Thursday, February 13, 2020

19. Enough About Me

Enough About Me: Finding Lasting Joy in the Age of Self. Jen Oshman. 2020. Crossway. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian nonfiction; theology; Christian living]

First sentence: I am nearing my fortieth birthday. In just a couple weeks my friends and family will gather to celebrate, and I’m looking forward to it. Forty. It’s a much-anticipated age.

Sadly, this is a MUCH NEEDED book. If I could, if I had the power, I would make EVERY ABOUT-TO-BE-PUBLISHED author read this book before his/her book is actually published. Perhaps the line has always been a blur between Christian living and self-help books. Perhaps looking at the publisher of a book used to give readers more of a clue as to if it was "self-help" or "Christian living." Perhaps in days gone by Christian living used to be less me-me, me. Or maybe not. That's not an experiment I want to commit to making--to read all the Christian living books that have been published over the last hundred years.

So what is this one about? It's about GOD, GOD, GOD, GOD, GOD, yes, and did I mention it was about God?!?! The title essentially says it all, this is not a book telling YOU that YOU have all the answers, and that YOU are enough, and that everything you need is right there inside of YOU just waiting for you to tap into YOUR own strength, own destiny, own gibber-gabber. The book covers how to do life--as a godly, God-fearing, God-believing, God-worshipping woman.

I loved, loved, loved it. It truly counters essentially everything you're taught by the world, by society, by culture, by the books you read, by the music you listen to, by the shows you watch. Stop lying to yourself--it urges. Wake up! Take note!
"When we deify ourselves, we require reality to conform to our own desires, rather than the other way around (conforming ourselves to reality). And whether we know it or not, this self-deification requires us to worship ourselves, to uphold ourselves, to convince ourselves that we are enough and worthy of following. When we become our own source of meaning, we also become our only source of satisfaction and fulfillment. We set ourselves in a cycle of defining ourselves and worshiping ourselves. To uphold this worldview, we must become our own masters. Ironically, we don’t actually become free. We must not only muster our own meaning and goals and dreams, but we must supply our own energy and ability to accomplish them. With ourselves on the throne we must truly be self-made women: we must conjure up everything from the meaning of life to the energy and ability to live it out. This makes us fragile. It’s all on us. Today we have to create our worlds and make them go round too. The problem with self-deification is that it limits oneself to oneself. We disable ourselves by not permitting ourselves to look to something bigger—something outside (or someone outside, as we’ll investigate in the next chapter)—for our meaning and purpose. Our only hope is to believe ourselves when we say we are enough."
"We twenty-first-century women have been running on ourselves, rather than our God. We’ve been running on self-help, self-empowerment, and self-actualization. The fuel of self has run out, and that’s why we’re tired and discouraged and even in crisis. Enough about me. And enough about you. If we want to keep running, we need to run on the fuel we’re made for—God himself."
What we think of as empowering ourselves is really crippling ourselves.

Oshman invites readers to ask different questions, and seek answers in God's Word. She shares with her readers the BIG PICTURE story of the Bible; how all 66 books of the Bible work to tell one story. It's a grand, action-packed story in four parts: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.
"These four movements make up the big story of the Bible. God created us, we rebelled against him, he redeemed us, and one day all will be restored. That big story about God is also our story because we were made in his image. We must know that we’re a part of that story before we can know what we must do. It’s in tethering ourselves to that story—in recognizing that we were created on purpose for a purpose—that we will thrive. God says, I made you in my image to live for my glory. Culture says, Be self-made in whatever image you like and live for your own glory. This is a counterfeit calling, and it’s killing us."
I definitely get the impression that Oshman believes wholeheartedly that man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q/A 1)

The whole book cover to cover is a solid, compelling, truth-packed, gospel-saturated read that though marketed to women is relevant to everyone. Men and women could benefit by reading this one and doing a little self-reflection. It has depth and substance. It isn't fluff--the opposite of it, in fact. It offers much food for thought, and asks readers to challenge themselves.

"Our intuition says the more we prioritize ourselves, the better we will feel about ourselves. But in reality, the more you and I look at ourselves, the more we loath ourselves because we fall short. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, when we behold our good God and ponder what he has done, your self worth and mine is elevated. We remember that we have inherent value as dearly created children. We remember that we are chosen, adopted, and loved (see Gal. 3:26–27). In other words, when we transition from self-focus to Jesus-focus, we actually end up with a better self-image—because it’s dependent on him who made us, not on ourselves. Because God is the author of our lives and the Redeemer of our souls, we will thrive when we study him, know him, love him, root ourselves in him, and renew our minds in him. Feasting on him, beholding him, and making the change from me-ology to theology is the key to your wellbeing and mine."

"Life is lived in minutes, which add up to hours and days and years. Whatever we love most each minute is what drives our action in the present. Those minutes build, one on top of the other. Life is a culmination of our momentary desires. Whatever our hearts love each minute will lead us for a lifetime. We are what we love. Each of us must therefore ask, What do I love? What am I loving the most right now?"

"Here’s the telltale sign that our god, our faith, and our calling are small and self-created: we find ourselves at the center of them all. You and I must ask ourselves if the values of our god are identical to our own. Have we reworded the Bible so that it matches our preferences, rather than us being changed by it? Are we living exactly like our non-Christian friends and family and simply slapping a #blessed on all we do? Are we being stretched beyond ourselves? In our quest for joy, are we living for our own glory, our own name, our own success? Can we honestly say that our Christianity requires faith? Because what Jesus asks of us requires great faith. He asks you and me to die. And in that death, he promises joy."

"If your devotional book, your women’s Bible study, your pastor, your favorite Christian author, or your Christian best friend don’t encourage you to come and die, an alarm should go off in your head. If their messages are for self-preservation and self-promotion, you know they don’t match God’s word. If they want to bless you on the small cycle, you know it’s not the life Jesus has for you."

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

18. 7 Feasts

7 Feasts: Finding Christ in the Sacred Celebrations of the Old Testament. Erin Davis. 2020. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I learned from my grandma to love puzzles.

7 Feasts is a Bible Study drawn from a study of Leviticus 23. Intimidated by Leviticus? Don't be. For while the study theoretically should be largely drawn from Leviticus--this particular chapter--Davis pulls in texts from the Old Testament and New Testament that shed some light on what is being studied. There is an introductory chapter about the importance of remembering and observing; included in this first week's study is the importance of handling Scripture rightly. Readers are taught six rules. (I'll quote them below). Then the subsequent seven chapters are about the seven feasts: The Passover, The Feast of Unleavened Bread, The Feast of Firstfruits, The Feast of Weeks, The Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement, The Feast of Booths. Each week has five devotions or studies.

The six rules of handling Scripture rightly:

Rule #1: We let Scripture interpret Scripture. It is essential for us to interpret a passage in light of what the rest of Scripture says on the topic.

Rule #2: We pay close attention to context. Every word in the Bible is part of a verse. Every verse is part of a paragraph. Every paragraph is part of a book. Every book is part of the whole of Scripture. No verse of Scripture should be divorced from the verses around it. 

Rule #3: Pause to consider what type of book or passage you’re reading. Here are some broad categories that can be used to help us understand the context of most Scripture passages: 1) Epistles or Letters 2) Gospels 3) Parables 4) Eschatology 5) Apocalyptic 6) Law 7) Historical Narrative 8) Hebrew Poetry 9) Prophecy 10) Wisdom

Rule #4: Try to discern the writer’s intentions when he wrote the text. A passage cannot mean something to us today that it was never intended to mean to the original audience. The Bible is unique in its timelessness.

Rule #5: Keep it simple. The Bible is not a book of riddles to be solved. God is not a God of confusion, but of clarity (1 Cor. 14:33). He has not spoken in order to conceal, but to be understood and known (Isa. 48:6, Jer. 33:3). When we open God’s Word, it is the plain meaning of the text we are seeking to understand. 

Rule #6: Always take a God-centered approach. Avoid looking at Scripture primarily to better understand yourself or correct your actions. Ask yourself “What does this show me about God?” before you ask, “What does this tell me about me?” or “What should I do?” Right application of Scripture is only ever an outflow of right understanding of who God is.

These are rules that readers can take with them and use every time they read and study Scripture. These are also helpful rules when it comes to DISCERNING another person's preaching or teaching. If someone is telling you something is true that clearly violates one or more of these rules of how to interpret and understand Scripture--you can spot it.

The rules are definitely one of the most practical takeaways from reading the book.

The weekly studies. For better or worse. The studies keep thing very simple, very basic. The activities are definitely more about understanding the original context of the seven feasts and less on the actual details of the feasts and how specifically Christ is to be found. So if you come to this one specifically looking for Christ-types, Christ-symbols, talk of imagery, meaning, significance, etc., you might be disappointed. Or if you come seeking a geeky-guide to the actual feasts and how they were and how they are celebrated by Jews...you might be slightly disappointed.

That being said, what is here is of value and worth. The activities are more LOOK UP THESE SCRIPTURES, WRITE OUT THESE SCRIPTURES, WHAT IS BEING SAID, WHAT DOES THIS SAY ABOUT GOD, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN, etc. And the activities are not ridiculous me-centered activities. We don't get any of the absurd: WHAT DOES THIS VERSE MEAN TO YOU, WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS PASSAGE MIGHT MEAN, HOW DOES THIS MAKE YOU FEEL. The questions are solid enough that there's no wish-washiness.

The book definitely teaches about the doctrines of sin correctly. And the book is grounded in the gospel of truth and grace as laid out clearly in the Word of God.

There are definite application moments throughout the book.



© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

17. That Way and No Other

That Way and No Other: Following God Through Storm and Drought. Amy Carmichael. 2020. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy] [biography, autobiography, christian nonfiction]

The book opens with two different biographical sketches of missionary Amy Carmichael (1867-1951). One sketch is by Carolyn Kurtz; the second sketch is by Katelyn Beaty. The remaining chapters of this one are written by Amy Carmichael herself--taken from previously published works. (I believe she did most of her writing in the 1930s).

The chapters address different topics. Some chapters include a great deal of stories about her life, her children, her work; other chapters stay focused on one topic/aspect/subject of the Christian life. Both can prove beneficial to readers.

This was my first time reading Carmichael. I found myself agreeing with some of what she wrote; I also found myself disagreeing here and there, in bits and pieces, with a few things. Like always, use discernment and judge all things by the Word of God.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"Our Lord did not say, “Go ye into all the world if you feel an ardent flame of love to all the people in it.” He just said, “Go ye,” and as we obey, he gives us all we need to lead them to him. And of course as we most of all need love, he gives it to us. I think often we accept the cross in theory, but when it comes to practice, we either do not recognize it for what it is, or we recognize it and try to avoid it. This we can always do, for the cross is something that can be taken up or left, just as we choose."

"Life is a journey; it is a climb; it is also and always a war. The soldier of the Lord of Hosts is always a soldier. He dare not drivel down to any other kind of life. We can’t be entangled in the affairs of this life if we are to be real soldiers. By its affairs I mean its chatter and its ways of thinking and deciding questions, its whole aspect and trend. God forgive us our love of ease. God forgive us that so often we turn our faces from a life that is even remotely like his. Forgive us that we all but worship comfort, the delight of the presence of loved ones, possessions, treasure on earth."

"All the great staining temptations–to selfishness, ambition, and other strong sins that violently affront the soul–appear first in the region of the mind, and can be fought and conquered there. We have been given the power to close the door of the mind. We can lose this power through disuse or increase it by use, by the daily discipline of the inner man in things which seem small, and by reliance upon the word of the spirit of truth."

"It is the eternal in books that makes them our friends and teachers–the paragraphs, the verses, that grip memory and ring down the years like bells, or call like bugles, or sound like trumpets; words of vision that open to us undying things and fix our eyes on them. We are not here, they tell us, for trivial purposes. . . . We are not here to be overcome, but to rise unvanquished after every knock-out blow, and laugh the laugh of faith, not fear."

"More and more as we go on, and learn our utter inability to move a single pebble by ourselves, and the mighty power of God to upturn mountains with a touch, we realize how infinitely important it is to know how to pray. There is the restful prayer of committal to which the immediate answer is peace. We could not live without this sort of prayer; we should be crushed and overborne, and give up brokenhearted if it were not for that peace. But the Apostle speaks of another prayer that is wrestle, conflict, “agony.” And if these little children are to be delivered and protected . . . then some of us must be strong to meet the powers that will combat every inch of the field with us, and some of us must learn deeper things than we know yet about the solemn secret of prevailing prayer."

"Our loving Lord is not just present, but nearer than thought can imagine, so near that a whisper can reach him. You know the story of the man who had a quick temper and had not time to go away and pray for help. His habit was to send up a little telegraph prayer, “Thy sweetness, Lord!” and sweetness came. Do you need courage? “Thy courage, Lord!” Patience? “Thy patience, Lord!” Love? “Thy love, Lord!” A quiet mind? “Thy quietness, Lord!” Shall we all practice this swift and simple way of prayer more and more? If we do, our Very Present Help will not disappoint us. For thou, Lord, hast never failed them that seek thee (Ps. 9:10). Prayer in the name of his beloved Son cannot lose its way in the void. It must find the ear of God."

"For prayer is not emotion, it is a traffic between earth and heaven, “a commerce of love.” Our ships set sail for heavenly shores; they do not return empty; it is impossible that they should; but we are not told what tide will bring them back. We think in terms of time; God thinks in terms of eternity. We see the near end of the thread on which are strung our moments, minutes, hours, days, like pearls on a string; the other end is out of view, and yet the thread is one, indivisible. We call the near end time, and the far end eternity, as though somewhere the thread broke (at death perhaps). But it is not so. We are living in eternity now."

"If monotony tries me, and I cannot stand drudgery; if stupid people fret me and little ruffles set me on edge; if I make much of the trifles of life, then I know nothing of Calvary love. If I am inconsiderate about the comfort of others, or their feelings, or even of their little weaknesses; if I am careless about their little hurts and miss opportunities to smooth their way; if I make the sweet running of household wheels more difficult to accomplish, then I know nothing of Calvary love. If interruptions annoy me and private cares make me impatient; if I shadow the souls about me because I myself am shadowed, then I know nothing of Calvary love. If souls can suffer alongside, and I hardly know it, because the spirit of discernment is not in me, then I know nothing of Calvary love." 

"Often our flash of haste means little. To read a book in an hour (if the book has taken half a lifetime to write) means nothing at all. To pray in a hurry of spirit means nothing. To live in a hurry means to do much but effect little. We build more quickly in wood, hay, and stubble than in gold, silver, and precious stones; but the one abides, the other does not."

"Thank God, courage is as infectious as discouragement. Have you not often felt the cheer and strength that seem to flow from one whose mind is stayed on God? I have."

"It matters a good deal that your book-food should be strong meat. We are what we think about."

"Can you find a promise that if we follow the Lord Jesus Christ, life is going to be fairly easy? I do not think we shall find even one. But we shall find ever so many promises assuring us that however things are, we may count on strength to make us brave and peace to keep our hearts at rest. I want you to welcome the little difficult things, the tiny pricks and ruffles that are sure to come almost every day. For they give you a chance to say “No” to yourself, and by doing so you will become strong not only to do but also to endure."

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

16. The Bible in 52 Weeks

The Bible in 52 Weeks: A Yearlong Bible Study for Women. Dr. Kimberly D. Moore. 2020. [February] 208 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Bible Study; Devotional; Christian nonfiction; junk]

First sentence: I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN MINISTRY for as long as I can remember. I was born and raised in the church.

The Bible in 52 Weeks is a bible study for women intended for individual use, small groups, and large groups.

Essentially this is a year-long reading plan--there are many of these that are free and available for download--with a built-in devotional study.

The study will choose a reading from one of the days that week to "focus" on. Each week concludes with points to ponder--questions to be answered, an activity or prayer. (Sometimes in place of an activity or prayer there is a key verse shared.)

The reading plan does not go from Genesis to Revelation straight through. It switches back and forth between Old Testament readings and New Testament readings.

The text accompanying the reading plan is...at its best fluff with about as much nutritional value as cool whip. There were a handful of weeks that weren't all bad. The questions were worth asking and the activities seemed genuinely connected to applying the text. If only all 52 weeks met such a standard.

At its worst the text is just bad theology: bad theology, really bad theology, super-bad theology. Of course those descriptions are subjective. To those that lean towards prosperity, health-and-wealth, name-it-and-claim-it, word-of-faith, TBN-esque theology, live-your-best-life-now... then two thumbs up. This level of Bible "study" may just be your cup of tea. To those that actually want to read the Bible with spiritual eyes and handle the word of God correctly, then this is a disappointment.

One of the recurring questions throughout the Bible study is WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE. I wish she'd not had that as an actual question--leaving it up to readers to write their own ideas as answers. This isn't exactly a question with a mysterious answer in scripture.

I hope everyone who honestly and earnestly wants to read the Bible for themselves--perhaps for the first time will be encouraged to do so. But YOU DO NOT NEED THIS BOOK TO HELP YOU DO SO. There are dozens and dozens of FREE READING PLANS. Many Bibles have a reading plan or two in the back. (Though not all Bibles.) Search for bible reading plans online, and you will find plenty to choose from. There are many places to find a reading plan--all for free.

I do recommend with all my heart that EVERYONE reads the Bible for themselves. I recommend the Bible for men, for women, for children, for teens, for any AGE, any background. The Bible is the Word of God--the infallible, inerrant, inspired Word of God. God's Very Own Revelation of Himself to His People. It is ALL ABOUT HIM. But it speaks truth into our lives as well. It may not be about us, but it is for us.

My thoughts:

"As you read this book alongside the Word of the Lord, I hope you’ll be encouraged to be your best self and find some of the answers you’ve been seeking."

BECAUSE BEING YOUR BEST YOU is what bible study is all about.

"Along with the daily readings is a commentary based on one of the week’s scripture selections that will help you apply the lessons from the Bible to your everyday life. Following the commentary, you’ll find questions to inspire you to think about your own journey, as well as a prayer, a highlighted verse, or action steps for exercising your faith or overcoming an issue you’re facing."

To call the readings in this book commentary is ridiculous, a complete joke.

1. Decide in your heart to think and speak positively, replacing negative words with positive ones.
2. Make a commitment to yourself to intentionally respond to your doubts with declarations of faith. 3. At the end of the week, note how speaking positively into your life has begun to have a good impact on your outlook and ability to trust God.

At least the book revealed itself early. These points to ponder are from chapter one. I believe the "commentary" is for Genesis 16-18? 

1.What goals did you give up on that just seemed too far-fetched?
2.What visions or dreams do you have that you need to pick up and dust off?
Actions for the Week:
1. Take a few minutes three times this week to pray for direction to get your goals back on track.
2. Commit to watching a video or listening to a podcast that will help jump-start your creative juices in your particular area of interest.
3. Put a timeline in place to accomplish some of your goals, one at a time.
4. Share your goals and timeline with someone so they can help keep you accountable.

The first two questions go with the "commentary" for Genesis 37! (The subsequent four questions are actions for the week.)

Have you noticed the trend that whatever the text, let's make it all about you as quick as possible. 

"I BELIEVE GOD’S purpose for us is to be all we can be, do all we’re destined to do, and have all we’re destined to have. I believe it’s God’s desire for us to do more than merely survive. God wants us to prosper. But what does it mean to prosper? It can mean to have economic success, to thrive, or to become strong and healthy. And I believe with all my heart, mind, and soul that this is God’s will for our lives."

No Scripture proofs for any of this--I wonder why?!?! Oh, yes, that's because there are none.

POINTS TO PONDER
1. Have you positioned yourself to be blessed? Are you listening and doing? Has that been difficult to do? Why?
2. Have you ever felt like you were more cursed than blessed? How did you reverse the curse?
ACTIONS FOR THE WEEK
1. Make a list of your blessings, and make it a point to thank God for each one of them every day this week.
2. Make a list of the commands that you have failed to fulfill, whether it be helping, forgiving, or giving to someone. Begin to cross them off your list one by one this week.
I'm a bit stumped. Reversing curses that were read over the Israelites if the Israelites choose to serve idols instead of the one true God?!?! These blessings aren't ours to name and claim, nor are the curses ours to try to break or lift. Right?!

"The Word of God is the greatest tool needed in order to pass our tests of life. If it worked for Jesus, it can work for us."
1. What tests have you encountered lately?
2. Did you pass or fail your test? How did you do it?
3. What advice would you give someone going through a test? 

I wouldn't exactly describe the Bible in these terms nor the Christian life. But to each their own?
"We must pray, humble ourselves, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways. This passage in 2 Chronicles shows us that after we do our part, He’ll heal what has been torn apart. When we do our part, we then have to trust Him to keep His Word concerning our lives. Without a doubt, it’s praying time."
1. Knowing that we play a part in our answered prayers, what part do you find most difficult?
2. We’re told to pray, humble ourselves, and turn from our wicked ways. Is there any one of these that you have knowingly failed to do?
3. Going forward, which area within these mandates will you intentionally make the effort to grow in?
I'm cringing a little. 
Don’t get caught in Satan’s trap of constantly speaking words of fear and doubt. Regardless of how impossible your circumstances may seem, keep speaking God’s Word in faith. Base what you say less on how you feel and more on what God has said. As of today, start speaking life, not death.
1. What are some negative words or phrases that we use daily?
2. What are some helpful words or phrases that we need to incorporate into our daily conversations?
3. In what area of life will you intentionally shift your words in an attempt to shift the course of the situation?
CRINGING. CRINGING. STILL CRINGING. 
ACTIONS FOR THE WEEK
1. Search your heart and determine what you have been created to do.
2. Come up with a plan and begin to implement a portion of that plan.
3. If your purpose works in conjunction with others, schedule a call or meeting this week to discuss the potential process.
4. Plan how you will begin to fulfill your purpose over the course of the next 30 days.
Search your heart and determine what you have been created to do. You mean search this heart?! "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"

ACTION FOR THE WEEK Take a moment and really think about your love relationship with the Lord. Then take some time and write your love story. How did you meet? What were the circumstances surrounding your first encounter? When did you finally decide to come into a covenant relationship with Him? How do you intend to prove your continued love to Him?

My cringe muscles are hurting. Especially: When did you finally decide to come into a covenant relationship with Him? How do you intend to PROVE your continued love to Him?

1. What is your personal definition of mercy?
2. If you had to name three things you’re thankful for that didn’t have to do with money, what would those things be?
3. Have you ever found yourself in a space where you can admit that you were ungrateful or failed to be thankful? Explain.

This isn't the only time she asks readers to define biblical, theological terms for themselves. How do YOU define mercy. How do YOU define grace. Because it doesn't much matter what the Bible actually says...but what you feel and how you understand it.

ACTIONS FOR THE WEEK 1. Write a list of at least three goals or dreams and begin to develop a vision for them. 2. Begin to work on a strategy to bring those dreams and goals to fruition. 3. Write a list of hindrances that you will denounce daily (e.g., fear, doubt, slothfulness) until those things are no longer a significant part of your life.
These actions go with readings from Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians. I'm not sure which chapters these activities are supposed to have stemmed from. But regardless, I can't think of a place they belong. 

1. What’s your love language?
2. How difficult or easy is it for you to show love to others who don’t show love to you?
3. How have you proven your love to God lately?

Because anytime I read 1 John the first thing that comes to mind is my need to my desire to prove to myself, to others, and even God himself how much I LOVE HIM. 

1. Have you ever bemoaned a door that seemed closed to you? Could you see God in it in any way?
2. If you had a choice to obtain the keys to walk through any door you desired, which door would you want access to (e.g., healing, financial freedom, career)?
3. If you could permanently close a door, which would you choose (e.g., job, relationship, the past), and why?

These are some WEIRD questions, right?! They are "connected" to reading some chapters in Revelation. Though your guess is as good as mine as to where they came from?! 

GROUP STUDY GUIDE
1. Go around the room and allow each person to share their favorite chapter and/or verse from the week’s readings.
2. How do you interpret this particular text? What do you hear the author saying?
3. Are there any companion scriptures that you know will complement this text?
4. As you read the text, do you see more of God’s love, His mercy, or His anger? Explain.
5. How can this text be applied to your life?
6. Can you identify with any particular character within the text? Can you see yourself in this text in any way?
7. After reading the weekly commentary, what will you do differently as you go forward?
8. How have this week’s readings encouraged you to do better and be better?
9. After reading the scripture and commentary, what principles have you acquired that you might teach others? 10. After reading the text, take a moment to encourage the person sitting next to you based upon something you have read in the text.

They should include this on the back cover and the introduction so that readers can be warned. Notice the theme of Me, Me, Me, the Bible is all about ME, Me, Me. The Bible is all about Me, Me, Me. Let's sing it, let's shout it: Me, Me, Me, the Bible is all about ME. The underline portions are for emphasis. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

15. Jesus, Who Are You?

Jesus, Who Are You? Names of Jesus. Janna Arndt and Kay Arthur. Illustrated by Tessa Sentell. 2020. [May] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy] [family; bible study; parents and children; christian nonfiction]

From the introduction: Welcome to the Beginner Inductive Bible Study series—inductive Bible Studies that help young children learn how to read and study the Bible for themselves. This series also helps children develop important skills related to colors, shapes, positional concepts, reading, mathematics readiness, and dexterity as they learn God’s Word. Begin each day’s study by reading the brief opening story aloud to the child. Put your finger under each word so the child will learn that words have meaning and are read from left to right. If the child has already learned how to read, let the child read the story aloud to you.

From chapter one: “Hi! My name is Cooper, and this is my sister, Callie. This is our dog, Kate. Callie and I love Kate. “Kate can do funny things. She loves to sniff out clues and lick our faces. Watch out! Kate will lick your face too! “Kate wants to help us learn about Jesus. Do you know WHO Jesus is? “We do, and we want you to know Jesus too.

This book serves as an introduction to the inductive bible study method. Perhaps parents are already familiar with this method--the method has been around for decades now. Perhaps parents are NEW to the method/system. Either way, this book serves as a way to introduce bible study to little ones. According to the introduction, this book is both for children who are young enough NOT to be reading yet AND for children who are reading for themselves.

The book is a blend: a fiction story book, an interactive activity book/workbook, and nonfiction. Each day offers a story framework. A handful of children are learning about Jesus by reading specific Scripture texts--nearly all if not all--from the gospel of John. They are asking QUESTIONS of the text, and answering those questions with the text. Little ones are prompted to answer these questions and learn alongside these fictional children.

I have not used the inductive bible study method before. IN all honesty, I've been intimidated, timid, hesitant to mark up a bible with a system that may or may not be easy for me to use, process, understand. I think this one written with very young children in mind does a good job of clarifying it. Though I am sure it is much more complex than this if you look at the whole system. Mainly this one is focusing on who Jesus is.

What you see is what you get with this one.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Thoughts on Hearing from Heaven

The past few weeks I've enjoyed listening to the Truth Matters Conference (2019). The third session was by Justin Peters. He's adamant that you can't hold to the sufficiency of Scripture AND believe that God speaks to you. I'll share the message with you below so you can see the particulars, his examples, his reasons, etc.



But. I found the subject thought-provoking for several reasons. I didn't disagree with most of what he said. But I found the way he said it to be a little off-putting at times.

Anyway here are my thoughts:

1) I believe in the Sufficiency of Scripture.
2) I believe that God is not speaking to us in the same way as He spoke to the authors of Scripture. That the way God spoke to and through believers then--and by believers I mean the human authors of the 66 books of the Bible--Old and New Testament--is not normative; that we should not expect the same revelation. I don't believe in continuous revelation, new revelation. God is not going to be adding more books to the Bible.
3) I believe in the authority of Scripture. I believe the Scripture should judge us and NOT that we should judge Scripture.
4) I believe in God's Sovereignty.
5) I believe in God's Providence.
6) I believe that all believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and joined to Christ.
7) I believe that the Spirit living in us helps us spiritually see and understand the Spirit-given text in front of us. We are indwelled with the Author of the Book. I believe that the Bible takes SPIRITUAL sight to understand, to interpret, to apply.
8) I believe that we are called to store up God's Word in our hearts and minds. That we are to meditate on it, "chew the cud," to memorize it, to really let the Word saturate our hearts, minds, lives. We are to be people of the Book. We are to know the book. The Bible is our meat and drink--it is nourishment for our very souls. By it--and through it--our minds are renewed and lives are transformed. Scripture should interpret Scripture. The Scripture teaches us how to interpret it, how to make sense of it.
9) It would be impossible for the Spirit to speak contrary to the Revealed Word of God. The Holy Spirit will never tell you something that is contrary to what the Bible says. It will never disagree with Scripture. It will never be in opposition to Scripture. If you've got the Word of God in front of you and Spirit inside of you disagreeing--then it is not the Holy Spirit at work. The Spirit will never green-light sin in a believer's life, it will never make excuses or justification for why you can keep on disobeying God's Word. It won't happen. It's a false spirit, a lying spirit, a spirit perhaps masquerading as an angel of light, but it's a deception.
10) Discernment, discernment, discernment. Always. Everywhere. Never slack. Never surrender.

I can only speak from my experiences, but when I say--or when I think--of using the phrase, "God spoke to me," or the "Spirit revealed to me" what I really mean is the Spirit brought to my mind a specific text of Scripture, that a truth within Scripture is being illuminated by the Spirit, I am having a spiritual "aha" moment, a light bulb has lit up, a truth that has always been truth has been realized. I am not having a "new" or "special" revelation. I am just having my eyes opened to the Word of God--which is one of the things that the Spirit does in the life of the believer. It is perhaps lazy to think of it as "the voice of God speaking to me." But I would imagine that most believers have been guilty of using this phrase innocently enough.

I think it is also possible that what we think of as God speaking to us falls more into these categories a) God providentially working things out in our lives b) God answering our prayers. For example, when God is "putting someone into your mind" that you need to pray for that person--maybe God is using you as an answer to someone else's prayer. Maybe it is part of God's providential plan for you to speak encouragement, to build up, to give comfort to another. Or another example, a guest speaker might come into a church saying, the Spirit wanted me to preach from this text. This could very well be an answer to prayer. They've prayed for discernment and "help" on knowing what to teach/preach. They have prayed for the Spirit to work through them and their message.

I think it's certainly possible for people to be misled into thinking that they are receiving new words, new revelation, equally authoritative and sacred words. By all means run far, far, far away from such teachers and writers.

I would hope that most people would recognize that the Spirit speaks to us in the words of the Word. The Spirit is teaching us--as we read the Word; the Spirit is guiding us and interpreting for us as we read, study, and meditate. The Spirit is illuminating the Word so we know how to apply it. The Word is indeed Sufficient. But the Spirit's work is ongoing. Not in giving NEW revelation, but in opening our eyes, opening and renewing our minds, working in the heart, working and transforming our lives.


© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

14. What If Jesus Was Serious?

What if Jesus Was Serious? A Visual Guide to the Teachings of Jesus We Love To Ignore. Skye Jethani. 2020. [June] Moody Publishers. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian nonfiction; Christian living; theology; sermon on the mount]

First sentence: FOLLOWING JESUS HAS never been easy, but some believe it’s becoming even more difficult as Western cultures become increasingly post-Christian.

True or false: We live in a culture where we often pick and choose what texts to take seriously from the Bible.
True or false: We live in a culture where we often pick and choose which teachings of Christ himself to take seriously.
True or false: Every culture since Jesus' ministry has struggled with this--what to make of Jesus' teachings, his life, his work, his death and resurrection.

I can't answer the third question objectively. But the first two, sadly, are definitely true--in my opinion.

The premise of Skye Jethani's book, What If Jesus Was Serious, is simple: WHAT WOULD THE CHRISTIAN LIFE BE LIKE IF PEOPLE TOOK JESUS' SERMON ON THE MOUNT SERIOUSLY. If you don't find that a scary thought, perhaps you haven't read the Sermon on the Mount lately.

The book consists of nine parts:

  • Who is Really Blessed? 
  • Christians and Culture
  • Inside Out Righteousness
  • Love In Action
  • A Prayer for Losers
  • Freedom from Fear
  • Judging, Asking, Blessing
  • Good and Bad Fruit
  • Be Smart

Each part has several chapters...each beginning with the refrain: If Jesus Was Serious...


  • Then We Will Focus More On His Good News and Less on Religious To-Dos
  • Then No One is Beyond God's Blessing
  • Then Heaven Is Already Here
  • Then We Will Make Room To Cry
  • Then We Will Trust God More and Politics Less
  • Then a Desire for Justice Should be Affirmed
  • Then We Cannot Separate Our Relationship with God From Our Relationship With Others
  • Then Our Image Isn't Everything
  • Then Peace is Costly But Worth the Price

Those were just from part one, "Who Is Really Blessed?"

The book is methodically laid out, straight-forward, concise. The author assumes that Jesus MEANT or intended his words, his teachings to be taken seriously. And likewise assumes that some of these chapters might step on a few toes and challenge readers.

Each chapter has a visual illustration that goes with it. I am not a visual learner, so these didn't particular speak to me or resonate with me. But perhaps for some readers these illustrations will be thought-provoking and give the book a little something extra.

My favorite quote:

"EVERY CHRISTIAN HAS at least two Bibles. First, there is the actual Bible—all sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments. Then there is the Bible we read. This is what some call our functional Bible and it includes the sections we regularly engage and seek to apply to our lives. This functional Bible is different for each person, but it contains some familiar gospel stories and parables, some of Paul’s letters, and a handful of Psalms. He declared that He came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. Fulfillment doesn’t mean to finish and throw away, but to bring to completion. In other words, Jesus identifies Himself as what the Old Testament has been pointing toward, and to understand Jesus we must see Him through the lens of the writings of the Law and the Prophets. Likewise, to understand the Law and the Prophets, we must read them through the lens of Jesus. He is the key to the whole Bible, and we need the whole Bible to engage Jesus."

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible