Monday, February 18, 2019

Book Review: Discovering the Good Life

Discovering the Good Life. Tim Savage. 2019. Crossway. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from the prologue: This is a book about life... When God created life, he meant it to be fulfilling. How do we find fullness of life in a world full of trouble? No one ever radiated more life than Jesus Christ. It is the burden of my heart, in the pages that follow, to uncover his perspective of life.

First sentence from chapter one: What is so good about life? Our hearts long for a winning answer.

Tim Savage sets out to answer the question WHAT IS THE GOOD LIFE? or to phrase it slightly differently WHAT MAKES LIFE GOOD? His answer is simple and obvious--to some--but perhaps not to others. Jesus is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. There is no good life apart from Christ Jesus--that is Savage's premise.

How he sets about sharing this good news about the good life is unique. He arranges the gospel as the story of three trees: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a shoot from the stump of Jesse, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit. (The second tree is NOT the cross but the person of Jesus Christ.)

A chapter is spent on each "tree" and he takes care to join all three together into a strong, compelling narrative. The last chapter is spent on the healing powers of the fruit of the tree of life. In this chapter he goes through many of Paul's lists. There was so much to unpack in this chapter--I feel like I could read it a few more times and still be picking up more insights.

But the book isn't just a unique or clever gospel presentation. The book is about how people answer some of life's biggest questions. What is the meaning of life? Is life good? Is life worth living? Why am I here? Why am I so unhappy? Why am I never satisfied? Why does life feel so empty and worthless? Savage points the way to HOPE and JOY. Again the answer is JESUS.

The imagery and phrasing of some of Savage's text was a bit new and perplexing to me at times. But overall I think this is a good read. I particularly enjoyed the later chapters of this one which really focus on how to live life well.

  • Looking carefully at the biblical account, we can see that the first tree is a gift more valuable than the cumulative worth of all the other trees. What makes the first tree so special is the prohibition against eating its fruit. Without such a sanction, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would probably differ little from its arboreal neighbors. It would possess leaves, bark, and fruit, just as any other tree. But by declaring it off limits, God distinguishes it from the others, if not by appearance, then at least by function.
  • The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil has the power either to make or to break human beings. It holds the key to life.
  • Why did Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit? The answer can be summed up in one word: desire. Powerful and passionate desire. 
  • Chasing desire, the first humans lost Paradise. This is the lesson of the first tree, and it is a lesson we ignore at our peril. When we seek to satisfy our desires apart from God, we will not find satisfaction of life; instead, we will find a life greatly diminished.
  • There is a word in the Bible for seeking to build a life apart from God. It is the word sin. Sin is an ugly word. If we had our way, we would probably banish it from our vocabulary, regarding it as a useless relic of a religious past. But banish it we must not. Sin is actually a good word, for it discloses the root of our problem. Without an understanding of sin, we don’t know what ails us or, consequently, how to seek a cure. 
  • Godly anger is the flip side of godly love. Not to be angry in the face of unfaithfulness is not truly to love.
  • “There’s only one safe route to the summit. All others could prove fatal.” Narrow prescriptions can both fend off death and enrich life.
  • Are we ready for the second tree? First, we must confess our need of it, acknowledging that we have veered from the trail. We must admit our sin. Second, we must ask—we must pray—that God would reach down to us again with a second tree.
  • In the ancient world, crucifixion was so reviled that the Greek word for cross, stauros, was considered an expletive and unfit for public conversation. Frequently in the literature, it was not even spelled out. Only the first letter, sigma, appeared, followed by six hyphens.
  • The cross was the most repugnant object of antiquity. But it was also history’s most fruitful tree. It was on a cross that a Shoot from the Stump of Jesse produced the world’s greatest harvest. It was there that Jesus restored life to humanity. Life drawn from an instrument of death—how is it possible? It is the quintessential paradox.
  • By swimming against the prevailing tide of his day, by pushing against the attempts of men and women to build better lives for themselves apart from God, by opposing the sins of humanity, Jesus ran headlong into the dominant flow. By pushing upstream, he elicited pushback. 
  • Jesus posed a mortal threat to the way they pursued their lives. To safeguard their existence they mounted a counterattack. In selfdefense, they pushed back. They sought to crush what would otherwise crush them and their way of life. It was a battle to the death—the countercurrent of Jesus pushing upstream and the popular current of humanity pushing back. At the intersection of the two flows, a mighty collision took place.
  • Jesus was no passive victim. He was a warrior with a purpose. On the cross, Jesus did more than just die to life. He did more than expire by asphyxiation. He also died to sin. By going all the way to the end of his life without once yielding to sin, without once seeking to make a life for himself apart from God, without once succumbing to selfish ambitions, Jesus overcame sin. 
  • Jesus died to sin. And by doing so, he overcame what overcomes us.
  • Liberated from the selfish gene, we are no longer enslaved to self. Too few of us are aware of this liberation. Even many Christians struggle to come to grips with the meaning of cocrucifixion with Christ. 
  • Through his death, he loosens the shackles of the flesh. He sets us free from selfishness and the self-serving dogmas of the world. He liberates us from the contaminating spirits of our day. 
  • Lapsing into selfish thoughts and self-serving behavior is something we all do. But we are not bound to continue. We are free from the domination of sin. Cleansed and forgiven, we are able not to sin.
  • Not only does Christ cut us loose from the shackles of sin, he also severs the cords of death.
  • Life is a quest for fleeting pleasure on the way to oblivion. Except that it is not. In a Shoot from the Stump of Jesse, God creates a new way to be human. On the tree of Calvary, the Creator trades places with us, climbing, as it were, into our well and taking our place at the end of our branch, submitting himself to the death which ought to have been ours.
  • No mortal can earn infinite love. But the inability to earn God’s love doesn’t stop God from loving us. He allocates his love not on the basis of what we do, but on the basis of who he is. 
  • We must return again and again to the foot of the cross and gaze at the love hanging there. We must allow the love of the second tree to penetrate our innermost beings. We must pray it into our hearts. We must marvel that it is ours, and not because of anything we have done, but because of who God is. He is a Father who loves his children.
  • Many contemporary Christians are better schooled in the first half of Christ’s work—death to the old life—than they are in the second half—birth to the new life. Early Christians, however, were well-schooled in both. The crucifixion was central to their faith, but so, too, was the resurrection.
  • The cross anticipates the resurrection and the resurrection crowns the cross. To focus on one and not the other is to diminish the work of both.
  • The last of the three trees occupies a strategic place at both ends of Holy Scripture. It makes a cameo appearance in the initial pages of the Bible, in the garden of Eden, where it is given the name “the tree of life” (Gen. 2:9). Little more is said about the tree until it reappears at the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation.
  • To be seated is to be not standing. Christ, as it were, is no longer on his feet, moving about and walking around. He is no longer healing the sick, teaching the disciples, multiplying the bread and the fish, rebuking the religious authorities, dying on a cross, or rising from the dead. In Paul’s vision of heaven, Jesus is sitting down, and it is important to understand why. It is because Christ has finished his work. This becomes clear when we notice where Christ is sitting, his position. He is sitting “at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). It’s the highest position of all, reserved for the ranking dignitary of the universe. It is a seat Christ occupies by virtue of having finished his work. He has fulfilled the divine commission, the job the heavenly Father gave him to do.
  • We are not as earthbound as we may think. We have been raised up with Christ so high that we can look into heaven. With one foot still planted on earth, we can lift the other foot and stride, as it were, into the Celestial City. We can seek the things above. We can live now in the light of the reality of heaven.
  • Paul is encouraging us to seek and to lock into the things above, which, as we know, is to seek and to lock into Jesus Christ. But note: it is not the Christ of the past, on the cross or in the resurrection, but the Christ of the present, seated at the right hand of God in heaven and presiding over ultimate realities. We lock into the ascended Christ.
  • To know ourselves to be indwelled by Christ is to be filled by infinite life. It is to be secure in him. It is never to lose heart. It is always to be more than a conqueror.
  • Sin clings to our inner beings like stage 4 cancer. It must be excised. We need the hands of a skilled surgeon. Gratefully, we are attended by just such hands. The one who dwells in us is also the one who—prior to indwelling us—scrubs us clean. Jesus is our surgeon. He has the power of God in his hands—hands working from a cross, hands paying the penalty of our sins.
  • Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other—these are the articles of the wardrobe of Christ, and also of people in whom Christ dwells.
  • Life, as God intended it, is a verb. Life is an action. Life gives itself away. This is a crucial insight, but an elusive one. Few of us instinctively regard life as a verb. Rather, we view life as a noun, or as a collection of nouns. We define our lives in terms of people, places, and things—in terms of meeting people, visiting places, and accumulating things. We pursue life by pursuing nouns.
  • It takes daily reminding that, as children of God, we are filled with a love so great that it can never be diminished—not by troubling circumstances, not by failed relationships, not by past regrets, not by present failures, not by any kind of loss. 
  • What do you say to people who have yet to discover fullness of life? You tell them the truth. Jesus Christ promised life and promised it in abundance. Moreover, he has done everything in his matchless power to fulfill the promise. On the cross, he purged the power of what ruins life—sin. On the cross, he paid the penalty of what ends life—death.
  • While much is said in the Bible about sin, about identifying and acknowledging sin, much is also said about putting sin in the rearview mirror. Prolonged contemplation of sin impedes forward movement.
  • What, then, do we do with sin? We confess it, weep over it, repent of it—but we do not linger unnecessarily over it. For Paul, the length of time elapsing between acknowledging his sin—“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”—and shifting into a higher gear—“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24–25)—is probably no more than a few seconds, since the two sentiments appear in consecutive sentences.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Week in Review: February 10-16

Bible Reading

Did I read Revelation this week? Which translation? Yes. Revised Standard Version.
Am I keeping up with my 30 Days of Psalms, Psalms 42-72? How many times have I read it so far? Which translations? Yes to keeping up. I read it in the RSV, HCSB, CSB, Third Millennium Bible, KJV, ESV and NIV 2011.
Am I keeping up with the Daily Chronological Bible Reading Plan for the Growing 4 Life reading group? What have I read so far? Mostly. I read ahead because I refuse to read Leviticus so slowly.
Am I keeping up with the 90 Day Bible Reading Challenge (Knowable Word)? What have I read so far? Yes. I might be a day or two ahead. But I finished Isaiah today.
Have I done any other Bible reading not related to one of those projects? Which books and which translation, if any? Not this week. It was a hard week.

Other Reading

Christian Fiction Read This Week:

Christian Nonfiction Read This Week:

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Devotional Journaling #7

I am reading two devotionals this year. One is Living Hope for the End of Days: 365 Days of Devotions from the Book of the Revelation by John Samuel Barnett. The other is Joni Eareckson Tada's Diamonds in the Dust.

Living Hope for the End of Days. This week's theme Find Hope In Christ's Majesty. He spent some time talking about King David and the Apostle John. 

  • There is no more beautiful or more clearly painted portrait of Jesus in the whole Bible than the first chapter of Revelation.
  • If you want to discover the magnificent sovereign majesty of Jesus Christ, you need to get into the habit of looking for Him throughout the Scriptures.
  • The first chapter alone far exceeds any ideas we may have previously formed of this One we call Jesus. In chapters 2:1–3:22, we see Christ’s glorious majesty challenging His church universal through special messages to the seven churches of Asia Minor. In chapters 4:1–16:21, we learn that Christ’s majesty is controlling His cosmos. In Revelation 17:1–20:15, we see Christ’s majesty conquering the rebellion on earth. In Revelation 21:1–22:5, Christ’s majesty unveils His paradise. In Revelation 22:6–21, Christ’s majesty is again seen in the extravagance of His salvation offer to all who come to Him.

Diamonds in the Dust.

  • It is not possible to always be happy. It is possible to always have the joy of the Lord. (February 10)
  • People are only as secure as the source of their security; if we are in secure in Christ, then we have every reason to be confident. (February 12)
  • If we feel like a martyr faced with heart-wrenching trials, perhaps we're concentrating too much on what God asks of us and not enough on what God has given us. (February 13)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, February 15, 2019

Book Review: God Is In the Small Stuff

God Is In the Small Stuff Twentieth Anniversary Edition. Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz. 2019. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: A popular book suggests that you don't worry about the small stuff. We agree, but we take exception to any idea that the small stuff isn't important. In fact, we want to encourage you to closely examine and cherish the seemingly everyday, ordinary circumstances of your life. Why? Because God is in the details of your life.

There are forty readings in this devotional-type book by bestselling authors Bruce & Stan. Each reading is SHORT and concludes with a proverbs-like list of inspirational fluff. Each entry focuses on a specific topic or theme. The readings are not necessarily related to one another--but sometimes they are. For example, there's a sequence of readings about parenting.

The authors' stated purpose for writing this one is: "to help you see God at His personal best. God created the universe, but He also created you. God knows you, God loves you, and God cares about the tiniest detail of your life."

The entries were devotional in nature. The authors may have refrained from calling these devotions instead using the word "essays" but they are essentially devotions.
Someone once said that you'll be the same person five years from now as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read. The idea is that you won't grow as a person unless you bring new (and hopefully positive) influences into your life. 
When you express yourself through writing, you reveal more about yourself than you ever could by talking, even if you aren't writing about yourself. 
The proverbs-y sections were hit or miss with me. Some I found thought-provoking. Some I found to be PURE fluff.

  • The times when you need God the most are when you don't think you need Him.
  • God won't take away a sin until you give it over to Him. 
  • The way you think about God does not define Him.
  • The person who looks up to God rarely looks down on anyone.
  • Appreciate the commands of Scripture as much as the promises.
  • A bible on the shelf is worthless; a Bible being read is priceless.
  • If you must worry, worry about why you won't do what you should do.
  • A wink delivers a powerful message, so be careful at whom you wink.
  • Leave funny and enthusiastic message on answering machines and voice mail.
  • What happens in you is more important than what happens to you. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Book Review: Navigate Your Faith

Navigate Your Faith: A Christian's Field Guide to Not Getting Lost. Ron Pratt. 2019. Charisma House. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: They wanted the blessings of God in their lives without any personal sacrifice. We live under grace and how we live is up to us was their heart view. They believed their job was to enjoy the lifestyle they desired. Jesus' job was simply to stamp His approval on every expression of that lifestyle.

Premise/plot: Navigate Your Faith is a blend of fiction and nonfiction. On the one hand, it stars a fictional couple: Jason and Cindy. Each and every chapter advances their story. They face challenges--many of them. On the other hand, the author--a pastor, I believe--speaks directly to readers--often in a passionate, zealous, admonishing way--though not without encouragement.

Topics addressed include entertainment, the internet, social media, drinking alcohol, flirting, infidelity, abortion, bitterness, etc.

My thoughts: Is the intended audience of Navigate Your Faith a "carnal" Christian? Someone who professes Christianity but doesn't take ever take the faith seriously? Someone who lives on their own terms and dismisses the Bible as only for zealots? Is it for those "Christians" who have "accepted" Jesus as Savior but never as Lord? Perhaps. That was my first impression anyway. I think the book assumes that readers know the gospel story, and have to some degree professed their faith. The book never did go there--what is the gospel? who is Jesus? how can I be saved? what is repentance? what is justification? what is sanctification?

The focus of Navigate Your Faith seems to be solely on sanctification. How am I supposed to live? Pratt argues that how we live matters--greatly. Christians are not free to live however they want. They  are to live under the authority of the Word of God and be led by the Holy Spirit. They are not to set their own standards of right and wrong. They are not to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to take seriously. They are to show their love for Christ by obeying Christ. Their minds are to be RENEWED; their lives are to be TRANSFORMED. Culture and society should not be forming the hearts and minds of Christians. Christians are called to live holy lives pleasing to the Lord.

The book seems to be building up to the critical moment when Christians like Jason and Cindy--and perhaps readers--ask Jesus to be LORD and surrender "the wheel" to him.

I liked the tell-the-truth-as-I-see-it-approach to this one. I did. I liked the passionate warnings. I don't disagree with the dangers Pratt warns his readers about. We are to live by our convictions and LISTEN to God as he speaks to us through the Word of God. We are not to quench the Spirit but be led by the Spirit. We are to live surrendered lives and be living sacrifices.

There were a few places here and there where his approach felt slightly off to me. For example, in speaking about abortion he lists four steps that are necessary for healing. They are: telling your story; forgiving the others involved in the situation; forgiving yourself; and trusting God with your future. Perhaps it's implied that there is a step zero: repenting/confessing your sin to God and receiving forgiveness. But it didn't feel implied in that chapter. It felt more like an elephant-in-the-room. God did get the fourth step. So he wasn't absent. This seems to be the part in the book where the focus starts to shift towards the importance of "making" Jesus or "accepting" Jesus as Lord of your life and stepping down off the throne of control. The remaining chapters continue this theme--let God be God and you stop trying.

I am not being critical of this specific book when I express my doubts to the school of thought that has "accepting" Jesus as Savior and Jesus as Lord as two separate events. I don't like the phrase "accepting" Jesus either. But I particularly don't like it when used with the phrase "accepting Jesus as Lord." Because Jesus IS Lord whether we recognize HIM as such or not. Even if we never "accept" the Lord's sovereignty--He IS Lord. It's more a manner of recognition and humility. To "accept" Jesus as "Savior" but not as "Lord" is to say, "Thanks for my ticket to getting into heaven. I'll see you on the other side. Meanwhile this is MY LIFE so stay out of it." This monstrosity just should not be--this goes back to being a "carnal" Christian as opposed to a Spirit-filled one. But is there such a thing as a carnal Christian? I'm not prepared to argue that there is--or that there isn't. Only God knows the state of another's soul. God is God. I am NOT God.

I think there is always a matter of growth. We grow from very little knowledge--the tiniest spark of who God is and what it means to follow Jesus--and keep growing our whole lives through. I am not saying that one isn't a Christian until one knows everything and lives by that knowledge. But I think part of being a Christian is realizing that it is a growing process--not a stagnant one. We should be always, always, always seeking more, more, more. We need nourishment. We need the Word of God. We need the teaching of sound biblical preachers and teachers. We need the support and encouragement of Christian friends and a church family. We need to mentor and be mentored. We need to be a community.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, February 11, 2019

Book Review: The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs

The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs. Philip Graham Ryken. 2019. [Feb 28] Crossway. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The woman slipped into the pew in front of me and sat down, alone, just a few minutes before the worship service began.

The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs is a commentary on the book Song of Songs or Song of Solomon--depending on your bible translation. Ryken guides readers verse by verse, chapter by chapter through this Old Testament wisdom book. He invites readers to think of this book as an album of love songs. There are tracks--songs--capturing the whole experience. Courtship. Wedding. Honeymoon. Being In Love. Fighting and making up again. The chapters of this one are poems--songs--and the story they tell isn't as straight-forward (if straight-forward at all) as other genres of Scripture--aka historical writings.

Why do believers need to study the Song of Songs?

In the introduction Ryken writes, "We live in a world where sexuality is ruined by sin, its beauty obscured by our brokenness. We need a divine vision for the way sex was meant to be, with a gospel that offers forgiveness for sexual sin and an empowering grace to live into the sexuality that God wants to give us."

Is the book about human sexuality and marriage? Is the book about Christ's love for the church? Every commentary has to pick a way to interpret the book. Ryken answers with a yes to both. He argues that it isn't about a historical couple--Solomon and one of his many wives. He argues that it is about an ideal couple--courtship and marriage as it should be even if it isn't always. He also believes that it can teach us a great deal about God's love for his people. When Ryken is through guiding us through the book Song of Songs, he takes a chapter to flash to the REAL happily-ever-after--Christ's marriage to the church as celebrated in the book of Revelation.

Who is this book for? Engaged couples? Married couples? Single people? Ryken's audience is all the above. He makes a case that the book is equally for the single. And not in the wimpy way that single people will one day marry and need to start preparing their hearts and marriage now for that moment when all the waiting will be over. He acknowledges that not every single person will marry--and that God's plan may include singleness. That God's good and perfect plan may never include marriage for some. To be single is not to be missing out on God's magnificent plan.

I had my doubts about how much I'd like this one. I am single. I didn't really know how applicable this one would ever be to me. But I found it worth reading.

Sexual restraint is spiritually fruitful. One day the cross-bearing we do with our sexual desires will be crowned with honor and consummated in the eternal life of Jesus Christ. 
We all have a choice to make, whether we are married or single, and whether we desire the same sex or the opposite sex. Will we let our sinful desires govern our reading of Scripture, or will we let the Bible teach us what we should want? Will we let temptation take control, or will we honor God with our bodies by embracing his purposes for our sexuality?
When obedience to God contradicts what I think will give me pleasure, let me ask myself if I love him. ~ Elisabeth Elliot
If I do love Jesus, I will choose purity for him over pleasure for myself. 
The Song of Songs is like the box top for a jigsaw puzzle. When you dump the pieces on the table, they're a total mess; you need a picture to help put them into place. The Song of Songs is a picture of love for people who are still figuring out how the pieces fit together. It doesn't show us everything that's broken, but mainly shows us the way things were always meant to be.
When the Bible says that God is our husband, and when it says that Jesus is the Bridegroom of our salvation, it means that we are loved with this kind of love--the ardent affection that we see in the Song of Songs. 
We need to be careful not to think that sexual sins are worse than other sins, or that they carry a special stigma. 
The sacrifice we make in pursuing sexual purity is a precious gift to God. Practicing celibacy is not merely refraining from any form of sexual intimacy; it is the active choice to dedicate our bodies to God. 
It only takes one person to forgive, but it takes at least two people to reconcile. This is the basic difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. 
The love of Jesus is as strong as death--no stronger! He loved you all the way to death on the cross, but his love did not die in the grave. His death was the defeat of death, and therefore on the third day he rose again with the power of eternal love. HIs triumphant love for you can never be extinguished by any doubt, drowned by any sorrow, or quenched by any enemy, which means that the song of his love for you will never, ever end.
When things go wrong, as they certainly will, we should remember that we are not off script. Instead, we should realize that whatever we are going through was always going to be part of our story.
Sin brings suffering into the world, and there is no way for anyone to escape it. But our trials are only temporary. We will have more joys and more sorrows until our story takes its final turn--one last twist in the plot. Then there will be no more death and no more pain forever!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Week in Review: February 3-9

Bible Reading

Did I read Revelation this week? Which translation? Yes in the New English Bible

Am I keeping up with my 30 Days of Psalms, Psalms 42-72? How many times have I read it so far? Which translations? Yes. This week I read in the New English Bible, NKJV, NASB, Revised English Bible, NIV 1984, Living, and 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. We finished Job and are over halfway through Exodus.

Am I keeping up with the 90 Day Bible Reading Challenge (Knowable Word)? What have I read so far? Yes. I am a few days ahead now. I seem to be gaining a day each week. I've read Genesis through Song of Songs.

Have I done any other Bible reading not related to one of those projects? Which books and which translation, if any? 1599 Geneva Bible 1 Kings.

Other Reading

Christian Fiction Read This Week: none this week

Christian Nonfiction Read This Week:

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible