficulty comes. And this is why you can hardly go anywhere in the Bible without bumping into the words, “Don’t be afraid.” Some say it’s the most frequent command in the Scriptures.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Week in Review: May 7-13

KJV Reformation

  • 1 Kings 
  • 2 Kings 1-13
  • Psalms 90-150
  • Proverbs 1-20
  • 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians


  • Psalm 29-65
  • Luke 1-6

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Give Them Truth

Give Them Truth: Teaching Eternal Truths to Young Minds. Starr Meade. 2015. P&R Publishing. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Pendulums swing. They never move from one extreme to the correct balance and then stop. Instead, in their quest for balance, they first swing from one extreme and then move all the way to the opposite extreme. This is just as true with ideas as it is with a physical pendulum. As Christian parents and teachers longing to pass Christianity on to our children, we understand that it is not the possession of information, no matter how much of it is possessed or how well it is known, that will make our children into godly, faithful followers of Christ. Our children must believe in and love the Lord Jesus.

Premise/plot: Are you a Christian? Are you a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle? Are you a Sunday School teacher or pastor? If you answered "yes" to any of the above, then Starr Meade's Give Them Truth is a must-read. I don't care how busy you are, or, how much you hate reading. You simply MUST make the time to read this one. The topic is too important to ignore, to push aside until later. Children grow up too fast.

Meade describes her book thusly:

  • It is a book on teaching, and it is directed to anyone—parent, grandparent, teacher, or pastor—who teaches children. I have been teaching children and teenagers for three decades (wow! how did that happen?). My teaching has been in churches, in Christian schools, and in my living room with homeschooled children. So I work exclusively with children whose families identify themselves as Christians and who attend Protestant churches. My hope in writing this book is to expose that appalling ignorance to those who are in a position to do something about it.
  • Part One makes my case: too many children from Christian homes do not know their Bibles and do not grasp Christian doctrine. Yet the possession of such knowledge is essential for everything else we desire for the spiritual lives of children.
  • Part Two showcases basic Christian doctrines children should grow up learning, providing some hints on ways we can communicate these things to our children and pointing out some of the clashes that occur between these teachings and the ideas of the culture our children will inhabit.
  • Part Three details some specifics for teaching our children: first, general principles, then specific Bible content, and finally, doctrinal truths. As an acknowledgment that there is more to the Christian training of children than simply imparting information, the book concludes with a list of added resources. Some of the resources will help with the studying and teaching that is urged in this book; other resources will help with additional aspects of raising children so that we point them to Christ as they grow. 
  • I’m calling for children to know the overall organization of the whole Bible, the big picture of the history it recounts, at least the important stories of all its main characters, and how the people and places and events of one Bible era relate to those of other eras. I want them to have a comfortable familiarity with basic Bible themes and to know definitions for concepts that are critical in understanding Christian doctrine. I desire to see them growing steadily in their ability to articulate these things. 

My thoughts: I reread this one this past week. I desperately needed to soak in the glorious TRUTH after muddying my mind with Madeleine L'Engle's horrid And It Was Good and A Stone for a Pillow. If L'Engle's theology is poisonous, then Starr Meade's is the antidote--the cure. Unlike L'Engle's theology which sprung largely from her imagination, Starr Meade's theology comes from the Bible itself, perhaps with a tiny dose of the creeds and catechisms.

As I said in my previous review, I love, love, love, LOVE this one.

My favorite quotes:

  • To the degree that our children do not know the fullness of God’s Word, to that degree they will not know God as fully as he wills to be known.
  • Our children cannot apply Scripture without knowing what it says. They cannot love Christ without knowing who he is. They can’t obey God without knowing what he has commanded. And they will not know these things if we do not provide deliberate, thorough, rigorous instruction, just as we would do for subjects like math or grammar.
  • Christianity is, first of all, a body of truth—to be known, understood, embraced, applied, and passed on. “Spiritual” ideas and feelings, divorced from that body of truth, are not Christian, no matter what those who have them say. Our children must know, first of all, the body of truth taught by Jesus, built upon and communicated by the apostles, and passed down in the church through centuries. Without that body of truth, they do not have Christianity.
  • Children need to grow up with the understanding that, at its very core, Christianity consists of truth—objective, outside-of-me, whetherI-believe-it-or-not truth. While Christianity is more than just a set of correct beliefs, it certainly begins there. 
  • Error comes in when only parts of the truth are studied or only some truths are cherished.
  • The Bible is not just preferred teachings for Christians. The Bible is what God said, put into writing. He whose creatures we are and who, therefore, defines all things and makes all rules, has spoken. Our only legitimate response is to hear, accept, believe, and obey. Whenever we understand truth one way, then learn that the Bible teaches something different, it is our understanding we must correct, and the Bible’s assertion we must embrace. Our children must grow up seeing us set aside our own opinions whenever those opinions bump up against the Bible’s teaching in disagreement. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Book Review: Stone for a Pillow

Stone for a Pillow. Madeleine L'Engle. 1986/2017. Convergent Books. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: In the late afternoon, when the long December night had already darkened the skies, we opened Christmas cards, taking turns, reading the messages, enjoying this once-a-year being in touch with far-flung friends. There, incongruously lying among the Christmas greetings, was an official-looking envelope addressed to me, with Clerk of Court, New York County, in the upper left-hand corner. A call to jury duty. Manhattan does not give its prospective jurors much notice. My call was for the first week in January. To the notice inside had been added the words, Must Serve.

Premise/plot: Stone for a Pillow is the second in the Genesis trilogy. The best way to describe the book is that it's reflective "theology" written in a stream of consciousness style. It is loosely-inspired by the middle of the book of Genesis--the chapters focusing on Jacob and Esau.

My thoughts: In my review of And It Was Good, I wrote that L'Engle's theology was dangerous. I would definitely say that is still the case. If anything, the years between 1983 and 1986 led L'Engle even further from the Christian path. The more I read, I more I realize that it's just not a misconception or misunderstanding on my part, but, that she did indeed believe some mighty strange, actually heretical things.

For example, this is L'Engle's writing on the topic of the atonement. She rejects the doctrine out and out.
In a vain attempt to make people see God as an avenging judge, theologians have even altered the meaning of words. Atonement, for instance. A bad word, if taken forensically. In forensic terms, the atonement means that Jesus had to die for us in order to atone for all our awful sins, so that God could forgive us. In forensic terms, it means that God cannot forgive us unless Jesus is crucified and by this sacrifice atones for all our wrongdoing. But that is not what the word means! I went to an etymological dictionary and looked it up. It means exactly what it says, at-one-ment. I double-checked it in a second dictionary. There is nothing about crime and punishment in the makeup of that word. It simply means to be at one with God. Jesus on the cross was so at-one with God that death died there on Golgotha, and was followed by the glorious celebration of the Resurrection… Sin, then, is discourtesy pushed to an extreme, and discourtesy is lack of at-one-ment.
She continues,
We are all going to face God’s judgment, but we will not receive forensic judgment from the throne of heaven. God is not going to abandon Creation, nor the people up for trial in criminal court, nor the Shiites nor the communists nor the warmongers, nor the greedy and corrupt people in high places, nor the dope pushers, nor you, nor me. Bitter tears of repentance may be shed before we can join the celebration, but it won’t be complete until we are all there. This is the God of Scripture, the God of forbearance, forgiveness, and unqualified love. We have been living in a world where we have viewed God and each other in a forensic way for too long, and it should be apparent that it is not working, and that it is not going to work. This forensic world is not a scriptural world, but a clever projection of the Tempter. Our only hope for peace, within our own hearts, and all over our small green earth, is for us to open ourselves to the judgment of God, that judgment that makes the waters and the hills to sing. For God’s judgment is atonement, at-one-ment, making us one with the Lord of love.
Is she a univeralist? You be the judge:
All will be redeemed in God’s fullness of time, all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ. All the strayed and stolen sheep. All the little lost ones.
If God created all of Creation, if God is the author of Buddhists and Hindus and Jains as well as those who have “accepted Jesus Christ as Lord,” how can we avoid a wishy-washy permissiveness? Not by retreating back into a closed system. Not by saying: Only those who believe exactly as I do can be saved. Not by insisting that only those whose god fits into the same box as my god will go to heaven. Not by returning to polytheism and proclaiming that our god is greater than the gods of other cultures. Paradoxically, it comes back to us, to our acceptance of ourselves as created by God, and loved by God, no matter how far we have fallen from God’s image in us. It is not a self-satisfied, self-indulgent acceptance, but a humble, holy, and wondrous one.
I don’t understand why the idea of emptying hell upsets some people so. To be upset about it is to think forensically, and while we all suffer from a touch of this, we can surely recognize our own lack of generosity.
When we set ourselves up as being the only people in Creation who have the truth and who will inherit the kingdom, we are worshipping the little god of our own pride.
She is more influenced by the theory of the butterfly effect than the words of Christ--or the Word of God. Here are a few of her statements about the Bible.
It is a living book, not a dead one. It urges us to go beyond its pages, not to stop with what we have read. It is a book not only of history, and of the prohibitions of the commandments and laws, but of poetry and song, of fantasy and paradox and mystery and contradiction. It is not the only book in which I will look for and find truth.
The Bible is a book which urges us to keep our concept of God open, to let our understanding grow and develop as we are illumined by new discoveries. If we stopped where Scripture leaves us, in the New Testament as well as the Old, we could still, with clear consciences, keep slaves.
What a passage says to us today may not be what the same passage will say when we next encounter it. We must strive to be open to the deeply mythic quality, expressing the longings and aspirations and searchings of the human race.
If we are willing to live by Scripture, we must be willing to live by paradox and contradiction and surprise.
Once I remarked that I read the Bible in much the same way that I read fairy tales, and received a shocked response. But fairy tales are not superficial stories. They spring from the depths of the human being. The world of the fairy tale is to some degree the world of the psyche. Like the heroes and heroines of fairy tales, we all start on our journey, our quest, sent out on it at our baptisms. We are, all of us, male and female, the younger brother, who succeeds in the quest because, unlike the elder brother, he knows he needs help; he cannot do it because he is strong and powerful. We are all, like it or not, the elder brother, arrogant and proud. We are all, male and female, the true princess who feels the pea of injustice under all those mattresses of indifference. And we all have to come to terms with the happy ending, and this may be the most difficult part of all. Never confuse fairy tale with untruth. Alas, Lucifer, how plausible you can be, confusing us into thinking that to speak of the Bible as myth is blasphemy.
Though she ridicules people who make God into their own image instead of looking for the image of God within them. She seems to have no problem defining God herself throughout the book. She doesn't use the revealed Word of God as a primary source--but herself, her instincts, her insights, her biases.
I shudder at the once widely-accepted theory that God preordained us all before we were born for either heaven or hell, and nothing we did would change this predestination. What kind of god would predetermine part of his creation to eternal damnation? This is surely not consistent with God’s creation in the early chapters of Genesis, when Elohim looked at all that had been made and called it good, very good. And yet this brutal theology used to be widely accepted and taught, a kind of spiritual terrorism.
That being said, there were still some good statements--sentences. (Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. But a ticking-working clock set to the wrong time, is never going to be right.)
It is not a simple thing to accept God’s love, because if we do, we must return love.
Fiction draws us into participating in other lives, other countries, other ways of life or thinking.
It was a sad moment when I had to admit to myself that I was not going to be able to read, in this lifetime, all the books I need to read!
If we refuse to take the risk of being vulnerable we are already half-dead. If we are half-dead we don’t have to starve with the people of Ethiopia. We don’t have to share the terrible living conditions of old people struggling to exist on dwindling social security payments in our overcrowded, hostile cities. We don’t have to smell the stench of filth, and disease, and hunger in the favelas and barrios.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, May 12, 2017

Book Review: The Last Battle

The Last Battle. C.S. Lewis. 1956. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: In the last days of Narnia, far up to the west beyond Lantern Waste and close beside the great waterfall, there lived an Ape.

Premise/plot: All worlds must come to an end, even Narnia. The Last Battle brings readers to the end not only to the between-world adventures to Narnia experienced by a handful of children but to Narnia itself. It begins with a deception Shift, an ape, manipulates Puzzle, a donkey, into wearing a lion's skin on his back and pretending to be Aslan. Soon, Narnia has been turned topsy-turvy, and King Tirian and Jewel are among the last few skeptics--or last true believers. It's not a matter of can Narnia be saved--it can't, it won't be. It's a matter of what's worth living and dying for… It's a matter of what you do with the time you have left… It's a matter of knowing that there's something more, something greater yet to come.

My thoughts: I have VERY strong opinions about this novel.

Strengths in The Last Battle:

1) It stresses DISCERNMENT. There's a great line early on that I think is key to understanding all:
No one who had ever seen a real lion would have been taken in for a moment. C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
You have to KNOW the truth, be familiar with the truth, have the truth impact and inform you in your daily life IF you want to be able to distinguish--discern--between the truth and a lie. It's more important to study the truth, to have the truth be your home and guide, than to study all the hundreds or thousands of different lies that have permeated society since the birth of Christ. If you don't know the truth, you can fall for anything--whether that 'anything' is close to the truth or very, very far from the truth. The truth is knowable. The truth is not relative.
Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That's why there can never be any quarrel between them. C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
2) The Bible is a blessing when one holds it as the Word of God, the Revelation of God Himself to His people. Aslan left no written word behind, and, the oral history left behind, well, it kept things just fuzzy enough to be confusing. Yet how many today are "fuzzy" in spite of having the Word of God within reach. The Bible is the Word of God; it has authority.
"But, Sire, how could Aslan be commanding such dreadful things?" "He is not a tame lion," said Tirian. "How should we know what he would do?" C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
Throughout the book, HE'S NOT A TAME LION is the mantra of everyone--true friend of Narnia or enemy. In the same way, don't Christians use "God works in mysterious ways…" or "God is doing a new thing…" as a way to leap into whatever teaching they want. Yes, God's ways are not our ways, and, we can't get the intellectual better of God. But God is knowable. He has revealed Himself to us in His word. He has told us all we need to know--more than we can fully comprehend in one lifetime--in this Word. We know, for example, that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We know that God is faithful, good, merciful, loving and compassionate, forgiving, just, wise. We know that God cannot and will not act contrary to Himself.

3) The Christian life is all warfare. No easy-going, easy-living, happy-happy-best-life-now nonsense. Suffering. Hard Times. Persecution. CONFLICT. God promises peace in the midst of this--comfort through this.
We must go on and take the adventure that comes to us. C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
Nothing now remains for us seven but to go back to Stable Hill, proclaim the truth, and take the adventure that Aslan sends us. C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
But courage, child: we are all between the paws of the true Aslan. C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
Some ridicule the idea that there is a devil, that there are demons, that there really are spiritual battles to be fought. But. The Bible takes this doctrine, this teaching, seriously, and so should we.
"It seems then," said the Unicorn, "that there is a real Tash, after all." "Yes," said the Dwarf. "And this fool of an Ape, who didn't believe in Tash, will get more than he bargained for! He called for Tash: Tash has come."

People shouldn't call for demons unless they really mean what they say." C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
And then she understood the devilish cunning of the enemies' plan. By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger. C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

4) Heaven is better than we could ever hope to imagine… I do think Lewis treats death properly. It is not the END but the beginning.
I've a feeling we've got to the country where everything is allowed. C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!
But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

5) Apologetics will only take you so far…
"Which one of us said that was Aslan? That is the Ape's imitation of the real Aslan. Can't you understand?" "And you've got a better imitation, I suppose!" said Griffle. "No thanks. We've been fooled once and we're not going to be fooled again." C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
Weaknesses of The Last Battle

I acknowledge that the Chronicles of Narnia is a fantasy series, the work of one author, C.S. Lewis, and, that while an allegory can't be taken absolutely, positively seriously as a theological work. BUT. Lewis' theology is seriously messed-up in this one.

1) He seems to be teaching that you can "fall away" and "lose" your salvation, that you can stop being a "friend of Narnia." Susan no longer believes in Narnia, that Narnia is a real place that they visited, a place where she reigned as Queen. That great love for Aslan she once had--remember how she and Lucy were with him in the first book--vanished without a trace and it seems Aslan's future plans don't include Queen Susan anymore.

2) He seems to be teaching that God's call--God's seeking of the lost--is resistible. That there are people whom God just cannot reach no matter how hard he tries, no matter how much he wants to. Here's the thing. If the Bible is truth, which I believe it is, the parallel is THAT WE'RE ALL DWARFS. WE'RE ALL "THE DWARFS ARE FOR THE DWARFS." WE'RE ALL BLIND AND DEAF.
"Aslan," said Lucy through her tears, "could you--will you--do something for these poor Dwarfs?" "Dearest," said Aslan, "I ail show you both what I can, and what I cannot, do."
"You see," said Aslan. "They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out."
But God *is* sovereign in salvation. God *does* open our blind eyes and deaf ears; He does enable us to see and hear. From first to last, God is sovereign.

3) This next offense is the worst of the lot. Lewis introduces the character of Emeth to readers, and, with Emeth comes a LOT of bad theology. He's a Tarkann who has served Tash all of his days--his whole life from start to finish. He has loved Tash; abhorred Aslan. Until he enters the stable, and, sees this divine glory. I'm surprised other Christians don't catch HOW bad this allegorical-theology is:

Essentially, though you though you were really worshipping and serving Tash, because your works were good it was as if you were really serving Aslan all along. Your works were so good, your belief so sincere, that everything has been credited to you as if you were loving, worshipping, serving Aslan. If your works had been bad, no matter if you proclaimed to believe in Aslan, you were really worshipping and serving Tash.
But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou has done to Tash, I account as service done to me. ~ C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
We are not saved by works--by our own works, anyway. One could argue that we are saved by Christ's work imputed to us. But we are not saved by ANY "good works" we do. Our list of "good works" would be very, very, very short indeed--apart from Christ, or with the me + Christ philosophy. Heaven is not EARNED. Not even slightly.

We are not saved by the sincerity or passion of our belief. It is the OBJECT of our faith that saves. Not my faith in faith. Not my passionate, well-intentioned sincerity or emotional state. Definitely not having faith in faith. It is Christ that saves. You can sincerely, whole-heartedly believe something that is false.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, May 11, 2017

My Year with Henry #19

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.

Acts 18

  • The love of Christ is the best bond of the saints; and the communings of the saints with each other, sweeten labor, contempt, and even persecution. Most of the Jews persisted in contradicting the gospel of Christ, and blasphemed. They would not believe themselves, and did all they could to keep others from believing. Paul hereupon left them. He did not give over his work; for though Israel be not gathered, Christ and his gospel shall be glorious.
  • The Lord knows those that are his, yea, and those that shall be his; for it is by his work upon them that they become his. Let us not despair concerning any place, when even in wicked Corinth Christ had much people. He will gather in his chosen flock from the places where they are scattered. Thus encouraged, the apostle continued at Corinth, and a numerous and flourishing church grew up.
  • Our times are in God’s hand; we purpose, but he disposes; therefore we must make all promises with submission to the will of God; not only if providence permits, but if God does not otherwise direct our motions. A very good refreshment it is to a faithful minister, to have for awhile the society of his brethren. Disciples are compassed about with infirmity; ministers must do what they can to strengthen them, by directing them to Christ, who is their Strength. Let us earnestly seek, in our several places, to promote the cause of Christ, forming plans that appear to us most proper, but relying on the Lord to bring them to pass if he sees good.

Genesis 20

  • Crooked policy will not prosper: it brings ourselves and others into danger.
  • It is matter of comfort to those who are honest, that God knows their honesty, and will acknowledge it. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Review: The Story of Reality

The Story of Reality. Gregory Koukl. 2017. Zondervan. 208 pages. [Source: Bought]

From the preface: THE FIRST QUESTION any of us learns to ask about anything—and we usually learn to ask it quite early in life—is “Why?” Children ask it incessantly about all sorts of things. We usually don’t mind because we know their questions generally have answers, and in many cases (with the easier questions) we know what the answers are. Put simply, there are reasons for the way things are, and it’s the most natural thing in the world for us to try to figure out what those reasons might be. It’s one of the first things we learn.

First sentence of chapter one: I WANT TO TELL YOU the story about how the world began, how the world ends, and everything deeply important that happens in between. It’s a tale many already know but few understand, even those who call the Story their own. This story is not a fairy tale, but rather it is the Story all fairy tales are really about.

Premise/plot: Koukl explains the Christian worldview in The Story of Reality. He argues that Christianity isn't just a point of view, one possible reality, but THE reality. There are many, many, many world views. But there is only one reality. There are many, many, many beliefs held around the world, but, not all beliefs are true.

He writes, "Every religion tells a story of reality. Every philosophy and every individual outlook on life is a take on the way someone thinks the world actually is. There is no escaping it. These stories are meant to bring order to our beliefs, to explain the “pieces” of reality we encounter in life, whether big things or little things, important or inconsequential. All worldviews are not equal, though. Some have pieces that seem to fit together (internally) better than others, and some have pieces that seem to fit reality (externally) better than others."

He continues, "EVERY WORLDVIEW HAS FOUR ELEMENTS. They help us understand how the parts of a person’s worldview story fit together. These four parts are called creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Creation tells us how things began, where everything came from (including us), the reason for our origins, and what ultimate reality is like. Fall describes the problem (since we all know something has gone wrong with the world). Redemption gives us the solution, the way to fix what went wrong. Restoration describes what the world would look like once the repair takes place."

He concludes, "Christianity is the Story of how the world began, why the world is the way it is, what role we play in the drama, and how all the plotlines of the Story are resolved in the end."

Koukl takes questions seriously. He doesn't answer condescendingly, in my opinion, but earnestly and logically. He knows that people--skeptics, agnostics, atheists, even believers--have questions, and that these questions should be thoughtfully, carefully considered before being answered.

My thoughts: The book is clear, logical, thoughtful. I LOVE how basic and yet thorough it is. I love the imagery of piecing together a puzzle. I think this image works throughout the book. I love that the key to 'getting' what Christianity is all about is knowing and perhaps remembering the big picture of the Bible. I love, love, love this one. I think it's worth reading several times at least.

Why you should read this book: "CHRISTIANS HAVE A PROBLEM when they fail to understand their own Story. They are not able to answer the two objections most frequently raised about their beliefs. These two obstacles are so daunting for nonbelievers, they simply cannot take the Christian Story as anything more than an implausible tale, like yarns about unicorns, leprechauns, or North Pole elves. Here are the obstacles. It is clear to most people that the world is not the way it ought to be. Something has gone terribly wrong, and everybody knows it. That’s the first part of the first obstacle. The second part is this. If there were a God, and if he really were good, and if he really were powerful, then the world would be a different kind of place than the one we find."

Favorite quotes:
Puzzles are a good way to think about worldviews since they are made up of lots of individual pieces too. When the pieces are fit together properly, you’re able to see the big picture clearly. Of course, to get the picture precisely right you have to work with all the right pieces. For example, God and Jesus and Moses and the Law and grace and the cross and faith (and a whole bunch of other things) are all important pieces of the Christian puzzle. Dump a puzzle box at your feet and you’ll see what the Christian puzzle looks like for most believers. It’s a pile of pieces. They’ve never put the pieces of their puzzle together in an orderly way allowing them to see the big picture. As a result, they do not know if they are missing important pieces. They also do not know if there are pieces of other puzzles—bits of other worldviews—mixed in by accident that don’t fit into their picture. Or they might get confused when other worldviews take some of the Christian pieces and try to fit them into their own worldview pictures. Pieces from one puzzle usually cannot be mixed with pieces of another because they are made for different pictures. You can’t take, for example, the unique value of human beings (a central piece of the biblical worldview and the foundation for human rights) and force fit it into the Hindu worldview. It will not work. There is no place for it to fit. They are different puzzles with different pieces. In the same way, reincarnation makes sense in Hinduism but not in Christianity. Again, there is no place in the biblical view for that puzzle piece to fit. It’s like trying to put a carburetor on a computer. Both problems (missing pieces and wrong pieces) make it difficult for Christians (or anyone else, for that matter) to put the puzzle of Christianity together correctly.
Confused talking leads to confused thinking. Some beliefs are true. Others are not. The difference matters. If a story is not accurate to reality, it’s not any kind of truth at all, so it can never be my truth or your truth, even though we may believe it. It can only be our delusion, or our mistake, or our error, or whatever else you may want to call it. But it could never be our “truth.” I hope that’s clear. This your-truth-my-truth move is just a less direct way of asserting there is no Story, only a bunch of individual stories with none any more reliable than the other, and we’ve already seen that this approach is not going to work.
A man once told me I was probably one of those bigoted people who thought 90% of the world was wrong about their religion. I agreed with the 90% part, but I told him it had more to do with math than with bigotry. Think about this. Some religions teach Jesus is the Son of God and others deny it. Fair enough. But is it not clear that somebody is right and somebody is wrong on that score? There is simply no getting around it. The great monotheistic faiths understand God as a distinct, individual person, whereas some Eastern religions see God as the impersonal sum of everything all put together. Is it not clear that, if there is a God, both of these notions cannot be true about him at the same time? Clearly, massive numbers of people are mistaken on one side of this issue or the other.1 When anyone dies, they might go to heaven, or they might go to hell, or they might be reincarnated, or they might disappear into nothing at all. But even a child can see they cannot do them all at the same time. Multitudes—the majority even—must be mistaken. Again, that’s not bigotry. It’s simple math.
So let me give you the backbone—the plot line—of the Christian Story. It tells the most important things that happen in the order they take place and consists of five words: God, man, Jesus, cross, resurrection (here I mean the final resurrection at the very end of the Story).
There is a God, and we are not him, and pushing him off of his throne and taking it for ourselves is foolish. It is also dangerous.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

My Year with Owen #19

I will be sharing some John Owen quotes this year. The second book I'll be reading is Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It.

It is the great duty of all believers to use all diligence in the ways of Christ’s appointment, that they fall not into temptation. ~ John Owen
If we are led into temptation, evil will befall us, more or less. ~ John Owen
“ So deal with us that we may be powerfully delivered from that evil which attends our entering into temptation.” Our blessed Savior knows full well our state and condition; he knows the power of temptations, having had experience of it (Heb. 2: 18); he knows our vain confidence, and the reserves we have concerning our ability to deal with temptations, as he found it in Peter; but he knows our weakness and folly, and how soon we are cast to the ground, and therefore does he lay in this provision for instruction at the entrance of his ministry, to make us heedful, if possible, in that which is of so great concern to us. If, then, we will repose2 any confidence in the wisdom, love, and care of Jesus Christ toward us, we must grant the truth pleaded for. ~ John Owen
Christ promises this freedom and deliverance as a great reward of most acceptable obedience (Rev. 3: 10). ~ John Owen
Let us consider ourselves— what our weakness is; and what temptation is— its power and efficacy, with what it leads unto. For ourselves, we are weakness itself. We have no strength, no power to withstand. Confidence of any strength in us is one great part of our weakness; ~ John Owen
There are traitors in our hearts, ready to take part, to close and side with every temptation, and to give up all to them; yea, to solicit and bribe temptations to do the work, as traitors incite an enemy. Do not flatter yourselves that you should hold out; there are secret lusts that lie lurking in your hearts, which perhaps now stir not, which, as soon as any temptation befalls you, will rise, tumultuate, cry, disquiet, seduce, and never give over until they are either killed or satisfied. He that promises himself that the frame of his heart will be the same under a temptation as it is before will be woefully mistaken. ~ John Owen
Now, withstanding of temptation is heartwork; and when it comes like a flood, can such a rotten trifle as a wicked man’s heart stand before it? ~ John Owen
Consider the particular ways and means that such a heart has or can use to safeguard itself in the hour of temptation, and their insufficiency to that purpose will quickly appear. ~ John Owen
It is true, a little armor would serve to defend a man if he might choose there his enemy should strike him; but we are commanded to take the “whole armor of God” if we intend to resist and stand (Ephesians 6). This we speak of is but one piece; and when our eye is only to that, temptation may enter and prevail twenty other ways. ~ John Owen
Consider the power of temptation, partly from what was showed before, from the effects and fruits of it in the saints of old, partly from such other effects in general as we find ascribed to it; as— It will darken the mind, that a man shall not be able to make a right judgment of things, so as he did before he entered into it. ~ John Owen
By fixing the imagination and the thoughts upon the object whereunto it tends, so that the mind shall be diverted from the consideration of the things that would relieve and succor17 it in the state wherein it is. A man is tempted to apprehend that he is forsaken of God, that he is an object of his hatred, that he has no interest18 in Christ. By the craft of Satan the mind shall be so fixed to the consideration of this state and condition, with the distress of it, that he shall not be able to manage any of the reliefs suggested and tendered to him against it; but, following the fullness of his own thoughts, shall walk on in darkness and have no light. ~ John Owen
I say, a temptation will so possess and fill the mind with thoughtfulness of itself and the matter of it, that it will take off from that clear consideration of things which otherwise it might and would have. ~ John Owen
By woeful entangling of the affections; which, when they are engaged, what influence they have in blinding the mind and darkening the understanding is known. ~ John Owen
It has an efficacy in respect of God, who sends it to revenge the neglect and contempt of the gospel on the one hand, and treachery of false professors on the other. Hence it will certainly accomplish what it receives commission from him to do. ~ John Owen

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible