Thursday, July 31, 2014

Quoting Martyn Lloyd-Jones #7

One of the devotionals I am using this year is Walking with God Day by Day by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I thought I would share some of my favorite passages month-by-month. (JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMay, June)

From July 2
The message of the Bible is not to urge us to try to find truth; it is to ask us to listen to the truth, to God’s truth. For its whole point is to say that God, knowing Himself, knowing man, knowing everything, has devised and schemed a plan whereby men and women can be delivered out of their failure and sin and can be made citizens and worthy citizens of God’s kingdom. This is God’s plan!
From July 9
The apostle Paul says to the Corinthians, “If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” If the sound is uncertain, then we shall add to the confusion. And that is why nothing is more important than that we should be perfectly clear in our minds as to what this Christian message really is. What does Christianity offer to people; what is it? How can we become Christians? These are the questions that we must answer. Furthermore, what makes this terrible confusion so utterly inexcusable, of course, is that we have an open Bible before us, and we have it in a language that we can understand. If we had no Bible but merely some oral tradition, then there would be some excuse for the confusion. Or if we only had the Bible in a language that we could not understand, again there would be considerable excuse. But that is not our position at all. So why is there any confusion? And there is only one answer to that question. It is because men and women, instead of taking the message as it is in the Bible, are imposing their own message upon it. They are approaching it with their philosophies, their theories, their ideas, and their attempts to understand; and they are bypassing what is stated in this Book that is open before them in a language that all can understand. So my plea is that in all honesty, apart from anything else, we must come back to the Bible. Here are the documents of the early Church; here are the records of how Christianity came into being, of what the Church taught at the beginning and something of what happened as the result of that. In particular we must come back to the words and to the teaching and the message of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review: 50 Days of Heaven

50 Days of Heaven: Reflections That Bring Eternity to Light. Randy Alcorn. 2006. Tyndale. 288 pages. [Source: Bought]

There is a world of difference between C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce and Randy Alcorn's 50 Days of Heaven. And it is a difference I appreciated. (Though oddly enough, 50 Days of Heaven has plenty of C.S. Lewis quotes. I get the feeling Alcorn is a fan of Lewis!) While The Great Divorce is an allegory of heaven and hell grounded in imagination and perhaps a bit of philosophy, 50 Days of Heaven is a more practical book grounded in Scripture itself. That's not to say that Alcorn doesn't offer his own impressions of what heaven--or the New Earth--may be like. He does. But his imagination doesn't let his theology get out of control.

There are 50 Reflections. One could easily take it slow and read one per day and make a devotional or study of it. But one wouldn't have to approach it as just a devotional book. For any Christian interested in the subject--which should be all of us, by the way--it offers food for thought. I definitely liked reading this one.

Each chapter begins with a Scripture verse and a quote. As I mentioned earlier, Alcorn is a fan of C.S. Lewis, but, other theologians are included as well. (Jonathan Edwards, John Donne, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, D.L. Moody, Augustine, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, A.A. Hodge, and Isaac Watts to name just a few.)

Every day, the command to think about Heaven is under attack in a hundred different ways. Everything militates against thinking about Heaven. Our minds are set so resolutely on Earth that we are unaccustomed to heavenly thinking. So we must work at it.
We tend to assume that we are automatically going to Heaven, but we overlook the fact that our sin is sufficient to keep us out: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Sin separates us from a relationship with God (Isaiah 59:2). "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong" (Habakkuk 1:13). Because we are sinners, we are not entitled to enter God's presence. Because we cannot enter Heaven as we are, Heaven is not our default destination. Before we can see God in Heaven, something must radically change-because, unless our sin problem is resolved, the only place we will go is to our true default destination: Hell.
In the Bible, Jesus says more about Hell than anyone else does (Matthew 10:28; 13:40-42; Mark 9:43). He refers to it as a literal place and describes it in graphic terms-including raging fires and the worm that doesn't die. He says the unsaved "will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:12). In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus taught that in Hell the wicked suffer terribly, are fully conscious, retain their desires and memories and reasoning, long for relief, cannot be comforted, cannot leave their torment, and are bereft of hope (Luke 16:19-31). He could not have painted a more bleak or graphic picture. Revelation 21:27 says, "Nothing impure will ever enter [the New Jerusalem], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."
If prayer is simply talking to God, presumably we will pray more in Heaven than we do now-not less. Given our righteous state in Heaven, our prayers would be more effective than ever (James 5:16). Revelation 5:8 speaks of the "prayers of the saints" in a context that may include saints in Heaven. Of course, there is only "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). We are never told to pray for the saints (in Heaven), or to the saints, or through the saints, but only to God, through his Son. But though we should not pray to the saints, the saints may well be praying for us.
We'll never forget that our sins nailed Jesus to the cross; for Christ's resurrection body still has nail-scarred hands and feet (John 20:24-29). Even though God will wipe away the tears and sorrow attached to this world, he will not erase human history and Christ's intervention from our minds. As I've said before, Heaven's happiness won't be dependent on our ignorance of what happened on Earth. Rather, it will be enhanced by perspective, our informed appreciation of God's glorious grace and justice as we grasp what really happened here.
God doesn't abandon his purposes; he extends and fulfills them. God-ordained friendships begun on Earth will continue in Heaven, becoming richer than ever.
Every thought of Heaven should move our hearts toward God, just as every thought of God will move our hearts toward Heaven.
When I meditate on Jesus and my future in Heaven, sin is unappealing. It's when my mind drifts from that person and that place that sin seems attractive. Thinking of Heaven leads inevitably to pursuing holiness. Our high tolerance for sin testifies to our failure to prepare for Heaven.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My Year With Spurgeon #30

God Alone the Salvation of His People
Charles Spurgeon
“He only is my rock and my salvation.”—Psalm 92:2.
If any one should ask you what you mean by a Calvinist, you may reply, “He is one who says, salvation is of the Lord.”
I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible. “He only is my rock and my salvation.” Tell me anything that departs from this and it will be a heresy; tell me a heresy, and I shall find its essence here, that it has departed from this great, this fundamental, this rocky truth, “God is my rock and my salvation.” What is the heresy of Rome, but the addition of something to the perfect merits of Jesus Christ—the bringing in of the works of the flesh, to assist in our justification? and what is that heresy of Arminianism but the secret addition of something to the complete work of the Redeemer? You will find that every heresy, if rough to the touchstone, will discover itself here, it departs from this, “He only is my rock and my salvation.”
Let us now explain this doctrine fully. By the term “salvation” here, I understand not simply regeneration and conversion, but something more. I do not reckon that to be salvation which regenerates me, and then puts me in such a position that I may fall out of the covenant and be lost; I cannot call that a bridge which only goes half-way over the stream; I cannot call that salvation, which does not carry me all the way to heaven, wash me perfectly clean, and put me among the glorified who sing constant hosannahs around the throne. By salvation, then if I may divide it into parts, I understand deliverance, preservation continually through life, sustentation, and the gathering up of the whole in the perfecting of the saints in the person of Jesus Christ at last. 1. By salvation, I understand deliverance from the house of bondage, wherein by nature I am born, and being brought out into the liberty wherewith Christ makes us free, together with a putting “on a rock, and establishing my goings.” This I understand to be wholly of God. And I think I am right in that conclusion, because I find in Scripture that man is dead; and how can a dead man assist in his own resurrection? I find that man is utterly depraved, and hates the divine change. How can a man, then, work that change which he himself hates? I find man to be ignorant of what it is to be born again, and like Nicodemus, asking the foolish question, “How can a man enter again into his mother’s womb, and be born?” I cannot conceive that a man can do that which he does not understand: and if he does not know what it is to be born again, he cannot make himself to be born again. No. I believe man to be utterly powerless in the first work of his salvation. He cannot break his chains, for they be not chains of iron, but chains of his own flesh and blood; he must first break his own heart before he can break the fetters that bind him. And how should man break his own heart? What hammer is that which I can use upon my own soul to break it, or what fire can I kindle which can dissolve it? Nay, deliverance is of God alone. The doctrine is affirmed continually to Scripture; and he who doth not believe it doth not receive affirmed continually in Scripture; and he who doth not believe it doth not receive God’s truth. Deliverance is of God alone; “Salvation is of the Lord.” 2. And if we are delivered and made alive in Christ, still preservation is of the Lord alone. If I am prayerful, God makes me prayerful: if I have graces, God gives me graces; if I have fruits, God gives me fruits; if I hold on in a consistent life, God holds me on in a consistent life. I do nothing whatever towards my own preservation, except what God himself first does in me. Whatever I have, all my goodness is of the Lord alone. Wherein I sin, that is my own; but wherein I act rightly, that is of God, wholly and completely. If I have repulsed an enemy, his strength nerved my arm. Did I strike a foeman to the ground? His strength sharpened my sword and gave me courage to strike the blow. Do I preach his word? It is not I, but grace that is in me? Do I live to God a holy life? It is not I, but Christ that liveth in me? Am I sanctified? I did not sanctify myself; God’s Holy Spirit sanctifies me. Am I weaned from the world? I am weaned by God’s chastisements. Do I grow in knowledge? The great Instructor teaches me. I find in God all I want; but I find in myself nothing. “He only is my rock and my salvation.” He only is the salvation of my body and the salvation of my soul. Do I feed on the word? That word would be no food for me unless the Lord made it food for my soul, and helped me to feed upon it. Do I live on the manna which comes down from heaven? What is that manna, but Jesus Christ himself incarnate, whose body and whose blood I eat and drink. Am I continually receiving fresh increase of might? Where do I gather my might? My salvation is of him: without him I can do nothing. As a branch cannot bring forth fruit except it abide in the vine, no more can I except I abide in him.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: Full Steam Ahead

Full Steam Ahead. Karen Witemeyer. 2014. Bethany House. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

I found Full Steam Ahead to be a very satisfying romance. I have enjoyed almost all of Witemeyer's historical romances that I've read. My favorite so far is Short-Straw Bride. So I expected to love Full Steam Ahead. I was not disappointed.

Our heroine is a young woman named Nicole Renard. She returns home to Galveston, Texas, when she learns that her father is dying. He runs the family shipping business--Renard Shipping. He wants his daughter to go to New Orleans and find a husband among his business associates if possible. He'd like his son-in-law to take on the family business. It would be ideal, of course, if he was already in the shipping business. That situation in itself would provide some pressure for Nicole. Your father is dying. Go and find a husband quickly. Pick wisely. Leave now. But that isn't the whole story. The Renard family has a multi-generational feud going on with the Jenkins' family. The Jenkins are, of course, in the shipping business too. The feud is about a historic dagger. The Jenkins brothers will do ANYTHING to steal the dagger.

So while the plan was for Nicole to go to New Orleans, that is not what actually happens. Nicole tries to outsmart the Jenkins' brothers. She ends up in Liberty, Texas. She ends up seeking work in town. She answers a help wanted ad for a secretary. She meets Darius Thornton. He reluctantly hires her.

I loved, loved, loved Darius Thornton. I loved the developing relationship between Nicole and Darius. Those weeks she spends with him hiding out on his place, well, they worked for me. So many scenes that I loved!!! Overall, such a satisfying romance with a great couple!!!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Week in Review: July 20-26


  • Psalms 42-72
  • Jeremiah 24-36
  • Habakkuk
  • Zephaniah
  • Haggai
  • Zechariah
  • Malachi
  • Matthew
  • James


  • Acts 21-28
  • Romans
  • 1 Corinthians

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: The Great Divorce (1945)

The Great Divorce. C.S. Lewis. 1945. HarperCollins. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

I seemed to be standing in a busy queue by the side of a long, mean street. Evening was just closing in and it was raining. I had been wandering for hours in similar mean streets, always in the rain and always in evening twilight. 

The Great Divorce is a weird allegory rich in dialogue, but, for me it was too bizarre and philosophical. At its best, it offers overheard conversations between Solid Beings and/or Bright Beings and the deceased spirits and ghosts who are on holiday. The bus travels from hell to heaven, if you accept those designations as such. Here's where it gets BIZARRE, if the travelers go back to hell AFTER their holiday, then it was hell all along. If the travelers stay  and become solider, if they go with their guides to the mountains, then it was purgatory and not hell. The bus is met by guides. The protagonist realizes that these guides are solid, and, that all of the travelers or vacationers are not. This may or may not be the first time he realizes that they are more transparent or ghost-like. I wasn't quite sure by what I read. Regardless, that is the moment first-time readers realize that these are dead people on holiday. (Apparently, they can travel to "heaven" for their holiday, OR, they can travel back to earth and haunt it. I'm not sure how long the vacation-time lasts. If it was a day or two? Or longer?)

Regardless, the protagonist is on the bus for heaven. The person or guide he talks to is George MacDonald. But the book is more than the protagonist's conversations with George MacDonald. In fact, their meeting comes late in this novel. The hero wanders around eavesdropping. These conversations are between people (both solid and ghost) that we really know nothing at all about. One could argue that they are meant to stand for abstract thoughts or ideas OR social stereotypes. One can lift sentences or paragraphs from these conversations and find true observations OR true-sounding observations. I'm far from convinced that all within is biblically or doctrinally sound.

To keep it simple, one problem I had was that it seems to allow for the idea of purgatory and endless amount of second chances to believe after one dies. I don't believe that purgatory is scriptural. And I definitely believe that it is unbiblical to promote the idea that the dead are given opportunities to believe in Christ and go to heaven. I think it's very irresponsible in fact. Even in an imaginative allegory that readers are clearly told near the last chapter is a dream. The Great Divorce is anything but instructional. And while I am sure there are worse books out there on humans who have had gone to heaven and back, fiction or nonfiction, not being the worst is no reason to recommend it.

That being said, it's not without its true moments. You just have to be able to discern the difference between truths and half-truths and all-out lies. It is a thought-provoking read. It has a weird premise perhaps. But some of the conversations have great observations about humanity.

From the preface:
I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot 'develop' into good. Time does not heal it. 
From chapter 4:
"But I got to have my rights same as you, see?"
"Oh no. It's not so bad as that. I haven't got my rights, or I should not be here. You will not get yours either. You'll get something far better. Never fear."
From chapter 5:
"But don't you know? You went there because you are an apostate"
"Are you serious, Dick?""
"This is worse than I expected. Do you really think people are penalized for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken."
"Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?"
"There are indeed, Dick. There is hide-bound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed--they are not sins."
"I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until the end of my life when I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions."
"Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I asserted them fearlessly. When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk."
"What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came--popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?"
"Dick, this is unworthy of you. What are you suggesting?"
"Friend, I am not suggesting at all. You see, I know now. Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of things that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment's real resistance to the loss of our faith?"

"You know that you and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn't want the other to be true. We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes."
"I am telling you to repent and believe."
"But my dear boy, I believe already. We may not be perfectly agreed, but you have completely misjudged me if you do not realize that my religion is a very real and a very precious thing to me."
From chapter 9:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God: "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened." 
From chapter 11:
But the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for his own sake.
From chapter 14:
Do not ask of a vision in a dream more than a vision in a dream can give. 
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review: Out of the Depths (2014)

Out of the Depths. Edgar Harrell, with David Harrell. 2014. Bethany House. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

Every survivor of war has stories to tell--stories of triumph and tragedy, faith and fear--stories like mine, where fact is often stranger than fiction. Since that fateful night in 1945 when I stepped off a sinking ship into the unknown depths of the Pacific Ocean, there has never been a day when I have not reflected upon the horrors I experienced in the four and a half days of swimming in shark-infested waters. However, while those frightening memories remain vivid in my mind's eye, one memory eclipses them all--namely, the unfailing presence of God that sustained me. 

What a testimony!!! Out of the Depths is an incredible book! It is the autobiography of Edgar Harrell, one of the marine survivors of the USS Indianapolis. The opening chapters provide context into Harrell's life, into the war, into the history of the USS Indianapolis before its tragic loss at sea in the summer of 1945. The heart of this book, however, may just be the five chapters detailing each day the survivors spent in the ocean waiting for a rescue that no one could be sure was coming. The final chapter provides context into the following decades. The survivors coming together seeking justice and recognition.

This autobiography is incredibly compelling. It is a powerful testimony. It is not just a powerful story of survival. It is a story that testifies of God's goodness and providence. It's a story that gives God the glory from cover to cover.

I loved this one. I absolutely LOVED it.
Gone was the attitude of pride that deceives men into thinking that there is no God, or if there is, they don't need Him. When a man is confronted with death, it is the face of Almighty God he sees, not his own. We were all acutely aware of our Creator during those days and nights. Our little seventeen-member prayer meeting attested to this. Every man knew he was dying. It was only a matter of hours. Only a miracle could save us. So we prayed for a miracle. Men prayed like I have never heard men pray. With inconsolable grief each man who was able to talk poured out his heart to God. With swollen tongues we did our best taking turns pleading with God for deliverance. And before one could finish, another would interrupt with his supplications. Another would then speak of his wife and children, and then cry out to God to be reunited with them. Because of dehydration, there were very few tears rolling down our grimacing faces. It was as though the ocean now contained them all. (100-1)
Our rescue was a marvel. And this doesn't even get into the fact that it is not humanly possible for a person to swim for four and a half days with next to no food or water. Not to mention swarmed by hungry sharks. Our survival truly defies reason. But I would also hasten to add that my survival, along with that of my comrades, was not the ultimate purpose in such a supernatural event. No, whenever God performs any feat that arouses the awe and wonder of His creation, He does so primarily to bear witness to His own glory. And it is to that end I remain committed, for indeed, such a story has no human explanation. Only a sovereign, omnipotent God could have orchestrated such a scenario, for our good and His glory. (119-20)
While there were other naval vessels sunk as a result of combat during the war, only the Indianapolis met her fate while leaving the enemy that sunk her completely unscathed. Worse yet, it was estimated that only one-third of the casualties suffered were a result of the initial attack. The other two-thirds were victims of Navy incompetence--a series of debacles that placed us in harm's way, unescorted and our SOS ignored, forcing hundreds of men to fend for themselves in the open sea. As I mentioned, the disaster is now considered the greatest naval catastrophe at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy. (149)
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Screwtape Letters (1942)

The Screwtape Letters. C.S. Lewis. 1942. HarperCollins. 224 pages. [Source: Library]

I reviewed this Christian classic in 2009 and 2010. It's a book that I like to revisit every few years. It is a thought-provoking imaginative work. It's topsy turvy theology because of the demon perspective. Screwtape is writing letters to his nephew, Wormwood. Both are demons or tempters. So when they speak of their Enemy, they are speaking of God. And when they are speaking of Our Father, they are speaking of the devil. Many subjects are covered by Screwtape, all practical for the most part. The letters give readers something to think about. It's a book that requires your participation--your engagement. Readers have to discern what truths--if any--are to be found within these letters.

Wormword's human has become a Christian. Will advice from his wise Uncle Screwtape prove useful in keeping his human from maturing in the faith? Will he be able to woo his human away from the Enemy? Can he make his human's faith ineffective and irrelevant? Will Wormwood be able to use the World War to his advantage?

I shared a handful of quotes in my earlier review. I will not repeat those here. I've selected other quotes to share this time:

From letter 1:
The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle on to the Enemy's own ground. He can argue too, whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting. He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient's reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it 'real life' and don't let him ask what he means by 'real.'
From letter 3:
Keep his mind on the inner life. He thinks his conversion is something inside him and his attention is therefore chiefly turned at present to the states of his own mind--or rather to that very expurgated version of them which is all you should allow him to see. 
In civilized life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face. To keep this game up you and Glubose must see to it that each of these two fools has a sort of double standard. Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother's utterances with the fullest and most oversensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him. Hence from every quarrel they can both go away convinced, or very nearly convinced, that they are quite innocent.
From letter 4
Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. 
From letter 14
Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, "By jove! I'm being humble", and almost immediately pride--pride at his own humility--will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt--and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don't try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humor and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review: Burning Sky (2013)

Burning Sky. Lori Benton. 2013. Waterbrook Press. 416 pages. [Source: Library]

Burning Sky won a Christy award for First Novel, a Christy award for historical novel, and their book of the year award. So my guess was that it would be a good, very good, read. I was not disappointed.

After the loss of her husband and children, Burning Sky, returns to her home in the white community from which she was stolen as a child. Willa Obenchain did not know if her parents would still be there or not. Nearing her land--or her parents' land--she comes across an injured man, Neil MacGregor. The two have a chance to become good friends as he heals in her cabin. He helps her as much as he can, for she has a lot of work ahead of her. Her home has been abandoned, her parents long gone. She'll need to work the fields and plant crops if she's to make it on her own. Some in the community welcome her back. But those that welcome her back are relatively few in number. Most are a little unsure about her return. It's not that they blame her exactly for getting kidnapped twelve or so years ago. But. They don't exactly trust her or respect her. They view her as if she's been contaminated by close contact with the enemy. She knows this, she sees this. And in all honesty, she knows that if her husband had not died, if her kids had not died, that she probably would have never come back.

The land. I would say a large portion of this novel is focused on her land. There are those in the community that WANT her land, that want to see her off the land for good. It so happens that she returns just months before her land is to be auctioned off. Her return doesn't automatically mean she gets to keep the land. But it does mean that she gets to fight to keep her land. If and only if she can prove that her parents were American patriots during the war can she keep her land. But proving such a thing may be extremely difficult.

Of course, that's just part of the story. Relationships matter in Burning Sky. And Willa has so much healing to do! But she won't be alone. Benton did a great job with her characters. The relationships are developed quite well. I especially loved the hero!!! And everything has a just right feel to it. If I'm honest, it is a bit more INTENSE than I usually like in my romance, but, overall it proved a satisfying read.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Year with Spurgeon #29

The Form of Sound Words
Charles Spurgeon
“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”—2 Timothy 1:13.
If the gospel be worth your hearing, and if it be a true gospel, it is worth your holding.
No system can be a form of sound words unless it is perfectly scriptural.
But since it is said that texts may be found to prove almost everything, we must remark, that a form of sound words must be one that exalts God and puts down man. We dare not for a moment think that any doctrine is sound that does not put the crown upon the head of Jesus, and does not exalt the Almighty. If we see a doctrine which exalts the creature, we do not care one fig about what arguments may be brought to support it; we know that it is a lie, unless it lays the creature in the very dust of abasement, and exalts the Creator. If it does not do this, it is nothing but a rotten doctrine of pride; it may dazzle us with the brilliant malaria rising from its marshes, but it never can shed a true and healthful light into the soul; it is a rotten doctrine, not fit to be builded on the gospel, unless it exalts Jehovah Jesus, Jehovah the Father, and Jehovah the Holy Spirit.
We can never think a doctrine sound, when we see plainly upon its very surface that it has a tendency to create sin in men. Unless it be a doctrine according to godliness, we cannot conceive it to be a doctrine of God.
We shall, perhaps, be asked what we do regard as a form of sound words, and what those doctrines are which are scriptural, which at the same time are healthful to the spirit and exalting to God. We answer, we believe a form of sound words must embrace, first of all, the doctrine of God’s being and nature, we must have the Trinity in Unity, and the Unity in Trinity. Any doctrine, which hath not the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as equal persons in one undivided essence, we cast aside as being unsound, for we are sure that such doctrines must be derogatory to God’s glory; and if they be so it is enough for us. If any man despise either Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, we despise him, and despise his teachings, and cannot even say to him, “I wish you God speed.” Now, we hold, that a form of sound words must look upon man aright as well as upon God aright; it must teach that man is utterly fallen, that he is sinful, and for his sin condemned, and in himself altogether hopeless of salvation. If it exalts man by giving him a character which is not a true one, and clothing him with a spurious robe of righteousness, woven by his own fingers, we reject and discard it utterly. And next, we think that a doctrine that is sound must have right views of salvation, as being of the Lord alone; unless we find in it everlasting, unchanging love, working out a salvation for a people “who were not a people,” but were made a people by special grace; unless we find discriminating love, others may say what they will—we cannot consider such a creed to be a form of sound words, unless we discern redeeming mercy openly and boldly taught; unless we see final perseverance, and all those great and glorious truths which are the very bulwarks of our religion, others may embrace the doctrine as being a form of sound words; but we cannot, and we dare not. We love the old system of our forefathers; we love the old truths of Scripture, not because they are old, but because we cannot consider anything to be truth which doth not hold the scriptural view of salvation. Methinks Paul himself, in this very chapter, gives us a form of sound words, where he speaks of “God who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” I need not stop this morning to prove to you that which I have briefly hinted at as a form of sound words, because you believe it, and believe it firmly. I am not about to urge you to receive it, because I know you have already received it; but what I have to say is, “Hold fast,” I beseech you, “the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”
When at any time I am cast down and dejected, I always find comfort in reading books which are strong on the doctrines of the faith of the gospel; if I turn to some of them that treat of God’s eternal love, revealed to his chosen people in the person of Christ; and if I remember some of the exceeding great and precious promises made to the elect in their covenant head, my faith at once becomes strong, and my soul, with wings sublime, mounts upwards towards its God. You cannot tell, beloved, if you have never tasted, how sweet is the peace which the doctrines of grace will give to the soul; there is nothing like them.
In the first place, every deviation from truth is a sin. It is not simply a sin for me to do a wrong act, but it is a sin for me to believe a wrong doctrine. Lately our ministers have absolved us all from obeying God in our judgments; they have told us point blank, many of them, in their drawing-rooms, and some of them in the pulpit, that we shall never be asked in the day of judgment what we believed. We have been told that for our acts we shall be responsible, but for our faith we shall be irresponsible, or something very much like it; they have told us plainly, that the God who made us, although he has authority over our hands, our feet, our eyes and our lips, hath but little authority over our judgments; they have told us, that if we make ever such blunders in divinity, they are no sins, so long as we can live right lives. But is that true? No; the whole man is bound to serve God; and if God gives me a judgment, I am bound to employ that judgment in his service; and if that judgment receive an untruth, it has received stolen goods, and I have sinned as much as if I put forth my hand to take my neighbour’s goods. There may be degrees in the sin. If it be a sin of ignorance, it is nevertheless a sin; but it is not so heinous as a sin of negligence, which I fear it is with many.
We want you to understand things, to get a true knowledge of them. The reason why men forsake truth for error is, that they have not really understood that truth; in nine cases out of ten they have not embraced it with enlightened minds. Let me exhort you, parents, as much as lieth in you, to give your children sound instruction in the great doctrines of the gospel of Christ.
Any father or mother who entirely gives up a child to the teaching of another has made a mistake.
That which a man learns on his knees, with his Bible open, he will never forget.
Believe the truth. Do not pretend to believe it, but believe it thoroughly. And he who does believe it, and fixes his faith first in Christ, and then in all Christ says, will not be likely to let it go.
Love Christ and love Christ’s truth because it is Christ’s truth, for Christ’s sake, and if you love the truth you will not let it go. It is very hard to turn a man away from the truth he loves.
That is the best thing to do, to believe the Word, to have so full a belief in it, that the enemy cannot pull you away.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bible Review: NIrV Adventure Bible

NIrV Adventure Bible for Early Readers (Revised). Lawrence O. Richards, ed. 2014. Zonderkidz. 1584 pages. [Source: Review copy]

This Bible opens with a bright and bold spread called How to Use the Bible. I can appreciate that. It is important for readers of all ages--young and not-so-young--to know how to use a particular Bible. This makes sense especially for early readers who are just beginning to make sense of how books work. Readers learn about what a table of contents is, what a dictionary is, how to read the Bible text (name of the book, chapter numbers, verse numbers, subject headings, etc). I admit most of this stuff older readers probably take for granted. But we all have to start somewhere, sometime.

Since this was my first time reading the NIrV, I took time to read "A Word About the New International Reader's Version." I am glad I read it. Probably my favorite thing that I learned was this:
We decided to give you a lot of other help too. For example, sometimes a verse is quoted from another place in the Bible. When it is, we tell you the Bible book, chapter and verse it comes from. We put that information right after the verse that quotes from another place. 
At the time I received this review copy, I was reading Hebrews 30 days in a row. Hebrews quotes from the Old Testament a LOT. And I was finding it interesting to see how different translations handled it. For example, the NASB, uses ALL CAPS, and the HCSB--or at least some editions of the HCSB--go bold. ESV, at least at first glance, appears to use block quotes. I appreciated how the NIrV handled the quotes. I did. I really appreciated the clarity of it. (Hebrews 1, Bible Gateway)

Since the NIrV uses simpler vocabulary and shorter sentences, I wanted to try the translation out in some of the harder books, the more intimidating books. I chose to read Jeremiah and Ezekiel! I definitely noticed the shorter sentence length, that's for sure. Overall, I liked the translation, at least in these books. I still haven't read the gospels in the NIrV.

Now that I've talked about the translation, I'll spend some time talking about features of this particular bible.

Book introductions. I want to say these book introductions are similar to others that I've seen recently in NIV children's bibles. Very simple and straightforward in a question and answer format.
Who wrote this book? Moses wrote this book
Why was this book written? This book tells how God created the world. It also tells about the special promises God made to Abraham.
What do we learn about God in this book? God created all things. God loves people. But God wants people to obey him. God promises to save people who trust him.
Who is important in this book? Important people in this book are Adam, Eve, and Noah. Abraham and Sarah are also important. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are important too.
When did this happen? No one knows when the creation or the flood happened. Abraham was born about 2,000 years before Jesus was born.
Where did this happen? The first part of Genesis happened somewhere in the Middle East. Many people think that the Garden of Eden was in the country we now call Iraq. The rest of Genesis takes place in Egypt and Canaan.
What are some stories in this book?
God creates the world -- Genesis 1
God creates Adam and Eve -- Genesis 2
Adam and Eve sin -- Genesis 3
God saves Noah and the animals -- Genesis 6-8
God gives Abram a promise -- Genesis 12
Jacob steals Esau's blessing -- Genesis 27
Joseph's brothers sell him -- Genesis 37
Joseph becomes a ruler -- Genesis 39-41
I do like the book introductions. They are simple and informative. They provide a foundation for continued learning.

Other features. This bible offers plenty of bold and colorful features. Words to Treasure. Did You Know? Live It! People in Bible Times, Life in Bible Times, etc.  To name just a few. They certainly add visual appeal to the text, excuses for color. But I must admit that after reading and LOVING the Jesus Bible earlier this year, that I was disappointed. The Live It! sections probably disappointed me more than the rest. But everything is subjective. You may appreciate them more.
How to Stop Family Fights
Abram and Lot's shepherds were fighting. They fought about who would get to use the best land. They fought about who would get to use the water for their animals. There just wasn't enough room for both groups to live. Abram decided to stop the fight. Read Genesis 13:1-18 to find out how he did it.
Most brothers and sisters fight at times. Here's how your family can stop the fighting:
From the story of Abram, make up family rules, like: Give the other person first choice. Be content with what is left.
Make a tag with Abram's name on it. When you have a family fight, choose a person to wear the "Abram" tag. Let him or her use the rules you have made to stop the fight.
You can take turns being Abram. Then you each can learn how to please God as Abram did. (16)
Praying In Your Heart
Praying in your heart means praying to God without saying anything out loud. In Genesis 24:1-21 Abraham's servant may have prayed in his heart.
Here are some times when you might want to pray in your heart:
1. In school when you are about to take a test.
2. When you are about to cross a busy street.
3. On the school bus if bigger kids tease you.
Draw pictures of three other places where you might want to pray in your heart. (27)
The New International Reader's Version was revised in 2014. This is the newest revision of the Adventure Bible for Early Readers.

I am glad I read from this Bible. I am. I had never read from the NIrV before. And while it won't become my new translation of choice, I am very glad that there is a Bible written simply enough for children newly learning to read to understand. And I am glad that this edition is reader-friendly, very bright and colorful, lots of pictures.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Week in Review: July 13-19


  • Psalms 1-41
  • Jeremiah 1-23
  • Amos
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Micah
  • Nahum
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philippians


  • Psalms 119-150
  • Acts 6-20


  • 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, July 18, 2014

Book Review: Seeing the Unseen

Seeing the Unseen. Randy Alcorn. 2013. Eternal Perspective Ministries. 120 pages. [Source: Bought]

This is a sixty-day devotional by Randy Alcorn. Each devotion has a focus or subject. Each devotion includes two Scripture verses and two quotes from famous Christians. Subjects include humility, forgiveness, stewardship, repentance, holiness, prayer, the Bible, etc. The book includes quotes from A.W. Tozer, C.S. Lewis, Augustine, J.C. Ryle, John Stott, R.C. Sproul, Oswald Chambers, Charles Spurgeon, John Bunyan, Martin Luther, etc.

I liked the length of this one. Year-long devotionals require commitment. (Perhaps you too have devotionals that have bookmarks in March or April?) But 60 days is much more manageable! Each devotional takes just minutes to read. I do believe that daily devotions should never take the place of actual Bible reading. But. I have nothing against the concept of daily devotional. (Especially if the focus remains on God and not on people the author has met or known.)

Favorite quotes:
The Bible tells us we are pilgrims, strangers, aliens and ambassadors working far from home. Our citizenship is in Heaven. But we’ve become so attached to this world that we live for the wrong kingdom. We forget our true home, built for us by our Bridegroom. Nothing is more often misdiagnosed than our homesickness for Heaven. We think that what we want is money, sex, drugs, alcohol, a new job, a raise, a doctorate, a spouse, a large-screen television, a new car, a vacation. What we really want is the Person we were made for, Jesus, and the place we were made for, Heaven. Nothing less can satisfy us. (day 10)
The more I learn about God, the more excited I get about Heaven. The more I learn about Heaven, the more excited I get about God. Jesus said, “I am going there to prepare a place for you...I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2–3, NIV). Hope is the light at the end of life’s tunnel. It not only makes the tunnel endurable, it fills the heart with anticipation of the world into which we will one day emerge. Not just a better world, but a new and perfect world. A world alive, fresh, beautiful, devoid of pain, suffering, and war, a world without earthquakes, without tsunamis, without tragedy. A world ruled by the only One worthy of ruling. (day 13)
If we want our words to have lasting value and impact, they need to be touched and shaped by God’s words. That will happen as we make an ongoing daily choice to expose our minds to Scripture, to meet with Christ, and let Him rub off on us. (day 15)
Genuine repentance is utterly vulnerable. It confesses more than has been found out. It never withholds information in the hope of preserving an image or a reputation. It puts itself at the mercy of others; it does not presume to direct or control them...To be repentant means to be committed to doing whatever is necessary to keep from falling back into sin…The sincerity of your repentance is demonstrated by how willing you are to take the steps necessary to nourish your soul and reprogram your mind from the Scriptures, so that you can draw on Christ’s power to be righteous. (day 20)
Truth hates sin. Grace loves sinners. Those full of grace and truth—those full of Jesus—do both… Attempts to “soften” the gospel by minimizing truth keep people from Jesus. Attempts to “toughen” the gospel by minimizing grace keep people from Jesus. It’s not enough for us to offer grace or truth. We must offer both. When we offend everybody, we’ve declared truth without grace. When we offend nobody, we’ve watered down truth in the name of grace. John 1:14 tells us Jesus came full of grace AND truth. Let’s not choose between them, but be characterized by both. (day 24)
The greatest kindness we can offer each other is the truth. Our job is not just to help each other feel good but to help each other be good. We often seem to think that our only options are to: 1) speak the truth hurtfully; or 2) remain silent in the name of grace. Both are lies. Jesus came full of grace AND truth (John 1:14). We should not choose between them, but do both. (day 54)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: Luminary

Luminary. Krista McGee. 2014. Thomas Nelson. 311 pages. [Source: Library]

Luminary is the sequel to Anomaly, a lovely little dystopian novel I read and reviewed last summer. The third novel, Revolutionary, was just released. Luminary is very much the middle book, for better or worse. While I can definitely keep spoilers for this book out of this review, I can't promise that there won't be spoilers for the first book, Anomaly.

Luminary opens with Thalli and three of her friends escaping State. John is the father of one of the Scientists. He is the one whose ideas are deemed to dangerous to allow him access to the rest of the underground community. He believes in a Designer. Berk is Thalli's love interest. He's smart and brave too; he was on his way to becoming a scientist. He isn't just a love interest. Rhen, I wish I could say that she plays an actual part in this one. But she doesn't. She really doesn't. Thalli sees Berk and Rhen talking and assumes that they are falling in love behind her back. And that's it. Thalli sees her as a potential threat and starts treating her accordingly…at least in her private thought life. These four are escaping State, but, their get-away is a little too easy.

So Luminary is about two survivor settlements that they discover. One is New Hope. The other is Athens. Readers spend time learning about the two very different settlements. New characters are introduced. Almost all of the new characters play a bigger role than poor Rhen! One of the main characters we spend time with is a young man named Alex. He is prince of Athens.

Luminary is about community and government. When the incident happened, when nuclear war happened, those that survived tended to have definite opinions on how to rebuild. Readers will see three different perspectives on rebuilding.

If Luminary has a weakness as a novel, it is that it has no real ending! It is one of those frustrating books that just stops.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book Review: Here Is Our God (2014)

Here Is Our God. Kathleen Buswell Nielson and D.A. Carson, editors. 2014. Crossway. 221 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I really loved this collection of essays. These essays or speeches were originally given at the Gospel Coalition 2012 National Women's Conference. The theme of the conference was "Here Is Our God." Speakers were "looking into passages where God reveals himself in spectacular ways to his people."
The overall goal for these talks was to gain from God’s Word a renewed vision of God and his sweeping purposes of redemption, as he shows himself to us through his revelation.
Table of contents:
  • On the Mountain: The Terrifying and Beckoning God (Exodus 19) Tim Keller
  • In the Temple: The Glorious and Forgiving God (1 Kings 8) Paige Brown
  • In the Throne Room: The God of Holiness and Hope (Isaiah 6) John Piper
  • From a Miry Swamp: The God Who Comes and Delivers (Psalm 40) Carrie Sandom
  • On Another Mountain: The God Who Points To His Son (Matthew 17:1-15) Nancy Leigh DeMoss
  • In the Third Heaven: The God Who Can't by Talked About (2 Corinthians 12) Jenny Salt
  • Through the Open Door: The Transcendent and Redeeming God (Revelation 4-5) Kathleen Nielson
  • Home at Last: The Spectacular God at the Center (Revelation 21-22) D.A. Carson
I loved the theme of this book! I did! I loved the focus being on God and God's Revelation of Himself in His Word. I loved how each chapter focused on one particular passage of Scripture. I loved the expository nature of each chapter. I loved the layout of each chapter. For example, in the first chapter, the sermon is broken down into three sections: 1) The history and order of grace Exodus 19:1-8, 2) The terrifying and beckoning God Exodus 19:9-19, and 3) The going down of Moses 19:20-25. All chapters are written with clarity. I also loved how all the chapters seem to come together to create a big picture. That wasn't surprising, but, it was wonderful all the same.

From "On The Mountain"
John Newton, the great hymn writer, wrote in a letter, “Nobody ever learned they were a sinner by being told. They have to be shown.”
John Newton said, “Everything is needful that he sends. Nothing can be needful that he withholds.”
An Israelite could have said this: I was in bondage under penalty of death. I was a slave in a foreign land. But I took shelter under the blood of the lamb. And I was led out and saved by the mighty arm of God. I did nothing at all to accomplish it. The Lord did it all for us his people. He saved us by his sheer grace. Then we came to the place where God showed us how to begin to live out our salvation. He gave us the law. And now we haven’t reached the Promised Land yet, and we often fail and fall; we certainly aren’t perfect. But we even have a way of constantly dealing with our sins through the atoning sacrifice, through the blood. And we’ll eventually get to the Promised Land. That’s what an Israelite could have said during this period of time. And a Christian can say every one of those things, too.
You’ll never understand the whole Bible unless you understand the order: (1) grace, (2) obedience, (3) blessing. It’s not (1) grace, (2) blessing, (3) obedience. Nor is it (1) obedience, (2) grace, (3) blessing. If it was law then deliverance, we would say, “You obey; therefore God accepts you.” But since it’s deliverance (the exodus) and then law (the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai), the gospel is this: “God accepts you; therefore, you obey.” A Christian says, “I’m accepted because of the blood of Jesus Christ; therefore, I obey.” There is nothing more important to understand.
The gospel shuts up your ego and gets it all sorted out so that you’re not constantly whiplashing between (a) thinking too much of yourself and (b) being down on yourself. The gospel does this by (a) humbling your ego into the dust with knowledge that you’re a sinner and (b) affirming it to the sky by telling you rightly that you’re now a son or daughter of the king and that you can’t lose that status. As C. S. Lewis taught, you don’t think less of yourself or more of yourself; you just think of yourself less.
When we hear the Bible as it is, it’s terrifying. I think it was Dr. Lloyd-Jones who said, “If anyone has ever read the Sermon on the Mount with an open mind, they would fall down and cry out, ‘God, save me from the Sermon on the Mount.’” Because what they are experiencing in a little way without the thunder and lightning and special effects is the holiness of God.
From "In The Temple"
Jesus was not taken to the cross. Jesus went to the cross. His life was not stolen from him. He laid down his life. The glory of the God who was willing to ordain and institute atonement became the glory of the God who will provide atonement. The glory of the God who is the atonement. John Stott says that we should never ever wonder why forgiveness is so difficult but rather how is it possible! God does not forgive sin. I hope you know that. He can’t. He forgives sinners. But sin has to be paid for. Who knew that this is what our sin costs? Jesus knew. He knew it, even as he echoed Solomon’s prayer and said, “Father, forgive them.” And he knew, because he himself was the answer to that prayer, that the Father would turn away from the next prayer in abandonment, which was required for that forgiveness. The unthinkable extravagance of Jesus the temple! The unimaginable cost to the heart of the Father! This is the temple dedication. It is his dedication, not ours. Glory and forgiveness can be combined only because here they are exchanged. The essence of sin is that I put myself in the place of God, so God put his Son in the place of me. Even as I have taken glory that is not mine, he has taken sin that is not his. Because we have put ourselves where only God deserves to be, he has put himself where only we deserve to be. How in is he? He left his rightful throne to take my rightful cross. His is the abandonment, and ours is the embrace. His is the price, and ours is the wealth. “Where is God?” He is on that cross. And, oh, the tear-down! Curtain temple torn from top to bottom. In this culmination there is full cancellation.
We love to camp out on the wonderful truth that we have the fullness of him. But we need to move the campsite to the truth that he is therefore to have the fullness of us.
From "In The Throne Room"
We do not give God authority over our lives. He has it, whether we like it or not. What utter folly to act as though we had any rights to call God into question! Few things are more humbling, few things give us that sense of raw majesty, as does the truth that God is utterly authoritative. He is the Supreme Court, the Legislature, and the Chief Executive. After him, there is no appeal.
From "On Another Mountain"
Through the course of the Christian life, there will be seasons of glory and seasons of gore. Our souls will be strengthened as we remember that Christ has been through both and that he goes with us through both of those seasons.
From "In The Third Heaven"
With gospel eyes we will delight in weakness, not because it’s a comfortable place to be but because it is the showcase of God’s power.
From "Through the Open Door"
The book of Revelation lets us see God in a way that’s meant to light up our whole lives to the end. It’s not a new seeing; Revelation is the culmination of all the other visions of God throughout Scripture. But it’s a big vision— a vision that encompasses the panorama of human history.
We call Revelation the consummation of the Bible’s story line: it’s the coming together of all the threads that wind around one another from Genesis on, in this big story of God’s redeeming a people for himself through his Son. Maybe one reason Revelation is such a hard book for us is that we don’t know well enough the whole rest of the Bible.
From "Home At Last"
The book of Revelation rarely quotes the Old Testament, but almost every verse alludes to it and nowhere more abundantly than in Revelation 21– 22. The biblical allusions are so rich and intricate that they almost trip over themselves. These chapters serve as a kind of review of the whole Bible. But these chapters provide a review in another sense: inevitably, I will allude to many things that others have already introduced in earlier chapters of this book. When we survey some of the great texts that tell us how God disclosed himself in spectacular theophanies in the past, we quickly discover that these ideas and revelations culminate here. Do you want to hear the Bible’s final word about the holiness of God or the temple or the Lamb or the throne? It is all here. Those trajectories culminate here.
One reason that Scripture uses so much symbolism in its disclosures of God is that we are so dead to God, so blind, so unable to understand, so without categories, so without vocabulary, that when someone like Paul is caught up into the third heaven, the things he sees he is not allowed to describe, but in addition these things are also properly inexpressible because we haven’t been there.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Year With Spurgeon #28

Divine Sovereignty
Charles Spurgeon
“Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?—Matthew 20:15.
There is no attribute of God more comforting to his children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty hath ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children of God ought more earnestly to contend than the dominion of their Master over all creation—the kingship of God over all the works of his own hands—the throne of God, and his right to sit upon that throne.
You say all men are God’s children; I demand of you to prove that. I never read it in my Bible. I dare not say, “Our father which art in heaven,” till I am regenerated. I cannot rejoice in the fatherhood of God towards me till I know that I am one with him, and a joint heir with Christ. I dare not claim the fatherhood of God as an unregenerated man. It is not father and child—for the child has a claim upon its father—but it is King and subject; and not even so high a relation as that, for there is a claim between subject and King. A creature—a sinful creature, can have no claim upon God; for that would be to make salvation of works and not of grace. If men can merit salvation, then to save them is only the payment of a debt, and he gives them nothing more than he ought to give them. But we assert that grace must be distinguishing if it be grace at all.
Grace is not a thing which I use; grace is something which uses me. But people talk of grace sometimes as if it was something they could use, and not as influence having power over them. Grace is something not which I improve, but which improves, employs me, works on me.
The Character of Christ's People
Charles Spurgeon
“They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”—John 17:16.
The Lord’s people should not go along with the rest in their worldliness. Their characters should be visibly different.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Review: Mission at Nuremberg (2014)

Mission at Nuremberg. Tim Townsend. 2014. HarperCollins. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

Wow. It almost deserves another WOW. Mission At Nuremberg is an amazing nonfiction read. It is incredibly compelling and quite thought-provoking. The full title of this one is as follows, Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis. Regardless of whether you are a Christian or not, I think this one is worth reading and discussing because of the subject matter. It is grounded in history; its subject is the Nuremberg trial. Townsend's focus is on the twenty-two defendants and their families, the two to three chaplains that did prison ministry, and a handful of the military personnel. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the Nuremberg trials, and an examination of war crimes. If there is one person who is the 'hero' of this one it would be the Lutheran chaplain, Henry Gerecke. He was an army chaplain who was offered an opportunity after the war. No one made him say "yes". The choice was his and his alone.

Mission at Nuremberg is a powerful story. It provides readers with so much to think about. It is very matter of fact. The narrative might resonate, but, the text is not deliberately manipulative. In my opinion. It shares the truth as it is: raw, ugly, and messy. But it also shares the gospel: able to transcend humanity's fallenness, able to save and deliver the chief of sinners. The subject matter is significant: just as significant now as it was then.

It was the victorious Allies who were judging the crimes of the Nazi leaders at Nuremberg, but it would be a pastor of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod who would try and convince those criminals that it was really God's judgment that they should fear. (8)
For Gerecke, the decision to accept the assignment wasn't easy. He wondered how a preacher from St. Louis could make any impression on the disciples of Adolf Hitler. Would his considerable faith in the core principles of Christianity sustain him as he ministered to monsters? (8)
He was terrified by the prospect of being close to the men who had tried to take over the world. Would he have to shake their hands? He imagined that simply feeling their breath on his face would be sickening. How could he comfort these Nazis who had caused the world so much heartache? How could he minister to the leaders of a movement that had taken millions of lives? (104)
He realized that God wanted something incredible from him…If, as never before, he could hate the sin but love the sinner, he thought, now was the time. (105)
Religion was something the Allies were also going to have to contend with, specifically, whether to supply the architects of the Holocaust with a Christian minister to comfort their spirits as they explained to the world the murder of six million Jews. The decision for adding this provision had come late and was possibly more controversial even than putting the Nazis on trial. (135)
Before the Nuremberg trials, there are no records of American military chaplains being assigned to provide religious support to the enemies of their country. Throughout history, captured clerics typically ministered only to their own flocks in prisoner-of-war camps where they, too, were prisoners. But the strict security at Nuremberg made it impossible to assign German army chaplains to look after the spiritual needs of Hitler's inner circle. Instead, with the world's attention turned to postwar Germany, the Allies decided that despite the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity leveled against the defendants, these men deserved spiritual succor. (137)
Gerecke was frightened as they approached Hess's cell door. "How could I say the right thing, and say it in German?" he thought. When they entered, Hess, who was six three, stood up from his bunk, towering over Gerecke. "This is Chaplain Gerecke, who will be on duty here from now on," Eggers told Hess. "He will conduct services and be available for counsel if you wish to have him." Gerecke offered the Nazi his hand, and Hess took it. The act of an army chaplain physically touching a Nazi so repelled Americans that Gerecke was later severely criticized for even shaking hands with the defendants. It wasn't an easy gesture for the chaplain to make, and it didn't mean that he was unconcerned with their crimes. Yet he wrote later that he had offered his hand "in order that the Gospel be not hindered by any wrong approach I may make…I knew I could never win any of them to my way of thinking unless they liked me first." "Furthermore," he continued," I was there as the representative of an all-loving Father. I recalled too, that God loves sinners like me. These men must be told about the Savior bleeding, suffering and dying on the Cross for them." (140-1)
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Week in Review: July 6-12

REB (Revised English Bible)

  • Psalms 42-118
  • Luke 21-24
  • John
  • Acts 1-5

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Review: A Captain for Laura Rose

A Captain for Laura Rose. Stephanie Grace Whitson. 2014. FaithWords. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

A Captain for Laura Rose is historical fiction set in 1867. Miss Laura Rose White is the heroine. Her father, now deceased, was a captain of the steamboat, Laura Rose. Her brother is now captain of the Laura Rose. Laura knows how to pilot the boat very well. In fact, she knows just as much if not more than her brother, Joe. And she doesn't have her brother's weakness for alcohol. But. She cannot get her license and be an official captain or second pilot because she's a woman. Laura is convinced that one day she will, she most definitely will. But. At the beginning of the novel, her main concern besides sobering up her brother, is to get the Laura Rose ready to go. They need money! They need lots of money! There are bills to pay, debts to pay.

Her brother's best friend, Finn MacKnight is also a pilot. He used to  work for their father. Before his own troubles with alcohol and/or arrogance led to his dismissal. Now that he's sober, he wants a second chance to prove himself. A chance that Joe is definitely willing, more than willing in fact, to give him. It helps that these two are best, best friends. And that Joe happens to be in love with Finn's younger sister, Adele. Laura Rose is willing to certain degree. If her mother and brother think that giving Finn a second chance is a great idea, the right thing to do, the Christian thing to do, then she'll go along with it. She's not going to insist on her own way. She knows some battles are worth fighting, and, others not so much.

One battle that is important for her is without a doubt retaining ownership of the Laura Rose, of settling her father's debts, of holding onto her legacy. She will fight to keep the Laura Rose.

Much fight will be required. I can't say much more about all the events in this one. But. Expect some romance….

I definitely enjoyed this one!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Review: A Sensible Arrangement

A Sensible Arrangement. Tracie Peterson. 2014. Bethany House. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

For readers who like marriage-of-convenience romances, A Sensible Arrangement is quite lovely. Marty Dandridge Olson is the heroine. She's a widow in her thirties who wants to leave Texas behind her because it holds too many painful memories. She loves her sister and brother-in-law very much. But staying where she is on her own ranch, the place she lived and loved with her husband is too hard on her. So she decides to respond to an ad from a Colorado banker.

Jacob Wythe is the hero. He is looking for a "Lone Star" bride. What he didn't mention in the ad is that it is his dream, his big, big dream, to move to Texas and own a ranch of his own. He is a banker in Denver. And he's somewhat successful at what he does. His boss seems to like him a good deal. But. He hates banking. He wants a simpler life. He's aware that it is financially risky and physically demanding, but, that is what he wants.

These two marry. She still is clueless that he wants to move to Texas. She thinks that Denver will be her long-term residence. She's unsure if she'll fit into society's elite circle. But she's willing to make the effort. He is clueless that his wife actually owns a ranch already.

A marriage of convenience. Yes, that's what it started out being, of course. But as you can expect, these two begin to fall in love with one another. But will her fear and anxiety and bitterness keep her from having a happily ever after? She's so afraid that her new husband will die if he becomes a rancher that she's determined to keep him right where he's at no matter what his dreams are.

A Sensible Arrangement is set in Denver, Colorado in the 1890s during an economic depression.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Year With Spurgeon #27

Gospel Missions
Charles Spurgeon
“And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.”—Acts 13:49.
Our doctrines, although they are supposed to lead to apathy and sloth, have always proved themselves to be eminently practical; the fathers of the mission were all zealous lovers of the doctrines of the grace of God; and we believe, the great supporters of missionary enterprise, if it is to be successful, must always come from those who hold God’s truth firmly and boldly, and yet have fire and zeal with it, and desire to spread it everywhere.
Oh! if you could have seen Paul preach, you would not have gone away as you do from some of us, with half a conviction, that we do not mean what we say. His eyes preached a sermon without his lips, and his lips preached it, not in a cold and frigid manner, but every word fell with an overwhelming power upon the hearts of his hearers. He preached with power, because he was in downright earnest. You had a conviction, when you saw him, that he was a man who felt he had a work to do and must do it, and could not contain himself unless he did do it. He was the kind of preacher whom you would expect to see walk down the pulpit stairs straight into his coffin, and then stand before his God, ready for his last account.
We have no eyes now like the eyes of the Saviour, which could weep over Jerusalem; we have few voices like that earnest impassioned voice which seemed perpetually to cry, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thee as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not.” If ministers of the gospel were more hearty in their work of preaching; if, instead of giving lectures and devoting a large part of their time to literary and political pursuits, they would preach the Word of God, and preach it as if they were pleading for their own lives, ah! then, my brethren, we might expect great success; but we cannot expect it while we go about our work in a half-hearted way, and have not that zeal, that earnestness, that deep purpose which characterized those men of old.
How many there are who preach gospel, which they are afraid will not save souls; and, therefore, they add little bits of their own to it in order, as they think, to win men to Christ! We have known men who believed Calvinistic doctrines, but who preached Calvinism in the morning and Arminianism in the evening, because they were afraid God’s gospel would not convert sinners, so they would manufacture one of their own. I hold that a man who does not believe his gospel to be able to save men’s souls, does not believe it all.
We want a deeper faith in our gospel; we want to be quite sure of what we preach.
Now, my brethren, we have power; we are God’s ministers; we preach God’s truth; the great Judge of heaven and earth has told us the truth, and what have we to do to dispute with worms of the dust? Why should we tremble and fear them? Let us stand out and say, “We are the servants of the living God; we tell unto you what God has told us, and we warn you, if you reject our testimony, it shall be better for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.” If the people cast that away we have done our work. We have nothing to do with making men believe; ours is to testify of Christ everywhere, to preach and to proclaim the gospel to all men.
I believe there is a great reason for some of us to suspect whether we believe our religion at all. An infidel once met a Christian. “Because,” said the other, “for years you have passed me on my way to my house of business. You believe, do you not, there is a hell, into which men’s spirit are cast?” “Yes, I do,” said the Christian. “And you believe that unless I believe in Christ I must be sent there?” “Yes.” “You do not, I am sure, because if you did you must be a most inhuman wretch to pass me, day by day, and never tell me about it or warn me of it.” I do hold that there are some Christians who are verily guilty in this matter; God will forgive them, the blood of Christ can even wash that out, but they are guilty. Did you ever think of the tremendous value of a single soul.
Could we preach carelessly, could we pray coldly, if we knew what a precious thing it is about which we are concerned? No, surely we should be doubly in earnest that God will please to save sinners.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Review: A Match Made in Texas

A Match Made in Texas: A Novella Collection. Karen Witemeyer, Regina Jennings, Carol Cox, and Mary Connealy. 2014. Bethany House. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

A Match Made in Texas is probably the best novella collection I've read in years. I absolutely loved it. It contains four novellas--all historical romances set in Texas. The novellas are "A Cowboy Unmatched," "An Unforeseen Match," "No Match for Love," and "Meeting Her Match."

The first novella was A Cowboy Unmatched by Karen Witemeyer. The hero of A Cowboy Unmatched is one of the Archer brothers. (Witemeyer has a whole series of historical romances starring the Archer brothers!) Neill Archer has left home wanting some independence. He is desperately in need of a job. He arrives in Dry Gulch, Texas, and does some initial asking around with no luck. While attending church, he is surprised that an ad from the newspaper has been slipped into his Bible. It looks like a widow in town needs a new roof. He takes the job. But the widow is NOT the one who placed the ad. The widow, to his surprise but not exactly to readers surprise, is young and beautiful. Also pregnant. Her name is Clara. This romance is lovely. It is. As he works for her, the two fall in love.

The second novella was An Unforeseen Match by Regina Jennings. I knew without a doubt that I would love, love, love, LOVE A Cowboy Unmatched by Karen Witemeyer. I had no idea that I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this novella by Regina Jennings. It took me completely by surprise. I found it giddy-making. Grace O'Malley is a school teacher who has slowly but surely been going blind. It's only a matter of time before she loses all her vision. The town dismisses her from her teaching position. But they offer her Clara Danver's old homestead. (I should probably mention that all four novellas begin in Dry Gulch). Grace jokes in front of her friends that she should place an ad in the newspaper for a husband. She thinks her homestead would provide incentive enough for land-hungry men with big dreams. She really does want a husband. But she was only half-serious about placing an advertisement! So she is SHOCKED when a man shows up at her place saying he's come in response to the ad. Clayton Weber is responding to an ad, but, it's an advertisement for chores and such! Again romance blossoms as work is done! Clayton helps Grace adjust to her new life in more ways than one! This is just a sweet and lovely story!!! I adored it!

The third novella was No Match for Love by Carol Cox. Lucy Benson is looking to make some changes in her life. Her pastor comes to her with a suggestion. He's got a friend in another part of Texas (near North Fork) who is looking for a young woman to be a companion to his aunt. His aunt lives on her own on the family ranch. Lucy is excited to take the job. The nephew is surprised by the woman the pastor selected for the job! These two definitely are attracted to one another…

The fourth novella was Meeting Her Match by Mary Connealy. Hannah Taylor is a school teacher. As if teaching wasn't a full time job, she is also primarily responsible for raising her younger brothers, doing all the cooking, cleaning, mending, etc. Responsibilities weigh heavily with her, but, she is accustomed to it in a way. She has a secret admirer who is waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for an opportune time to make his move. But he is beyond shy. Mark Whitfield. When her father remarries suddenly and kicks her out, Hannah has a lot to think about! How did this happen? Will Mark make his move?

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Week in Review: June 29-July 5

REB (Revised English Bible)

  • Psalms 1-41
  • Luke 1-20


  • Ezra
  • Nehemiah
  • Esther
  • Daniel
  • Hosea
  • Joel
  • Amos
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Micah
  • Nahum
  • Habakkuk
  • Zephaniah
  • Haggai
  • Zechariah
  • Malichi
  • 1 Corinthians

NIrV (New International Reader's Version)

  • Ezekiel 34-48


  • Psalms 119-150

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, July 4, 2014

Book Review: God's Double Agent

God's Double Agent: The True Story of A Chinese Christian's Fight for Freedom. Bob Fu. Baker Books. 2013. 336 pages. [Source: Bought]
It was midnight. I placed my fingers on the bottom of the window and gently, quietly tried to pull it open. But years of paint had cemented it shut, so I held my breath and gave it a sharp yank. It opened at last—but not as silently as I’d hoped. I prayed that none of the police officers stationed by my building’s door had decided to take a cigarette walk around the block and that none of my neighbors were awake. If I was going to do this—and survive—there could be no witnesses...My chances of survival would increase with every floor I could safely descend without being detected. I quietly slipped out of the restroom and back into the stairwell, watching the numbers decrease. Fourth floor. Third floor. Second floor. That’s where I stopped. The agents were on the first floor, and at this point there was no turning back...After our experience of prison and house arrest, death wasn’t the worst option, but now Heidi and I had reason to fight for life. She was pregnant.
I loved, loved, loved God's Double Agent. This autobiography is compelling, fascinating, and inspirational. It was a very absorbing read. The autobiography begins intensely. He throws you into the heart of the action that's for sure. But that's just to pull you in. Soon enough he's gone back to the beginning, retracing his life. He tells of his mother and his father and his family life. He tells of his education, of learning English, of studying to become and English teacher, of his early years teaching in university. He tells of his courtship and marriage. He tells of his political struggles. His struggles with wanting to join and reform the Communist party. At one time he was both drawn to it and repelled by it. He had dreams of fixing what needed fixing and keeping what he saw as good. A time of disillusionment came,  of course, and his hope of life of a good life was crushed. The autobiography also focuses on his conversion experience, on his becoming a Christian, on his enthusiasm for evangelism, on his joy in telling everyone around him about Jesus, of the risks he took and the precautions he took as well. He tells of his time in prison. Of his fleeing his country and becoming a refugee. Of his work in America to help Chinese Christians. 

To be honest, I found this one interesting and informative throughout. It gives you plenty of context for understanding and appreciating his story. This is very much a history of China over half a century. It's a story that makes you think and consider. It's a story that makes you thankful. 

In 1958, Mao performed a gigantic cultural and social experiment called the Great Leap Forward—so named because it was the “great leap” into communism. For close to four years, she [his mother] walked from one village to another, asking for food from people who couldn’t spare it. Millions of people were dying in the Great Leap Forward, some say close to thirty million. That is double the number of people killed in the holocaust. Although my mom and siblings were fighting for life each day, others had it worse. Some people boiled leather to soften it into edible strips. Many of them died as they tried to swallow the leather, and the ones who didn’t choke had to ask for help to pry the solid waste from their bodies. People ate mud. Even more shocking, some ate their elderly relatives and children who’d passed away, either from natural causes or murder. In Chinese history textbooks, this time period was known as “Three Years of Natural Disaster,” which, of course, hid the government’s role in starving its own people. My mother did everything she could to make sure she and her children didn’t become just another statistic, a number lost to history.
Why did people have to treat us with so little respect? We were already poor and without social status. Why, on top of that, did we also have to deal with such mockery? Poverty, I decided, was the reason we suffered. As long as I didn’t have money, people were going to bully me. On that walk home from the mobile movie, I made a decision. I needed to become a millionaire. The fact that I was a urine-soaked peasant didn’t deter me. Education was highly prized in China, and after Mao’s reign, could be a road out of poverty.
As I was leaving, I noticed one of my American teachers, a guy named Dan from San Francisco, sitting in the courtyard. “What are you doing?” I asked, sensing he was listless from being so far from home and without students to teach. “Just watching everyone skip town,” he said, smiling. “Why don’t you come with me? I can show you around my hometown and we can think about setting up a summer English camp for high school students there.” It didn’t take much to convince him. He threw some clothes in a bag and we jumped on a train. When we arrived, however, he caused quite a commotion. “Yang guizi!” the villagers called out, using the sarcastic and affectionate nickname Chinese people call all foreigners. It meant “foreign devil.” Dan was tall, had brown hair, blue eyes, and fair skin, and was very obviously not from around there. Because he was the first yang guizi to come to our peasant village, he was treated like a panda in the zoo. No matter where he went, he was encircled with villagers asking him the same three questions: Where are you from, how old are you, and are you married? “Let’s have some fun,” I said, pulling him aside after detecting this pattern. “Oh,” Dan said. “Suddenly, the student has become the teacher!” After a little coaching, Dan dazzled the villagers by preemptively telling everyone he met three pertinent facts. Every time someone came up to him, he said, “Wo shi meiguo ren” (I am an American), “San shi sui” (I’m thirty years old), and “Guang gun” (I am a bachelor). Actually, the last was a local saying that means, literally, “I am a piece of single stick,” but the notion was communicated: he was available. This caused quite a stir, because the villagers were amazed at the single foreign devil who could speak fluent Chinese and also read their minds! In spite of the grievous circumstances of our return home, his presence in my village was a fun—if temporary—distraction.
Welcome to my new life as a counterrevolutionary, I said to myself the next morning as I walked slowly through the campus to start yet another day of forced confessions. I wasn’t looking forward to sitting in that room again. I’d already written all that needed to be said. They were simply trying to wear me down, to get me to confess to things I didn’t do, to incriminate friends who weren’t guilty.
Because I wasn’t familiar with Christianity, I didn’t understand the inherent dangers that came with being a Christian in China. I simply knew I’d been bitter, sad, and ready to commit murder. Then, after I believed in Jesus, I wasn’t.
“Quit delaying, and get in there to write your confession.” “Sure!” The deputy tilted his head, completely baffled at my quick agreement. I slipped into the room, got out my stack of paper, and began writing. I would have plenty of time to write my so-called apology for my time as a student protestor. But first, I had to write something else. “Last night, while reading a book, I believed in God,” I wrote. Even as I wrote the sentence, my heart felt like it was going to leap out of my chest. My pencil flew over the paper, recording all of my many thoughts about my whole world, now that it had become more vibrant. Suddenly I had become aware there was a supernatural power, and that knowledge had miraculously replaced the hatred and anger I’d previously harbored against so many people. I smiled as I thought of the Communist special agent standing outside my door. He just doesn’t know about Jesus, I thought, as I continued to write. Even the animosity I had for President Ming disappeared. And I even felt compassion for my former friend Joseph, who had publicly advocated that I be killed. As I finished my first page, I realized I was humming. The guard knocked on my door and barked, “What are you doing in there?” “Sorry!” I said, and continued scrawling out my spiritual thoughts. Pretty soon, I’d need to continue my forced confession so my agent would have something to grade. I’d been under surveillance for three months now, but a joy bubbled in my soul that couldn’t be quenched by any government guard.
During the Cultural Revolution, the government destroyed any Bibles they could find, and imprisoned, tortured, or even killed the owners. Even after Mao died in 1976, Bibles were hard to find. And that was still true when I was in college and graduate school. Though it was legal to own one, Bibles couldn’t be purchased. Most Bibles and religious materials were smuggled over the border in suitcases by courageous Americans and Brits, and then passed secretly to house church leaders, who distributed them sparingly.
I made a pledge to God. “Before graduation,” I prayed, “I want every one of my seventeen classmates in my program to hear the gospel.” After two years, I’d not been able to pull off this endeavor. I needed an opportunity to have all of my friends in one place. What better way than to have a wedding? Frequently, people plan their weddings around the seasons, or meaningful dates, or commencement ceremonies. What about having a wedding ceremony that could not only marry us but also introduce the guests to their Savior?
“If you want to be a faithful minister and follower of Jesus in China,” he said, “you should learn prison theology.” I nodded, though I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. “In prison,” he explained, “you find out more about God and His faithfulness than anywhere else. Jail is where God prepares His church in China.”
During the day, I taught future Communist leaders. During the night, I trained the illegal house church. “I’m a double agent,” I said, and laughed. “It’s quite possible the people you teach during the day will one day arrest you and those you teach during the evenings,” she said.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible