Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Book Review: A House Divided

A House Divided (The Russians #2) Michael R. Phillips and Judith Pella. 1992. Bethany House. 352 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The garden was once again still.

A House Divided is the second book in the series, The Russians by Michael R. Phillips and Judith Pella. Some series books are capable of standing alone, however, I'm not sure this is the case with A House Divided. All the characters--perhaps with the exception of a few minor characters, mostly rebels--were first introduced in the first book The Crown and the Crucible.

Anna, our heroine, is still a loyal maid to Katrina. Katrina is still head over heels in love with her brother's best friend, but when she can't have him...she starts to look elsewhere for love and attention. And the consequences for her poor judgment may be long-lasting. Anna's brother, Paul, is mixed up with a REALLY bad set--the rebels who think nothing of sacrificing innocent lives--civilians--in their ongoing quest to kill royalty and nobles. If their father knew, oh, the heartbreak that it would cause. Speaking of which, Anna does have to go home to help care for her father in his illness...and she's joined by who wants her father's blessing on their marriage. She'll return to her post as maid, but, her situation may be changing. Katrina will be wanting to bring her along to her new household...

The Russians is like a soap opera in book form. It has dozens of characters, differing points of view, conflict and tension, and above all else DRAMA. But it's not all drama all the time. Anna and her father are deeply devoted to God. They have testifying to do...let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

I really am loving this series so far. Sometimes I want to yell at the characters--probably why it reminded me of a soap opera. But overall, it's just an enjoyable treat and a good reminder of why I love historical fiction.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Book Review: Growing in Godliness

Growing in Godliness: A Teen Girl's Guide to Maturing in Christ. Lindsey Carlson. 2019. Crossway Books. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: As a child, I was always in a hurry to grow up. I wanted the privileges and freedom that came with maturity, but I didn’t want to wait through the awkward period of growing.

Don't be like me. Don't judge a book by its cover, or by its topic.

There is a part of me that thinks it is a pity that this one is limited to such a narrow scope of readers: teen girls and perhaps mothers of teen girls. For the part that just applies to being a teen girl is so very, very tiny. Most of this one could be applicable--relevant--to readers of both genders and of all ages. For the topic is SANCTIFICATION.

I loved this one. God is good; God is sovereign. He makes all things beautiful in HIS time. I'm not doubting the WHEN of my birth, but if someone could have handed me this book when I was actually a teen girl....that would have been super-lovely and helpful. Because the truth it, teen me was a MESS of emotions and I just didn't get it--get the goodness of the whole gospel.

Every chapter of this one embraces the GOOD NEWS of the gospel. The doctrine is strong with this one--and nothing could be more needed. Doctrine is meant to be lived out and Carlson's book encourages teens to do just that.

Another thing that I appreciated about this one was how it challenges you to think by asking important questions. For example, "Do you give your time, attention, and focus to the pursuit of knowing more about God? Or does the pursuit of growing in godliness feel like an imposition to your plans?" and "Would your words show evidence of a tender, merciful, and compassionate heart? Or would they point to selfishness, anger, or bitterness? And let’s not stop with spoken words; what about the words you type and text? If it’s “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34), then you can trust that out of the abundance of the heart, the fingers also type and text. How do you speak, type, text, and communicate with your family, friends, neighbors, and teachers? Do your words display maturity or immaturity?"

These are the things Carlson encourages her readers to bring with them to church:
  • Bring humility. Leave your preferences, entitlements, and disappointments at the door and enter with humility. “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Pet. 5:5).
  • Bring a readiness to serve. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
  • Bring compassion. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5),
  • Bring your gifts. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:10).

As Christians, we are works in progress, awaiting full redemption. Stained by sin, we are no longer the original picture we were created to be. Made alive in Christ, we are no longer dead in our sin, decaying like the dilapidated before versions of our selves. But we aren’t yet the fully redeemed after picture either. We are in the work-in-progress stage of being made new.
You can’t fake or rush Christian maturity. There is no Glamour Shots version of holiness that is convincing to God on the day of redemption; only the work of the Spirit will do. In order to know God and please him, you must work with God to grow in godliness. Surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit and ask him to give you wisdom to understand the character of God and the desire to be more like him.
God created you with one specific and overarching purpose for your life. It is the clear and concrete reason you exist and the primary goal for your life. The Lord created all of humanity, including you, in his image for his purposes. God’s purpose for your life is to bring him glory in all you do.
Satan has been distorting God’s plan for your emotions and the resulting feelings you experience from the very beginning. In the garden he tempted Eve to follow her heart by dangling her desire for wisdom right before her face. She responded by following her feelings headlong into disobedience—a decision which resulted in consequences you’re still feeling today.
The “follow your heart” creed certainly isn’t found in the Bible. The Bible actually thinks our hearts have a disease: “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, April 15, 2019

Classics Club Spin #20 (My List)

It's time for a Classics Club Spin. The number--for better or worse--will be announced April 22nd. I will update this post and share the number that was chosen. The selected book should be completed by May 31, 2019.

1. The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text: A New Translation. Jewish Publication Society of America. 1917. 
2. 1 and 2 Kings by J. Vernon McGee (Thru the Bible)
3. Real Christianity by William Wilberforce
4. Saviour of the World by B.B. Warfield
5. A Disruptive Faith by A.W. Tozer
6. Communion with the Triune God by John Owen
7. The Way of Life by Charles Hodge
8. Sixty Days with John Owens in Hebrews
9. Matthew Henry's Commentary on Exodus
10. A Man Called Peter by Catherine Marshall
11. In His Image by Paul W. Brand
12. A Christian Manifesto by Francis A. Schaeffer
13. The Practice of Godliness by Jerry Bridges
14. Christ All in All by Philip Henry
15. Godly Prayer and Its Answers by John Brown of Wamphray
16. Selected Sermons of Jonathan Edwards
17. The Scottish Psalter. General Assembly Free Church of Scotland. 1650. 
18. Valley of Vision (Puritans, collected, first published 1975)
19. Exposition of Mark by J.C. Ryle
20. Foxe's Book of Martyrs

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Why Christ Came

Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation. Joel R. Beeke & William Boekestein. 2013. Reformation Heritage. 108 pages. [Source: Bought]

From the introduction: “Why” is a marvelous teacher because it helps us identify the meaning of the events we observe. Rudyard Kipling called the interrogative “why” one of the “six honest serving men” who taught him all he knew.

In this devotional, Joel Beeke shares thirty-one answers to the question WHY DID CHRIST COME?! If you are stumped to come up with an answer to this all-important, ever-relevant question then I encourage you to read this bible-saturated devotional for yourself.

There are, of course, more than thirty-one answers or reasons to the question. In the introduction, he notes: "The number of reasons for which Christ came into the world may ultimately surpass the number of people He came to save." Now that's food for thought.

At the center of every devotional, every reason, there is Scripture. Each devotional ultimately points readers to Jesus Christ and directs them to praise and worship.

My first review of Why Christ Came shared a small handful of reasons. I won't repeat any of those quotes here. Instead, I'll share different reasons:

To Bring Light to a Dark World (#3)

  • In Christ’s suffering, particularly in the crucifixion, the darkest blot was painted on the brightest canvas. Christ came as the brightness of God’s glory, in true and complete innocence, to reveal the abominable character of sin (Heb. 1:3; cf. Ezek. 8:3–4).
  • We can’t make sense of our lives until “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). As the pillar of fire who led His people through the wilderness (Ex. 13:21; 14:20), the Lord Jesus Christ has called out of darkness and into His marvelous light a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people,” to show forth His praises (1 Peter 2:9). Calvin says, “If the whole wisdom of the world were collected into one mass, not a single ray of the true light would be found in that vast heap; but, on the contrary, it will be found a confused chaos; for it belongs to Christ alone to deliver us from darkness.”

To Be Made Like His People (#4)

  • In Christ’s incarnation, God teaches us that we cannot solve our problems on our own. We cannot attain perfection and peace by our own strength. But in Christ, God has done it for us. In the words of church father Irenaeus of Lyon, “When He became incarnate, and was made man, He commenced afresh the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam—namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God—that we might recover in Christ Jesus.” Christ came to be like us so that His death would accomplish healing for us. Apart from a true incarnation, there is no true atonement.
  • Our salvation does not depend on our performance but on Christ’s. In His human obedience, we have a grand demonstration that Christ will never fail us. Christ did not come to earth simply to be our moral teacher. If that were His only mission, He could have come as He did in former times, as the Angel of the LORD, without our flesh and blood to encumber Him. Instead, He had to become like us so that He could raise us up to be like Him.
  • By faith, when we think of Christ, we should see ourselves in Him. As we glimpse at the manger of His birth we can say, “This is my brother, my flesh and blood.” As He grows and matures and continues to do the will of God, we can say, “This is my brother, my flesh and blood.” As He goes to the cross and bleeds and dies, we can say, “This is my brother, my flesh and blood.” When we see Christ seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, we can say, “This is my brother, my flesh and blood.” And when we see Christ return on clouds of glory to take us home to be with Him we will say, “This is my brother, my flesh and blood.” Because of the incarnation, believers can say of Christ what Adam said of Eve—“This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh”—and what the apostle Paul says to the Ephesians: “We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (5:30).

To Give Eternal Life (#7)

  • Believers must not just think or talk about Jesus; they must feast on Him. How do we feast on Him? 
  • First, we develop an appetite for Christ by committing our hearts to Him, knowing that only He can satisfy our deepest longings. We learn to say of Christ, “Thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is…. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips” (Ps. 63:1, 5).
  • Second, we meditate upon Him. We must recollect and reflect on all that we learn of Christ. We reflect on His names, His states, His works, and His words. Then we apply every “bite” of His person and work to our lives.
  • Third, we delight in Him. God gave us food not only to strengthen us physically but also to cheer us. Christ is not just the food we need; He is also the food that we desire and our portion forever (Ps. 73:25–26). We cry out with the psalmist, “O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” (Ps. 34:8).
  • Finally, we feed upon Him regularly. Our bodies must be fed daily to maintain our health and strength. When God rained down manna in the wilderness, His people had to gather it daily (Ex. 16:4–5). Some of us have little spiritual vitality because we fail to feed on Christ day by day. Over time, we become spiritually anorexic. We should realize that every part of Scripture speaks of Christ (John 5:39). Thus, every time we read a passage of God’s Word, we should ask how it bears witness to Him. We make Christ our favorite daily food.

To Die (#17)

  • Jesus was born to die. It is hard for us to grasp that truth, for we were created to live, not to die. Death is an intruder and a great enemy to life. Yet we may also find it comforting that Jesus came to die. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” We each have an appointed time to die. So did Jesus. He came to earth to die so that He, “for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour…by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9). As the familiar Christmas hymn points out: “Mild He lays His glory by / Born that man no more may die.”
  • Jesus knows that His death will bring glory to God by satisfying justice, repelling the curse against sin, defeating the devil, and securing a people zealous to praise His Father. So Jesus presses on. Christ was born with a death sentence already hanging over him at the manger. That thought should bring us some gravity as we reflect on our Lord’s advent. But it should also help us see the utter resolve of Christ to redeem His people.

This little book is a treasure. I love, love, love it!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Week in Review: April 7-13

Bible Reading

Did I read Revelation this week? Which translation? Yes. NIV 2011 (Readers Bible)

Am I keeping up with my 30 Days of Psalms, Psalms 90-118? Which translations have I read this week? Yes. KJV. CSB. NKJV. Revised English Bible. Jerusalem Bible. New English Bible. HCSB.

Am I keeping up with the Daily Chronological Bible Reading Plan for the Growing 4 Life reading group? What have I read so far? Yes. A variety of Psalms this week along with the rest of 1 Samuel. 

What have I read in the Old Testament this week?
KJV My Creative Bible:

  • Proverbs
  • Isaiah
  • Hosea
  • Joel
  • Amos
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Micah
  • Nahum
  • Habakkuk
  • Zephaniah
  • Haggai
  • Zechariah
  • Malachi

What have I read in the New Testament this week?
KJV My Creative Bible:

  • Matthew
  • Romans
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians

Other Reading

Christian nonfiction:
Grace Defined and Defended: What a 400 Year Old Confession Teaches Us About Sin, Salvation, And the Sovereignty of God. Kevin DeYoung. 2019. Crossway. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book. Starr Meade. 2010. Crossway. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The New City Catechism: 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds. Timothy J. Keller. Introduced by Kathy Keller. 2017. Crossway Books. 128 pages. [Source: Bought]

Christian fiction:
A Surprise for Lily (The Adventures of Lily Lapp #4) Mary Ann Kinsinger and Suzanne Woods Fisher. 2013. Revell. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Book Review: A Surprise for Lily

A Surprise for Lily (The Adventures of Lily Lapp #4) Mary Ann Kinsinger and Suzanne Woods Fisher. 2013. Revell. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: All morning, Lily hurried to pull weeds in the garden.

A Surprise for Lily is the fourth and final book in the series by Mary Ann Kinsinger and Suzanne Woods Fisher. I knew going into it that it was the last--but it was still sad to come to the end.
Lily Lapp has matured so much since the first book. Now she's in fifth grade and experiencing the highs and lows of growing up. She's still struggling with a few of her classmates; but she's doing it with a certain amount of grace and dignity. Most of the time.

It is just a treat to spend time with the whole Lapp-Miller family. I love them all. I even love to "hate" a few of the characters. (Think Nellie Oleson.)

I think it would be awesome if the authors decided to write a young adult or even adult series starring an older Lily. Just enough time has passed--in the real world--for Lily to mature into a young woman who might just be interested in boys and courting and marriage and settling down. Would Aaron Yoder still be a PEST and NUISANCE? Part of me really wants these two to get together.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Book Review: Grace Defined and Defended

Grace Defined and Defended: What a 400 Year Old Confession Teaches Us About Sin, Salvation, And the Sovereignty of God. Kevin DeYoung. 2019. Crossway. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The first car I owned was a 1995 Dodge Neon, and it was a lemon.

The 400-Year-Old Confession of which DeYoung speaks is none other than the Canons of Dort. If you're thinking...didn't you just review a book about the Canons of Dort?'d be right. I did. That book was by Robert Godfrey and titled  Saving the Reformation. (It was published by Reformation Trust.)

Both books stress that Calvinism is MORE than the acronym TULIP. Both books stress the relevance of the Canons of Dort to the Christian faith and the importance of holding to doctrinal truth. Both books include the text of the Canons of Dort and provide commentaries for the articles. (DeYoung's book does not provide exposition of the rejections however.) Both books provide a history lesson. DeYoung's book provides a glossary of key terms, key people, key writings BEFORE the history lesson. (I thought this was a nice touch).
  • Reformed : the Christians and churches in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Europe that held to one of more of the Reformed confessions. In the Netherlands this meant the Belgic Confession (1561) and the Heidelberg Catechism (1563).
  • Arminian: Initially, these were the followers of Jacob Arminius, but Arminian theology continued to develop after his death in 1609. Later Arminians like John and Charles Wesley (or your Methodist or Free Will Baptist friend next door) probably bear some theological resemblance to the Arminians at Dort, but we should not assume a one-to-one correspondence.
  • Remonstrants: The Arminian party in the Netherlands, so called because of the protest document they issued called the Remonstrance of 1610.
  • CounterRemonstrants : The Reformed party in the Netherlands opposed to the Arminians.
  • Opinions of the Remonstrants (1618): The opinions (sometimes called the Sententia) offered by the Arminians at the Synod of Dort.
  • Canons of Dort (1619): The doctrinal pronouncements from the Synod of Dort, organized under five main points of doctrine.
I loved how DeYoung's book was filled with I-didn't-know-that facts. For example, "Before the Synod of Dort conducted its business, each member took a solemn oath saying that “I will only aim at the glory of God, the peace of the Church, and especially the preservation of the purity of doctrine.” They ended with a prayer: “So help me, my Savior, Jesus Christ! I beseech him to assist me by his Holy Spirit.”

Wouldn't it be wonderful if believers today were as passionate and zealous for doctrinal truth?! Can their be true [genuine, authentic] unity without purity or truth?

Most of this book focuses on the Canons of Dort. As I mentioned earlier, it includes the ARTICLES of the Canons of Dort within the text itself. These are broken down, of course, into their five main points. DeYoung provides exposition or commentary for these articles. It does include the rejections for each of the five main points, but only as an appendix. He does not provide commentary for the rejections.

Here are DeYoung's summary of the Five Points Held by the Arminians:
  • Point 1 affirms that God “determined before the foundation of the world to save out of the fallen sinful human race those in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ who by the grace of the Holy Spirit shall believe in this his Son Jesus Christ.” That sounds like Ephesians 1, except that it’s not clear on what basis God determines the elect. Does God choose the elect so that they might believe in Jesus Christ, or does he choose the elect based on foreseen knowledge that they shall believe in Jesus Christ? We know from the arguments at the Synod of Dort that the Arminians clearly meant the latter.
  • According to point 2, Jesus Christ “died for all men and for every man, so that he merited reconciliation and forgiveness of sins for all through the death of the cross; yet so that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer.” Here we can see the conflict with what Dort would teach concerning “limited atonement.” The Arminians believed that Christ merited forgiveness for every human being, but that this procured salvation is only effective in those who believe.
  • At first glance, point 3 sounds a lot like Total Depravity, with the Arminians affirming that “man does not have saving faith of himself nor by the power of his own free will.” Moreover, they teach that we cannot do anything truly good without first being regenerated through the Holy Spirit and renewed in all powers. The rub is that the Remonstrance does not make clear whether this spiritual inability is a death or a sickness and whether the remedy is a monergistic (one-work-working) resurrection or a gracefilled, cooperative empowerment.
  • We see in point 4 that Arminian grace was not sovereign grace as traditional Reformed theology had understood it, but rather a “prevenient or assisting, awakening, consequent and cooperating grace.” The Remonstrants certainly believed in grace. They affirmed that all our good works must be “ascribed to the grace of God in Christ.” But this was a coming-alongside grace instead of a unilaterallybring-you-back-from-the-dead grace. Prevenient grace is the grace that comes before human decision and makes it possible (but not certain) for men and woman to choose God. For this reason, the Arminians denied that saving grace is “irresistible.”
  • Point 5 teaches that “that those who are incorporated into Jesus Christ” have “abundant strength to strive against Satan, sin, and the world,” and that in this struggle the believers are helped by Christ and by “the assistance of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” But there is an “if” to this perseverance. Jesus Christ assists believers through his Spirit “if only they are prepared for warfare and desire his help and are not negligent.” In the end, the Remonstrance of 1610 left the door open that believers might “through negligence fall away from the principle of their life in Christ” and “again embrace the present world.”
Here are some of my favorite quotes from his commentary:
The question is not simply, “Why do some people get passed over?” but, “Why should anyone be saved?” We are all deserving of punishment and death. It is only by God’s grace that any of us receive eternal life.
Although the Canons of Dort are rigorously careful and theologically precise, this does not mean they are pastorally irrelevant. In fact, the driving force behind all their definition and all their defending was a desire to help struggling Christians.
The caricature is that Calvinists believe that God capriciously chooses to create innocent people so that he might damn them for his glory. If this what Arminians think that Calvinists believe, they should be embarrassed. And if this is what Calvinists think they ought to believe, they should be ashamed.
God doesn’t condemn people for being reprobate. He condemns people for sin and unbelief, from which God, according to his good pleasure and sovereign grace, has purposed to rescue only the elect.
The doctrine of predestination should never be taught so that people conclude, in despair, that they cannot come; the doctrine must be articulated so people conclude that by God’s grace they can come.
The doctrine of definite atonement is massively important for our theology and for our worship. In fact, I’d argue that definite atonement is so integral to the biblical system taught by Dort that without the L in the TULIP, the whole flower withers.
Bad theology leads to despair, and proud theology leads to disdain. But humble, heartfelt Reformed theology should always lead to doxology.
We often think of free will as being the opposite, in some sense, of God’s sovereignty. But strictly speaking, the freedom of the will has to do with whether the will is in bondage to sin. Prior to the fall, human beings had free will (in this sense), but now our wills, apart from regeneration, are bound to sin. What was holy and pure has become dark, futile, and distorted. Every part of us—mind, will, heart, and emotions—has been corrupted by the fall.
Sin is not just something we do when we follow bad examples; it’s who we are in our very nature.
The doctrine of perseverance does not negate repentance; it leads us to repentance. The grace that saves a wretch like me is also the grace that will lead us home.
You cannot be unjustified. You cannot be un-born again. You cannot be lost a second time once you have been found. We will not lose what God has chosen us for in eternity. We will not forfeit what Christ has perfectly accomplished and infallibly applied. We will not, in the end, resist the grace that first entered our lives irresistibly.
I would definitely recommend this one. It was a great read. I am glad I read both books, and I'm glad that I did so within a week of each other--even if I didn't set out to do so!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible