Monday, May 31, 2010

Lydia Brownback

I wanted to let you know about this opportunity...

Join Crossway and Lydia Brownback for Tuesday Talk, her new interactive Bible Study on Facebook (Tuesday Talk) and at the Crossway blog. Starting June 1, 2010, Lydia will kick off the discussion on Purity: A Godly Woman’s Adornment. We will be pursuing purity and godly womanhood together for 42 days! Lydia will be stopping by every Tuesday during these six weeks to host a devotional time via video. Participants can comment, ask questions, or interact with the author throughout the week as well.

We would love for you to join us! Simply join the group on Facebook (Tuesday Talk) and pick up your copy of Purity: A Godly Woman's Adornment at your favorite retailer or e-tailer.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

May Favorites

The Bookends of the Christian Life. Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington.
Rise and Shine. Illustrated by Tim Warnes.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Salon: Week In Review: May 23-May 29

This week I read...

Malachi in the ESV Thinline

Amos in the ESV Thinline

Nahum in the ESV Thinline

Zechariah in the ESV Thinline

Isaiah 46-53 in the Holman Christian Standard

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book Review: A Matter of Character

A Matter of Character. Robin Lee Hatcher. 2010. May 2010. Zondervan. 352 pages.

Maybe it was time to kill Rawhide Rick. He'd served his purpose, the old rascal. He'd hunted buffalo and fought Indians and stolen gold from hardworking miners and sent men to the gallows. Now might be the time for him to meet his Maker. The trick was deciding how to kill him.

Should Daphne McKinley kill Rawhide Rick? Can Joshua Crawford save him?

The year is 1918. And Daphne is a dime novelist. Of course, at the beginning, when readers first meet her, no one knows she's a published writer. Dime novels aren't necessarily books to be proud of having written, or of having read, after all, whether written by a man or a woman. Her pen name is D.B. Morgan.

Joshua Crawford is an out of work reporter with an agenda. He is the grandson of "Rawhide Rick." His grandfather, Richard Terrell, went by that nickname and Joshua is so not happy with this "D.B. Morgan" for making his grandfather the villain in the McFarland Chronicles. The grandfather he knew was loving, compassionate, generous, kind, good. He's angry, and he's searching for the truth. But first he has to find this D.B. Morgan and have a few choice words.

A Matter of Character is the third (and final) book in the Sisters of Bethlehem series by Robin Lee Hatcher. However, each one can be read on its own. I have not read the previous two books, and I did just fine. The three books have overlapping characters, but each is narrated by a different character. It is a romance novel.

I liked this one. I did. It was interesting to see this hero and heroine clash with one another. To see their relationship slowly develop through the weeks and months. I liked the way these two challenged one another.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, May 24, 2010

Book Review: The Last Christian

The Last Christian. David Gregory. 2010. Waterbrook Press. 416 pages

I see your neurons firing, Ray.

The Last Christian has an interesting premise. A very thought-provoking premise. It's set in 2088, in the United States, for the most part. In this day and age, Christianity is essentially dead.

Abby Caldwell, our heroine, is the daughter of a missionary couple; she has only known one way of life, the Christian way of life. She's from Papua New Guinea--from the jungle where she was born and raised. But when a mysterious illness kills everyone in her village, well, she sets off on an adventure of her own. She's on her way to America to try to fulfill her grandfather's vision.

Abby received a message--though the message came sixteen years late--from her grandparents. They told her of a dream, a vision. Of how she may be America's greatest hope. Of how she may be the one to bring Christianity back to a country, a nation.

But fulfilling that dream may cost her her life. Because the country is not only unreceptive to the gospel, but openly hostile. She may face jail time for her "hate speech" if she tries to share the gospel with others.

Of course, that is only the beginning of the story David Gregory has written. The Last Christian reads more like an eery Twilight-Zone episode. Artificial intelligence. Silicon Brains. The obsession to combine technology and biology--to take humanity to a whole other level, to be transhuman. The quest of driven men to live forever and ever.

Science. Politics. Religion. Ambition. Greed. Murder. The Last Christian is a compelling read. It is a bit more premise-driven, action-driven, than character-driven, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

What I liked best about The Last Christian was it made me think. I'm not sure I liked every little thing about the book. The book makes some strong statements here and there about our church culture, our faith. But. If nothing else it makes you think about faith. What would happen--what could happen--if faith fails. (I think truth is infinitely more important than entertainment value. That the church shouldn't be so open to compromising the truth--changing the gospel--in order to bring more people in the doors.) I liked that Abby didn't have all the answers. That she wasn't perfect. That she was human. That she had her own faith challenges to work out.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Book Review: Jane Austen

Christian Encounters: Jane Austen. Peter Leithart. 2010. March 2010. Thomas Nelson. 175 pages.

Neither Jane Austen nor her family could leave her characters alone.

Peter Leithart's biography of Jane Austen was, for the most part, a balanced presentation. Readers are introduced to Jane Austen's world. The society and culture in which she lived, her family, her friends. The times in which Austen lived were complex. And this background information can help readers place it all in context. Readers get a complete account of her life and death. And then, of course, there is Austen's fiction.

Leithart addresses all six novels (Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion) as well as examining some of her juvenile pieces. How did critics receive Austen in her lifetime? How did those opinions change in the decades (and centuries) since her death?

The book, for the most part, is a nice balance of analysis and biography. I did not always agree with Leithart's analysis of Austen's novels, however. Sometimes I really disagreed with his analysis. I especially disagreed with his analysis of Persuasion.

I found some chapters of this one to be interesting. Others I found a bit more on the dry side. (Not that they weren't informative.) I was pleased to see so many quotes throughout the book. It's nice to know that a lot of work went into this one. And that in many places, Leithart lets Austen speak for herself.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday Salon: Week in Review: May 16-22

This week I read

Jonah in the ESV Thinline
Obadiah in the ESV Thinline
Philippians in the ESV Thinline
Colossians in the ESV Thinline
Isaiah 40-45 in the Holman Christian Standard

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, May 17, 2010

Book Review: Life In Spite of Me

Life, In Spite of Me: Extraordinary Hope After A Fatal Choice. Kristen Jane Anderson. Tricia Goyer. 2010. May 2010. Multnomah. 224 pages.

Numb. The cold Illinois wind chilled my body. Numb. My mind, my heart.

Kristen Anderson shares her story in Life, In Spite of Me. She shares how she battled depression and suicidal thoughts. How she miraculously survived her suicide attempt. Though the attempt left her without both of her legs, Anderson found hope, found Jesus, and found a reason to keep living life, to keep reaching out to others, to keep sharing her story, her faith, with others with the hopes that she can make a difference (with God's help, of course) in others' lives.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Salon: Week In Review: May 9 - 15

This week I

read Isaiah 28-39 in the Holman Christian Standard
read Joel in the ESV Thinline
read Micah in the ESV Thinline
read Haggai in the ESV Thinline

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Review: Jesus by Gennady Spirin

Jesus. Illustrated by Gennady Spirin. 2010. March 2010. Marshall Cavendish. 32 pages.

This picture book uses the text of the King James Version of the Bible. The book provides readers with details about Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. It highlights key passages from the four gospels to share with readers (of all ages) the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

13 different events are highlighted within the book: The Annunciation, The Birth, The Baptism, The Boy Jesus in the Temple, The Fast and Temptation of Jesus, The Marriage in Cana, The Sermon on the Mount, The Transfiguration, The Raising of Lazarus, The Last Supper, The Crucifixion, The Resurrection, The Ascension.

I'm not the biggest fan of this artistic style. But you can't really go wrong with the text of this one! And it is nice to see a picture book biography of Jesus. So even though I'm not in love with the illustrations of this one--I am happy to see that there are books like this being published.

Faith 'n' Fiction Saturday: Heaven

Amy's topic this week is heaven. She's asking us to share our favorite descriptions of heaven. She is thinking of books and movies. (Though she does mention one Andrew Peterson song.) But for me, I think mostly of music.

I Can Only Imagine. MercyMe. I love just about everything about this song. Because heaven is so much more than we can imagine. We can't even begin to understand how wonderful, how amazing, how glorious a place heaven is. I think we get so caught up in living this life, in living in the here and now, that we don't realize that this life is just the beginning. That there is so much more awaiting us as believers.

Which brings me to, Not Home Yet by Steven Curtis Chapman. One of my favorite verses,

I know there'll be a moment
I know there'll be a place
Where we will see our Saviour
And fall in His embrace
So let us not grow weary
Or too content to stay
'Cause we are not home yet
We are not home yet
Not home yet
So let us journey on
There are so many Steven Curtis Chapman songs I could mention. Like With Hope.

And Heaven is The Face. If you haven't heard this one, you really, really should listen to it.

I could also mention just about any song on his Beauty Will Rise album. Like February 20th.

And See.

Here's a snippet.

But right now, all I can say is "Lord, how long
Before you come and take away this aching?"
This night of weeping seems to have no end.
But when the morning light breaks through,
We'll open up our eyes and we will see

It's everything that He said that it would be
And even better than we would believe
And he's counting down the days 'til He says "Come with me."
And finally he'll wipe every tear from our eyes
And make everything new, just like he promised
Wait and see, just wait and see, wait and see

Switching artists--lest you think I just listen to Steven Curtis Chapman--let's focus on Andrew Peterson. I love, love, love Andrew Peterson.

More. I couldn't find a YouTube clip for More. But here are the lyrics. (And a link to someone covering the song.) I love, love, love this song. I have played this one SO MANY times to help heal my brokenness.
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
After the Last Tear Falls. This isn't the official video, mind you. Someone has created a slideshow to go with the lyrics. But at least you can hear the song. And it's oh-so-beautiful.

And this is just about the only Newsong song that I love. But oh how I love it. Fingertips and Noses.

Up in the hills somewhere in Kentucky
In a little old school way back in the nothing
Where special kids born with special needs
Are sent to learn life's ABCs

Their teacher, Mrs. Jones, tells them all about Jesus
How in the twinkling of an eye He's coming back to get us
About streets of gold and pearly gates
How they want to go, they just can't wait
And she can't keep them in their seats
They're all at the windows straining to see

And it's
Fingertips and noses pressed to the windowpanes
Longing eyes, expectant hearts for Him to come again
All they know is that they love Him so
And if He said He'd come, He's coming
And they can't keep their windows clean
For fingertips and noses

She tried to explain to the kids about His coming
She tried to calm them down, but they just wouldn't listen
They just giggled and they clapped their hands
They're so excited that He's coming for them
And the first thing you know they're out of their seats
Back at the windows straining to see

Where will Jesus find us when He comes again?
Will we be like little children waiting just for Him?

With our
Fingertips and noses pressed to the windowpanes
Longing eyes, expectant hearts for Him to come again
All we know is that we love Him so
And if He said He'd come, He's coming
And we can't keep our windows clean
For our fingertips and noses
And then there is Rich Mullins' That Where I Am, There You May Also Be.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, May 14, 2010

Book Review: Crossing Oceans

Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes. 2010. April 2010. Tyndale. 384 pages.

Nothing deepens a stream like a good rain...or makes it harder to cross.

Jenny is going back home. But she's not going alone. She has her young daughter, Isabella, with her. What will her father say? What will her father do? Will she be welcomed back with open arms even after all these years? Has she reached the place where she'd welcome his open arms? After all, part of her still holds a grudge for how he's treated her in the past. How he reacted to her mother's death. How he reacted to the news that she was pregnant. But Jenny is out of options. She's dying. And her little girl will need some place to call home. Will it be with her grandfather and great-grandmother? Or will it perhaps be with her father (and stepmother)--a man who doesn't even know she exists?

Can Jenny find peace and love in her last few months of life?

I liked this one. It was a bittersweet novel, of course, but you know that going into it. A book about a mother dying of cancer and leaving her daughter behind, has to be sad. It has to be heartbreaking. But this one isn't without hope, without love. So I did like it.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book Review: Rise and Shine!

Rise and Shine. Illustrated by Tim Warnes. (Song is in the public domain.) 2010. February 2010. Board Book. Simon & Schuster. 26 pages.

Rise and shine
and give God the glory, glory.
Rise and shine
and give God the glory, glory.
Rise and shine
and give God the glory, glory
children of the Lord.

If there was an award for adorableness, I would so give it to Rise and Shine! What we have is the traditional song published with oh-so-clever and oh-so-cute illustrations. The details! Oh the details! I love this bear family. I do. I love this bear child. There's just something so joyful, so right about this one.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Mighty Acts of God

Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book. Written by Starr Meade. Illustrated by Tim O'Connor. 2010. Crossway. 288 pages.

Even though the Bible is made up of sixty-six different books with many different authors, written over a period of centuries, it tells one main story. That story is the story of God planning, creating, redeeming, and perfecting people who would be his own special people. The main character of the Bible story is God. In smaller story after smaller story, he is the one who plans, who promises, who keeps his promises, who saves, who blesses, and who judges. Each story shows us God at work.

What should you expect from Mighty Acts of God? Stories from both the Old and New Testaments. Each story is several pages long. This book focuses more on text than illustrations. So perhaps it's for an older audience, or a family audience with a blend of ages. (It is not as simple as it could be, as it should be for the very young.)

Within each story words are defined (as needed) and doctrinal statements are made. These declarations appear in a different color. (Old Testament is red; New Testament in green.) What kinds of declarations? Well, from the first story, "The Story of Creation" readers learn "God is eternal," "God alone is completely independent," and "God's word is so powerful that he commands things that don't exist to exist, and they obey." From the second story, "Adam and Eve Sin" readers learn, "Because God made us, he is our Lord and our Master. He makes the rules and gives the orders and we must obey," and "God didn't make the world as it is. Everything he created was good. Sin damaged God's creation and brought in all that is ugly." Here is how sin is defined, by the way, "Sin is doing what we want to do instead of what God wants us to do." (21) And here is how grace is defined, "Grace is the giving of blessings and good things to people who do not deserve them." (25)

Each story concludes with discussion questions. (Some of these discussion questions are tough. I'm not sure how easy it would be as a child to answer some of these. Though I suppose that is where the family part comes in. Still, I think a few of these (not all of these) might even challenge adults. Especially if the adults are new to the faith.)

What did I like about Mighty Acts of God? I liked the theology. I really liked the complexity of it. Some children's bible books are simple--really simple. And that does serve a purpose. I think with really young ones especially. This book offers a more challenging--and yes in some ways more biblical--approach to the concept of a bible story book. It doesn't stay away from doctrine, from theology, from defining faith essentials. It has a way of making you think--which in my opinion is a good thing. It is much more than a story.

This one is best read (I think) in small doses. A story or two at a time. Anything more than that, and I think it becomes a bit too much.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday Salon: Week In Review: May 2-May 8

This week I

finished 1 Corinthians in the ESV Thinline Bible
read 2 Corinthians in the ESV Thinline Bible
read Hosea in the ESV Thinline Bible
read Isaiah 22-27 in the Holman Christian Standard Bible

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, May 7, 2010

Book Review: The Scarlet Letter

Scarlet Letter. Nathaniel Hawthorne. 1850. 237 pages.

A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

This "review" will mainly be observations.

I skipped "The Custom House" introduction to the novel. I have no idea if anything in this introduction by Hawthorne is important, is relevant to understanding the novel. But I know that I never would have finished the book if I'd had to finish this introduction.

I don't trust Hawthorne. I don't trust his representation of the Puritans. I think it is just a little too easy for authors to make Puritans the ultimate bad guys.

I think it would be horrible if The Scarlet Letter was a person's only exposure to Christianity. Because you know what, what this book lacks--really lacks--is the gospel message.

Though I suppose you could say that it's content is still relevant today. Stories about ministers (some famous, some not so much) confessing to their congregation, confessing to the world, apologizing for making big, huge mistakes in their personal lives.

I don't think the lack-of-gospel has anything to do with the Puritan characters, the Puritan background. I think one only has to begin reading Puritan theologians to discover gospel truths--gospel gems everywhere.

The characters. How much do we really know about Hester, about Pearl, about Arthur, about Roger? Are any of these characters truly three-dimensional, truly fleshed out characters? Especially Hester, Pearl, and Roger.

Pearl. I thought Hawthorne's descriptions of this child were strange. And it's not because I buy into this Pearl-isn't-quite-a-normal child argument. I don't think her being born out of wedlock makes her otherworldly. I think Hawthorne's description of childhood, of parenthood is lacking in some ways.

Hester. I had trouble connecting with Hester. I'm glad she's painted in a positive light. I'm glad that others come to see her as a good woman. However, when it comes right down to it. I still don't feel like I genuinely know her. I still don't understand her. I am not sure exactly what's right and wrong here. Speaking of the to-tell-or-not-to-tell dilemma. Whether her keeping quiet is the right thing, the noble thing, the brave thing to do. I do get the sense that she felt it was the right thing to do.

Roger. I thought he was very one dimensional. He was only meant to be evil and out for revenge. Yet, I had a hard time buying him as a real person, a human character. No one is so completely evil, so obviously up to no good. And if Roger really was this type of person. Why was Arthur so very, very slow to realize this? And what was Roger's motivation? Did he really care about Hester? I don't get the idea that he really cared about her as a woman, as a wife. And since no one knows that he is the wronged husband, his pride--his vanity--isn't being threatened. If no one knows he's Hester's husband, if no one connects Hester with him at all, not even a little bit, why dedicate your whole entire life--your whole entire being--into discovering the truth and getting revenge?

This observation isn't so much about Roger as it is the writing of the book itself. I'm trying to think if there was ever a moment when I didn't know the truth. When I didn't have all the dots connected. When I didn't know who Pearl's father was. I don't know if this is because this one is a classic and this spoiler is just part of our culture. (Like knowing that Elizabeth and Darcy are so-meant-to-be.) Or if Hawthorne is to blame. Is there suspense? Is there a real mystery to be solved by the reader?

Arthur. Where to start?! His case is both tragic and stupid. Stupid because it's senseless. If this minister had ever opened his Bible at all, he would know that his misery is so unnecessary. His burden didn't have to be so heavy. His guilt, his shame--hidden though it was--was so pointless. Had Arthur never once read Psalm 51? Seriously?! How could he not know about David and Bathsheba? How could he not know that this man--this king--that committed adultery (and murder) was a man after God's own heart? Why was the concept of man's sinfulness and Christ's righteousness so foreign to him? Why did he not grasp the concept of grace? of mercy? of forgiveness? Why did he not understand that we all have sinned and fallen short? Why did he not know that we all like sheep have gone astray? Why does he not know that each and every one of us is in need of a Savior? Why does he think it's all about him? Why does he think he can be holy all on its own? Why is he trying to earn his way into heaven, into God's favor? Why can't he look upon Jesus? call upon Jesus? How could he be a minister in a church and not know the gospel? Why didn't Arthur read the Psalms? Or the four gospels? Or the book of Romans? Just think of the needless suffering, the restless days and nights. Think of being tormented in your very soul for years and years with no hope. That is tragic. God is such a good God, a merciful God.

Did I like Arthur? Not really. He just didn't get it. I'm not sure that any of the characters did.

Am I glad I read this one? Yes. I think I may have "read" this one in high school. But was my reading more than skimming? I can't remember. Even though I didn't necessarily "like" this one, I can't deny that it was thought-provoking.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Book Review: The Bookends of the Christian Life

The Bookends of the Christian Life. Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington. 2009. March 2009. Crossway Publishers. 160 pages.

Most of us have experienced the difficulty of putting books on a bookshelf without having a set of bookends to keep them in place. You know what happens.

I loved this book. I love, love, loved this book. It's short. It's straight forward. Its message is oh-so-relevant. It's a book I think everyone would benefit from reading. (And I don't say that lightly, I don't say that about every book I read.)

Bridges and Bevington argue that there are two bookends of the Christian life. The first bookend is the Righteousness of Christ. The second bookend is the Power of the Holy Spirit. (In a way, you could say this book was all about justification and sanctification.) By understanding these two bookends, these two concepts, readers will get a very good picture of the gospel, a good idea of what it means to be a Christian.

The book also addresses three gospel enemies: self-righteousness, persistent guilt, and self-reliance. I can't say how much these three chapters helped me! I am so thankful that this book was written.

Here is one of my favorite passages:
There's an old play on the word justified: "just-as-if-I'd never sinned." But here's another way of saying it: "just-as-if-I'd always obeyed." Both are true. The first refers to the transfer of our moral debt to Christ so we're left with a "clean" ledger, just as if we'd never sinned. The second tells us our ledger is now filled with the perfect righteousness of Christ, so it's just as if we'd always obeyed. That's why we can come confidently into the very presence of God (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19) even though we're still sinners--saved sinners to be sure, but still practicing sinners, every day in thought, word, deed, and motive.
The perfect righteousness of Christ, which is credited to us, is the first bookend of the Christian life. The news of this righteousness is the gospel. Christ's righteousness is given to us by God when we genuinely trust in Christ as our Savior. From that moment on, from God's point of view, the first bookend is permanently in place. We're justified; we're credited with his righteousness. Or to say it differently, we're clothed with his righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) so that as God looks at us in union with Christ, he always sees us to be as righteous as Christ himself. And that changes everything. (26-27)
That does change everything. If only every Christian would remember that, could know that with certainty. Oh what a difference this could make!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sunday Salon: Week in Review: April 25-May 1)

This week I...

finished Romans in the ESV Thinline Bible
read 1 Corinthians 1-10 in the ESV Thinline Bible
read Isaiah 6-21 in the Holman Christian Standard Bible

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible