Saturday, January 31, 2009

Faith 'n Fiction Saturday: Recommend...

The question this week...You have a good friend who is a devoted Christian and voracious reader. He or she, however, tried to read a Christian fiction book in the past and found it to be too preachy and unrealistic. Your friend wants to try it again and has asked you for a recommendation. Their favorite genre of book is what is considered literary fiction. What book would you recommend to them?

You also have a friend who is not a Christian but wants to read fiction that is considered clean without being too Christian. They have asked you if there are Christian fiction books that might meet their reading needs. They are interested in romance and novels. What book would you recommend to them?

I would recommend Lynn Austin to both. That's the short answer. First because Lynn Austin's writing has depth and substance. It's good--plain and simple. She's really the only Christian fiction author I'd recommend to non-Christians because I think her work can stand on its own, speak for itself. I think it is just as good--if not better--than other books on the market even the 'secular' market. Her characters are so well done, so authentic; her books have heart and soul.

I really really dislike the term literary fiction. Because it supposes that everything else is not literary. Of course, I'm coming from the bias that so-called "literary-fiction" is boring and senselessly in love with itself. Puffed up. Nonsensically so. It's all look-at-me, look-at-me, aren't I sophisticated? If you can understand it, it's trash. Why be honest and heartfelt when you can be pointless and ambiguous...

The definition found in wikipedia is that it focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character...and if that is really, truly the case...then it is much broader in scope, so enveloping that its touch is felt in each and every genre. I don't think that's the intent of those proudly bearing the label. They don't want to be associated with genres. They're above and beyond. They're the Sneeches with stars upon thars. (I can only think of TWO books that would exemplify that definition...the definition of Wikipedia...THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD by Zora Neale Hurston and FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley.) So you've either got to make the definition so narrow that 98% of books don't qualify...or you've got to accept that it's too broad and that you can't lock genres out at all...without revealing your own stupidity.

This isn't quite here or there. But I'd add this. I think this label is something that time and time alone should determine. It is if a book stands the test of time, if it stays in print, if it stays relevant, if it stays in people's hearts and minds...that really and truly lets you know that something is good enough, great enough to wear the hat of being "literary."

Personally, I'm all about the characters. I am. I think characterization is the heart of any novel. If you don't have well-developed characters, human characters with heart and soul, characters that are authentic whose voices sound so true, characters that you feel like you've gotten to know intimately, characters that you can love or hate or relate to in some way...then it's not a good book. It can be entertaining in some way or another. But you can't love a book if the characters aren't there for you. You just can't. But here's the thing good characters can be found everywhere--they're abundant...they can be found in board books, picture books, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, poetry, science fiction, historical, romance, mystery, whatever the can always find GOOD if not GREAT if not WONDERFULLY AMAZING books that you love and adore.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

An Award--The Very First

Sheri from A Novel Menagerie awarded me (well, this blog) the Your Blog Is Fabulous award. She really made my day! Recipients are encouraged to write five things that you are addicted to and then pass it on to five other blogs.

First for my addictions.

1. I'm addicted to reading books.
2. I'm addicted to blogging. (Also reading blogs is included--count it 1 1/2 if you want.)
3. I'm addicted to reading challenges.
4. I'm addicted to doing things again-again. I'm all about repetition. (For example, watching Mamma Mia four times in two weeks.)
5. I'm addicted to Stargate SG-1.

Now to pass this one on....I chose all of the participants of Operation Actually challenge. I just couldn't narrow it down to five.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Book Review: Gingham Mountain

Connealy, Mary. 2009. Gingham Mountain. Barbour.285.

Gingham Mountain is the third book in the "Lassoed in Texas" series. The first two are Petticoat Ranch and Calico Canyon. I had not read the two previous books. And I think my reading experience would have been better if I had. That's not to say the book can't stand alone. It can. Mostly. (I didn't even realize it was a sequel to another book until about halfway through.) But I think I would have appreciated the book more if I'd known a little bit more about the characters and story going into it.

The book begins with Grant (just Grant, no last name) adopting two more kids: Charlie and Libby. He's a single man with six kids living in a four-bedroom (plus a kitchen) ranch house in the 1870s. Though she's never met him, Hannah Cartwright is furious with him. Why? She hates the idea that a single man could have adopted a child--let alone so many of them! What could a single man want with so many kids? How could he--on his own--give them a home. She's a bit self-righteous and angry...and suspicious...and stubborn...and downright silly. Having no real reason to be in town...or so you think...she becomes a school teacher because it is really the only job to be had in town.

Grant is a loving father. An orphan himself, he knows what it's like to have no one, to not belong. So he does the best he can to make each and everyone of his adopted kids (some of whom have now grown up and married) feels loved. But this new lady in town--this Hannah--she drives him crazy with her uselessness and foolishness and her attitude. The last thing he wants is to spend time with her. But she's pretty insistent. For a while, at least.

If you've read any historical romances in the past, it doesn't take a genius to figure out where this one is headed. But that is okay. If you know that the premise is about a school teacher falling in love with the father of several of her know what to expect and you love where it's going. The plotting may not be the best--I found the villain and villainess (Horace and Prudence) to be unnecessary to the plot. Completely unnecessary. Minus those elements, the story made for a satisfying read. With the added sub-plots, I just found it middling.

Okay, that makes me sound cranky. I don't want to come across that way. I enjoyed Grant and Hannah's developing relationship--how it shifted from hate to love. And I enjoyed the humor. Hannah's mishaps visiting Grant's ranch--for example. It was cute and funny. I would have kept reading the book for that alone. I didn't need any extra dramatics to draw me in and keep me reading. And the drama, well, to be honest was--for me--of the eye rolling variety.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book Review: Stealing Adda

Stealing Adda by Tamara Leigh.

I won Stealing Adda from a contest at Callapidderdays. I am very happy I won the book since it turned out to be so great. Our heroine, Adda, is a successful writer. In fact, she is a New York Times bestselling author. Her historical romances have been loved and enjoyed by thousands. She has many loyal fans who love to praise her. But this 'successful' life isn't quite as successful as she'd like. Adda has a problem--a big problem. Ever since her husband cheated on her with "Stick Woman," her love life has been rather slow. Nonexistent even. That might not be so bad except for the fact that she's a romance writer. How is she supposed to write romance and love scenes--she's not a believer at the beginning of the book--if she is uninspired herself? Her agent has a solution: to enter the chaotic dating world. But with a deadline fast approaching, and writer's block setting is Adda supposed to find time to date. Enter Nick Farnsworth. Mr. Farnsworth starts out as a business acquaintance--he is hoping that she will sign on with his publishing company. But soon she is being swept off her feet...and she begins craving more than just a professional relationship. She has her past. He has his. Both have some issues they'll have to resolve before they can even begin to think about dating one another. Since her breakup, Adda has found it hard to trust another man. To trust anyone, really. And Nick, he has a bitter history as well. He has been caught in a bitter family feud. Can these two souls find the forgiveness they need to accept the past and move on?

Set in the publishing industry, Stealing Adda is an entertaining, charming read. There are authors, editors, publishers, agents, booksellers, writing conferences, award ceremonies, and loyal fans. It was fun to get a behind-the-scenes glance at the industry.

What's On Your Nightstand (January)

The Wycliffe New Testament (I'm getting ready to read 2 Timothy, just having finished 1 Timothy last night)--Curious about the Wycliffe? This past week I had three posts highlighting the Wycliffe translation--sharing favorite passages from the first three gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.)
The ESV Study Bible (I'm reading Genesis. I've read Genesis 1-28 so far this month. I'm hoping--perhaps foolishly so--to finish Genesis in January.)
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. (I started this around the first of the month. I'm 398 pages in, but there are 1170 total. So I'll probably still be reading this at the end of February.)
The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King. (I started this last night.)
The Centurion's Wife by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke (I started this last week, but haven't picked it up since that first night. Need to get back to it.)
Dune by Frank Herbert (I'm liking it okay, but really, it's just making me want to watch the movie.)
Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton. (I'm liking this one, but I like the premise of it more than anything actually about the book itself. It is a sequel to all six of Austen's novels. Characters from all her books interacting together.)

Question of the Week #4

Welcome to the fourth edition of "Question of the Week"...please answer in the comments OR write a blog post of your own and leave me a link to your answers! Feel free to borrow the graphic as well.

Answer at any time, Tuesday is just the day I post a new question.

Do you prefer reading Bibles in paperback, hardback, or leather? Do you prefer red letter or black letter? Do you have a favorite translation of the Bible? Why? What is it that you love? Do you prefer reading text-only Bibles? Or do you prefer reading study Bibles? Do you have a favorite study Bible?

These are all personal preference type questions. So while it's fun to see all the different answers we might come up with, there are no right and wrong answers.

Most of the time I prefer leather Bibles. I do own a few (okay, more than a few) hardback Bibles. But I like the leather-experience best.

I'm a bit passionate on the red-letter/black-letter issue. I would prefer that all Bibles (aka all Bibles that I own) to be black letter. I just don't like reading red letter Bibles. I think there are several reasons...sometimes the red ink is too bright, too red, too orange, too dark, too light. It can be hard on the eyes if you have certain vision problems. (Like I have.) But I also find red letters to be distracting. Your mind could tend to jump to the red letters and let the surrounding text--the context--blend into the background. Your mind could lose interest maybe. Or the reverse could be true, your mind could come to jump over the red letters and they begin to lose their significance because you think you already know what it has to say. Either way, they could prove distracting. I also have some issue with 'red letters' being mistakenly identified as more-special, more-holy, more God-breathed than the other text, the surrounding text. I don't expect you to agree with me. That's why I said there were no right and wrong answers to these questions.

My favorite translation of the Bible....that would be the the ESV. I can't make up my mind. Those two are my favorites though. I read several different translations though. I own many. So I might use one translation this year and another translation next year. So I don't use only one translation. I have many New King James Bibles because that publisher--Thomas Nelson--has so very many study Bibles that it has published over the decades.

I like reading text-only Bibles. I do. But I like study Bibles too. I think both are necessary. It's good to have study notes on hand so you can find answers to your questions. And if you're in a Sunday school class (or happen to be a Sunday School teacher) or Bible Study, the study notes can be extremely helpful. I think it's important to read the Bible both as a devotional book--gentle reading, pleasure-time-with-the-Lord...and to study the take time to read something slower, to put more thought, more effort, more energy into it. To dig deeper and seek to learn. Both are important.

I have several favorite study Bibles. I love the MacArthur Study Bible--both NASB and NKJV. I love the Nelson Study Bible (NKJV). I love the ESV Study Bible. I love the Reformation Study Bible (ESV, NKJV), the Spirit of the Reformation Bible (NIV).

Just so you know...

Natasha of Maw Books fame has interviewed me for her Reader Spotlights feature.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Book Review: The Red Letters

Beals, Timothy J. 2009. The Red Letters: The Sayings and Teachings of Jesus.

The Red Letters is a book that reprints the words of Christ and only the words of Christ. Arranged into two parts--the 'sayings' and 'teachings'--the book is unique in many ways. The first section is arranged chronologically; the second section is arranged thematically.

I have extremely mixed feelings on the book. And I hope my review explains just why.

My first thought is what is the agenda? What is the need of this book? Why is it important for Christians to have this book in their library?

I can't say what the intentions were behind this project. I don't know. But my thoughts are that while the sayings and teachings of Christ are important--essential, vital--they are only so in context. Separating out the words of Christ, divorcing them from their context, stripping them from their just doesn't make sense to me. Is reading the four gospels really so difficult for modern readers that we have to give people a shortcut?

Furthermore, this first section in particular, just doesn't make much sense on its own. It's like listening to half of a phone conversation. In many places in Scriptures, Jesus is having a dialogue with people, with individuals. Removing the audience, removing the questions, removing the how, where, when, and why's of his words, they lose context, meaning, and significance.

The truth is...the details matter....the context matter. The gospel as a whole is necessary for people to learn and grow and understand.

If the book is really making the argument that only the red letters matter, why would people read the whole gospel when they can just skim this little volume?

Of course, that is a big if. I don't know if that assumption is true. They could have all the best intentions in the world.

The second section--The Teachings--makes a bit more sense. These are largely the discourses, the sermons, the longer arguments of Jesus. And for the most part, there are enough verses linked together that there is some context--greater context than you'll find in the first section. And because they are arranged thematically, it works in a way. If you want to know what Jesus has to say about this or that...then this book could prove useful to you.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16)
Product description from the publisher:

A groundbreaking book that allows Jesus to speak for himself, presenting his own topically arranged words from the Gospels—but without any human commentary—so that people may hear the foundational message of Christianity from him personally.


A groundbreaking book that presents Jesus’ own words from the Gospels, topically arranged but without any commentary, so that people may hear his message in his terms.

While the entire Gospel narrative is essential to Christian theology, Jesus’ own words distinctively teach us how to live and how faith makes a difference in one’s life. The Red Letters gives a clear overview of Christianity’s foundational message in a unique way: allowing Jesus to speak for himself, without any human commentary.

This groundbreaking book simply includes all of Jesus’ words from the Gospels, arranged by topic and rendered in the ESV translation. Jesus’ own words. Nothing more, nothing less. For everyone who would like to rediscover the heart of Christianity—or perhaps discover it for the first time—as Jesus Christ himself communicated it.
There's just something about that description that makes me hesitate. Something that makes me think that they didn't quite realize how it sounded. Because it sounds like they are saying that the black letters, the words that ground the red letters--that provide necessary context and holy narrative--are human commentary. And I'm sure that's not quite what they meant. Or maybe it was. Who knows? I can understand the position, the philosophy, that human commentary can sometimes get in the way. That it is good--healthy, even--for readers to come into the Bible without human commentary intruding in on the experience. But that is what text-only Bibles are for. A text only Bible will give readers the whole truth, the whole and Holy Word of God, minus of human commentary. The Bible is God-breathed. These words--all of these words--are God's. All are important. All are essential. All are sacred.

Yes, the red letters representing the sayings and teachings of Christ are important. But equally important are the surrounding black letters. How can you really and truly appreciate these 'red letters' if they're taken out of context and scrambled here, there, and everywhere.

I'm a big advocate that people should read and study and embrace the Words of Christ. But what people need to be reading are the gospels as a whole, the Bible as a whole. Not just the red letters.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Salon: Week In Review (January 18-24)

Wycliffe New Testament Reading--I read 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy. And here's the thing even though I just read the two books...which was far short of my goal...I still feel like these two were rushed. Too rushed. Like I was reading them just so I could check them off the list. Like I was reading them because I had to. Which isn't what I want. So I may choose to do a do-over and reread these books.

The Wycliffe New Testament was awesome for the gospels. Really. I felt engaged and excited. The letters are harder for me for some reason. I don't know if it's because I'm losing interest in the translation and it's time for a switch...or if it's because Paul is a more difficult writer to translate. While I just love Paul and his letters, some translations are just not Paul-friendly. Too clunky. Too confusing. The Wycliffe may be one such case.

ESV Study Bible Reading--I read Genesis 14 through Genesis 23. These are the chapters focusing on Abraham and Sarah. God's promise and covenant-making with Abraham. The birth of the promised-child, Isaac. The testing of Abraham's faith. True there is the doom-and-gloom of Sodom's destruction, but overall these are some of my favorite chapters of the Old Testament. Rich in detail and significance.

This past week I had three posts highlighting the Wycliffe translation--sharing favorite passages from the first three gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. If you have a few minutes, I'd like to know your thoughts. Not specifically about the Wycliffe translation--though if you have them, I'd love to hear them. No, what I'd like to have some feedback on is if you liked the idea of having a semi-mostly-regular feature "Translation of the Week" where I highlight different Bible translations and share various passages. I know that I love the variety of trying on new translations and changing up the pace a bit in my reading. But if there is zero interest from readers, then it may be more semi than regular depending on my time.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Translation of the Week: Wycliffe, part 3

From Luke 2

And shepherds were in the same country, waking and keeping the watches of the night on their flock. And lo, the angel of the Lord stood beside them, and the clearness of God shone about them, and they dreaded with great dread. And the angel said to them, Nil ye dread, for lo, I preach to you a great joy that shall be to all people. For a Savior is born today to you that is Christ the Lord in the city of David. And this is a token to you, ye shall find a young child lapped in clothes and laid in a cratche. And suddenly there was made with the angel a multitude of heavenly knighthood, herying God and saying, Glory be in the highest things to God, and in earth peace to men of good will. And it was done, as the angels passed away from them into heaven, the shepherds spoke together and said, Go we over to Bethlehem and see we this word that is made, which the Lord has made and shown to us.

From Luke 6

Each that comes to Me and hears My words, and does them, I shall show to you to whom he is like. He is like to a man that builds an house, that digged deep and set the fundament on a stone. And when great flood was made, the flood was hurtled to that house and it might not move it, for it was founded on a sad stone. But he that hears and does not, is like to a man building his house on earth without fundament, into which the flood was hurled and anon it fell down, and the falling down of that house was made great.

From Luke 11

And it was done when He was praying in a place, as He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples. And He said to them, When ye pray, say ye, Father, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come to. Give to us today our each day's bread. And forgive to us our sins as we forgive to each man that owes to us. And lead us not into temptation.

From Luke 12

And when much people stood about so that they trod each on other, He began to say to His disciples, Be ye ware of the sourdough of the Pharisees that is hypocrisy. For nothing is hiled that shall not be showed, neither hid that shall not be wist. For why, those things that ye have said in darknesses, shall be said in light. And that that ye have spoken in ear in the couches, shall be preachesd in roofs. And I say to you, My Friends, be ye not afeared of them that slay the body, and after these things have no more what they shall do. But I shall show to you whom ye shall dread. Dread ye Him that after He has slain, He has power to send into hell. And so I say to you, dread ye Him. Whether five sparrows are not sold for two halfpence, and one of them is not in forefeiting before God? But also all the hairs of your head are numbered. Therefore nil ye dread. Ye are of more price than many sparrows.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Translation of the Week: Wycliffe part 2

From Mark 1

John was in the desert baptizing and preaching the baptism of repentance into remission of sins. And all the country of Judea went out to him, and all men of Jerusalem. And they were baptized of him in the flom Jordan, and acknowledged their sins. And John was clothed with hairs of camels and a girdle of skin about his loins. And he ate honeysuckers and wild honey, and preached and said, A stronger than I shall come after me, and I am not worthy to kneel down and unlace His shoes. I have baptized you in water. But He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost. And it was done in those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized of John in Jordan. And anon He went up of the water and saw heavens opened, and the Holy Ghost coming down as a culver and dwelling in Him. And a Voice was made from heavens, Thou art My loved Son. In Thee I am pleased.

From Mark 9

And He sat and called the twelve, and said to them, If any man will be the first among you, he shall be the last of all and the minister of all. And He took a child, and set him in the middle of them. And when He had beclipped him, He said to them, Whoever receives one of such children in My name, he receives Me. And whoever receives Me, he receives not Me alone, but Him that sent me.

From Mark 13

And while they ate, Jesus took bread and blessed, and broke and gave to them, and said, Take ye. This is My body. And when He had taken the cup, He did thankings and gave to them, and all drank thereof. And He said to them. This is My blood of the New Testament which shall be shed for many. Truly I say to you, for now I shall not drink of this fruit of vine into that day when I shall drink of this fruit of vine into that day when I shall drink it new in the realm of God.

Book Review: The Courtship of the Vicar's Daughter

Blackwell, Lawana. 1998/2007. The Courtship of the Vicar's Daughter. Bethany House.

And now with your kind indulgence, my lovely and talented daughter, Ernestine, will sing for us," Vicar Nippert announced after tea had been poured in the parlor of the vicarage behind Saint Stephen's.

The Courtship of the Vicar's Daughter is the sequel to the charming novel, The Widow of Larkspur Inn. Here you'll find the continuation of the stories and characters introduced in the first novel. Julia Hollis is engaged to Vicar Andrew Phelps. Her three children are Philip, Aleda, and Grace. His two children are Elizabeth and Laurel. Taking more of a central role in this novel are Elizabeth Phelps who is being pursued by two men: Paul Treves and Jonathan Raleigh. A slightly funnier romance involves Mrs. Octavia Kingston being courted and wooed by Squire Bartley. But the couple that thoroughly charmed me this time around involves new characters. (At least I *think* they're new because I don't remember them from the first book.) Mercy Sanders, the good daughter of a grumpy rascal, and Seth Langston, a man recently released from Newgate who has a newly adopted son, Thomas.

I enjoyed revisiting these characters. And I loved the new characters introduced in the novel. There were a few lame moments in the book--scenes where the characters found themselves to be so hilariously comic that just didn't work for me. Jokes and puns that I didn't think would be funny no matter the age or decade. But overall, I enjoyed it.

The books are set in Victorian England, 1870 to be precise.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Translation of the Week: Wycliffe

From Matthew 1

But the generation of Christ was thus. When Mary, the mother of Jesus, was spoused to Joseph, before they came together she was found having of the Holy Ghost in the womb. And Joseph, her husband, for he was rightful and would not publish her, he would privily have left her. But while he thought these things, lo, the angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to him and said, Joseph, the son of David, nil thou dread to take Mary, thy wife, for that thing that is born in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bear a son, and thou shall call his name Jesus, for He shall make His people safe from their sins. For all this thing was done that it should be fulfilled that was said of the Lord by a prophet, saying, Lo, a virgin shall have in womb, and she shal bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, that is to say, God with us. And Joseph rose from sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary his wife. And he knew her not till she had borne her first begotten son, and called His name Jesus.

From Matthew 7

Nil ye deem, that ye be not deemed. For in what doom ye deem, ye shall be deemed, and in what measure ye mete, it shall be meted again to you. But what see thou a little mote in the eye of thy brother, and see not a beam in thine own eye? Or how say thou to thy brother, Brother, suffer I shall do out a mote from thine eye, and lo, a beam is in thine own eye? Hypocrite! Do thou out first the beam of thine eye, and then thou shall see to do out the mote of the eye of thy brother. Nil ye give holy things to hounds, neither cast ye your margarites before swine, lest peradventure they defoul them with their feet and are turned and all to-tear you. Ask ye, and it shall be given to you. Seek ye, and ye shall find. Knock ye, and it shall be opened to you. For each that asks, takes; and he that seeks, finds; and it shall be opened to him that knocks.

From Matthew 11

All things are given to Me of My Father. And no man knew the Son but the Father. Neither any man knew the Father but the Son, and to whom the Son would show. All ye that travail and are charged, come to Me and I shall fulfil you. Take ye My yoke on you and learn of Me, for I am mild and meek in heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls. For My yoke is soft, and My charge light.

Book Review: The Heretic Queen

Moran, Michelle. 2008. The Heretic Queen. Crown Publishers. 381 pages.

I am sure that if I sat in a quiet place, away from the palace and the bustle of the court, I could remember scenes from my childhood much earlier than six years old.

Set during the Nineteenth Dynasty, The Heretic Queen is a wonderfully absorbing novel of love, ambition, greed, hope, and redemption. Our heroine is the young Nefertari, daughter of Mutnodjmet and General Nakhtmin. Her life had tragic beginnings, no doubt, her entire family being killed--some would even say murdered. She's sheltered by the current pharoah, true, but for how long? What is her place in this royal court, this royal family? Raised alongside Ramesses II, she has secretly been dreaming of marrying him. But unlike her ill-fated, too-ambitious aunt, Nefertiti, she's not dreaming of the crown and thrown. She's dreaming of the man. But there are great powers at work in this dysfunctional family and court who would do anything to prevent her from that match. (The High Priest of Amun, Rahotep, and Henuttawy, the high priestess of Isis and the pharoah's own sister.) Fortunately for Nefertari, there are people desiring her to win Ramesses' heart and claim the title of queen. (Woserit, the high priestess of Hathor and the pharoah's other sister; and Paser, a wise teacher and advisor).

I loved this book. It's rich in detail, fine in characterization, and magnificent in scope. I loved the love and romance between Ramesses and Nefertari. I did. I don't think you have to love romance to love the book. I think it will appeal to anyone who loves history and historical fiction.

If you're reading this between January 15, 2009 and January 23, 2009 then YOU SHOULD VISIT BECKY'S BOOK REVIEWS AND ENTER MY CONTEST.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Album of the Week: Better Is One Day

The album I'm highlighting this week was a pivotal one in my life: Passion's Better Is One Day. Originally released in March of 2000, a time and place that seems almost a lifetime away. It's available as an MP3 Album now.

Why is this one so pivotal to my life? It was everything that I thought I would always hate...about Christian music. Praise music? Worship music? A live album? So not going to like it, right? Wrong! This was my VERY first praise and worship CD. While I'd grown up listening to some Christian music--DC Talk, Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys, Jars of Clay--I thought all praise and worship music sounded the same. AKA, I thought it would sound boring. But this album is anything but boring. It's alive. It really is. So vibrant. So joyful. So wonderfully-Christ-centered.

The album list:

Freedom Song
I've Found Jesus
You're Worthy of My Praise
You Are My King
To Speak Your Name
Knowing You
Be Glorified
Let Everything That Has Breath
Better Is One Day
Agnus Dei
The Heart of Worship

I'll just focus on a few songs. Better Is One Day, the one that lends its name to the album is taken from Psalm 84.

Psalm 84 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Hear my prayer, O LORD God Almighty; listen to me, O God of Jacob. Look upon our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.

And Let Everything That Has Breath is taken from Psalm 150.

Psalm 150 Praise the LORD. [a] Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.

I love so many songs on this album...including "You Are My King," "The Heart of Worship," and "You're Worthy of My Praise."

I love this album because it helped usher in so many other albums and artists into my life.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Book Review: The Widow of Larkspur Inn

The Widow of Larkspur Inn, Lawana Blackwell, 2007. (1998)

I really, really enjoyed this one. It was just a satisfying read through and through. A young woman, a widow, the mother of three children is 'forced' to leave London when her husband's gambling debts cause the bank to foreclose on her home. The good news? The family isn't completely destitute. The banker tells her there is a piece of property--a former Inn--that hasn't been lived in for over eight years. It wasn't deemed *valuable* enough to sell in their opinion, but they tell her that it should do as a home for her and her children. So a woman with three children--ranging from eleven or twelve to five or six--goes to the country--to a small village to make a new start. They're not completely alone in the world. There is one maid that is accompanying them, an Irish woman, who owes her gratitude and friendship to the woman for saving her from a horrible life. The butler also loans his former mistress a sum of money and encourages her to turn this former Inn into a lodging residence, a boarding house if you will. With help--both human and divine--she is beginning to make her way in this world and finally begin to start living life on her own terms. Can a woman and her family start over? Find peace? Find love? Find joy? Read and see. This is a wonderful, wonderful novel!

Question of the Week #3

Welcome to the third edition of Question of the Week...please answer in the comments OR write a blog post of your own and leave me a link to your answers! Feel free to borrow the graphic as well. This feature isn't about answering it on Tuesday so much as answering it. So whenever you've got some'll be here waiting for you!

Which Bible character do you identify with most? Is there one that you can really relate to and understand? What is it about the story or character that gets to you?

There are two stories that really stand out to me. I love the story of Hannah. Found in 1 Samuel 1. She is a barren woman that cried out to the Lord.
The Birth of Samuel
There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Elkanah her husband would say to her, "Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?" Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD's temple. In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head." As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine." "Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief." Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him." She said, "May your servant find favor in your eyes." Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, "Because I asked the LORD for him."
There are several things about it that strikes me: her great misery, her great hope in the Lord, and her faith. Her face was no longer downcast. That says a lot. How often do we pray to the Lord for one thing or another--usually with great worry and anxiety--and then instead of leaving it in God's hands, we pick it back up and take it out with us. True, Hannah had Eli's words to comfort and console her. But I'd dare say that having Jesus' words should make us feel even more certain than Hannah.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:1-3

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. Romans 8:26-27

Hannah had the peace that comes from faith. She walked out a changed woman. I want to be like Hannah.

I also love the story of the bleeding woman who was healed by Jesus. Her story can be found in Mark 5.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?" "You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?' " But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

There are many ways that we can suffer, that we can live in suffering. It might be physical like this woman--or it might be mental, emotional, or psychological. It wasn't like this woman hadn't tried anything and everything to relieve the torment--the pain, the suffering, and the worry and anxiety that goes along with it. But Jesus was the answer. She knew it. She felt it. It wasn't if I touch his clothes, I might be healed. It was I will be healed. I don't know about you, but I wish I had faith that strong and sure. And I love these words: Go in peace and be freed from your suffering. Those words are an incredible promise, a gift. Jesus didn't need to ask this question to the crowds, he knew who had touched him. He knew why she had touched him. He did this so she could be given that promise, that she could hold onto those words and know his love, also I think he did as an example to all of us to believe and to reach out to Him who heals.

Think about this. God knows the whole truth. But how much better it is for us to tell him the whole truth. To approach him even with fear and trembling. To pour out ourselves, to give ourselves, it is with this that we're able to find peace and comfort.

Monday, January 19, 2009

BIP: Second Assignment 2.2

Sophisticated Dorkiness: Blog Improvement Project: Second Assignment: Part Two.

Part 2 — Blogging Your Ideas:

* Use your brainstormed ideas to come up with a new, regular feature for your blog. There are a lot of memes and stuff out there to participate in, but I think it’s cool when a blogger has a feature that is unique to them. Think about what makes your voice different, then come up with a feature that reflects that. There aren’t any “rules” about the feature — just be yourself.

* Come back and sign the Mr. Linky with a post about your new feature.

I'm not sure if this is a bending of the rules or not. But when it comes to features, I've got one in place that is open to anyone and everyone participating in the Operation Actually Read Bible challenge. It's called Question of the Week. Every Tuesday, I ask a question of myself and of the other participants. I put a lot of thought in the questions--I've actually spent several hours brainstorming possible topics/questions. Tomorrow will be the third question--and it's not like this is a phenomenal success sweeping blogs or anything. But I'm happy with this concept and hope that participants will keep coming back each week. I have noted in my sidebar that I'm open to receiving ideas/suggestions from others.

As for other feature ideas, I've thought about adding another possible feature called "Album of the Week." Here is what that would look like. But while I've written one up, I certainly haven't done it every week of the new year. And I'm not sure I could/should commit to doing it weekly. I like being inspired not required. And you're either feeling something, or you're not.

I definitely WILL be posting monthly reviews/reflections about everything I've done the past month. So that by the end of the year, I'll have twelve posts from which to compile my best-of-the-year reflections/lists. I haven't decided this yet--but I'm open to thoughts and suggestions.

Another feature-idea I had was to have a Translation-of-the-Week to highlight. I'd use that translation of the Bible and post a few verses throughout the week--I'm not sure if I'd be doing that daily--seven Bible verses/passages--or if I'd just do it two or three times a week. I'm not sure there would be interest or not. You tell me! I'd probably have a spot on the sidebar for this--may create a button and everything.

Blog Improvement Project Assignment #2.1

2009BIP 150x210

Sophisticated Dorkiness: Assignment # 2 Blog Improvement Project

Part 1 — Brainstorming Ideas:

Read the articles (below) and find a technique that you think will help you brainstorm, then spend some quality time brainstorming.

24 Things to do When Stuck for a Topic to Blog About
Brainstorming Techniques for Bloggers
9 Steps to Better Blog Post Ideas

Keep track of the topic ideas you’ve brainstormed for a time in the future when you need some ideas. Come back and comment on this post or sign the Mr. Linky below with a post about brainstorming techniques you found particularly helpful or other brainstorming techniques you use.

I want Operation Actually Read Bible to be a multi-purpose blog. Book reviews. Reading challenges. Music reviews. Movie reviews (occasionally). Journaling. Memes. The focus is on life. On living. On God. Some of these posts will require more work, more effort than others.

I don't know that there was one specific thing I learned from the articles. But at the very least, it made me realize how important the behind-the-scenes steps are in blogging. Which is a good thing. I had actually started brainstorming earlier on this month in some areas. Thinking about things I wanted to write about. Planning ahead for things I wanted to include. Trying to find a way to be true-to-myself yet somewhere beneficial to others.

What I do when I'm brainstorming is open up a text document (TextEdit to be precise) and write there. I like the simplicity of these files. The very things that make them ugly-to-the-eyes makes them ultra-useful when it comes to cutting and pasting!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Salon: Week in Review (January 11-17)

In case you're just joining us for Sunday Salon, I want YOU (yes, you!) to be aware that there is a contest going on here at Becky's Book Reviews! You've got a chance to win one of three books by the incredibly talented (and very awesome author), Michelle Moran! Leave a comment on that post (not this one) by January 23rd. I'll announce the winners that weekend (either 24th or 25th).

Weekly Wycliffe reading--I read Colossians, Laodiceans, and 1 Thessalonians. If you're like me, you're thinking Laodiceans???? Zah???? Where'd that book come from? Well, it's found in the Wycliffe New Testament, but other translators didn't choose to include this one epistle in their translations. And it's not found in the majority of Bibles. I was one book short of my goal--I had hoped to finish 2 Thessalonians--that happens, you know.

Weekly ESV Study Bible reading--I read Genesis 9 through Genesis 14. Again, I fall short of my goal...which would have been to read through Genesis 15...but I almost made it!

In podcasting non-news, I have NOT kept up with the ESV Chronological podcast. I haven't listened since January 13th. Which means I need to listen to the rest of Job (38-42) and get back to Genesis (12-21). I don't know how high a priority this will be for me. I mean, when I tend to listen to this, I listen in chunks. So being behind isn't necessarily a bad thing.

In non-Bible reading news, I read Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran. While not strictly (technically) Christian fiction--the Egyptian gods and goddesses abound--they're set in Ancient Egypt. And if you've read Genesis and Exodus (as well as other Old Testament books) you know that Egypt is a major player in the Old Testament. I've always, always found Egypt fascinating. And these books were great.

My goals this week:

To read 2 Thessalonians through Philemon. (In this New Testament, the Wycliffe one, Philemon is before Hebrews (nothing out of the ordinary there) which is BEFORE Acts (which is VERY out of the ordinary.)
To read Genesis 15 - 23. I know this may be too ambitious. But I'm hoping since this is where all the stories start that the natural pacing will keep the momentum going!
To read two Christian books either fiction or nonfiction. (I'd love to read at least one nonfiction!)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Book Review: Baby Bible: Stories About Jesus

Currie, Robin. 2004. Baby Bible: Stories About Jesus. Illustrated by Cindy Brownsberger Adams. FaithKidz.


Currie, Robin. 2008. Baby Bible: Stories About Jesus. Illustrated by Constanza Basaluzzo.

This board book story-bible is great for young readers--babies, toddlers, preschoolers. The book presents a nice variety of stories centered on Jesus--from his birth to his ascension.

Each story is two pages. One of text. One of illustration. The text consists of title, scripture reference, narrative (with interaction prompts), and a concluding prayer.

For example,

Jesus At the Temple
Taken from Luke 2:41-50

Jesus and His family went on a long trip to the temple in Jerusalem. They walked and walked.

Tap your hands on your knees.

They liked to be with all their friends and pray and learn about God.

Fold your hands to pray.

In the temple lived teachers who read lots of books. Jesus asked them many questions. They were surprised that He knew so much.

Show me a surprised face.

You can learn about Jesus by reading the Bible--God's Word.

Thank you, God, for books to learn about Jesus. Amen.

I won't mention the illustrations because with one edition being out-of-print now and the newer edition being a different illustrator--one I haven't even seen--it wouldn't be all that helpful unless you happen to want to seek out this older edition and buy it used.

I will say this--I loved this book.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, January 16, 2009

Nonfiction Book Review: On Church Leadership

Driscoll, Mark. 2008. On Church Leadership.

On Church Leadership is just one of a handful of books in a series entitled "A Book You'll Actually Read." It's designed to be read by 'regular' and 'ordinary' people in about an hour. And I must admit the format of the book is not intimidating. It's a little book. (Under 100 pages). Short. Sweet. To the point.

I knew this author was a kindred spirit of sorts when he mentioned this in the introduction, "You will not read a bunch of cute stories about bunny rabbits giving their lives to Jesus and such because I do not want to waste my words or any of your time." (10)

The titles of the chapters within the book are: "Pastor Jesus," "Elders," "Women In Ministry," "Deacons," "Members," and "Leadership Teams."

Was the book useful? Yes and no. I don't consider myself part of the 'leadership' of my church. I do teach a Sunday School class. And I am the church secretary (newly appointed within the last week or so). But a position with power and say so? I don't think so. I think it could be useful to other readers though. Those men who fill those 'elder' and 'deacon' roles especially.

One of the things I learned reading the book was the concept of how 'prophet, priest, and king' should be used in leadership teams. Christ was all three: prophet, priest, and king. Each title had a different role, different gift, associated with it. Within a church, you need people to fill all three roles--people who focus on love and compassion and caring for the people's needs; people who are responsible for teaching and preaching; and people who are all about organizing and keeping things moving forward and functioning--someone who has the leadership abilities to manage and delegate. If your church doesn't have all three, then problems arise and it's not as healthy and as functioning as it could be, should be.

What I realized during the reading of the book is how 'fallen short' most churches and denominations are. Not in a mean way. Not in a critical way. Not in an I-could-do-so-much-better way. But in a oh-my-we-need-grace way. The qualifications of those men (and women) within the church. Oh my. The way the church is supposed to operate. I could use a LOT more Jesus and a LOT less politics.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

BTT: Sing with Me

btt button

But, enough about books … Other things have words, too, right? Like … songs!

If you’re anything like me, there are songs that you love because of their lyrics; writers you admire because their songs have depth, meaning, or just a sheer playfulness that has nothing to do with the tunes.

So, today’s question?

  • What songs … either specific songs, or songs in general by a specific group or writer … have words that you love?
  • Why?
  • And … do the tunes that go with the fantastic lyrics live up to them?
My answers:

Simple answer. Two words. Andrew Peterson.

Just As I Am

All of my life
I've held on to this fear
Its thistles and vines
Ensnare and entwine
What flowers appeared

It's the fear that I'll fall
One too many times
It's the fear that His love
Is no better than mine
(but He tells me that)
Just as I am and just as I was
Just as I will be He loves me, He does
He showed me the day that He shed His own blood
He loves me, oh, He loves me, He does
He loves me, oh, He loves me, He does

Or how about this tearjerker? "Tools"

You sent me to the shed with all the tools
I remember how you said that I could take what I could use
I got a hammer and a ratchet set
A hundred tools I ain't used yet
They're rusty, but they work as good as new

Tools, tools

I remember you as quiet as a picture
Like that picture of the Navy sailor grinning for the girls
You had visited the barber
You were stationed at Pearl Harbor
A year before the War became the world's

And you say, "Boy, sometimes you've got to get up on that ship,
Leave all you love behind."
Well, Grampa, I've been everywhere
But Fargo, North Dakota
It ain't war, but it's a fight

Tools, tools

Well, I never knew you ever drew one picture
But if you want proof that I've got you
Here running through my veins
I could show you call the sketchbooks
That I filled when I was young
And sixty years ago you did the same

And you say, "Boy, just let 'em laugh
When all they see is lines--
Paint yourself a picture of your life.
I believe that Swedish folks were
Born with better eyes."
Grampa, I have always loved the sky
I think you're right
You gave me tools.

You sent that telegraph to tell her that you missed her
When my daddy was a baby, oh you gave him to the Lord
And the faith you handed down has somehow stuck around
And love has called you home again
To roam again no more

You sent me to the shed with all the tools
I remember how you said that I could take what I could use
Faith and Love and Hope are what I carried home,
They're rusty but they work as good as new

Tools, tools
Or one of my theme songs, "Loose Change"

I'd give you all of me to know what you were thinking
And if I had one wish I'd wish I wasn't sinking here
Drowning in this well
Oh can't you tell

That I can't pick myself up off the ground
I've been face down
And pushed aside
Well, you know I'd rather just turn tail and run
Than lie here in the sun
And watch you pass me by
'Cause I ain't worth a dime

But if only I could stand up straight
I wouldn't have to lie and wait
I could up and roll away
And never be ignored
I've got a feeling that I'm something more
Than just a piece of copper ore
Turning green and looking for
The reason I was born
Well, I've been around since 1974
In banks and bottom drawers
On railroad ties
I've been passed around and cast aside
And skipped and flipped and flattened wide
Spun around and thrown away and left alone to lie


But I heard about a penny found
Lying underneath the couch
By a woman who was kneeling down
Looking for some change
Then the woman danced around
Called her friends all over town
Told 'em what was lost is found
It's another penny saved

So I find that all this time
Beneath the surface, I could shine
Like all the gold a king and queen could measure
See, even just a penny is a treasure
Or "More" which has gotten me through some tough days...

This is not the end here at this grave
This is just a hole that someone made
Every hole was made to fill
And every heart can feel it still--
Our nature hates a vacuum

This is not the hardest part of all
This is just the seed that has to fall
All our lives we till the ground
Until we lay our sorrows down
And watch the sky for rain

There is more
More than all this pain
More than all the falling down
And the getting up again
There is more
More than we can see
From our tiny vantage point
In this vast eternity
There is more

A thing resounds when it rings true
Ringing all the bells inside of you
Like a golden sky on a summer eve
Your heart is tugging at your sleeve
And you cannot say why
There must be more

There is more
More than we can stand
Standing in the glory
Of a love that never ends
There is more
More than we can guess
More and more, forever more
And not a second less

There is more than what the naked eye can see
Clothing all our days with mystery
Watching over everything
Wilder than our wildest dreams
Could ever dream to be
There is more
Or this one he wrote when his wife had a miscarriage, Lullaby...
Well, I haven't got a lot to offer
Just a rhyme and a melody
But I promised I'd write if it took all night
A lullaby for thee

They say there ain't no sleeping in heaven
Baby, that don't mean that you can't dream
So when you close your eyes
Know your mother and I
Pray the Lord your soul to keep
And we never got the chance to hold you
And we never got to tell you goodnight
So we hope you can hear as Jesus cradles you near
Baby, this is your lullaby

So are you running with the angels?
Are you singing with the saints?
Are you throwing a ball against a heavenly wall
Maybe swinging on the pearly gates?

Well there's so much love between us
And so much that I wanna say
I wanna ramble awhile with my beautiful child
Baby, I can hardly wait...

And then there's "The Chasing Song"

Now and then these feet just take to wandering
Now and then I prop them up at home
Sometimes I think about the consequences
Sometimes I don't

Well, I realize that falling down ain't graceful
But I thank the Lord that falling's full of grace
Sometimes I take my eyes off Jesus
And you know that's all it takes

Well, I wish that I could say that at the close of every day
I was happy with the way that I'm behaving

'Cause Job, he chased an answer
The wise men chased the Child
Jacob chased her fourteen years
And he captured Rachel's smile
And Moses chased the Promised Land
Joseph chased a dream
David, he chased God's own heart
All I ever seem to chase is me

Well, they say a race can only have one winner
And you know you've got to pull out front to win
God knows the only time I'm winning
Is when I'm chasing Him

So, I wish that I could say that at the close of every day
I was happy with the way that I'm behaving

'Cause Samson chased a woman
And he chased the Phillistines
I'm not quite sure what Jonah chased
But I know he caught the sea
And Cain, he chased the harvest
While Abel chased the beasts
David, he chased God's own heart
All I ever seem to chase is me

And Jesus chased the money men
And He chased His Father's will
He chased my sin to Calvary
And He caught it on that hill
And Saul, he chased the Christians
'Til his blindness made him see
David, he chased God's own heart
All I ever seem to chase is me

Of course, there's more to life than Andrew Peterson. I also love Rich Mullins.

There's "Creed" and "If I Stand" and "My One Thing" and "Hold Me Jesus" and "That Where I Am, There You..." and so many more....

And then there's Caedmon's Call. I just love, love, love them!

"Standing Up For Nothing"

I can't stop staring at myself
My face reflected in this empty plate
I can't decide if it's the devil
Or if it's just something I ate
'Cause he's been down there all morning
He's patiently waiting at my gate
He's throwing rocks at my window
"Hey won't you come on out and play with me"

And everyday when I get up
I see folks trading in their crowns
For all these paper plastic lives
An opiate for the masses' hounds
And pride like a vestige of lives lost
The stench of the old folks coming around
Now with the news I heard today
I can't tell if this world is lost or found

You go, I'll be waiting here
And I'm awake, no I cannot sleep
So I'll sit upon this rock is you
I ain't standing up for nothing

I've never seen my congressman
But I can't deny that he exists
'Cause I've seen his legislation pass
I've seen his name on the ballot list
Same I can't deny this fallen world
Though not my home it's where I live
How can I preserve and light the way
For a world that I can't admit I'm in

'Cause I know who you say you are
But these crows can't be made to stop
So I'll sit denying by this fire
I ain't standing up for nothing

Lack of interest leads to
Lack of knowledge leads to
Lack of perspective leads to
Lack of communication leads to
Lack of understanding leads to
Lack of concern leads to
This complacency denotes
This approval denies
The truth

But I can't stop staring at myself
It's my face reflected in this empty plate
And I know that it's the devil

So you lead, I'll be close behind
So you speak, I'll hang on your words
You gotta lift me from this hardened tree
'Cause I ain't standing up for nothing
And then there is "Mystery of Mercy" one of the best, best, best songs ever.

I am the woman at the well, I am the harlot
I am the scattered seed that fell along the path
I am the son that ran away
And I am the bitter son that stayed

My God, my God why hast thou accepted me
When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty King?

My God, my God why hast thou accepted me
It's a mystery of mercy and the song, the song I sing

I am the angry man who came to stone the lover
I am the woman there ashamed before the crowd
I am the leper that gave thanks
But I am the nine that never came

My God, my God why hast thou accepted me
When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty King?

My God, my God why hast thou accepted me
It's a mystery of mercy and the song, the song I sing

You made the seed that made the tree
That made the cross that saved me
You gave me hope when there was none
You gave me your only Son

My God, Lord you are
My God, my God, Lord you are
And there are so many more. All three artists are great.

Operation Actually Read Bible: Progress Report Time

If you'd like to share your progress with other participants this month, this is the place! (Of course, you don't have to. But we're here to support and encourage one another. Never to judge.) You can share your progress in the comments--no blog or link required. But if you do blog and are keeping up with the challenge on your own blog, then feel free to share a link. You can follow some participants in the sidebar--they have permalinks to their progress pages, or else have blogs specifically for the challenge.

Janet has posted about her progress here.
Cynda has posted about her progress here.
I have been tracking my progress each Sunday. You can read week one and week two.

If you're just joining us--discovering the blog--know that you can still join the challenge!

Book Review: Nefertiti

Moran, Michelle. 2007. Nefertiti. Three Rivers Press. 464 pages.

If you are to believe what the viziers say, then Amunhotep killed his brother for the crown of Egypt.

I loved this book. I mean I really really loved it. First, it's set in Egypt, Ancient Egypt. It had everything to love: large dysfunctional family, plenty of family drama, political and social drama too. Royal temper tantrums abound. Power. Who has it? Who wants it? Who 'deserves' it? Who's right? Who's wrong? Read for yourself to see. (Here's an excerpt of the prologue and first chapter.) Narrated by Mutnodjmet, the younger sister--half-sister--of Nefertiti we see the drama unfold practically firsthand.

Who's the heroine of Nefertiti? It's hard to say. This story is about Nefertiti--how much of a royal pain she was. But it's also about her sister--though less beautiful, perhaps wiser--Mutnodjmet. It's about the chaos of living in the midst of royals. The politics. The power struggles. The paranoia. Can family relationships stay the same--that of a father and daughter; that between sisters--when one becomes Queen?

Nefertiti had her moments. There were times I absolutely hated her, I admit. But not all the time. Her husband, the pharoah Amunhotep IV (Akhenaten), on the other hand makes for a tyrannical beast. It's hard to admire a man who values human life so little. But the real star of the book, at least to me, is Mutnodjmet. Here is a character that I cared about practically from the beginning. When she was upset, I was upset. And when she finally had her moments when her dreams were realized, I cheered.

This is a book rich in detail: the setting, the characters, the descriptions. Yet never once did the book feel like a burden. It was a book I hated to put down, and loved to rush back to. If you are interested in Ancient Egypt, or in historical fiction, or in historical romance...or if you just want a really outstanding book to savor with intricately drawn characters and a fast-paced plot...pick up Nefertiti.

If you're reading this between January 15, 2009 and January 23, 2009 then YOU SHOULD VISIT BECKY'S BOOK REVIEWS AND ENTER MY CONTEST.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Contest at Becky's Book Reviews

I'm having a CONTEST over at Becky's Book Reviews. Enter there to win one of three books by Michelle Moran. Contest ends January 23rd. Winners will be announced January 24th.

Book Review: An Uncertain Dream

Miller, Judith. 2008. An Uncertain Dream. (#3 in the Postcards from Pullman Series) Bethany House. 376 pages.

Angry shouts stopped Olivia Mott midstep.

The strike! The strike! The strike that got so much talk in the second novel, Whispers From The Rail, is finally here. The time? 1894. The place? Pullman, Illinois and Chicago, Illinois. Olivia, Fred, Charlotte their stories continue on in this third and final installment.

Olivia Mott, an assistant chef, has been courting (on and off) Fred DeVault, one of the leaders of the strike, for years--since she first arrived in America from England. With some complications I might add--her naivety, her lies, his stubbornness, his jealousy, his pride--not to mention the whole seeing other people thing. But now the impossible has happened: he's finally admitted (after 700 pages or so) that he wants to marry her! Will things be that simple after all?

Charlotte. The spoiled Lady Spencer whose reputation was shattered when she conceived a child out of wedlock. She's been to England (and back again) and now is living with her son, Morgan, in Chicago. Still staying with the ever-faithful Mrs. Priddle. Still working for Marshall Field. But now there's a man in the picture. The journalist Matthew Clayborn whom we first met when he was flirting with Olivia in the second book.

Love is definitely in the air in this final installment--even Mrs. DeVault, good-old-Fred's mother, finds love. Can you guess with who?

That's not to say An Uncertain Dream is all happy-and-gushy. There's plenty of hardships--not just convulluted episodes either--the strike, unemployment, tensions between the police (and army) with the strikers and innocent bystanders, women's rights, sexual harassment, hunger and poverty.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Question of the Week #2

Welcome to the second edition of "Question of the Week"...please answer in the comments OR write a blog post of your own and leave me a link to your answers! Feel free to borrow the graphic as well.

I want to thank those that participated last week! I appreciate each and every one of you!

Last week it was all about goals. This week is slightly related to that. It's about plans--Bible reading plans to be exact. Do you need a plan to stay on track? Do you find reading plans helpful? Or are they more of a hindrance to you? Do you have a plan B? In other words, do you have it worked out what you're going to do when you fall behind, forget, get frustrated, get bored, etc.? (There are a dozen excuses why it might happen.) Do you see this as an all or nothing proposition?
There are a good variety of reading plans out there. I think it used to be a one-size-fits-all kind of world. I'm thinking of the traditional one-year-reading-plan with a dose of Old Testament, New Testament, and a bit of Psalms or Proverbs as dessert. There is more variety now. And there are even a few design-your-own plans out there where you can fill in your time frame, your focus (whole bible, new testament, old testament, whatever books you want), etc. And poof, a plan would appear that would divide it into even portions for you.

I personally don't follow a plan. Why? I'm not good with them. It may be one-size-fits-most plan, but it's not a size-that-fits-me. I've never met a plan that I could stick with. Either I would get behind...starting with just one or two days...then plummeting until being two or three or four weeks behind. And it's hard to pick yourself up from that. To try to catch up to where you're "supposed" to be. Or if by some chance I didn't fall behind, I would get bogged down in one book or another.

I guess I've always equated Bible plans with diets. With following certain plans and sticking to it like counting calories and such. (Read this: no more, no less.) If you get caught up in that mindset--not everyone does I know--it's hard to adjust for mistakes--stumbles, frustrations, backsliding, or just general busyness.

I am more of a free spirit. I want to read the Bible daily, yes, but I want the freedom--need the freedom--to go where I will. I believe that all of Scripture is God-breathed. I believe that all of it is important. So I do try to read it all, get to it all. But I don't want to feel bound to read it from cover-to-cover (in that order from Genesis to Revelation). I don't want to feel restricted in what to read and when to read it.

Granted, zig-zagging it may not work for some readers. The thought of reading the books out of order from jumping from John to Ruth to Ezekiel to Genesis to Ephesians to Jonah (all just an example) might seem too messy for some folks, too confusing for others. But I like going with the flow, doing things my way.

I don't want to sound like I'm judgmental of plans. I'm not. If it works for you, then I think it's great. I'm happy that you've got something that works for you. I wouldn't want to un-plan anyone. To discourage you from doing what works for you. But just in case, you're trying to force yourself to stick to a plan that isn't working-all-that-great for you. Know that you don't have to follow a regimented plan to get into the discipline of reading the Bible. It's not what you read so much as the fact that you're reading something.

As for plan B...this is a tricky one for me. When I was following plans--either daily Bible reading plans or daily devotional plans, it was a field of discouragement for me. I was always always getting behind. Of forgetting to do it. Then letting one or two days of forgetfulness turn into a week. Then having the philosophy, well, getting behind just one more day won't hurt. If I'm already that far behind, what's one more day? I'll catch up on the weekend. Or I'll catch up on Monday. Tomorrow, tomorrow, always tomorrow.

I think realizing that each day stands on its own; that it is a choice you make each and every day; that you can't just 'rollover' your time with the Lord is something to consider. If you miss a day, it's not the end of the world. It's not. It's nothing to beat yourself up about. It just means that you need to live in the moment. To realize that today is what matters--yesterday, last week, last month, last year--it's all over and gone with. Today is the day that you need to focus on. That you need to spend with the Lord. How will you choose to spend today?

That's not to say that I have this all down. I don't. I haven't been living life in the moment. But I've been trying to do so for the last few weeks. I'm trying to get in the habit of living life aware of each choice and staying focused on the now instead of regretting the past or worrying about the future.

I want to leave you with a thought--I was reading this in Morning and Evening. (Yes, free spirit I may be, but I love Charles Spurgeon!) January 8th, morning.

WHAT a veil is lifted up by these words, and what a disclosure is made! It will be humbling and profitable for us to pause awhile and see this sad sight. The iniquities of our public worship, its hypocrisy, formality, lukewarmness, irreverence, wandering of heart and forgetfulness of God, what a full measure have we there! Our work for the Lord, its emulation, selfishness, carelessness, slackness, unbelief, what a mass of defilement is there! Our private devotions, their laxity, coldness, neglect, sleepiness, and vanity, what a mountain of dead earth is there! If we looked more carefully we should find this iniquity to be far greater than appears at first sight. Dr. Payson, writing to his brother, says, “My parish, as well as my heart, very much resembles the garden of the sluggard; and what is worse, I find that very many of my desires for the melioration of both, proceed either from pride or vanity or indolence. I look at the weeds which overspread my garden, and breathe out an earnest wish that they were eradicated. But why? What prompts the wish? It may be that I may walk out and say to myself, ‘In what fine order is my garden kept!’ This is pride. Or, it may be that my neighbours may look over the wall and say, ‘How finely your garden flourishes!’ This is vanity. Or I may wish for the destruction of the weeds, because I am weary of pulling them up. This is indolence.” So that even our desires after holiness may be polluted by ill motives. Under the greenest sods worms hide themselves; we need not look long to discover them. How cheering is the thought, that, when the High Priest bore the iniquity of the holy things, He wore upon His brow the words, “Holiness to the Lord;” and even so while Jesus bears our sin, He presents before His Father’s face not our unholiness, but His own holiness. O for grace to view our great High Priest by the eye of faith!