Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tackling A Theological Chunkster: Day 4 and 5, Charnock

Stephen Charnock,
The Existence and Attributes of God,
A few weeks ago, I began reading Stephen Charnock's The Existence and Attributes of God. I shared my thoughts on the first discourse, On the Existence of God, in three posts. One to reflect each day I spent reading. Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

This week I've been able to read the second discourse, On Practical Atheism. This second discourse was 86 pages long--a full twenty pages longer than the first discourse. BUT. I found "On Practical Atheism" to be a much easier read. I found it VERY relevant!

So what is the second discourse about? To put it simply--concisely--you could sum it up and say "T is for Total Depravity." Only, you'd probably have to be a TULIP, to get that.

So instead the discourse could be summed up by conjugating one little verb: I sin, you sin, he sins, she sins, we sin, they sin. (Psalms 14:1-3, KJV), (Psalms 58:3-4, KJV), (Ecclesiastes 8:11, KJV), (Romans 3:9-23, KJV), (Romans 6:23, KJV), (Isaiah 53:6, KJV), (Ephesians 2:1-3, KJV).

Or in other words, sin matters. Sin is a BIG DEAL to God, and it should be a BIG DEAL to us because it separates us from God. In our natural state, with our sin nature, we are SEPARATED from God. Some have a tendency to think that sin doesn't all. Would it surprise you to learn that some people claiming to be Christian don't believe in all?! At least they live like it.  No, we have a sin problem in the world. And instead of thinking that "God cares about sin and I should too"...we reverse it and say... "I don't care about sin so why should God?" 

I think Shaun Grove's "What's Wrong With The World" should be required listening. Seriously! Can you listen to it too much??? I don't think so! You can listen to it on his site, and be sure to read the lyrics! (The link to listen will not open in a new window unless you tell it to--so keep that in mind.)

This discourse isn't ONLY about sin. It's also about regeneration or rebirth or being born again. How even this is a gift from God. For it is impossible with man. (Matthew 19:25-27, KJV), (John 6:37-40, KJV), (John 6:44-47), (John 10:14-18, KJV), (Matthew 11:27-30, KJV), (Ephesians 2:7-9, KJV).

Also touched upon in this discourse is God's sovereignty and Lordship.

It also touches upon the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Not that it says that plainly and clearly. But anyone who is familiar with that catechism could not fail to miss the connection.
What is the chief end of man?
Man's chief end is to glorify God, [a] and to enjoy him for ever. [b]
[a] Ps. 86:9; Isa. 60:21; Rom. 11:36; I Cor. 6:20; 10:31; Rev. 4:11
[b] Ps. 16:5-11; 144:15; Isa. 12:2; Luke 2:10; Phil. 4:4; Rev. 21:3-4 
Much of the discourse deals with how we have a tendency to create God in our own image, how we craft and shape and imagine a god of our own making and then call him God. As if by our wills we can change God.

First sentence of "On Practical Atheism": Practical atheism is natural to man in his depraved state, and very frequent in the hearts and lives of men.

Words of Wisdom from Stephen Charnock:

He that denies any essential attribute, may be said to deny the being of God. (89)
The natural bent of every man's heart is distant from God. (90)
The leprosy of atheism had infected the whole mass of human nature. (91)
Men's practices are the best indexes of their principles: the current of a man's life is the counterpart of the frame of his heart. (92)
Though lusts and pleasures be diverse, yet they are all united in disobedience to Him. (93)
The language of every one of these is, I would be a Lord to myself, and would not have a God superior to me. (93)
1. Man naturally disowns the rule God sets him.
2. He owns any other rule rather than that of God's prescribing.
3. These he doth in order to the setting himself up as his own rule.
4. He makes himself not only his own rule, but he would make himself the rule of God, and give laws to his Creator. (99)
How unable are our memories to retain the substance of spiritual truth; but like sand in a glass, put in at one part and runs out at the other! Have not many a secret wish, that the Scripture had never mentioned some truths, or that they were blotted out of the Bible, because they face their consciences, and discourage those boiling lusts they would with eagerness and delight pursue? (101)
The meeting of a divine truth and the heart of man, is like the meeting of two tides, the weaker swells and foams. (102)
How many forced interpretations of Scripture have been coined to give content to the lusts of men, and the divine rule forced to bend, and be squared to men's loose and carnal apprehensions! (105)
Christ conversed with sinners, as a physician with diseased persons, to cure them, not approve them. (105)
The reason we have such hard thoughts of God's will is, because we have such high thoughts of ourselves. (107)
If self-denial be the greatest part of godliness, the great letter in the alphabet of religion; self-love is the great letter in the alphabet of practical atheism. (121)
Many, if not most actions, materially good in the world, are done more because they are agreeable to self, than as they are honorable to God. (124)
We are willing God should be our benefactor, but not our ruler; we are content to admire his excellency and pay him a worship, provided he will walk by our rule. "This commits a riot upon his nature, To think him to be what we ourselves ‘would have him, and wish him to be’ (Psalm 1. 21), we would amplify his mercy and contract his justice; we would have his power enlarged to supply our wants, and straitened’ when it goes about to revenge our crimes ; we would have him wise to defeat our enemies, but not to disappoint our unworthy projects ; we would have him all eye to regard our indigence, and blind not to discern our guilt ; we would have him true to his promises, regardless of his precepts, and false to his threatenings ; we would new mint the nature of God according to our models, and shape a God according to our own fancies, as he made us at first according to his own image;" instead of obeying him, we would have him obey us; instead of owning and admiring his perfections, we would have him strip himself of his infinite excellency, and clothe himself with a nature agreeable to our own. This is not only to set up self as the law of God, but to make our own imaginations the model of the nature of God. (127-128)
Men set a high price upon themselves, and are angry God values them not at the same rate, as if their judgment concerning themselves were more piercing than His. (131)
When we come into the presence of God with lusts reeking in our hearts, and leap from sin to duty, we would impose the law of our corruption on the holiness of God. (133)
Sin, indeed, may well be termed a man's self, because it is, since the loss of original righteousness, the form that overspreads every part of our souls. (137)
Sin and self are all one: what is called a living to sin in one place, is called a living to self in another. (137)
Our thoughts run more delightfully upon the track of our own perfections, than the excellency of God; and when we find anything of a seeming worth, that may make us glitter in the eyes of the world, how cheerfully do we grasp and embrace ourselves! (138)
When we love only ourselves, and act for no other end but ourselves, we invest ourselves with the dominion which is the right of God, and take the crown from His head. (141)
He that loves pleasure more than God, says in his heart there is no God but his pleasure. (143)
God is not in our thoughts; seldom the sole object of them. We have durable thoughts of transitory things, and flitting thing of a durable and eternal good. (143)
There is no fool that saith in his heart, There is no God, but he sets up something in his heart as a god. (144)
Selfish hearts will charge God with neglect of them, if He be not as quick in their supplies as they are in their desires. (153)
We join a new notion of God in our vain fancies, and represent him not as He is, but as we would have him to be, fit for our own use, and suited to our own pleasure. We set that active power of imagination on work, and there comes out a god (a calf) whom we own for a notion of God. (155)
..."while they fancy a God indulgent to their crimes without their repentance!" (157)
..."they fashion a god that they believe will smile upon their crimes. They imagine a god that plays with them; and though he threatens doth it only to scare, but means not as he speaks. A god they fancy like themselves, that would do as they would do, not be angry for what they count a light offence." (157)
Our wilful misapprehensions of God are the cause of our misbehavior in all his worship. Our slovenly and lazy services tell him to His face what slight thoughts and apprehensions we have of Him. (157)
Men do not conceive of God as He would have them; but he must be what they would have him, one of their own shaping. This is worse than idolatry...It is more commendable to think him not to be, than to think him such a one as is inconsistent with his nature. Better to deny his existence, than deny his perfection. (158)
Sin set us first at a distance from God; and every new act of gross sin estrangeth us more from him, and indisposeth us more for him: it makes us both afraid and ashamed to be near him. (158-59)
God and we are naturally at as great a distance, as light and darkness, life and death, heaven and hell. (159)
We turn our backs when he stretches out his hand, stop our ears when he lifts up his voice. We fly from him when he courts us, and shelter ourselves in any bush from his merciful hand that would lay hold upon us. (161)
God stands ready, but the heart stands off; grace is full of entreaties, and the soul full of excuses; Divine love offers, and carnal self-love rejects. (161)
Our nature and will must be changed, that our actions may regard God as our end, that we may delightfully meditate on him, and draw the motives of our obedience from him. Since this atheism is seated in nature, the change must be in our nature. (163)
There must be a supernatural principle before we can live a supernatural life. (163)
No practical atheist ever yet turned to God, but was turned by God. (165)
Nothing can turn the tide of nature, but a power above nature. (165)
Man cannot rise to an acknowledgment of God without God. (166)
An atheist by nature can no more alter his own temper and engrave in himself the divine nature, than a rock can carve itself into the statue of a man, or a serpent that is an enemy to man could or would raise itself to the nobility of the human nature. That soul that by nature would strip God of his rights, cannot, without a divine power, be made conformable to him, and acknowledge sincerely and cordially the rights and glory of God. (166)
Man by nature would annihilate God and deify himself; the gospel glorifies God and annihilates man. (167)
Be often in the views of the excellencies of God. When we have no intercourse with God by delightful meditations, we begin to be estranged from him, and prepare ourselves to live without God in the world. Strangeness is the mother and nurse of disaffection: we slight men sometimes because we know them not...A daily converse with God would discover so much loveliness in his nature, so much of sweetness in his ways, that our injurious thoughts of God would wear off, and we should count it our honor to contemn ourselves and magnify him...Exercised thoughts on him would issue out in affections to him. (172)
Let us therefore consider him as the only happiness; set up the true God in our understandings; possess our hearts with a deep sense of his desirable excellency above all other things. (173)
Prize and study the Scripture. We can have no delight in meditation on him, unless we know him; and we cannot know him but by the means of his own revelation; when the revelation is despised, the revealer will be of little esteem. Men do not throw off God from being their rule, till they throw off Scripture from being their guide. (173)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What's On Your Nightstand -- June 2011

What's On Your Nightstand is hosted by 5 Minutes for Books. In my "currently reading" I've got the New English Bible, I'm trying to finish up the New Testament (Matthew, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon). I've also got an odd assortment of books to finish up so that I can complete my third reading of the Bible for this year--Hosea, Joel, Amos, Zechariah, and Malachi. It is already an odd assortment of translations I'm counting towards this third reading--but I think I'm going to try to finish up in the New King James MacArthur Student Bible.
In my nonfiction, I am halfway through Woodrow Kroll's Taking Back the Good Book. This is a reread for me--it was a book I first read in 2007--and I am loving it. I would definitely recommend it!!! I am one chapter into Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll. I am liking it so far--though it has a very casual approach. I am also attempting to read reading Stephen Charnock's The Existence and Attributes of God. (You can see my thoughts on the first discourse in three posts.)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Martha

Martha. Diana Wallis Taylor. 2011. Revell. 256 pages.

Martha watched her father walk slowly up the road as the afternoon shadows appeared, and he was smiling. 

Diana Wallis Taylor's newest novel is about Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus. Her story--in the Bible--can be found in Luke 10 and John 11 and 12.

I enjoyed this novel. I enjoyed the fictional framework of it. How we see Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and their father, Ephraim, within their community of Bethany. How we get a glimpse of this culture, the customs of village life, etc. (We see births and deaths and weddings and funerals and feasts and festivals and such.) Martha, as the oldest, has taken charge of this household. We see her hard at work, but we also see her as truly loving her family and watching out to see that all their needs are met. We see her in tender, loving relationships with her father, sister, and brother. We also see her friendship with Esther. Esther's father, Simon, is a leper for many years before being miraculously healed by Jesus. (Presumably the Simon mentioned in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9).

When the novel first opens, we see her dreaming of more. We see her wanting to get married and have a family of her own. Her father tries his best to arrange a marriage for his daughter, but, that doesn't quite work out as hoped. Taylor gives Martha a bittersweet love affair (and by affair, I don't mean something trashy or impure; I mean she loves him and he loves her, and the two want to get married and live happily ever after...) with a God-fearing Roman soldier, who is killed in the line of duty. If he had lived, Martha would have happily left her family and her community behind. But, of course, he didn't live. So Martha remains year after year. Martha, after several years, comes to accept her singleness and welcomes her role as being the caretaker in her own family.

The strength of this novel is in the imagining of village life during the time of Christ. The scenes taken directly from Scripture, however, feel flatter. Not in a bad way. I'll try to clarify what I mean exactly by that. There is a richness in the Scripture text. There just is something wonderful about the Scripture itself.  There is already drama and emotion and dialogue. It doesn't need any creative touches on the author's part to make it better. It can't be made better. In fact, if these scenes were changed too much, it would be more of a criticism against the author. So reading those scenes in the book made me want to read the Scriptural account of these events. Which is why I said it wasn't a bad thing.

From Luke 10:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42, ESV)

I do recommend reading John 11 in its entirety. But here are the Martha bits:
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you. Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world." When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you."  (John 11:17-28, ESV)
And a brief mention in John 12:
Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at a table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, "Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me. (John 12:1-8, ESV)
Diana Wallis Taylor has also written Journey to the Well.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, June 27, 2011

Five Questions from... Am I Really a Christian?

I love to read nonfiction. I do. (You may have noticed that!) I love it when authors ask really great questions in their books. I love questions that challenge me and make me think.

I thought I would start sharing *some* of these questions with you. I would LOVE to hear what you think...

This week's questions come from Mike McKinley's Am I Really A Christian? [My review]
Have you ever examined your life to see whether you are really a Christian? If not, why not? If so, what criteria did you use? What did you conclude? (26)
How would you respond to someone who argues that true Christianity is not a set of religious dogmas that we must affirm, but instead is a call to be gentle and loving and generous as Jesus was? (56)
How can perseverance be both our responsibility and God's responsibility? (88)
What does Christian love look like? How is that love rooted in the love that God has for people? (103)
Why is it important for genuine believers to have assurance that they are God's children? How would they relate to God differently if they were not sure that they were saved? (133)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Salon: Week In Review June 19-25

This week I read

Psalms 51-150 in the NASB Thinline Bible
Ezekiel in the NKJV MacArthur Student Bible
Romans in the NKJV MacArthur Student Bible
Ephesians in the NKJV MacArthur Student Bible
1 Timothy in the NKJV MacArthur Student Bible
2 Timothy in the NKJV MacArthur Student Bible
Titus in the NKJV MacArthur Student Bible
Philemon in the NKJV MacArthur Student Bible
1 Peter in the New English Bible
2 Peter in the New English Bible

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Book Review: Am I Really A Christian?

Am I Really A Christian? Mike McKinley. Foreword by Kirk Cameron. 2011. Crossway. 160 pages.

From the introduction: This is a book aimed at convincing you that you may not be a Christian. I want you to ask the question, "Am I Really A Christian?" because I'm convinced there are a lot of people in this world who think they are Christian but are not. Does that surprise you or make you feel a bit uncomfortable? Does knowing the 'aim' of this one make you more or less likely to pick it up?

Mike McKinley continues,
"Imagine for a minute that we're all running in a race. According to the rules of this race, it doesn't matter how we place, but it is absolutely critical that we finish. Not only that, our eternal destiny hangs on whether we finish this race. Finishing means eternal joy. Failing to finish, for whatever reason, means eternal suffering. This would be a pretty important race, would it not?
Now imagine that, looking along the racecourse, we see people dressed in running shorts and fancy sneakers, but for some reason they are sitting by the side of the road. Other people are crouched down, still as statues, tense, poised, and ready in the starting blocks. But they never move; they just stay there. Some people are wandering around in circles. Still others are running the wrong way.
Suppose then we stop to talk to these wayward runners and nonrunners. Quickly it becomes clear that they are convinced they're running well. They say they're looking forward to completing the race and receiving the substantial reward. They smile and talk dreamily about life beyond the finish line. The problem is, we know that they will never finish the race given their pace or direction.
Tell me: What would be the loving thing to do in that case? Would love motivate us to ignore their confusion? Would love motivate us to politely nod and say nothing? Of course not. Love would require us to warn them, to convince them, to plead with them to change their course.

That is the spirit in which I offer this book to you. (14-15)
In seven chapters, he invites readers to examine their lives to see if they are truly in the faith. The chapter titles are:

  • You are not a Christian just because you say that you are...
  • You are not a Christian if you haven't been born again...
  • You are not a Christian just because you like Jesus...
  • You are not a Christian if you enjoy sin...
  • You are not a Christian if you do not endure to the end...
  • You are not a Christian if you don't love other people...
  • You are not a Christian if you love your stuff...

Did you hesitate over any of those while reading them? It would be hard not to, wouldn't it?

In the final two chapters, McKinley discusses assurance--how believers can be assured of their salvation--and the role of the church in the believer's life.

I believe this book is important. I do. And some chapters are crucial, in my opinion. For example, in chapter two, McKinley writes:
In short, a Christian believes:
1. We are sinners, fully deserving the condemnation of a holy God who hates all sin and wickedness
2. God, in his mercy, took on human flesh in the person of Jesus and lived the perfect life of obedience to God that we should have lived.
3. He gave up his life, on the cross, to bear the penalty for our sins, and he was raised from the dead in victory and glory as God's promised King.
4. Anyone who turns to Jesus in repentance and faith is completely forgiven and adopted into God's family. (29-30)
And in chapter three, he says:
"In order to have faith, we must know certain facts about ourselves and about Jesus, who he is and what he has done for us...You cannot believe in something that you don't know about. Saving faith must have an object. You don't just believe; you believe something. And throughout Scripture we find essential truths that must be believed...There are certain doctrines that people must hear, understand, and affirm if they want to become true Christians. (47)
These essentials are:

  • You are a sinner
  • Jesus is fully God and fully man
  • Jesus the God-man saves through his death
  • Jesus was raised bodily from the dead
  • Jesus is Lord

He states simply: "It's not enough to simply believe things about Jesus. You must believe that you need a Savior, and that he is that Savior. You must believe that you need a Lord, and that he is that Lord. (56)

I liked Am I Really A Christian? I thought it was straightforward and relevant. I thought it spoke simply about the basics of the faith. I liked how reliant it is on Scripture. The more a book quotes the Bible, the more a book shares Scripture references, the more likely I am to trust it and recommend it to others. (It's very important for me that a book be biblical.) I definitely thought the book did a good job with the subject. It's not necessarily easy to get people reading OR thinking deeply about their faith and their lives. But I think it is critical for people to THINK, to take their faith--their beliefs--seriously.

Learn more about Am I Really a Christian? or read a sample chapter.

What is a nominal Christian?

What is a nominal Christian? from Crossway on Vimeo.

What is the gospel?

What is the Gospel? from Crossway on Vimeo.

What are the misunderstandings people have about the gospel?

What are some misunderstandings people have about the Gospel? from Crossway on Vimeo.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, June 24, 2011

I Want To Read...

Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin. OCTOBER 2011. Bethany House. 400 pages.
Publisher's description:
Alice Grace Ripley lives in a dream world, her nose stuck in a book. But the happily-ever-after life she's planned on suddenly falls apart when her boyfriend, Gordon, breaks up with her, accusing her of living in a world of fiction instead of the real world. Then to top it off, Alice loses her beloved job at the library because of cutbacks due to the Great Depression.

Fleeing small-town gossip, Alice heads to the mountains of eastern Kentucky to deliver five boxes of donated books to a library in the tiny coal-mining village of Acorn. Dropped off by her relatives, Alice volunteers to stay for two weeks to help the librarian, Leslie McDougal.

But the librarian turns out to be far different than she anticipated--not to mention the four lady librarians who travel to the remote homes to deliver the much-desired books. When Alice is trapped in Acorn against her will, she soon finds that real-life adventure and mystery--and especially romance--are far better than her humble dreams could have imagined.
Why I want to read this one... I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Lynn Austin. I do. I've enjoyed so many of her novels. She's never disappointed me. And so many of her books are practically-perfect-in-every-way. But to see that this one is about a girl who loves to read and works in a library?! It has to be good, right?!

Love On the Line. Deeanne Gist. OCTOBER 2011. Bethany House. 368 pages.
Publisher's description:
Rural switchboard operator Georgie Gail is proud of her independence in a man's world . . . which makes it twice as vexing when the telephone company sends a man to look over her shoulder.
Dashing Luke Palmer is more than he appears though. He's a Texas Ranger working undercover to infiltrate a notorious gang of train robbers. Repairing telephones and tangling with this tempestuous woman is the last thing he wants to do. But when his stakeout puts Georgie in peril, he realizes more than his job is on the line.
Why I want to read this one... I've enjoyed several of Deeanne Gist's previous books. And it sounds like this historical romance has a fun premise.

Most Unsuitable Match. Stephanie Grace Whitson. AUGUST 2011. Bethany House. 352 pages.
Publisher's description:

Miss Fannie Rousseau is a young woman of privilege traveling west to uncover the truth behind a family secret.

Mr. Samuel Beck is on a mission to atone for past failures that still haunt him.

Their meeting aboard a steamboat to Montana sparks an unlikely attraction. They are opposites in every way... except in how neither one can stop thinking about the other.
Will the end of the journey bring the end of their relationship, or is it just the beginning?
Why I want to read this one... I just LOVED Sixteen Brides. And the cover of this one just says read me, read me.

The Colonel's Lady. Laura Frantz. AUGUST 2011. Revell. 416 pages.
Publisher's description:

Roxanna Rowan may be a genteel Virginia woman, but she is determined to brave the wilds of the untamed frontier to reach a remote Kentucky fort. Eager to reunite with her father, who serves under Colonel Cassius McLinn, Roxanna is devastated to find that her father has been killed on a campaign.
Penniless and out of options, Roxanna is forced to remain at the fort. As she spends more and more time with the fiery Colonel McLinn, the fort is abuzz with intrigue and innuendo. Can Roxanna truly know who the colonel is--and what he's done?
Immerse yourself in this powerful story of love, faith, and forgiveness set in the tumultuous world of the frontier in 1779.
Why I want to read this... I am a big fan of Laura Frantz. I just LOVED The Frontiersman's Daughter and Courting Morrow Little. I think she's a great writer. And I just love historical fiction!

Wings of Promise. Bonnie Leon. AUGUST 2011. Revell. 336 pages.
Publisher's description:
Kate Evans may be a woman in a man's profession, but as Alaskan bush pilots go she's one of the best. If only her personal life wasn't so complicated. Torn between her affection for fellow pilot Mike Conlin and doctor Paul Anderson, Kate longs for clarity in her heart. But when a terrible tragedy occurs, her mind may be made up for her.
Full of high-flying adventure and tender personal moments, Wings of Promise will sweep you away to the Alaskan skies.
Why I want to read this... It's the sequel to Touching the Clouds, a novel I enjoyed very much!

A Heart Revealed. Julie Lessman. SEPTEMBER 2011. 512 pages.
Publisher's description:
Ten years ago, Emma Malloy fled Dublin for Boston as a battered woman, escaping the husband who scarred her beautiful face. The physical and emotional wounds have faded with time, and her life is finally full of purpose and free from the pain of her past. But when she falls for her friend Charity's handsome and charming brother, Sean O'Connor, fear and shame threaten to destroy her. Could Sean and Emma ever have a future together? Or is Emma doomed to live out the rest of her life denying the only true love she's ever known?
Filled with intense passion and longing, deception and revelation, A Heart Revealed will hold readers in its grip until the very last page.
Why I want to read this...If you've ever read a Julie Lessman novel, you'll know why!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Big God, Big Words: Imputation

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned--for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 15:12-21, ESV)
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, HCSB)
He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21, HCSB)

Imputation is
Attribution or reckoning of guilt or righteousness on the basis of a prior, extrinsic event or person. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer who is justified on that basis, just as the original sin of Adam was imputed to all later generations who were condemned on that basis. This doctrine is central to Protestant theology in contrast to Roman Catholic theology in which the believer is justified on the basis of infused or imparted righteousness, intrinsic to a person. (352)

So why is this important? Why is it central? Imputation is closely connected to the doctrines of original sin, atonement, and justification. A right understanding of all of these is important to the faith. There are three imputations we need to know to understand the Christian faith.

1. Imputation of Adam's Sin to His Posterity (aka, Original Sin)
2. Imputation of the Sins of His People to Christ (Atonement)
3. Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ to His People (Justification)

Do you believe that all of humanity fell with Adam and Eve? That we are all born with a sin nature? That is original sin. That Adam's "fall" in the Garden of Eden led to death. Physical death and spiritual death. ("For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23 and "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23) Do you believe that Jesus bore your sin on the cross? Do you believe that he took your sins upon himself on the cross? Do you believe that the wrath God meant for you was turned towards his only Son? That is atonement. Do you believe that God has not only wiped away your sins--cleansed you of your unrighteousness, your filth--but has clothed you with the righteousness of His Son? Do you believe that Jesus' righteousness has become your own? Christ's perfect life of obedience and righteousness has been reckoned to you and is the basis for God's justification. Can you grasp that? That is the precious truth of justification. Rejoice in the truth of that...

"You Are My King" (written by Billy James Foote)
I'm forgiven because You were forsaken
I'm accepted, You were condemned
I'm alive and well, Your Spirit is within me
Because you died and rose again

Amazing love, how can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love, I know it's true
It's my joy to honor You
In all I do to honor You

You are my King
You are my King
Jesus, You are my King
You are my King

Today's definition comes Nelson's Dictionary of Christianity: The Authoritative Resource On the Christian World. George Thomas Kurian, Editor. 2005.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Where Do I Go From Here?

In my last planning post, I mentioned two Bible-reading goals. I wanted to finish the King James Version (had three books to go at the time) and the New American Standard Version (had five books to go at the time, three of them very long books: Psalms, Jeremiah and Ezekiel). Well, I've completed both!!! Today I finished Psalms in the NASB!!! I started reading the NASB Thinline Bible on March 21, 2011 and completed it today, June 22, 2011! I started reading the KJV Bible on February 27, 2011 and I finished it on June 1, 2011. *If* I did my math right, that's 94 days to read the NASB and 95 days to read the KJV. Not too bad!

So. Where do I go from here?

Should I try to see which books I'd need to read to finish the Bible the third time this year? That would be:

  • Ezekiel
  • Daniel
  • Hosea
  • Joel
  • Amos
  • Zechariah
  • Malachi

Should I try to finish the ESV next? I'd need to read:

  • Exodus 
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Deuteronomy
  • Joshua
  • Judges
  • Ruth
  • 1 Samuel
  • 2 Samuel
  • 1 Kings
  • 2 Kings
  • 1 Chronicles
  • 2 Chronicles
  • Ezra
  • Nehemiah
  • Esther
  • Job
  • Psalms
  • Proverbs
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Song of Songs
  • Isaiah
  • Ezekiel
  • Daniel
  • Hosea
  • Joel
  • Amos
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Micah
  • Nahum
  • Habakkuk
  • Zephaniah
  • Haggai
  • Zechariah
  • Malachi

Or I could work on the New English Bible, Revised Standard Bible, American Standard Bible, or Holman Christian Standard Bible.

Do you find starting over fun and exciting? Or do you get overwhelmed with choices? Me? Well, I tend to get out different Bibles and make stacks. I open them up--one at a time, of course--and "try" reading them to see how it feels. If it feels good-and-cozy-and-right. But you can only surround yourself with stacks for so long before getting overwhelmed and wanting someone to make your decision for you.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Tombstones and Banana Trees

Tombstones and Banana Trees: A True Story of Revolutionary Forgiveness. Medad Birungi with Craig Borlase. 2011. David C. Cook. 208 pages.

Life is good and I laugh a lot. You need to know that about me before we make a start. You need to know that I think of myself as being blessed with so much of God's grace--far more than I deserve. You need to know that as I look at my life I see there is much that is beautiful and much that is good. You need to know all this because what comes next will probably remove the smile from your eyes.
This is a book about revolutionary forgiveness. And in order to write about forgiveness, you must have something to forgive. For there to be change, you must have something to leave behind. In order to know healing, you must first have received a wound.

Medad Birungi had much to forgive, but when he gave his life to Christ, he knew that meant he had to forgive the people who had hurt him the most. He had to forgive his abusive father who abandoned him; he had to forgive the people who murdered his sister. His list was long because he'd had a hard life, but one by one he decided he had to face them all, to share with them the truth. That God had forgiven him, and that he was forgiving them. God transformed his life completely, he can do the same for others.

In this memoir, Medad Birgungi traces his life from his darkest moments to his brightest. He tells his story. And it is powerful and compelling. Personal and straight forward. For the most part, Tombstones and Banana Trees is set in Uganda.

From chapter three, "Jesus Has Left the Village,"
In my nightmares I can still feel the fear. My heart beats at night just as it did when, as a boy, I would run away from them. They would hunt me like an animal, using their dogs to track and find me. They would be silent as they stalked me, and then they would release their anger and excitement with cries and shouts once I was held at their feet. Whenever they caught me I knew that the physical agony I was about to experience would last for days. The emotional scars from the humiliation would take longer to heal. They were the jigger hunters, and I was one of their favorite prey.

If you are poor, shoes are a luxury. If you are poor, soap is also a luxury. If you are poor and have to collect water by hand each day, the practice of bathing and maintaining good personal hygiene slips further down your list of priorities than is good for you.

We were suddenly poor. My father had left us with nothing. Absolutely nothing. No clothes other than those that were stuck, like flags on a coffin, to our tear and mud-stained bodies. No mattresses. No pots for cooking or collecting water. No tools for preparing food or harvesting crops. But since we had no land on which to farm and no house in which to live, these missing items were of little consequence. All we had was our breath and surely that would soon run out?

In one simple yet dramatic act our father had sent our status plummeting. In the morning we had been a family of wealth. We had possessions so numerous they required three pickup trucks to transport. We were part of a family who could look at others and say, "It is good that we are not poor like they are."

All that had not been packed onto the trucks had been sold. Our land, our cows and goats, our homes--all had been sold to others in the neighboring villages. For three hours my mother, my sisters and brothers, and I crouched at the foot of the tree by the roadside, fresh waves of tears coming with each realization of how bleak and difficult our lives now looked. We had nothing. If only death would settle upon us at that very moment, then our pain might be relieved.

Yet God had other plans. Slowly at first, like the way you take care when first stirring in the millet as you add water for morning porridge, God brought help to us. He did not restore our fortunes overnight, nor did He transform us at the drop of a hat. That is not generally the way God works. Instead, He brought us on a journey. A long journey made up of many steps. Some were painful, many were small. But today I can see that each one has brought me closer to God. (41-42)

I almost don't know what to say about the book because I don't think I could do it justice. I would definitely recommend it.

Favorite quotes:

When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. (49)

It is one thing to try to forgive someone on the occasion when they have hurt you, but it is quite another thing to adopt a lifestyle of forgiveness. This takes effort, determination, and sacrifice. To live a lifestyle of forgiveness means choosing to pursue a life of holiness and avoiding the things that could defile you. You have to repent, daily. You have to pray, daily. You have to read the Bible, daily. And you have to forgive others far more frequently than that. (155)

"The truth is good," Bishop Festo told me once, "but it is even better when presented in an envelope." (161)

To forgive is to grow, to live, to love. To forgive is to follow Jesus. To forgive is to leave behind the tomb and to walk out, surrounded by fresh air and new life, toward the open arms of a waiting, loving God (189)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Meet Troo

Troo Makes A Splash (Rainforest Friends). Cheryl Crouch. Illustrated by Kevin Zimmer. 2011. Zonderkidz. 32 pages.

Troo and Keewa looked at the river. "I wish I could swim," said Troo. Keewa said, "I can't swim either. But it would be fun to splash if the water didn't move so fast.""Rilla says her pool is calm. But where is it?" Troo asked. "She'll never tell," said Keewa. "Her pool is her biggest secret." "Let's make our own pool! Help me stop the river," said Troo. Keewa shook his head. "We can't do it." Troo lugged a rock over and dropped it in the river. THUNK. "We can try," he said.

Zonderkidz is introducing a series of I Can Read books. I believe there are three titles available so far in the Rainforest Friends series: Troo Makes A Splash, Troo's Big Climb, and Troo's Secret Clubhouse.

In Troo Makes A Splash, Troo, Keewa, and Rilla learn how important it is to think of other people too. Troo and Keewa were having a great time in the "pool" they created by damming up the river. But after Rilla tells them how their dam is making the river rats unhappy, how others need the river more than they need a pool to splash in, they decide that they can play something else instead.

Troo's Secret Clubhouse. Cheryl Crouch. Illustrated by Kevin Zimmer. 2011. Zonderkidz. 32 pages.

Troo panted and lay down on the wooden floor of the clubhouse. Getting Rilla up the ladder was hard work. "You have to learn to climb," Troo told little Rilla. "Keewa and I can't carry you up forever." "But I am a water rat!" Rilla said. "I told you to build our clubhouse on the ground. Keewa shook his head. "A supersecret clubhouse is much better high in the air. No one can see us or hear our secret plans here."

In Troo's Secret Clubhouse, Troo learns that love is never rude. When Troo's friends Keewa and Rilla were there to play with in his not-so-secret secret clubhouse, Troo told his little sister that she could not play with them. That she was too little. That she was a baby. But now that his friends have gone home, he's feeling sad. He sees his little sister having fun and he wishes that he hadn't been so rude and mean to her. Will she forgive him? Will she allow him to play with her?

Troo's Big Climb. Cheryl Crouch. Illustrated by Kevin Zimmer. 2011. Zonderkidz. 32 pages.

Troo stood beside the biggest, tallest tree in the rainforest. "I can climb it," he said, "easy." Rilla said, "To the top? No way." Troo looked up. He looked up some more. He could not see the top. Maybe his friend Rilla was right. Rilla said, "I dare you to try. I don't think you can do it." "Sure I can," said Troo. "I think you are afraid," she said. Rilla sounded brave and strong. "You climb it!" Troo said. "Water rats don't climb, silly!" said Rilla. "But tree kangaroos do. You should be a great climber." "I am!" Troo said. "I'm the best."

In Troo's Big Climb, Troo learns that parents have GOOD reasons for making rules. His parents have told him NOT to climb the big tree. But. Troo really, really wants to climb it. He wants to prove that he's big enough, strong enough, etc. So he does. And. Well, he learns the hard way that rules are put in place because of love. Will Troo be more obedient from now on? Will he be able to resist his friends dares?

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Mom's Toolbox: Bible in 90 Days

I wanted to let you know that you can now sign up for the July (through October) session of the Bible in 90 Days program at Mom's Toolbox. The dates are July 11th through October 8th 2011.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Music Review: Peter Furler's On Fire

My reaction to Peter Furler's ON FIRE is very similar to my reaction to BORN AGAIN. The moment I knew it existed, I HAD to have it. It wasn't a want, it was a need. I NEEDED this album, today, the day it was released. I trusted it to be good--really, really good. Because I expect the best of the best from Peter Furler. I knew I couldn't possibly be disappointed.

I wasn't. Not at all. This album--for me--is practically perfect in every way. I wouldn't change a thing. It is energetic, addictive, and wonderful! Yes, the music is fun and energetic, and, well, bouncy. But the lyrics, well, the lyrics MEAN something too. It isn't all about how loud and fast they can play. (Yes, they can play fast and loud! And their music is very fun, it always makes me happy, but they're not sacrificing meaning for style.) Some albums I listen to in the store--very superficially, I admit--leave me wondering: Why is this Christian music? Are any of the songs about God? What are the songs about again? Is there a deeper meaning I'm just not getting? How is God glorified by this? Some of the music SOUNDS good. I won't lie. Some of it sounds like it has potential. But do I want to spend money on something if it's not *really* Christian? I'm not saying that every person should feel that way. But, for me, if I'm going to listen to Christian music, I want it to be CHRISTIAN.

So. LOVED the music, LOVED the lyrics. Here are the songs on the album: I'm Alive, Reach, Glory to the King, Never Ending Love Song, Matter of Faith, All In Your Head, Closer, Faster and Louder, Psalm 23, Hold On, and Greater Is He. I loved them all.

I don't review music all that often here at Operation Actually Read Bible. Not because I'm not listening to music, I am. But because I tend to listen to the same thing over and over and over again. With some CDs and artists, there's no such thing as too much. (There are a couple of Newsboys albums that I put on repeat and listen to for five or six hours at a time: Going Public, In the Hands of God, Born Again, and Step Up to the Microphone. Well, I could probably make it easier on myself and say almost every single one of them.) Anyway, I have a feeling that ON FIRE will be the same. I've already listened to it eight times today!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Spring Reading Thing 2011 Completed!

Spring Reading Thing was hosted by Callapidder Days. I had hoped to read eight to twelve books. But I was able to get so much read! It was wonderful!

 I read some of the books on my original list. But I didn't read everything on my list. I added things to it as well. One thing that surprised me--in a good way--was how much nonfiction I read. For some reason, I found it easier to read nonfiction than fiction! The Christian fiction I did read didn't really work for me the way I wanted it too. The exception to that rule being the two Grandma Attic books which I've loved and adored from childhood. 

My favorite books were Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn and  Why One Way?: Defending an Exclusive Claim in an Inclusive World by John MacArthur. And I just LOVED The Big Picture Story Bible by David R. Helm. If you've got kids, this is a great bible story book!

1. Knowing Scripture. R.C. Sproul. 1977/2009. IVP. 152 pages.
2. The World Jesus Knew. Anne Punton. 2003. Moody Publishers. 192 pages.
3. The Big Picture Story Bible. David R. Helm. 2004/2010. Crossway Publishers. 456 pages.
4. The Practice of the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence. Joseph de Beaufort. 1982. Whitaker House. 96 pages.
5. How To Get The Most From God's Word. John MacArthur. 1997. Thomas Nelson. 168 pages.
6. God is Great: A Toddlers Bible Storybook by Carolyn Larsen. Illustrated by Caron Turk. 2011. Crossway Publishers. 44 pages.
8. Discovering Jesus: Why Four Gospels to Portray One Person? T.D. Alexander. 2010. Crossway Publishers. 144 pages.
9. Through Gates of Splendor. Elisabeth Elliot. 1956/2005. Tyndale. 296 pages.
10. Cries From the Cross: A Journey Into the Heart of Jesus. Erwin Lutzer. 2002. Moody. 170 pages.
11. In Grandma's Attic. Arleta Richardson. 1974/2011. David C. Cook. 144 pages.
12. More Stories from Grandma's Attic. Arleta Richardson. 1979/2011. David C. Cook. 144 pages.
13. The Judgment. Beverly Lewis. 2011. Bethany House. 336 pages.
14. How To Study The Bible. R.A. Torrey. 1896. Hendrickson Publishers. 90 pages.
15. How to Pray. R.A. Torrey. 1900. Hendrickson Publishers. 82 pages.
16. The Holiness of God. R.C. Spoul. 1985. Tyndale. 280 pages.
17. Why One Way?: Defending an Exclusive Claim in an Inclusive World. John MacArthur. 2002. Thomas Nelson. 96 pages.
18. Joni. Joni Eareckson Tada. 1976. 224 pages.
19. Our Awesome God. John MacArthur. 1993/2001. Crossway Books. 176 pages.
20. Hope Rekindled. Tracie Peterson. 2011. Bethany House. 352 pages.
21. In Grandma's Attic. Arleta Richardson. 1974/2011. David C. Cook. 144 pages.
22.  More Stories from Grandma's Attic. Arleta Richardson. 1979/2011. David C. Cook. 144 pages.
23. How Huge the Night. Lydia Munn and Heather Munn. 2011. Kregel. 304 pages.
24. Pompeii: City On Fire. T.L. Higley. 2011. B&H Publishing Group. 368 pages.
25. Saint Training. Elizabeth Fixmer. 2010. Zonderkidz. 256 pages.
26. China Cry. Nora Lam with Richard Schneider. 1991. Thomas Nelson. 260 pages.
27.  Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself. Joe Thorn. Foreword by Sam Storms. 2011. Crossway Books. 144 pages.
28. Mirror Ball. Matt Redman. 2011. David C. Cook. 176 pages.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: Mirror Ball

Mirror Ball. Matt Redman. 2011. David C. Cook. 176 pages.

It's New Year's Eve in downtown Nashville, and things are getting crazy.

The full title of this one is Mirror Ball: Living Boldly and Shining Brightly For the Glory of God. What is the book about? It's about worshipping God. It's about transforming lives through deep-rooted passion for HIM. Can God use you? If he does it will be because you realize it is through God and God alone that you are able to be used. In other words, if we 'shine' in our lives, if our lives are 'reflecting' God's glory, it is because Jesus is the light of the world. He is shaping us, transforming us, making us His own.

Matt Redman says it best (so I'll stop trying!):
In and of ourselves we have no light. But in His bright and shining light we are transformed--and begin to radiate the glories of our God to the world around us. You may be feeling totally inadequate, far from ready for that task. But if so, you have forgotten the most important part of the equation. It is not about you and your best efforts. It is about the light, power, and love of Christ illuminating our fragile lives. As Scripture reminds us, the same God who said, "Let there be light," has made His light to shine in our hearts. When God shines upon His church, we become a dazzling testimony to His awesome radiance. You may feel ineffective. You might have lost confidence in your ability to shine. You may think you are too small or too inconsequential to ever be of any value in the kingdom of God. But no matter at all--for, in the end, it's all a matter of light. His light. The life of worship never begins with you. It starts and ends with Jesus. (24-25)
The book is short. Perhaps too short. I found myself disappointed, and I'll explain why. I was enjoying the book. I was finding many passages that spoke to me. Many passages that I was planning on sharing with you. And I felt happy to be in this one. And then discovered--around page 107--that the book was over. The remaining pages were a discussion guide! I wasn't expecting the last chapter to be the last chapter. I wanted more and I felt cheated. Is there a *real* reason to feel cheated? No! Of course not. Other readers may even value discussion guides. (I'm not one of them. I never have been one of them. I'm not just picking on this book, this discussion guide.)

This is my first time to read Matt Redman. I've listened to his albums. I've enjoyed his work with Passion. But I'd not read any of his books before.

Favorite quotes:
God makes worshippers out of wonderers. (24)
But passionate worship is never a matter of merely getting the words and tune right or raising a loud shout. The true test of our passion for God will always be our lives. If I'm looking for a heightened way to tell God I love Him, the very best way has very little to do with stringing poetic sentences together. It involves a life laid down in service and adoration. The concrete evidence of whether our worship has lived or died in us will always be our lives. (28)
We were hiding from His face, covered by our shame, and lost without a hope. There was nothing we could do to turn our situation around, nothing in our hands to give us means of escape. But love broke through the darkest night to find us and bring us back home. In the incarnation of Jesus, in His life, His death, and His resurrection, we see the mighty God of love in action. It is a love that seeks us, saves us, rescues us, and revives us. It is patient and kind, neither self-seeking nor easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. It always hopes, always trusts and always perseveres. This love breaks down boundaries, presses through uncertainties, and refuses to be stopped by any obstacle in its path. At Calvary itself we witness the purest love this world will ever see. It is an act so mysterious and magnificent that we shall be singing about it through all eternity. The cross of Jesus has many layers--in its complexity we find such themes as justice, sacrifice, and suffering; obedience, endurance, and hope. But right there in the center, making sense of them all, we find love. (33)
Worship is a reflex of the ransomed heart, never an empty religious ritual or a hollow act of self-deprivation. It is love flowing freely and absolutely from heart, mind, and soul in response to all we have received. (35)
God reveals, and we reply. God acts, and we are amazed. God shines, and we reflect. This is the life of worship. (38)
Small doses of revelation lead to tiny lives for God. Anyone who ever lived a big life for Jesus journeyed with a great big view of who He is. (43)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Pompeii: City On Fire

Pompeii: City On Fire. T.L. Higley. 2011. B&H Publishing Group. 368 pages.

In the prologue, readers meet Ariella, a young Jewish woman fleeing a fallen Jerusalem. She's witnessed the destruction of the temple and was devastated by the loss of her family. Taken into slavery by the Romans, Ariella's nightmare is just beginning.

The text picks up nine years later, readers witness Ariella's brave escape from her cruel master, Valerius, where she takes the place of a young boy--a gladiator. With this gladiator troupe, maybe just maybe, she can escape from slavery completely. If she survives long enough.

The gladiator troupe is journeying to Pompeii. And that is where most of the novel is set. In the months leading up to its destruction. Readers learn of Ariella and are introduced to Cato and his family.

Cato first becomes interested in Ariella--whom he knows as Ari--soon after the gladiators arrive. He's drawn to "the boy" but doesn't know why. He's newly moved to the city himself. He's embarrassed by something in his past--a business failure or political failure, I'm not sure which. But he's looking to find a new start. There are plenty in town who welcome him. Some even see him as a possible savior. Could this newcomer be the one to rescue the city from the cruel politician Maius? Can they convince him to run for office? He's got his doubts. But after witnessing Maius' cruelty time and time again, he's convinced that someone has to do it.

Ariella and Cato's stories connect, of course, and her truth is revealed.

Throughout the book readers hear from Vesuvius herself, the volcano destined to destroy the city and leave few survivors. These paragraphs were the hardest for me to read. Why? I'm not sure that much foreshadowing was needed. And it's just not natural for volcanoes or mountains to talk let alone have a story to tell.

I liked Pompeii. I didn't love it. But I didn't dislike it either. I've struggled the past two months with reading Christian fiction, and it was nice to not have to struggle with this one. It was nice to not have to do battle with another book.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book Review: Saint Training

Saint Training. Elizabeth Fixmer. 2010. Zonderkidz. 256 pages.
March 25, 1967
Dear Reverend Mother,
My name is Mary Clare O'Brian. I am in sixth grade and I am writing because I want to become a Good Shepherd nun. I like the Good Shepherd runs best because you work with unwed mothers and their babies. I love little babies.
I have lots of experience with kids. God gives my family a new one every year even though we have more than we can handle now. Everyone says that I am very mature for my age because of how well I take care of my little brothers and sisters. Also I'm a good leader. The nuns at school can be really strict and when I'm in charge of the little kids at home, I have to be strict lots of times.
I saw The Sound of Music where the Mother Superior helped Julie Andrews face her problems. I could do that. Everybody tells me their problems, and I'm good at solutions.
Mary Clare O'Brian is the heroine in this middle grade novel set in Littleburg, Wisconsin, in the late 1960s. Throughout the book, Mary Clare writes the Reverend Mother asking questions, questions, and more questions. Questions about the civil rights movement, questions about the war in Vietnam, questions about the protesters, questions about the feminists or the women's liberation movement, questions about birth control, questions about Vatican II, questions about the faith, etc. Some of the questions are theoretical; some are practical. Many are personal and reveal how this sixth grader--soon to be seventh grader--is dealing with all the changes in her life. Her mom and dad are fighting all the time. Her dad can get very angry at times--and hard to deal with. And her mom? Well, her mom is not the same since her latest pregnancy. She's miserable. She's always reading Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique and either crying or getting angry. And her brothers and sisters, well, they prove that you cannot go a day without sinning.

At the start of the novel, Mary Clare knows one thing for sure. She is destined to be a saint. And since the first step to being recognized as a saint is to be a nun, she's decided that will be her holy vocation. She's even decided that she'd love to become a nun after completing eighth grade. She reckons that will be soon enough. (She wants to become a nun before she starts liking boys.)

But Mary Clare is going to try her best right now to be a saint. She sees it clearly in her mind. Has a list of do's and don'ts. Knows exactly what she needs to do to earn her sainthood. But no matter how hard she tries, she can't go a day without sinning. (She's very precise about it. Keeps a tally of everything.)

If you take theology out of the evaluation, if you think of it merely as a book written about the late 1960s, this turbulent, anxious time when there were more questions than answers and many things seemed to be turned upside down, then Saint Training is an interesting and entertaining read.

In other words, the problems I had with Saint Training are all theological. I was disappointed with Saint Training, if I'm being honest. I expected better theology from Zondervan. I really did. I think if it had been published by any other publisher--any secular publisher--I would not have had such high expectations. I would have been happy with what the novel was and not felt as frustrated with what it was not.

Mary Clare believes in works salvation--that is that doing good works gets you into heaven. If you don't do enough good deeds on earth, well, you spend some time in purgatory. Mary Clare believes in sin, and believes in hell. But sadly, she doesn't know that no one can earn their way into heaven. That there was ever only ONE person who was perfect. That it is the sufficiency of Christ in both cleansing us from OUR sins and clothing us with HIS righteousness that makes heaven a reality for believers. We need both. We desperately need both. It's not enough to believe that Jesus died for the world, to save the world from sin, if you don't take that necessary next step. Without Christ's righteousness covering us, clothing us, without his righteousness being counted as my righteousness, then it's incomplete. It's not Christ's death on the cross + my righteousness = ticket to heaven.

I'm not blaming Mary Clare. I'm not. She just didn't know about grace. She tried her best to be righteous. She did. She prayed to the Virgin Mary regularly. She closeted herself with her glow-in-the-dark saints. She spent time looking at her collection of angels. She cherished her First Confession booklet. She confessed her sins weekly and kept a careful tally of it all so she could do penance for everything. She tried to witness to her protestant friends to show them the true faith. She gets an A for effort, for straining to reach that level of perfection, that level of righteousness. But. It's just not enough. It could never be enough. I wanted to reach out to Mary Clare. I wanted to tell her about grace. I wanted to tell her to trust in Christ for it all. That God declares us righteous because of His Son.

I'm not sure I should be taking my fiction so seriously.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday Salon: Week In Review: June 12-18

This week I read...

Job 20-42 in the NASB
Lamentations in the NASB
Ezekiel in the NASB
Psalms 1-50 in the NASB

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Taste and See: Living Sacrifices

Does how we live matter? What do our lives say about us? about our faith? about God? Should what we say we believe be making a difference in how we live our lives day to day? Are you choosing to live for God or for yourself? Are you "forgetting" God in your daily life?

I believe that our lives do matter. That how we live our lives matter. Not because salvation is by works. It's not. Salvation is a work of God in our lives. God by his grace gives us the faith to believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. Not because God is a God to bargain with or bribe. He's not. Not because we are competitive with one another--wanting to brag on Sunday morning and Wednesday nights. Boasting and pride are tricky sins that need to be confessed and repented of.

Our lives matter because we are to live for Christ. We are called to present ourselves as living sacrifices. We are called to be God's hands and feet. We're commanded to abide in Christ, to remain in his love and teaching. We're called to serve out of gratitude, out of love, out of awe and worship.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1, ESV)
I've read a couple of theology books the past month, and there are a few passages that have stayed with me, that have challenged me to reflect and consider. I thought I'd share them (again) with you. I hope that you will take a few minutes to comment, to share your thoughts and reflections on these passages and on the questions I've asked.

The inspiration and authority of the Scriptures are of value to us only so far as we change our beliefs to conform to its principles and alter our behavior to coincide with its imperatives.  ~ Sam Storms, Note to Self, Foreword (12)
In other words, for the Bible to be of value to us it must actually function to shape how we think, feel, and act as well as what we believe, value, and teach. ~ Sam Storms, Note to Self, Foreword (12)
Tolerate nothing in your life that might diminish your hunger for God's Word. And apply it with vigor and spiritual energy!  ~ Sam Storms, Note to Self, Foreword (19)
The bigger and more biblical your understanding of who Jesus is, the more likely he is to be such an object of love and adoration that the idols that aim at capturing your attention and swaying your allegiance will lose their power. ~ Joe Thorn, Note To Self, "Jesus is Big" (47)
It is the gospel that allows you to be real. It admits us all as sinners and establishes us all as saints. ~ Joe Thorn, Note to Self, "Stop Pretending" (68)
Repentance requires a daily intentionality. Repentance is both an attitude and an action. It is more than being sorry for sin, and it is more than cutting out a bad habit. ~ Joe Thorn, Note To Self, "Repent" (99)
Theology is not meant merely to be known, but to be made known. This means the theology you have developed is not finished until it is articulated and spoken for others to hear. ~ Joe Thorn, Note to Self, "Theology Talks" (119)
It is a folly also not to worship God, when we acknowledge his existence; it is our wisdom then to worship him. To deny him worship is as great a folly as to deny his being. ~ Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, "Discourse I: On the Existence of God (87)
A God forgotten is as good as no God to us. ~ Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, "Discourse I: On The Existence of God" (88)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tackling A Theological Chunkster: Day Three, Charnock

Stephen Charnock,
The Existence and Attributes of God
On Monday I began reading Stephen Charnock's The Existence and Attributes of God, a work of theology first published in 1682, a book in two volumes, a book over a thousand pages. This post will conclude the first discourse, Discourse I: On the Existence of God. You may want read the first and second posts on that discourse. The entire discourse is focused on Psalms 14:1. (I've included verses two and three as well.)
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They were all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (KJV)
To catch you up, Charnock has reached the point in his argument where the existence of God is a given, he then went on to argue how nature proves that God exists. The universe is too complex, too ordered, too beautiful. Someone had to create this world, this universe, and someone has to be sustaining it. That someone is God, he argues.

So in today's post, I'll be covering pages 63 through 88.

God exists because....

  • God has given us minds, bodies, souls that are so complex, so wonderful, so unique and individual.
  • God has given us a conscience; we know good and evil; we are able to discern the right from the wrong. There are some laws, he argues, that are engraved on our hearts. These universal laws revealed to us provide the basis for our laws and allow for civilization and governments.
  • Each of us have a God-shaped hole. We're incomplete apart from God. We're not content--really content--apart from him. We chase after anything and everything in an attempt to be satisfied. But our souls hunger for God.
  • God acts. God judges the world--we see those judgments carried out before us. In the performing of miracles. We have supernatural miracles and signs from God. In the fulfillment of prophecy. Not only does God send prophets in his name to his people, His prophecies are always fulfilled. His prophecies come to pass. We can look at those fulfilled prophecies as proof that God exists.

Charnock then lists reasons why atheists are bad. Well, not quite in those terms, but that is his conclusion  essentially.

Atheists are...
  • They are "pernicious" to the world. They disrupt governments, civilizations, societies, etc. "It would root out the foundations of government. It demolisheth all order in nations." (77)
  • They "introduce all evil into the world." "The worst of actions could not be evil, if a man were a god to himself, a law to himself" (78) 
  • It is "pernicious" to the atheist himself. "If he fear no future punishment, he can never expect any future reward: all his hopes must be confined to a swinish and despicable manner of life, without any imaginations of so much as a drachm of reserved happiness. He is in a worse condition than the silliest animal." (79)
  • They are "monsters in human nature" (79) and "They would fain believe there were no God, that they might not be men, but beasts." (82)
If it is foolish to say in our hearts that there is no God, then it must be wisdom to say that there is a God. After SO MANY PAGES of text, we finally get to the good part. The part where Charnock applies what this all means to believers. The part where readers get the heart of the message.

Words of wisdom...
If it be the atheist's folly to deny or doubt of the being of God, it is our wisdom to be firmly settled in this truth that God is. (84)
Stir up sentiments of conscience to oppose sentiments of corruption. Resolve sooner to believe that yourselves are not, than that God is not. (84)
Without this truth fixed in us, we can never give him the worship due his name. When the knowledge of anything is fluctuating and uncertain, our actions about it are careless. If we do not firmly believe there is God, we shall pay him no steady worship; and if we believe not the excellency of his nature, we shall offer him but a slight service. (84)
Study God in the creatures as well as in the Scriptures. (86)
View God in your own experiences of him. There is a taste and sight of his goodness, though no sight of his essence. (86)
It is a folly also not to worship God, when we acknowledge his existence; it is our wisdom then to worship him. To deny him worship is as great a folly as to deny his being. (87)
The natural inclination to worship is as universal as the notion of a God. (87)
He that denies his being, is an atheist to his essence; he that denies his worship, is an atheist to his honor. (87)
Our minds are a beam from God; and, therefore, as the beams of the sun, when they touch the earth, should reflect back upon God. (88)
A God forgotten is as good as no God to us. (88)

More Quotes from Discourse I, "On the Existence of God"
In his soul he partakes of heaven; in his body of the earth. (64)
The soul is the greatest glory of this lower world; and, as one saith, "There seems to be no more difference between the soul and an angel, than between a a sword in the scabbard and when it is out of the scabbard." (67) 
By considering the nature of our souls, we may as well be assured that there is a God, as that there is a sun, by the shining of the beams in at our windows; and, indeed, the soul is a statue and representation of God, as the landscape of a country or a map repre­sents all the parts of it, but in a far less proportion than the country itself is. The soul fills the body, and God the world; the soul sus­tains the body, and God the world; the soul sees, but is not seen ; God sees all things, but is himself invisible. (68) 
Conscience is the foundation of all religion; and the two pillars upon which it is built, are the being of God, and the bounty of God to those that diligently seek him. (73)
There could be no conscience if there were no God, and man could not be a rational creature, if there were no conscience. (73)
Whence should the soul of man have those desires? how came it to understand that something is still wanting to make its nature more perfect, if there were not in it some notion of a more perfect being which can give it rest ? Can such a capacity be sup­posed to be in it without something in being able to satisfy it? (74)
This boundless desire had not its original from man himself ; nothing would render itself restless ; something above the bounds of this world implanted those desires after a higher good, and made him restless in everything else. And since the soul can only rest in that which is infinite, there is some­thing infinite for it to rest in ; since nothing in the world, though a man had the whole, can give it a satisfaction, there is something above the world only capable to do it, otherwise the soul would be always without it, and be more in vain than any other creature. There is, therefore, some infinite being that can only give a content­ment to the soul, and this is God. And that goodness which im­planted such desires in the soul, would not do it to no purpose, and mock it in giving it an infinite desire of satisfaction, without intend­ing it the pleasure of enjoyment, if it doth not by its own folly de­prive itself of it. The felicity of human nature must needs exceed that which is allotted to other creatures. (74)
The being of a God is the guard of the world: the sense of God is the foundation of civil order: without this there is no tie upon the consciences of men. (77)
It is utterly impossible to demonstrate there is no God. (81)
To require to see God, is to require that which is impossible. (81)
My conclusions: 

I struggled at first with the text. I wanted to untangle it. I wanted to learn from it, and really benefit from it. But it wasn't always easy. His approach was very structured, very methodical, and above all else, very wordy!!!

I think there must be a GREAT difference in education between then and now. And since I'm from now, well, it was mind-stretching to read this one.

IF Charnock's discourse is truly an outline in prose-form. If I could see it back in outline form, if I could see how his arguments flowed from one to the other to the other--which paragraphs would be "I" "II" "III" "IV" etc. and which would be "A" "B" "C" "D" and which would be "1" "2" "3" "4" and "a" "b" "c" "d" etc.--then it might make the text itself more reader-friendly.

If there were PARAGRAPH HEADINGS in plain English, that would be good too.

By far my favorite and best section was the last part of the discourse, when Stephen Charnock switches focus from calling atheists fools and wicked monsters and beasts....TO calling Christians to live in right relationship to God. When Charnock focused on how Christians should be thinking about God, meditating on Him, worshiping Him, then there were some great words of wisdom that we can still learn from today.

I think the greatest of these may be this simple truth:

A God forgotten is as good as no God to us. (88)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible