Friday, February 27, 2009

Book Review: Wycliffe New Testament

I'm so excited to have finished this one, the Wycliffe New Testament, 1388! The project did take six months--but they were an incredible six months. This little book got me excited about reading the Bible again. The time I spent in the four gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--was wonderful. (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) I never got around to sharing my favorite quotes from John, so I'll take a bit of time (and space) here to share with you:

Be not your heart afeared, nor dread it. Ye believe in God, and believe ye in Me. In the house of My Father are many dwellings. If anything less, I had said to you, for I go to make ready to you a place. And if I go and make ready to you a place, eftsoons I come, and I shall take you to Myself, that where I am, ye are. And whither I go, ye wit, and ye wit the way.
That was from John 14. This is from John 15:

I am a very vine, and My Father is an earth-tiller. Each branch in Me that bears not fruit, He shall take away it. And each that bears fruit, He shall purge it that it bear the more fruit. Now ye are clean for the word that I have spoken to you. Dwell ye in Me and I in you. As a branch may not make fruit of itself but it dwell in the vine, so neither ye, but ye dwell in Me. I am a vine, ye are the branches.
I could go on, but I think that may suffice.

I just love this New Testament. I love the size--it's very compact. I love the language. I love the phrasing of it...phrases like 'nil ye dread' and 'love ye together more busily'. Words like beclipped and disturbled. Each time (or almost each time) an unfamiliar word is introduced for the first time (and only the first time) it is defined in the margins. Familiarity with the New Testament is a plus, of course. Reading this edition can be like putting puzzle pieces together. Your knowledge of the New Testament + the glossary + the context of the verse/passage = readability and accessibility.

From Hebrews 4 in the Wycliffe Bible:

For the word of God is quick and speedy in working, and more able to pierce than any twain-edged sword, and stretches forth to the departing of the soul and of the spirit, and of the jointures and marrows, and deemer of thoughts and of intents and hearts. And no creatures is unvisible in the sight of God. For all things are naked and open to His eyes, to whom a word to us. Therefore we that have a great Bishop that pierced heavens, Jesus the Son of God, hold we the acknowledging of our hope. For we have not a bishop that may not have compassion on our infirmities, but was tempted by all things by likeness--without sin. Therefore go we with trust to the throne of His grace, that we get mercy and find grace in covenable help.

The edition I read is excellent. It is "The Wycliffe New Testament 1388. transcribed by W.R. Cooper Into Modern Spelling." It is published by The British Library in association with The Tyndale Society.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book Review: Just Another Girl

Carlson, Melody. 2009. Just Another Girl.

For as long as I can remember, I've been stuck in the middle. Like being dealt a loser's hand with no more turns to take, my luck seemed to run out even before I was born.

What's a girl to do when the guy she's crushing on doesn't love her God? Meet Aster Flynn. The girl in the middle. One older sister, Rose, one younger sister, Lily. One mostly neglectful work-driven mother. One completely (well-mostly) absent father. Seventeen and tired of not having a life--a life complicated by the fact that her younger sister has a mental disability--the mind of a five year old in the body of a fifteen year old--Aster is more than thrilled when a popular guy, Owen, starts paying attention to her. It's summer. And the timing seems right, Owen is there right when she needs. Right when she thinks she can't take another day of life "as is." But is Owen--cute and dreamy though he may be--really the answer to her prayers? What about his reputation? What about his lifestyle? What about his beliefs? Life is definitely complicated for Aster. She knows that she needs a break, a life; she knows that she should not be shouldering the responsibility for caring for her sister all alone. But how can she make her mom and dad listen to her? How can she find her voice?

I liked this one. Aster's narrative is strong and mostly authentic. It did have a few moments where it felt a little bit like an after-school special. And there were a few more places where it felt like an episode of Full House. (Minus the make-up-with-your-sisters-and-hug music.) But all that being said, I liked it more than not. And I'd definitely recommend it to teens and tweens looking for clean reading material. While it is a Christian book, it is more of a morality-values kind of book. Not a bad thing--not at all. It's refreshing to read a book now and then that shows a teen girl happy to be herself, who would choose to be herself instead of falling for the "everybody's doing it..." trick when it comes to drinking and dating, etc. Her life isn't perfect. Her life will never be perfect in that sitcom-ey way.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What's On Your Nightstand (February)

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Translated by Samuel Putnam. I'm on page 862. There are 1170 pages of the story--and 1239 if you include the foot notes...but I'm not reading those. The story itself is interesting--dry in places, but hilarious in others.

Dune by Frank Herbert. I'm on 255 of this one. I haven't been giving this one my full attention. I think I've read it two or three times this month--several chapters at a time each time. But I'd like to get it finished soon. So I might bump it up in priority.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I'm on 209. I did finish the audio book of this one earlier in the month, but I wanted to read it too since it was so good.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris. I'm on page 68. This is supposed to be the book club read of the month, but I'm running so behind...I don't know if I'll get it done by the 28th or not. Oh well, I think it an appropriate read for Lent anyhow!

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. I'm thirty pages into this YA book. It is very good so far.

In Bible reading...I'm still in the Wycliffe New Testament, I've only got a handful of books left to read: 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Question of the Week #8

Welcome to the ninth 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.

Do you participate in Lent? Do you give up anything for Lent? If so, what? Why? What do you hope to gain from Lent this year? I don't know if 'gain' is the right word...what I'm asking is what are your goals this year, what are you hoping to accomplish or learn? Do you think that Lent is important? Or not so much?

Lent has never been a big deal at my house, in my church, in my life. Though I recognize that for some people, many people it may be significant. (Much more important is Passion Week.) There have been times where I set a goal of reading the Bible or the New Testament during these weeks of Lent. I think I did that once or twice. But as far as giving up anything...not much comes to mind. I'm not 'officially' making any goals for this year, but it sure would be nice to finish up in the Wycliffe New Testament (I think I have five or six books left) and get started in the Tyndale New Testament. I think Lent can be important if you use these weeks to develop new habits--if you use it as a time to draw closer to God, to see Him more, to spend more time with Him. It should always--in my extremely humble and subjective opinion--be more about what you're gaining or adding, then what you're giving up.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Review: Heart of a Lion

Morris, Gilbert. 2002. Heart of A Lion. Bethany House. 344 pages.

The sun's white disc still burned brightly in the sky as it settled toward the western horizon.

Heart of A Lion is the first book in a series, the "Lions of Judah" series by Gilbert Morris. The series seeks to novelize the ancestors of Christ, trace his family tree so to speak. The front cover reads, "Enticed by the world's pleasures, humanity's common ancestor fights the spiritual battle of the ages."

When the reader first meets Noah, he is sixteen. Curious about women, about girls, certainly. The fact that he is tempted--and does in fact succumb to lusty pleasures is interesting. But what he discovers--and rather quickly, perhaps too quickly?--is that this doesn't lead to a happy life, a satisfied life. He's repulsed--not so much by the woman he was with, but by the lifestyle of those around him. Idol worshipers. Those that believe in human sacrifice. Those consumed with pleasure and greed and power. He both regrets his dalliance and relishes it. This fictional Noah holds onto this love--tainted as it may be, the product more of lust than true love--for many many decades--maybe even a century or more.

But for the most part, the Noah of the book is older and wiser. His teen years only get a couple of chapters. Soon Noah is listening to his God-worshiping friend, Zerah, and his grandfather, Methuselah. Noah is a carpenter. A craftsmen. A man who lives apart from almost everyone. A man with a good reputation. But not many friendships--as the years pass, he realizes that there are fewer and fewer people worshiping God and more and more people worshiping false gods. Noah is the one of prophecy--in this story--he's the one from his clan whom Methuselah feels should have the lion medallion. This lion medallion signifies the promise of redemption. It is to be given to the man in the family whose life and heart belongs to God the most. It's a sign that one day a Redeemer will come. This is of course purely a work of fiction. I'm not saying it's a bad thing....or a good thing. It's there; it's a theme. (Noah towards the end of his life does have a vision of Jesus, of the Savior who will come from his line.)

This one doesn't have a horribly fast-moving plot. We meet Noah at several different stages in his life--probably five or six different ages or stages. A little over a third of the book deals with the flood--building and preparing the ark, the last fifty or sixty pages deal with the Flood itself and its aftermath. Most of the book seeks to show life before the Flood--the sinful cultures, societies, and peoples that populated the earth. Noah's willingness to worship God--the Strong One or the Ancient One. Relationships. A lot of the book was devoted to getting each of Noah's sons a wife.

The Bible never claims that Noah was perfect, that he was sinless. It just says that he found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Salon: Week in Review (February 15-21)

Happy Sunday everyone! Sorry I'm posting so late in the day. But I've been busy redesigning Becky's Book Reviews. (That and we had a super-long church meeting.)

What I read this week:

Genesis 37-50 (I finished the first book in my ESV Study Bible. One down, 65 more to go!)
Exodus 1-5 (ESV Study Bible)
Acts 1-19 in the Wycliffe New Testament (I'm so glad I'm not getting bogged down in this book. I thought I might.)
Psalms 1-20 in the 1599 Geneva Study Bible (I didn't know if this translation would work for me. I hoped it would. But the text actually reads easier than some modern-day translations. In my very humble opinion this reads easier than the New King James.)

My goals for the next week:

Read in Exodus.
Finish Acts.
Maybe get to James.

I've got a few books that I should get to reviewing this week:

Heart of a Lion by Gilbert Morris
Just Another Girl by Melody Carlson

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Faith 'n Fiction Saturday: Biblical Fiction

Amy's question for us this week...

Today's Topic
One of area of Christian fiction that is thriving is Biblical Fiction. Biblical fiction, in case you don't know, is when an author takes a story from the Bible and imagines more of the details. Tosca Lee's Havah would be a recent example of Biblical fiction.

What I want to know today is how you feel about Biblical fiction. Have you ever read any Biblical fiction? Did you enjoy it? Do you think Biblical fiction helps us to understand people who lived during Biblical times better or do you think that it's unnecessary? Have you ever read any Biblical fiction that offended you?

My answer:

I've read a handful of books classified as biblical fiction--probably a dozen. I've got two favorites. The Prophet by Francine Rivers. The second is God & Kings by Lynn Austin. Both are series books, by the way.

I don't always enjoy it. But I enjoy it more often than not. Like Amy said it has to be feasible as a could-have-been, and it can't outright contradict Scripture or Christianity.

For example, a few years back I read a book--and this was a book that had been translated into English--the title does honestly escape me--that was just awful, awful, awful. It was existential and sexually graphic. Noah's flood. It was narrated by a young woman--a woman who in a way 'snuck' aboard the ark and became the ninth person saved from doom and destruction. She did not worship God. Far from it! The book set it up that everyone was restricted from sex while on the ark, one of God's commands to be obeyed. But somehow all three of Noah's sons and one of Noah's wives became sexually involved with this narrator. Awful. Awful. Awful. And Noah's character wasn't really "Hall of Faith" material--he turned into a big doubter, more agnostic than anything else. After that experience, it would be hard to top it. So almost every biblical fiction I pick up is bound to be better than that!

I just read another Noah book. One by Gilbert Morris. I'll be reviewing it next week. While there were some things that I questioned--most of the scenes could have been set anywhere, anytime--I enjoyed it well enough. I just don't know that much about pre-Flood cultures: what they wore, what they ate, what kind of buildings they lived in, what tools they had, what furniture/furnishings they had, their courtship/marriage rituals, etc. It just seemed odd--though maybe possible--to have the whole family sitting around the table with chairs and having knives to cut their food with. Maybe I'm just clueless. Maybe knives have been around that long. I'm not an expert. And I'm not one to judge.

I think good biblical fiction can educate and entertain. But all I really ask is that it entertain. It needs to show me that these were real people with real feeling with real conflicts with real struggles.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Review: The Prophet

The Prophet by Francine Rivers.

There are not enough words to describe how much I absolutely loved this novel by Francine Rivers. It goes above and beyond my normal reaction to a good book. What is it about? Amos. The prophet Amos. The shepherd prophet. I'm not sure everyone will come to The Prophet with an appriciation for this so-called minor prophet. I think the average reader tends to skip the prophetic portions of the Old Testament. Who do you think of when you think of the word prophet? Isaiah? Elijah? Jeremiah? Daniel? Amos may seem an unusal choice to be chosen as the representative "prophet" in this series. But to me, it was a perfect choice. Why? I've a fondness for shepherds. Sound bizarre? To anyone who has ever read the classic A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller, this book will sing for you. What do I mean by 'sing'? I mean there is a beauty to it. I'm not suggesting that you have to have read A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 in order to appreciate The Prophet, but it does add a whole new depth to it. So besides tending sheep, what makes Amos so special? He is one of the few prophets sent to Israel. That prophesied to Israel. Remember, this is the divided kingdom. The number of good Israelite kings is zero. The number of good kings in Judah, is slightly higher. Judah had its problems with idolatry, but there were times or repentance and righteous living as well. So for this man who was born and raised in the kingdom of Judah to leave his family and country behind to witness to these almost-heathen brothers who have gone generations without seeking the one, true quite a difficult calling. But Amos knows that the safest place to be is in God's will. Therefore he knows that he must go wherever God sends him. He must speak the words God gives him. He must follow God's will and not his own. So even though he doesn't want to leave his comfortable life as a shepherd to go preach to an unwilling audience in a potentially unfriendly country, he must go no matter what the cost. The messages from God that he reveals to the people aren't always easy for his audience to hear. He's not always well-received by the crowds. But he knows that he cannot be a pleaser of men and please God at the same time. So he stands firmly in the Word of God...even if it means standing alone.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Book Review: Christianity in Crisis: 21rst Century

Hanegraaff, Hank. 2009. Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century. Thomas Nelson. 427 pages.

Christianity in Crisis 21st Century is an update to the original book, Christianity in Crisis, originally published nearly (but not quite) twenty years ago. I've read both by the way. And I found the book to be well-researched, disturbing, frustrating, saddening, discouraging. I think it's a needed book, a timely book. But I also think it is a book with power. I have no doubt that Hanegraaff will infuriate some readers. He has that way about him. A no-nonsense, tell-the-truth manner about him. He isn't seeking popularity. He isn't seeking flattery. He doesn't care if you "like" him. He has a job to do: expose the truth. And the truth he reveals is both sad and infuriating. Sad in that these false teachers and preachers have been accepted and applauded within the Christian community--within Christian bookstores--within mainstream America without a question, without a second, third, or fourth thought. It's extremely sad and discouraging to go to a Christian bookstore and see such rubbish on the shelves. Much of it prominently displayed. Sad that no one else seems willing to take a stand. Infuriating that these preachers are deceiving people, people who are being misled by what sounds good, what sounds nice. Which would you rather hear? That God has promised unequivocally to bless you and prosper you. That you can demand health and wealth from God. That he's there to grant all your wishes and desires. There to play Santa and genie all in one. Or that God has told us "in this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world." Time and time again--in the gospels and the epistles--we're told that we're to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, follow Him even if it means suffering, persecution, discomfort. God never promised us heaven-on-earth. He never promised us a comfortable life. He wants to conform us, transform us. Sure the health, wealth, prosperity gospel sounds nice enough in theory. But is it true? No! If you believe the Word of God is God's Word. That God is the author of all 66 books. Then you should take care that you're not deceived by folks who proclaim another gospel, another God, another Jesus. Preachers and teachers of this movement can and do twist and contort, abuse and misabuse, warp Scripture.

Hank Hanegraaff provides ample proof. He uses their own words--both written and spoken--to present his case against them. Not just a quote or two. Both in the text and in the end notes he shows just what these preachers and teachers have said, have preached, have believed, have promoted. I'd like to think that any reader who reads these words, these primary sources, will realize how off these messages, these beliefs really are. Will realize that appearances can be deceiving. Will realize the truth. Hanegraff doesn't just argue that these preachers and teachers are wrong because he says they are, because he dislikes them, because he'd like to take them down a notch or two. No, he uses Scripture again and again and again. He righly points out the meaning of Scripture. He presents their message. Then presents proofs as to how their interpretation cannot be the correct one. Hanegraaff's message is rooted in Scripture. (And a tad bit in common sense.) His argument that they've got all the essentials wrong. That they've promoted men to 'little gods.' Given men God's sovereignty and authority and creative powers. That they've demoted God--stripped him of his power and his sovereignty. Their message that God is a failure has actually been preached from the pulpit (or else it was written in a book published by one of their preachers. I can't remember which.). That they've promoted Satan. Made him equal with God. That their Jesus is not the Son of God--stripped him of his deity. Told lies about his atoning work. Their position on sin, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and humanity.

His argument is never that the people who listen to these messages are stupid and foolish. That they're to blame, at fault, guilty. He's not attacking the listeners. He's attacking the message itself. He is moved--quite passionately so--to undeceive the listeners, to try to alert folks to the situation. He wants to wake people up--both in and out of the movement--so that they find the true gospel, that they find comfort and relief in the truth. He's actually trying to do them a favor: the whole the truth will set you free. This is apt because in many (if not all) of these false messages, the listeners stand condemned. If you're not wealthy or healthy. If you have the flu, if you have cancer, if you have diabetes, if you have asthma, if you lose your job, if things aren't going well with you in any way...then it's all your fault. Everything is always your fault. You didn't pray enough. You didn't have faith enough. You doubted. If you're not healed at one of their healing meetings/conventions, it's not their's your fault. If you're "healed" and then the sickness's your fault. How liberating the truth can be in situations like this!

The book is well-written. It's interesting. I will say that it can be a bit repetitive. There are quotes he uses several times in several different chapters throughout the book. So you might hear the same quote in chapter one, three, five, and nine--for example. And while this might annoy some readers, I look at like this. For readers who don't read the book straight through. For readers who are reading it and using it as a reference book, as a guide, as a tool, then such repetition wouldn't be such a bad thing. And for some (not all readers mind you) repetition might not hurt anyone. After all, attention spans can be short these days. And if you've had a few sleeps since the last time you picked it up, then a refresher isn't always a bad thing.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Book Review: He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

Have I mentioned lately how much I love and adore Kadir Nelson? Oh, I have? In my review of All God's Critters. Well, it's something worth repeating. Again and again. Maybe my enthusiasm will encourage you to seek out his works for yourself, to share his works with your children or grandchildren. They're just beautiful books. So amazingly detailed, so magically right. Looking at his books make me feel--and in this instance, it makes me feel happy. I mean how could you look at this book--even just the cover--and not smile in response???

Published in 2005, the book is a picture book of the popular spiritual song "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands." You can find the lyrics on the web, I'm sure. The brilliance of this book are the illustrations of Kadir Nelson.

Here are two page-spreads from the book:

I just love this book. The richness of the details. The charm and magic of how he has captured snapshots of humanity, of family, of life itself.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Question of the Week #7

Welcome to the seventh 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.

Do you like listening to sermons? Have you ever subscribed to sermon podcasts? Have you ever listened to sermons on the radio? Do you have any favorites?
What resources (if any) have you found on the web that you'd like to share?

My answer: I like listening to good sermons. For me, these just happen to occur outside the church. I know some people are blessed to have good preaching (and teaching) within the local church they attend. But for others, it's just a dream. For the record, I'm defining 'good' as biblical preaching. Preaching that relies on the Word of God. Not stories. Not anecdotes. Not analogies. Not allegories. Not urban myths. Not jokes. I happen to like expository preaching. That is where there is the Biblical text presented and the preaching is centered on that text. It is illuminated (in many cases) by other Scripture texts. Your definition of 'good' might be different.

I don't listen to radio sermons anymore because I've found podcasts. Before the internet made things easy on me, I was listening to two or three radio programs. Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. Renewing Your Mind with R.C. Sproul and Grace To You by John MacArthur. I also liked listening to Key Life with Steve Brown. The problem often was that with a radio schedule, you'd either have to program your life around those shows--problematic when you're going to school or working--or you'd have to try to program your stereo to record them. Which the question would then be, how do you find time to listen to them later.

I subscribe to more than a handful of podcasts now. I'm subscribed to Bethlehem Bible Church. This is by far my favorite and my best. I have been so blessed by listening to these sermons. I really just heart this church. If only they were in Texas! Oh, well.

Others include Desiring God by John Piper, Grace to You by John MacArthur, In His Grip by Charles "Chuck" Better, Renewing Your Mind by R.C. Sproul, Truth for Life by Alistair Begg, White Horse Inn by Michael Horton.

I also subscribe to my sister's church The Village Church. That one is in Texas.

If you're looking to try out podcasts for yourself, then I'd recommend visiting

I will say this. Sermons aren't all created equal. You should listen attentively, but with a critical mindset. Like the Bereans, you should evaluate and weigh each based on how it stands in light of the Bible. It can sound good and right...but is it really? Context, context, context, context. As my great-grandma used to say...anything can be 'proven' if you use enough dot-dot-dots. Some minisitries will have a belief statement (or two) that can clue you in on what's what.

As to finding time to listen to all these, that's a whole different story! Sometimes I am in the mood to listen to sermons--like yesterday, I listened to ten sermons by Chuck Betters. A sermon series that begins off with six sermons entitled, "Is Your Child a Darth Vader?" Something that definitely intrigued me though I don't have kids :) (Other sermons in the series (so far) include Standing Alone, The Eight-Fold Gospel Your Kids Need To Learn, and Do Your Kids Love the Church.) But other times I'm distracted (tempted) by music. Say listening to Abba and the Partridge Family.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Operation Actually Read Bible: Progress Report Time (Feb)

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.

Thank you, Janet, for reminding me to post this. I had forgotten it was the fifteenth! I really *should* set up a google calendar reminder to post these so they'll be on time!

Janet's progress is here.

I know Cynda has posted her thoughts on Genesis here and here.

My progress is noted here and here and here and here and here. I update every week on Sunday.

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

Sunday, February 15, 2009

About Me

I keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who.

From "The Elephant's Child" by Rudyard Kipling

What is the purpose of "Operation Actually Read Bible"

I want this blog to be a reflection of me, an extension of myself. That doesn't mean it's a me-me-me blog. But it does mean that it is okay if a post isn't explicitly bookish. I want to capture my life--the books I read, the music I listen to, the sermons and podcasts I listen to, the movies I watch--particularly if they're clean/Christian.

The books I read. I want to read the Bible. That's obvious I know. But true. This blog is primarily there to motivate me to actually read the Bible.

This means that every week I need to write a post with my progress reading the Bible. This isn't about me bragging saying look I was "good" this week. It's about me being accountable to someone. Even if that someone is an online stranger who has stumbled across my blog.

I also want the blog to have reviews of the Christian books I read--all ages. Fiction. Nonfiction.

Where can you find Becky’s reviews?

My reviews can be found on three websites primarily: Becky's Book Reviews. Young Readers. Operation Actually Read Bible.
My reviews can also be found on the Young Adult Book Central (YABC) site. (Blog)

When is the site updated?

I post daily to Becky's Book Reviews. I try to post three to four times a week to Young Readers. And I try to post three to four times a week on Operation Actually Read Bible. There are times I post every day on all three. But there are also times when I might not have posts ready to go for OARB and YR.

How do I choose what to review?

I am happy to accept review copies of Christian fiction, Christian nonfiction, Bibles, audio Bibles, audio books, Christian music CDs, Christian DVDs, etc. While I will review most Christian fiction--fairly and honestly but NEVER EVER EVER promising a gushing review--I am pickier on nonfiction. I'll only review it if I can honestly recommend it and find it biblically sound and for the edification of the faith.

Why did I create Operation Actually Read Bible? Why do I feel compelled to blog?

I love to read. I love to write. I love to discuss. I want to help promote reading....particularly the Bible and other Christian books. It is also immensely satisfying to do this. It helps me keep track of what I read. It helps me connect with a community of readers.

Who is Becky of Operation Actually Read Bible?

I am a Christian, a believer. One that loves to read. I've always loved the Bible. Loved reading it. And studying it. But I've never been consistent. At all. I might read the Bible for six or eight or ten weeks. But then again, there have been long periods of times when I haven't read the Bible at all. Years where I've only opened up the Bible a handful of times. It is the extremities of my passion that I'm trying to rein in. I'm not perfect. I'm not holier-than-thou. I just sincerely love God and want to blog about it!

Sunday Salon: Week In Review (February 8-14)

Happy Sunday everyone! How was your week? I hope you're happy and healthy! I'm *finally* beginning to feel better myself. Mostly. Except I've got a hurt leg now. But at least folks with hurt legs can read Bibles without fear of spreading germs. :) And that's something to take joy in. Also hurt legs aren't contagious so my friends and family aren't hiding from me anymore. It was very sad to not be able to spend time with my sister--though understandable on her part. She's expecting you see.

Bible reading updates...

Daniel 9 - 12; Nelson Study Bible
Genesis 29-36; ESV Study Bible
2 Timothy; Wycliffe Bible
Titus; Wycliffe Bible
Philemon; Wycliffe Bible
Hebrews; Wycliffe Bible

What I just have to share...

From Hebrews 4 in the Wycliffe Bible:

For the word of God is quick and speedy in working, and more able to pierce than any twain-edged sword, and stretches forth to the departing of the soul and of the spirit, and of the jointures and marrows, and deemer of thoughts and of intents and hearts. And no creatures is unvisible in the sight of God. For all things are naked and open to His eyes, to whom a word to us. Therefore we that have a great Bishop that pierced heavens, Jesus the Son of God, hold we the acknowledging of our hope. For we have not a bishop that may not have compassion on our infirmities, but was tempted by all things by likeness--without sin. Therefore go we with trust to the throne of His grace, that we get mercy and find grace in covenable help.

I'm reading Christianity in Crisis: 21rst Century by Hank Hanegraaff. I am loving it. So expect a review this week--if all goes well.

I'm also reading the Classic Bible Story Book by Kenneth N. Taylor. I've gotten through the Genesis stories so far. I don't know if I can finish that up this week or not. It's not that it's long. But I like taking my time with these small stories. Reading twenty in a row isn't really the point, the purpose of the book. They're meant to be read in small portions--for small attention spans. But soon.

In Christian fiction, I'm reading Heart of A Lion by Gilbert Morris. It's about Noah. A young teenaged Noah to be least so far. It's different than I expected. But not necessarily bad different. It hasn't got me wrapped around its finger yet. I'm actually making slow progress--a chapter or two a week for the past two weeks. But maybe I can give it some attention this week.

What do YOU do when a fiction book just isn't grabbing you? When you want to like it...when you want to want to read it? But you're just not feeling it? When you suspect that it's not the book's fault that is.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How to Make Widgets--the Easy Way!

1) In one window, open up the blog (or other site) you want to make a widget of
2) In another window, go to
3) I honestly can't remember if you need to create a free account before/during/or after the widget-making process but at some point if you want to save your work, you'll need to sign up. It's relatively painless. And I don't recall getting unnecessary email from the group/company.
4) Click on "My Widgetbox" or "Make a Widget" both of them take you to the same place.
5) Choose the type of content you want...flash, html, web page, blog, gadget. I've only done blogs. So that's what the example will on it. You'll be asked to give the url of the blog or the blog's feed. (Either works)
6) cut and paste and hit continue

You'll then be taken to a new page where you'll be asked to make some decisions on colors and layouts. It's self-explanatory really. On the page they preview what it will look like. And you can definitely play around with it until you've got it just the way you want it.

When you've got it the way you want on "publish blidget"

Now your widget (unless you've chosen otherwise) is part of the gallery there. For example:

Your widget can now go anywhere and everywhere that html is allowed :) And it works with so many--blogger, facebook, wordpress, ning, etc.

Just click on "get widget"

You'll be asked what application (blogger, wordpress, ning, typepad, livejournal, etc.) you want to install it on...follow the instructions as you're given...and in just a few short minutes...your widget will be right where you want it!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Book Review: All God's Critters

Staines, Bill. 2009. All God's Critters. Illustrations by Kadir Nelson. Simon & Schuster.

Are you a fan of Kadir Nelson? I sure am! One of his newest includes the picture book, All God's Critters. This is one of those picture books that illustrate a song--the lyrics are well known (or relatively well known at least) and the illustrations just add extra incentive to make this a part of your collection. (And the fact that it's by Kadir Nelson? Huge incentive!) You can preview his artwork on his site here.

Unfamiliar with the song? You may want to take a look at this YouTube clip. It is not related to the book in any way...but...if you're wondering about the song itself--how the tune goes, how all those words are phrased together rhythmically, then I encourage you to watch or listen.

This book, All God's Critters, might pair well with another one of Kadir Nelson's books--He's Got The Whole World In His Hands. Looking at that cover just makes me about you?

Kadir Nelson's other books include Henry's Freedom Box, Moses, Coretta Scott, Abe's Honest Words, and We Are The Ship. Yes, that We Are The Ship that won the Sibert Medal, and attention (both an honor and a winner) in the Coretta Scott King Awards. (Honor for illustration; Winner for Writing).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Returning Prodigals

Today I want to share with you a passage of Scripture--from Luke 15--and also highlight a few songs that relate to the passage in a meaningful and significant way (at least to me).
The Prodigal Son
And He said, "A man had two sons. "The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me ' So he divided his wealth between them. "And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. "Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. "So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. "And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him."But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 'I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."'
"So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him."And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'"But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate. "Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. "And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be."And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.' "But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. "But he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.'"And he said to him, 'Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 'But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"
Luke 15:11-32

This story, of course, has always been one of my favorites. And I've always been fond of songs that fit this theme. One of the first I'd like to highlight is "When God Ran" by Benny Hester. If this artist is remembered for would be this song. Of course that's an if I know. You hardly hear mention of him anymore. But he was one of my favorites. Probably my first favorite artist. And this song, this song was mine. Oh, how I loved it!

When God Ran
Benny Hester

Almighty God,
The Great I Am
Immoveable Rock,
Omnipotent powerful

Awesome Lord,
Victorious Warrior
Mighty Conquerer,
Commanding King of Kings
And the only time,
the only time I ever saw Him run
Was when

He ran to me,
Took me in His arms, held my head to His chest
And said "My son's come home again".
Looked in my face, wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in His voice
He said "Son, do you know I still love you?"

It caught me by surprise when God ran

The day I left Home,
I knew I'd broken His heart
I wondered if
Things would ever be the same,

Then one night,
I remembered His love for me
And down that dusty road, ahead I could see
It was the only time,
the only time I ever saw Him run

Was when He ran to me,
Took me in His arms, held my head to His chest
And said "My son's come home again".
Looked in my face, wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in His voice
He said "Son, do you know I still love you?"

It caught me by surprise, It dropped me to my knees
When God ran

Holy God, Righteous One
Who turned my way
Now I know, You've been waiting
For this day


{Repeat Chorus}
I won't print the full songs of all the songs I'm highlighting. But with this one, I can't resist.

The next song I'd like to highlight is "Come Home Running" by Chris Tomlin.

Then there is Mystery of Mercy by Caedmon's Call. This one in particular is so rooted to Scripture that it is just an amazing testimony. A powerful song that moves me every time.

This last one that I'll share with you today is "Daddy's Song" by Dennis Jernigan.

Operation Actually

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

About reading challenges...

My name is Becky. I'm a challenge-addict. Chances are good that you may be one too. (Though not all my readers are challenge buddies!)

For those not familiar with reading challenges in general, I'll try to explain the addiction/experience. A reading challenge is typically hosted by one person, one blog. That one person sets the rules and guidelines for the challenge. They may help facilitate participants by setting up special sites, pages, posts related to the challenge. They might even have their own yahoo group to help build the participants into a community. Most reading challenges give participants rules as to how many books required and the deadline for reading those books. 6 books for 6 months, for example. 12 books for 12 months, etc. An average book challenge might ask readers to read anywhere from 6 books to 12 books. (Some are larger like the 999 Challenge asks for 64 books minimum. And the A-to-Z challenge asks for 52 books. The 100+ book challenge obviously wants at least 100 books.) Some are seasonal (spring, winter, fall, summer). Some are topical (science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, mysteries, romance, etc). Some are annual events. Each challenge is unique because they are hosted by different people. So the rules do vary.

So since I can't say no, I've learned a few tricks on how-to-stay-sane. I thought I'd share just in case some of my buddies are feeling overwhelmed and despairing of their inabilities to say no. At the very least, you can join together and say at least I'm not her.

1) create your own "scary-but-true" list where you keep track of how many challenges you have going.

name of challenge:
books required:

2) Have at least one place where you have all the links to your challenges bookmarked. This might be in the file above. Or it could be in a browser bookmark folder. Or it could be on your blog's sidebar in a special link section. I feel it essential to keep these links segregated from just your regular blogroll.

3) Consider having a special page (if you've got wordpress) or an additional blog (like if you have blogger) to keep track just of your challenges. I normally blog in blogger. But I started a wordpress blog just to keep track of my challenges because I liked the format and the options available there. I think this is important because you can then have one place where all your lists are collected together. You can also use the search option to find certain books. I didn't originate this idea of having a separate blog just for challenge lists. I copied many others. But it works really well. :)

4) Use tags when writing posts. If a book counts towards a challenge, I will use the name of that challenge as a tag. If a book counts towards five challenges, then list all five. For example, "Once Upon A Time Challenge II" and "Spring Reading Thing" and "A to Z Challenge."

5) This is perhaps the MOST important thing I've learned in the past three months. And again, it's not completely original. But here is my big trick. For each challenge, start a post and title it Whatever-the-challenge-is Completed. If the challenge ends in October, use your "post options" feature to date that entry for October 31. As each book you read for that challenge is completed, then open up that post and create a link to your review. (But remember to save as draft instead of publishing!) That way, you keep track of how many books you've read. When it comes time for the challenge to end, there is no fuss about it. No scrambling at the last minute to tie all those posts together. No rush to count up to see if you've read enough books.

6) Depending on your challenges, you might consider doing daily, weekly, or monthly maintenance. Checking your lists to see what you've read, and what you still need to read. If you've got a list organized in chronological order. The sooner the challenge ends, the higher priority it may receive when it comes time to choosing your next book.

7) To stay sane, remember not to force it. If you really really really don't want to read something, then don't. It doesn't matter how many challenges a book is good towards if reading it is going to drive you crazy. That book might suit you better a month or two from now. Or you might end up substituting (if possible) another book in its place altogether. But always remember you can STILL exercise the Readers Bill of Rights even if you're a challenge-addict.

Readers' Bill of Rights (Daniel Pennac)
1. The Right to Not Read
2. The Right to Skip Pages
3. The Right to Not Finish
4. The Right to Reread
5. The Right To Read Anything
6. The Right to Escapism
7. The Right to Read Anywhere
8. The Right to Browse
9. The Right to Read Out Loud
10. The Right to Not Defend Your Tastes

8) Be forgiving and generous towards yourself. Perhaps this is more of an attitude than a tip. I sometimes hear that people dislike challenges because they don't like the idea of not having the freedom to read what they want when they want to read it. Being challenge-addicted doesn't have to be stressful. I think sometimes folks come to it with the mindset that it's like a diet instead of a lifestyle. (You must do this, this, and this. You must do it now. You must not do this or that. And above all else, this is off limits.) But if you approach it with a que sera sera attitude, nothing can tie you down.

9) Remember it's all about pleasure. Reading is fun. Reading is pleasurable. Blogging is pleasurable. Making new friends, keeping old ones. Finding new books for the TBR pile. All very good things. There is nothing about challenge work that should be UNpleasant. It's an experience. It's a lifestyle. It's a journey you take with friends new and old.

10) Know yourself. Trust yourself. If a particular challenge gets to be too tough, don't be afraid to back out. But don't be too eager either. :) The world doesn't end if you don't finish a challenge. Nothing bad will happen if you don't reach your listed goal. You might surprise yourself along the way.

Bonus: Overlap as much as possible. Have a book count for more than one challenge. In some cases, you might have a book count in five or six. :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Question of the Week #6

Welcome to the sixth edition of Question of the Week. I hope you're enjoying answering these questions. I welcome you to email me with any thoughts, questions, or feedback. This week's question...

Have you read any Christian classics? Which would you recommend and why? If you haven't read any, why not? Are they too intimidating? Not enough time? Are any on your TBR pile?

My answer:

I've read some "Christian classics" through the years. I've read Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. I've read Hinds' Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I've read The Christian's Secret Of A Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

I think some older books are intimidating, but I think others are more reader-friendly. The Christian's Secret of A Happy Life is a great example of that. Very conversational. Yes, there are thees and thous. But excepting that--which isn't all that incomprehensible--it's very down-to-earth and practical. In other words, just like in today's publishing world some authors are more accessible than others. Perhaps I need to think of other ways of saying what I want to say. You know how there are different categories in most Christian bookstores--devotionals, prayer, Christian living, biographies and memoirs, and theology--same goes for these classics. So you can find books that are right-for-you. Not every book will be. Then again the same is true for contemporary books.

I'm not one to see value only in "classics"--there are plenty of great books being published each year, each decade. But I don't think you should say, 'oh it's old, why bother?' either. It doesn't improve in quality because it's old. You'll find varying quality no matter what century a book is published. Good. Great. Excellent. Bad. Ugly. Just-plain-wrong.

I have plenty of books on my TBR shelves. Spurgeon. Pink. Edwards. Luther. Calvin. Just to name a few.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Book Review: The Strength of His Hands

The Strength of His Hands by Lynn Austin, Book 3 in the Chronicles of the Kings series.

The Strength of His Hands by Lynn Austin documents the ups and downs of Hezekiah's later reign. In his early years, the king's intentions were good, his devotion was strong. It seemed he could do no wrong. He was intent on saving his country from the evils of idolatry, but while he still finds idolatry unacceptable, repulsive even. He is not as strong as he thinks he is. The book opens with Hezekiah and his barren wife, Hepzibah, still upset over the fact that it's been a dozen years (maybe a little more) and still no child has been born. Hepzibah, never a strong believer to begin with, has fallen into idolatry. When Hezekiah catches her worshipping Asherah, and even learns that his wife has vowed to sacrifice her firstborn child, he is appalled. But in his rashness to destroy his wife's idols, he's badly burned. Now, near death, Hezekiah must face some hard truths. When Isaiah prophesies that his death is near, Hezekiah refuses to submit to God's will. He cries out in fervant prayer begging God for a second chance. A chance to continue his godly reign. A chance to have an heir to inherit the kingdom. Granted an extra fifteen years, Hezekiah may thinks this extra time is a blessing. But it's a mixed blessing at best. His reign begins to crumble as his neighboring countries all prepare for war. Should Hezekiah listen to the Babylonian envoys whose flattering lips praise his wondrous power and might? Should he make an alliance with Babylon? With Egypt? Philistine? All of the neighboring countries who worship false gods? Of course, his closest advisor, Eliakim, and the Lord's chosen prophet, Isaiah, are warning Hezekiah of the dangers of pride and human wisdom. The dangers of making alliances against the expressed will of God, but Hezekiah has become a little hard of hearing lately. Pushing God away, he begins to rely on his wisdom, on his army, and on the armies of his allies. What will happen when the Assyrians begin to invade Judah and seige Jerusalem? Can Hezekiah find the courage to repent and the strength to trust in God once more?

While the other novels in the series have focused on Hezekiah's strengths, The Strength of His Hands takes us to the difficult portions of his reign. The uncomfortable places where we see a godly man making a series of mistakes that will lead him into a dangerous place. Pride. One of the most dangerous sins. One of the most tempting sins. Easy to fall into, not so easy to escape.
The novel also focuses on the importance of discernment. Eliakim has to make a hard decision. To go along with the king's decisions and pretend he agrees with them, to resign his commission altogether, or to speak out against the king and his decisions and perhaps risk his job and his life. He knows that someone needs to say something. He knows the will of God should be voiced. He just has to make up his mind to submit himself to God and trust in him.

I love this book, and I am loving this series.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: The Convenient Groom

Hunter, Denise. 2008. The Convenient Groom. Thomas Nelson Publishers. 314 pages.

The red light on Kate Lawrence's cell phone blinked a staccato warning.

Kate Lawrence, or "Dr. Kate," is ready to have her big day: not only is she finally getting married, her book is being released. What kind of book? A book about love, relationships, dating, and marriage. This "expert" is, however, about to be shamed in front of the world because her intended groom, Bryan Montgomery is a no show. Not only is he getting cold feet and backing out, he is shacking up with another woman, Stephanie. (He actually calls her when he's in this woman's bed.) What's a girl to do when she's got everything prepared for the big day except the groom? Well, if she's the heroine of a fiction novel, she's going to find another groom, and quickly. Luckily her friend, Lucas, is there to step into place.

Lucas is excited to be the groom, in fact, because he's secretly loved Kate from afar. But can this marriage of convenience transition into the real thing? Or will someone who knows the truth spill the beans? Will Kate's book be a success or a flop? Will Kate realize how useless she is in this love game? Will she see what a great man Lucas is and stop whining and pining for Bryan?

I liked this one well enough. It was cute in places. And Lucas sounded like a great guy.

But. And this really has nothing to do with the quality of the story itself. I just found myself questioning why this book was 'Christian.' It's published by a Christian publishing house, yes. And it is mostly smut-free. I mean the reader knows that Bryan is carrying on an affair behind-the-scenes. And it's never exactly stated one way or the other if Bryan had been intimate with Kate in the past. I presumed as much since the topic of her virginity never came up. But I don't know what the author intended. So don't take my word for it by any means. And any intimacies that occur between Kate and Lucas happen after the 'I do's' even if those occur before any declarations of love. So I don't have a problem necessarily with the content. It's more what is not in the book.

Not all Christian books have a focus on God, on having a personal relationship with Jesus as Savior and/or Lord. But usually, there is something--even if it's not the main focus of the book. No mention of God. No mention of personal faith. No church. No bible study. No bible reading. No prayers. No spiritual insights or 'aha' moments when she realizes that she needs God or wants God. We have a slightly shallow woman who is trying to do it all and be it all without seeking God, without turning to Him. There is nothing in the pages of this book that would give the reader any indication that the characters were Christian excepting the fact that it's a Christian publisher that some may recognize as such...and excepting page 299 where the author's note to the reader mentions that Lucas's love for Kate is meant to represent Christ's love for us. That Jesus can be any woman's knight in shining armor. A statement that leaves me slightly puzzled.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday Salon: Week In Review (February 1 - February 6)

Happy Sunday everyone! Few things would inspire me to wrestle with my Mac's in-built camera...but a new haircut is one of them. For those few friends in my life who saw my untamed mass of hair, this is a fun after shot. It was rare for me to deal with my untamedness--so I pretty much spent eighteen plus hours a day with it in various hair clips. Most never knew just how long my hair was getting. But I did end up getting around ten inches off yesterday. My hair hasn't been this short in a good while.

This week I read in the book of Daniel. (I am in the Nelson Study Bible.) I read Daniel 1 through 8. I haven't read any in the ESV Study Bible or the Wycliffe New Testament as I'm still getting over whatever I had. I'm feeling almost-myself. Not quite 100% But getting there. Better every day.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Book Review: Song of Redemption

Song of Redemption by Lynn Austin, 2005. Book Two in the Chronicles of the Kings series.

SONG OF REDEMPTION is a novelization of Hezekiah's early years reigning as king of Judah. It begins off with his religious/spiritual renewal. The land has been contaminated with idolatry for a century almost. It is time for repentance. It is time for change. With the help of a few godly advisors and priests, Hezekiah is on his way to a godly reign. The book captures his 'high' moments--the first Passover celebrations in generations--to some of his lower moments...his temptations, his weaknesses. His closest advisor, Shebna, is an ungodly man, an atheist. A man who tries to provide him worldly counself. Who tries to encourage him to stray from God's laws. To interpret them liberally. Or discard the ones he doesn't see much practicality in. With faced with threats from other nations--threats of wars--he sees no use in obeying God's laws or listening to the prophecies of God's chosen servant, Isaiah. Fortunately, Hezekiah and others close to him, such as Hilkiah and Eliakim, are there to balance out such influences. But SONG OF REDEMPTION is not Hezekiah's story alone. A much more personal story is woven throughout: that of Jerusha, an Israelite girl (teenager) kidnapped and enslaved by the Assyrian army. Can a young woman who has lived with the brutality and cruelty of repeated rape hold on to her will to survive? Is living in such horrible conditions--living with the enemy--really better than dying? What is there for her to live for? Will she ever see her family again? And if she does manage to escape, will she ever be able to live with what she's done? Can she ever get past the shame of her captivity? Song of Redemption is all about God's grace and forgiveness. All about trusting God. All about answered prayers.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Faith 'n Fiction Saturday: Questions Asked or Answered?

Today's Discussion:
I was reading over at Novel Journey the other day (a great blog, by the way!) and this post caught my eye and just really really grabbed at the heart of what I think is the conflict around "preachy" Christian fiction. So I'm going to take this quote from the quote in the post, and ask you to share your thoughts about this topic.

"Too many Christians think we are supposed to use the arts to give people the answers. We’re not. We’re supposed to use the arts to lead them into a question."
Barbara Nicolosi

What do you think? Do you think Christian fiction should provide answers or lead us to questions?

My answer: I think this is a tough question. Because reading is so very subjective. And it doesn't always come down to a book's elements or components. In a way it's like singing. You can love a song, but not like all versions of the song. The song is more than just lyrics and a melody, mere notes on a page. Even if the singer doesn't introduce variations...each recording of the song will be different depending on the singer/musician. It's partly what the singer and accompanying musicians bring to it. And it's partly how you respond to it.

In other words, I know when I like something, but I don't necessarily know why I like something. Two books can be done in a very similar way--same themes, similar premise, etc--but I respond to one more positively than the other. So what works for me in one book may not work in another book.

The most important part of a book for me is characterization. If I buy that the character is human--authentic, true-to-life, flesh-and-blood, fully developed--then I'm more open to whatever else the author has to say. If the author chooses to answer more than ask, that's fine. If I buy that character as real and actually seeking and finding, needing and wanting, all's well and good. If I don't buy the character, if it's a flat character, one that I find unbelievable or flimsy or weak then chances are I won't care what the author has to say. If a flat character is used as a means to preach then it becomes a thousand and one times more noticeable. It doesn't matter how good the message is...I just won't buy it.

I will say this...while I don't expect (or necessarily want) a full-out gospel message. If a character is seeking an answer to the question 'is there a God' or 'does God love me' then I expect the answer. If a book doesn't point you in the direction of God (and Jesus) if it's going to be that basic type of seeking then I don't know what it's doing in Christian fiction. But for other non-basic questions, then I'm fine not having all the answers. If the question is 'why is there suffering' or 'why did I lose my job' or 'why did my child die' then obviously there are no answers going to be given in a fiction book that are going to sound authentic and ring true.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Book Review: The Desires of Her Heart

Cote, Lyn. 2009. The Desires Of Her Heart.

The Desires Of Her Heart is the first in the Texas Star of Destiny series by Lyn Cote. Dorritt is a young woman from New Orleans traveling--not particularly by choice--with her family (stepfather, mother, half-sister, and their slaves) to Texas. The year? 1821. Their goal? To join Stephen F. Austin's settlement. Why Texas? Her stepfather has gambled away the family's money and they've lost almost everything. Texas is their last chance and only hope. Austin has been granted permission--by the Spanish--to have Americans come and settle down. Of course, they will be leaving the U.S. behind to live under the authority of another government, a foreign government. But when they arrive--thanks in large part to their guide Quinn--they learn that Spain is no longer in control. Mexico has declared their independance. Texas is now being ruled by Mexico...and well, Mexico isn't particularly thrilled to have these Americans come in and claim the land. They don't trust white settlers all that much. Will the family be allowed to stay? The escorting soldiers makes it an iffy proposition. Unfortunately, Dorritt has too much on her mind to worry about that. See, she's fallen for Quinn. The problem standing in the way? Well, there is her father's not-so-glowing personality--I can't quite say what he is--but more importantly to Quinn (at least) there is the fact that he "doesn't belong with" a fine lady. He's a "half breed" (to use the term in the book)--partly white (and American), part Native American. He doesn't feel good enough to marry a lady--even a lady down on her luck. But Dorritt is so head over heels in love with determined to make him see how much he is loved and wanted and needed....that she won't take his dismissal so easily. Add in the fact there is another man in the picture--a Mexican Don--a wealthy landowner--who wants her as his wife, thinks she'd make a perfect Donna. What's a girl to do? One man loves her and wants to give her everything...the other refuses to give her what she wants most of all--his heart.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Desires Of Her Heart, go HERE

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Book Review: John Calvin And His Passion for the Majesty of God

Piper, John. 2009. John Calvin And His Passion for the Majesty of God. Crossway Publishers. 59 pages.

John Calvin would approve that we begin with God rather than with him. Nothing mattered more to Calvin than the supremacy of God over all things. Focus then your attention, then, on God's self-identification in Exodus 3:14-15. Here we will see the sun in the solar system of John Calvin's thought and life.

I loved this book. It's true. Granted, I love John Calvin. And granted I love John Piper. But one of the things I loved most about this book was how straightforward it was. No complicated theological mumble-jumble. It's not that it's not scholarly--it is, there are footnotes, even. But it's not intimidating in the least. It's meant to be read. It's meant to be understood. For example,

But one thing remains unassailed: God is. He was there before we came. He will be there after we are gone. And therefore what matters in life above all things is this God. We cannot escape the simple and obvious truth that God must be the main thing in life. Life has to do with God because all the universe has to do with God, and the universe has to do with God because every atom and every emotion and every soul of every angelic, demonic, and human being belongs to God, who absolutely is. He created all that is, he sustains everything in being, he directs the course of all events, because 'from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever.' (Roman. 11:36).

The book is more than just a look at Calvin's life and theology. It's a book about how we should live and love. I love the chapters on the Bible. How the Word of God should be a vital, living, transforming power in our lives day by day. The importance of the Word in preaching and teaching. How important it is to focus on God rather than ourselves. Focus on his revealed Word instead of our own ideas.

The book is short, unintimidating, and relevant. What more could you ask for?

Nelson Study Bible NKJV

Genesis 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

Exodus 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

Leviticus 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36

Deuteronomy 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34

Joshua 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Judges 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Ruth 1 2 3 4

1 Samuel 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

2 Samuel 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

1 Kings 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

2 Kings 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

1 Chronicles 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

2 Chronicles 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36

Ezra 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Nehemiah 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Esther 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Job 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42

Psalms 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150

Proverbs 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Ecclesiastes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Song Of Solomon 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Isaiah 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66

Jeremiah 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52

Lamentations 1 2 3 4 5

Ezekiel 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48

Daniel 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Hosea 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Joel 1 2 3

Amos 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Obadiah 1

Jonah 1 2 3 4

Micah 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Nahum 1 2 3

Habakkuk 1 2 3

Zephaniah 1 2 3

Haggai 1 2

Zechariah 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Malachi 1 2 3 4

Matthew 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Mark 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Luke 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

John 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Acts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Romans 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

1 Corinthians 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

2 Corinthians 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Galatians 1 2 3 4 5 6

Ephesians 1 2 3 4 5 6

Philippians 1 2 3 4

Colossians 1 2 3 4

1 Thessalonians 1 2 3 4 5

2 Thessalonians 1 2 3

1 Timothy 1 2 3 4 5 6

2 Timothy 1 2 3 4

Titus 1 2 3

Philemon 1

Hebrews 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

James 1 2 3 4 5

1 Peter 1 2 3 4 5

2 Peter 1 2 3

1 John 1 2 3 4 5

2 John 1

3 John 1

Jude 1

Revelation 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Book Review: God & Kings

Austin, Lynn. 2005. Gods and Kings.

Gods and Kings is an excellent novel, first in a series, fictionalizing the biblical account of one of Judah’s greatest kings, Hezekiah. Beginning with his childhood, Austin shows the legacy of corruption in Judah’s royal line. The story begins, of course, with the evil king, Ahaz. The opening of the story is powerful: Hezekiah, a young child, the second born in the royal family, is awakened along with his other brothers. It is the middle of the night, hours away from dawn, and grim-faced soldiers are forcing them out of bed. Soon, these royal princes, along with other young boys, are being marched outside of the city into the Valley of Hinnom. Their destination: to worship Molech and sacrifice firstborn sons. Witnessing his older brother’s murder--decreed by his father--changes this young boy forever. Severely traumatized, he clings to his mother, Abijah. Mourning the loss of her son, Abijah realizes that there was nothing she could have done to have prevented his murder. And there is nothing that she can do to protect her remaining son from the same fate. If Ahaz chooses to sacrifice another son, she can do nothing to change his mind. Nothing to save his life. She is powerless. The daughter of a priest, Zechariah, she had been told that it was a privelige to marry into the royal family. That she should look upon it as a great honor to bear the king’s sons. But Abijah would give almost anything to be an ordinary woman with an ordinary husband. She knows that he is corrupt. Without morals. Married to a monster, Abijah has to accept her fate and rely on the small chance that perhaps by staying on the king’s good side that her son will be kept safe. After all, if she can keep the king ‘in love’ (or lust) with her, perhaps he will try to please her.
But then the fateful day comes when the country is on the verge of war. Another sacrifice must be made. Molech must be appeased. As Hezekiah is woken up once again, he knows he’s doomed. He is now the firstborn son. He will be the day’s royal sacrifice. Unless....someone will be brave enough to speak out against the nation’s idolatry.
Enter the prophet Isaiah. Who just happens to meet their procession down to the idol, Molech. He speaks, and as much as the king would like to ignore him, Isaiah’s words haunt him. But he’s not the only one: Hezekiah hears this man of God speak and his life will never be the same: “Don’t be afraid...for Yahweh has ransomed you. He has called you by name. You belong to Yahweh. When you go through deep water, Yahweh will go with you. And when you ford mighty rivers, they won’t overwhelm you. When you pass through the fire, you won’t be burned. The flames will not hurt you. For Yahweh is your God. The Holy One of Israel is your Savior” (73). When Hezekiah’s life is spared--when his father chooses another son--a son of a concubine--over his, a small seed is planted. His journey to faith has begun. Still frightened, still overwhelmed, the idea of Yahweh is the only thing that will calm this young boy’s fear. Luckily, his mother, makes a pledge to renew her own devotion to the one true God. And she seeks out her father, Zechariah. Perhaps, this priest--this retired priest--can help train this young prince up into a godly king. It won’t be easy, with the palace full of idolaters. But maybe, Hezekiah will be the beginning of a new tradition, and perhaps he’ll create a godly legacy to pass onto his children.
The novel, Gods and Kings, is divided into two parts. The first part covers his childhood. The second part covers a brief period of his adulthood beginning with his betrothal and marriage and concluding with his coronation. After his father’s murder, this twenty-five year old man assumes the throne. But it is overwhelming for him as well. He has never had an official role in the government. He doesn’t know which officials are just and which are corrupt. He doesn’t know who to believe or who to trust. Luckily, that is where Isaiah and Micah--not to mention Hilkiah and Eliakim pop into the story. With some godly advice, can this young prince assume the throne and lead the nation into revival? One thing is for sure, expectations are high. This may be Judah’s best chance for redemption and renewal.
Gods and Kings is an exciting glimpse into a familiar Bible story. At least it’s a familiar Bible story to me. I suppose not everyone is as in love with the Old Testament as I am. But as a child, there was nothing I loved more than to read the history books. I loved reading of the kings and prophets. I loved hearing about the great battles, the great conflicts. How prophets would speak out for God and really let the corrupt leaders have it. I loved their boldness. Their perseverance. While Hezekiah isn’t my favorite king after the division of Judah and Israel--that would probably be Jehosophat or Josiah--Isaiah has always been a favorite. To see his words have life, have meaning, have depth brings great power to this story. It is one thing to read about an upcoming Assyrian invasion. As modern-day readers, most of us have never faced the threat of invasion. Never faced the threat of starvation and war. The fact that the invading army is brutal--without mercy--that they rape and murder. That they pride themselves in cruelty and brutality. It is almost meaningless to read the words off the page. But this novel brings the fear, the threats, to life. You realize that these were real people...real families. That this was a life-threatening, overwhelming fear that one would have to live with for weeks, months, years even. Let’s just say, that these fictional characters made me think a lot about the reality of the terror they faced in these final years of the dynasty. That it was their own fault makes it no less terrifying.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Album of the Week: Bullfrogs and Butterflies

Bullfrogs & Butterflies: God Is My Friend (1978) is the first of four cds in the series "Bullfrogs and Butterflies." You can hear thirty-second samples here.

The Agapeland website says this cd features: Barry McGuire, George Banov, Jim & Dee Patton, Andy Davis, Kathy Salerno, Sherry Saunders, Frank Hernandez, Mary Gross, Theretha Boswell, Ane Weber, Ron Krueger.

Songs on the album include Welcome To Agapeland, Good Morning, This Is The Day, Rainy Day Song, Kid Talk, I Like Knowing God, My Hands Belong To You, Friends, Practice Makes Perfect, Bullfrogs and Butterflies, Noah, and You're So Good To Me. Throughout the songs there are some narrative bits.

"Welcome To Agapeland" is the cheerful opening song which "transports" the listeners to a cartoon-like world of love, peace, and goodwill. (I know this because the record album included illustrations for all the songs.) 5 stars

"Good Morning" continues the cheerful spirit of "Welcome To Agapeland" and unless it's used as a mean-spirited wake-somebody-else-up quite enjoyable :) 5 stars

"This Is The Day" is a softer, slower song with lyrics taken straight from Scripture. 4 stars

Psalm 118:24
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
"Rainy Day Song" is one of my favorites. It's message is that the weather (rain or shine) doesn't matter since Christians have a different sort of son shine. (Corny pun, yes, but it's still fun in its own little way.) 5 stars

"Kid Talk" is another one of my favorites. This song is a conversation between two kids: a boy and a girl. The message of the that and adults...can have a relationship with God. 5 stars

"I Like Knowing God" is sung by a spirited bunch of kids. It compares the normal "kid activities" with the more spiritual ones. Cute song. 4 stars.

"My Hands Belong To You" lacks the spirit and energy of the rest of the album, it's more of a slow-down-and worship song. 4 stars.

"Friends" was the first song on the second side of the record/cassette; so it begins off with a cheerful "Welcome Back" message. It's an upbeat song that is very catchy. 5 stars.

"Practice Makes Perfect" is an endearing song about a young girl whose piano playing is less than perfect...and her determination to keep on trying. 5 stars.

"Bullfrogs and Butterflies" is a very fun song; it's hard not to sing along with this great song. 5 stars

1 Peter 1:23
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
"Noah" is a very fun story-song (much better than the classic "Arky Arky") that, as you can guess, tells the story of Noah. This song is fun to clap and dance too. Although I spent my entire childhood listening to this album, it wasn't until recently that I noticed how much of a disco-beat this song had! 5 stars

Hebrews 11:7
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
(You can read Noah's story in Genesis 6, 7, 8, and 9.

"You're So Good To Me" is the last song on the album. It is in a way a "wind-down" song. It's probably my least favorite on the album...although it's not a bad song. 3 stars.

I grew up listening to BULLFROGS AND BUTTERFLIES: God is My Friend. It was a wonderful album then, and I'm glad to see it has been released on cd.

The music will probably seem dated to some audiences, but if you grew up in the late seventies to early eighties...these songs will transport you back. (A trip I'm quite happy to make some days.)