Thursday, February 28, 2019

Highlights from Psalm 42-72

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God?
When shall I come and appear before God? Psalm 42:1-2

The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime;
And His song will be with me in the night,
A prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:8

O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me;
Let them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your dwelling places. Psalm 43:3

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10

O clap your hands, all peoples;
Shout to God with the voice of joy. Psalm 47:1

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
Behold I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, you desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your prsence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You.
Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise. (Psalm 51:1-15)

But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. Psalm 52:8

Behold, God is my helper;
The Lord is the sustainer of my soul. Psalm 54:4

I said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest." Psalm 55:6

As for me, I shall call upon God,
And the LORD will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur,
And He will hear my voice. Psalm 55:16-17

Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. Psalm 55:22

When I am afraid,
I will put my trust in You.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I have put my trust;
I shall not be afraid.
What can mere man to do me? Psalm 56:3-4

I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me. Psalm 57:2

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises! Psalm 57:7

But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength;
Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For You have been my stronghold
And a refuge in the day of my distress. Psalm 59:16

My soul waits in silence for God only;
From Him is my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken. Psalm 62:1-2

On God my salvation and my glory rest;
The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62:7-8

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips. Psalm 63:1-5

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden,
The God who is our salvation. Psalm 68:19

Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You;
And let those who love Your salvation say continually,
"Let God be magnified."
But I am afflicted and needy;
Hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O LORD, do not delay. Psalm 70:4-5

Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come;
You have given commandment to save me,
For You are my rock and my fortress. Psalm 71:3

For You are my hope;
O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth.
By You I have been sustained from my birth;
You are He who took me from my mother's womb;
My praise is continually of You. Psalm 71:5-6

But as for me, I will hope continually,
And will praise You yet more and more.
My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness
And of Your salvation all day long;
For I do not know the sum of them. Psalm 71:14-15

O God, You have taught me from my youth,
And I still declare Your wondrous deeds.
And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me,
Until I declare Your strength to this generation,
Your power to all who are to come. Psalm 71:17-18

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: Knowing Christianity

Knowing Christianity. J.I. Packer. 1995. 191 pages. [Source: Bought] 

First sentence: Knowing God. Is there any greater theme to study? Is there any nobler goal to aim at? Is there any greater good to enjoy? Is there any deeper longer in the human heart than the desire to know God? Surely not. And Christianity's good news is that it can happen!

J.I. Packer is the author of Knowing God. If you haven't read Knowing God yet, then you should. That book is absolutely a must read. It focuses on the attributes of God.

Knowing Christianity has a different focus or slant. While in some ways it's still about knowing God, it's main focus is on answering a few basic questions: what is christianity? what do christians believe? which doctrines are key to the christian faith? how should christians live? In other words...Christianity has CONTENT. (It isn't a label that you can just slap on a person or slap on yourself.) That content should be learned/taught. It should be known. Doctrines should be informing how we live.

So essentially it spends a few chapters on HOW we know what we know and why we should live accordingly. OR to put it in its simplest terms: Christians should be people of THE BOOK. The Bible is true and authoritative. It is the Word of God for the people of God. Culture. Society. Polls. Traditions. Or own selfishness and self-centeredness. Or own love of pet sins. Or fears. NOTHING should have more authority than the Word of God in our lives. The Bible is trustworthy and true and Christians should hold it close and dear--live by it, be empowered by it, transformed by it. You cannot know God apart from knowing the Word of God. You just can't. You can't claim to want to know God and dismiss the Bible. You can't claim to want to live "in" God's will and never open the Word of God. You can't claim to be in right relationship with God but pick and choose which verses are true.

The book is also about God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, the cross, regeneration, prayer, worship, church fellowship, heaven, hell, etc.

  • Faith is the outgoing of our heart to God and Christ, who are there inviting us to themselves, saying to us, "Come and put your trust for eternal life in the Father and the Son." Faith focuses not on feelings but on facts, not on reactions inside us but on realities outside us, on the words and works of God who is there, searching us, knowing us, and personally addressing us, whether we like it or not. (15)
  • Knowing God is in fact more than knowing God. It involves knowing ourselves as needy creatures and lost sinners, for it is precisely a matter of knowing God in his saving relationship to us, that relationship in which he takes pity on us in our sinfulness and lovingly gives himself and his gifts to us for our renewal and enrichment. In other words, knowledge of God occurs only where there is knowledge of ourselves and our need and thankful reception of God's gifts to meet our need. (16)
  • God made the human race in order that he might communicate himself to us and draw us into loving fellowship with himself. This was always his purpose. But we have turned away from God; sin has come in; human nature has become twisted. The human race is now radically anti-God in all its basic attitudes. The human race is not interested in fellowship with God. It is no longer in our nature to love God or to respond to God in any kind of worship. We have our back to God, we might say. In consequence of the Fall it is now human nature to do over and over what Adam and Eve are found doing in Genesis 3, that is, hiding from God so as to avoid having to face our guilt and so establish independence of him in the way we live. We treat ourselves as though we were God. We live for ourselves; we are self-servers; we seek to bend everything to our own interests. In doing this, we fight God--the real God. We say no to him. We push him away from the center of our life to its circumference. We keep him at bay because it is our nature to do that. So God's communication to us in our sin has to do more than simply present truth to our mind; it has to work in the human heart and alter fallen human nature. (18)
  • If, therefore, God is ever to be acknowledged, worshiped and trusted as he should be, he not only must set his truth before us but must also give us eyes to see it, ears to hear it and hearts to receive it. And that, in fact, is precisely his agenda. (19)
  • What is called for now is the humility that bows before the Scriptures and accepts them as instructions from God. They are God preaching, God talking, God telling, God instructing, God setting before us the right way to think and speak about him. (22)
  • The privilege of knowing God's truth with certainty and precision carries with it the responsibility of obeying that truth with equal precision. Christianity is no armchair faith but a call to action. (27)
  • Bowing to the living Lord, then, entails submitting mind and heart to the written Word. Disciples individually and churches corporately stand under the authority of Scripture because they stand under the lordship of Christ, who rules by Scripture. This is not bibliolatry but Christianity in its most authentic form. (35)
  • Consciences not governed by God's Word are to that extent not Christian. (38)
  • Where basic beliefs about Jesus are denied and Christian behavior as he taught it is not practiced, Christianity does not exist, whatever may be claimed to the contrary. (53)
  • Luther gazed at Christ's cross with steady joy and gloried in the fact that whoever trusts Christ can be assured of his love. He once wrote a troubled friend, "Learn to know Christ and him crucified. Learn to sing to him, and say, 'Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and given me what is yours. You have become what you were not so that I might become what I was not.'" (79)
  • Meditation, which as I use the word means thinking about God in God's presence, is a helpful preparation for speaking to God directly, and one that we seem regularly to need. (103)
  • Never are Christians so fully themselves or so happy as when their hearts are drawn out in the worship of God. (110)
  • It is not a good sign when a person sees no difference between sucking sweets and eating a square meal. (119)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Book Review: Remaining Faithful In Ministry

Remaining Faithful in Ministry: 9 Essential Convictions for Every Pastor. John MacArthur. 2019. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from the introduction: Four successive generations of my immediate ancestors included men who faithfully served the Lord as pastors.

First sentence from chapter one: Second Corinthians 4 begins with Paul saying, “Therefore, having this ministry . . .” (v. 1).

In John MacArthur's newest book--or booklet--he shares NINE essential convictions that every pastor true to the gospel of Christ should hold and hold dear. These nine essential convictions do not come out of thin air, nor are they the result of MacArthur's personal preferences. No, these nine essentials are taken straight from the Word of God--drawn from 2 Corinthians to be more precise. This booklet examines 2 Corinthians 3 and 4.

So what are these nine essentials?

  1. Convinced of the Superiority of the New Covenant
  2. Convinced That Ministry is a Mercy
  3. Convinced of the Need for a Pure Heart
  4. Convinced of the Need to Preach the Word Faithfully
  5. Convinced That the Results Belong To God
  6. Convinced of His Own Insignificance
  7. Convinced of the Benefit of Suffering
  8. Convinced of the Need for Courage
  9. Convinced That Future Glory Is Better Than Anything

There is a chapter for each conviction, each essential. One doesn't need to read the book to guess what "convinced of the need to preach the word faithfully" might mean. But some of the others you may need the book to clarify for you.

I would recommend this one. I love that it is biblical. MacArthur doesn't talk opinions, ideas, philosophies, world views. He speaks the Word of God--what it meant then, what it means now. And guess what--those two don't contradict shouldn't really contradict one another. I love that it focuses on teaching. Perhaps he's assuming that his audience wants to learn, but I think he's assuming correctly! I love that he introduces Greek words, shows how various translations translate the word in the passage, and then gives us his opinion on what the passage means--in this case, what Paul means.

For example,
As he unpacks his philosophy in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul gives us a detailed answer to the question of how he remained faithful in the midst of so much adversity. He begins the chapter with this triumphant declaration: “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart” (v. 1).  Modern translations typically say, “We don’t give up” (or some close equivalent). The Greek verb Paul uses (egkakeō) is a combination of two common words.The first is a form of the preposition en, which speaks of being at a state of rest or surrender “in” or “among” something. The main root is a noun, kakeō, meaning “wickedness” or “depravity.” So the sense of the expression is, “We do not give in to evil”—much stronger than if he were merely saying, “We don’t grow weary.” In other words, this is not only about resisting fatigue, discouragement, or cowardice. There’s a powerful note of holy defiance in Paul’s tone.
MacArthur is able to pack a lot of insight into this little booklet. He's concise. He has a point he wants to make and gets straight to it. Sometimes you have to love a no-nonsense approach.

Favorite quotes:

  • When you see the word therefore in Scripture, you have to ask what it’s there for.
  • To sum up, the old covenant offered sinners no hope.The new covenant offers “such a hope [that] we are very bold”(2 Cor. 3:12)...This is a powerful argument for staying focused on gospel truth—proclaiming the whole message of the gospel, studying the details of the gospel, defending the doctrines of the gospel, meditating on the promises of the gospel, encouraging one another with the precepts of the gospel, and singing about the glories of the gospel. We must never forget what a privilege it is to be called as ministers of the new covenant.
  • God doesn’t call us because of any aptitude or proficiency we develop on our own. We are not in ministry because we are somehow more righteous or more worthy than others. It is a mercy. Every good thing that comes to us is an undeserved mercy. By God’s great mercy he calls us, equips us, and surrounds us with men and women who come alongside to serve the Lord in partnership with us. It’s an undeserved privilege, and the moment any minister begins to see his calling any other way, he is on the road to disaster.
  • When declared with conviction and clarity, God’s Word is always profitable, even when the results are not immediately obvious. In fact, the supreme encouragement for making God’s Word the centerpiece of our ministry strategy is summed up in a promise that comes from God’s own mouth in Isaiah 55:10–11.
  • It’s never right to adjust the message or employ manipulative strategies in order to elicit a more positive response. Doing so suggests that the minister deserves at least partial credit for the results.
  • On the one hand we might say that the doctrine of human depravity is the most discouraging doctrine in the Bible. Unbelievers are spiritually dead, without the capacity to love God, obey him, or please him (Rom. 8:7–8)—much less believe in him by their own freewill choice or initiative. But in another sense, as we seek to share the gospel with a hostile world, we should be encouraged by the fact that it is outside the scope of our range or abilities to awaken dead sinners. It means our only duty is to be faithful, through the open statement of gospel truth, to appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
  • We speak what we believe. Paul is saying, “My convictions give rise to courage. If I truly believe something, I say it. I don’t edit myself.” 
  • I’m tasked with delivering a message, not with masterminding a compromise between human opinion and divine revelation. When I preach, I can think of one thing only: Is this true? I believe; therefore I speak.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, February 25, 2019

Book Review: The Christian Book of Mystical Verse

The Christian Book of Mystical Verse: A Collection of Poems, Hymns, and Prayers for Devotional Reading. A.W. Tozer, editor. 1991/2016. 177 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: The purpose of this book is to bring together in one convenient volume some of the best devotional verse the English language affords, and thus to make available to present-day Christians a rich spiritual heritage, which the greater number of them for various reasons to not now enjoy.

The word mystic might throw some readers off--give the wrong impression--the introduction clarifies exactly what is meant by the word mystic.
The word “mystic” as it occurs in the title of this book refers to that personal spiritual experience common to the saints of Bible times and well known to multitudes of persons in the post-biblical era. I refer to the evangelical mystic who has been brought by the gospel into intimate fellowship with the Godhead. His theology is no less and no more than is taught in the Christian Scriptures. He differs from the ordinary orthodox Christian only because he experiences his faith down in the depths of his sentient being while the other does not. His religious experience is something elemental, as old as time and the creation. It is immediate acquaintance with God by union with the Eternal Son. It is to know that which passes knowledge.  
So what makes a poem or hymn mystical?!
The hymns and poems found here are mystical in that they are God-oriented; they begin with God, embrace the worshipping soul and return to God again.
The only healthy emotions are those aroused by great ideas, and even these must be restrained and purified by the Spirit of God or they will spend themselves in weak and sterile rhymes.
This devotional collection is arranged by topic or theme. The sections are: "Adoration of the Godhead," "Devotional Meditations on the Cross of Christ," "Penitential Reflections on Our Sins," "Rejoicing in Forgiveness and Justification," "Yearning for Purity of Heart," "Aspirations After God," "Delighting in God's Presence," "The Raptures of Divine Love," "The Rest of Faith," "The Spiritual Warfare," "Victory Through Praise," "The Prayer of Quiet," "The Bliss of Communion," "Joyous Anticipation of Christ's Return," and "Immortality and the World To Come."

Contributors include: Isaac Watts, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sir John Bowring, Fredrick William Faber, Walter Shelly, Henry Hart Milman, Charles Wesley, Jacques Bridaine, Bernard of Clairvaux, John S.B. Monsell, Christina Rossetti, John Wesley, Johann Andreas Rothe, Nicolaus Ludwig Von Zinzendorf, Nahum Tate, Nicholas Brady, Jeanne Marie de la Motte-Guyon, Gerhard Tersteegen, Oliver Holden, Paul Gerhardt, Mary Bowley Peters, George C. Neumark, William Cowper, Jean Sophia Pigott, Anna Laetitia Waring, Thomas Blacklock, Martin Rinckart, Michael Angelo, Thomas Moore, John Newton, Thomas Hastings, T.P, Johann Scheffler, Horatius Bonar, Reginald Heber, Philipp Nicolai, John Cennick, Henry Ware, Christian F. Gellert, Lord Plunket, Pierre Abelard, Anne R Cousin, and Bernard of Cluny. Some contribute just one or two pieces. Others contribute DOZENS.

I began reading this one with a good deal of skepticism. I'm not a fan of the word mystical or mystic. But I am a fan of A.W. Tozer. These poems--hymns--were selected by Tozer and among his favorites. I am not naturally drawn to poetry--and while I love music--I usually need to HEAR music to love a lyric.

I can't say that I had a reaction to every poem. That would be a lie. But I did find myself loving a handful of poems. As in LOVING. I wasn't expecting that. I wasn't expecting these words to speak to me--to speak of me.

From "Lord of All Being, Throned Afar" by Oliver Wendell Holmes
Grant us thy truth to make us free,
and kindling hearts that burn for thee,
till all thy living altars claim
one holy light, one heavenly flame. 
This flame/fire/burning theme is NOT new to modern worship music.

From "The Thought of God" by Frederick W. Faber
The thought of Thee, above, below,
Around me and within,
Is more to me than health and wealth,
Or love of kith and kin. (second stanza)
To think of Thee is almost prayer,
And is outspoken praise;
And pain can even passive thoughts
To actual worship raise. (tenth stanza)
O Lord! I live always in pain,
My life's sad undersong,
Pain in itself not hard to bear,
But hard to bear so long.  (eleventh stanza)
Little sometimes weighs more than much,
When it has no relief;
A joyless life is worse to bear
Than one of active grief. (twelfth stanza)
All murmurs lie inside Thy Will
Which are to Thee addressed;
To suffer for Thee is our work,
To think of Thee our rest. (fourteenth stanza)
This one resonated with me. I'm not sure I love the 'joyless life is worse to bear than one of active grief' bit. BUT all the rest I've shared...I've lived.

From "The Fear of God" by Frederick W. Faber
A special joy is in all love
For objects we revere;
Thus joy in God will always be
Proportioned to our fear. (fourth stanza)
They love Thee little, if at all,
Who do not fear Thee much;
If love is Thine attraction, Lord!
Fear is Thy very touch. (twelfth stanza)
I think the fear of God is a lost doctrine that desperately needs to be rediscovered by the modern church.

"God Is Present Everywhere" by Oliver Holden
They who seek the throne of grace,
Find that throne in every place;
If we live a life of prayer,
God is present everywhere.
In our sickness or our health,
In our want or in our wealth,
If we look to God in prayer,
God is present everywhere.
When our earthly comforts fail,
When the foes of life prevail,
'Tis the time for earnest prayer;
God is present everywhere.
Then, my soul, in every strait
To thy Father come and wait;
He will answer every prayer;
God is present everywhere. 
From "All Must Be Well" by Mary Bowley Peters
Through the love of God our Savior, all will be well
Free and changeless is his favour, all, all is well.
Precious is the blood that healed us,
perfect is the grace that sealed us,
strong the hand stretched forth to shield us,
all must be well. (first stanza)
We expect a bright tomorrow, all will be well.
Faith can sing through days of sorrow, 'All, all is well.'
On our Father's love relying,
Jesus every need supplying,
in our living, in our dying,
all must be well. (third stanza)
From "Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting" by Jean Sophia Pigott
Jesus! I am resting, resting
in the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of thy loving heart.
Thou has bid me gaze upon Thee,
And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For, by Thy transforming power,
Thou has made me whole. (stanza one)
Oh, how great Thy loving kindness,
Vaster, broader than the sea:
Oh, how marvelous Thy goodness,
Lavished all on me!
Yes, I rest in Thee, Beloved,
Know what wealth of grace is Thine,
Know Thy certainty of prime,
And have made it mine. (stanza two)
From "Bless, O My Soul! The Living God by Isaac Watts
Bless, O my soul, the living God,
Call home my thoughts that roam abroad;
let every power within me join
in work and worship so divine.
Lord God, how wondrous are your ways!
How firm your truth, how large your grace!
You take great mercy at your throne,
and thus you make your glories known. (first stanza)
Lord, your eternal love is sure
for all your saints, and will endure!
Let not this wonder that is wrought
be lost in silence and forgot!
Let all the earth behold your face;
let all adore and know your grace;
the noblest with the humble join
in work and worship all divine. (third stanza)
God's Eternal Now by Gerhard Tersteegen
Now stillness 'midst the ever-changing,
Lord, my rest art Thou;
So for me has dawned the morning,
God's eternal NOW.
Now for me the day unsetting,
Now the song begun;
Now, the deep surpassing glory,
Brighter than the sun.
Hail! All hail! thou peaceful country
Of eternal calm;
Summer land of milk and honey,
Where the streams are balm.
There the Lord my Shepherd leads me,
Wheresoe'er He will;
In the fresh green pastures feeds me,
By the waters still.
Well I know them, those still waters!
Peace and rest at last;
In their depths the quiet heavens
Tell the storms are past,
Nought to mar the picture fair,
Of the glory resting there. 
I haven't decided absolutely that this is my new favorite poem. But I'm considering.

From "My Heart Is Resting, O My Lord," by Anna Laetitia Waring
My heart is resting, O my God--
I will give thanks and sing;
My heart is at the secret source
Of every precious thing.
Now the frail vessel Thou has made
No hand but Thine shall fill--
For the waters of the Earth have failed,
And I am thirsty still. (first stanza)
Glory to Thee for strength withheld,
For want and weakness known--
And the fear that sends me to Thy breast
For what is most my own.
I have a heritage of joy
That yet I must not see;
But the hand that bled to make it mine
Is keeping it for me.  (second stanza)
"O! Tell Me, Thou Life and Delight of My Soul" by Thomas Hastings
O! tell me, Thou life and delight of my soul,
Where the flock of Thy pastures are feeding;
I seek Thy protection, I need Thy control,
I would go where my Shepherd is leading.
O! tell me the place where Thy flocks are at rest,
Where the noontide will find them reposing?
The tempest now rages, my soul is distress'd,
And the pathway of peace I am losing.
O! why should I stray with the flocks of Thy foes,
'Mid the desert where now they are roving,
Where hunger and thirst, where affliction and woes,
And temptations their ruin are proving!
O! when shall my foes and my wandering cease?
And the follies that fill me with weeping!
Thou Shepherd of Israel, restore me that peace
Thou dost give to the flock Thou art keeping.
A voice from the Shepherd now bids thee return
By the way where the footprints are lying:
No longer to wander, no longer to mourn;
O fair one, now homeward be flying! 
From "At the Lord's Table" by Horatius Bonar
I have no help but Thine; nor do I need
Another arm save Thine to lean upon;
It is enough, my Lord, enough indeed;
My strength is in Thy might,
Thy might alone.
Mine is the sin, but Thine the righteousness;
Mine is the guilt, but Thine the cleansing blood;
Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace,
Thy blood, Thy righteousness, O Lord my God. (second to last stanza)
Prayer Before Communion by Reginald Heber
Bread of the world, in mercy broken,
Wine of the soul, in mercy shed,
By whom the words of life were spoken,
And in whose death our sins are dead:
Look on the heart by sorrow broken,
Look on the tears by sinners shed;
And by Thy feast to us the token
That by Thy grace our souls are fed. 
"The Blessed Morrow" by Gerhardt Tersteegen
'Midst the darkness, storm, and sorrow,
One bright gleam I see;
Well I know the blessed morrow
Christ will come for me.
'Midst the peace, the joy, the glory
And the light, God's own,
Christ for me is watching, waiting,
Waiting 'til I come.
Long the blessed Guide has led me,
By the desert road;
Now I see the coming splendor,
Splendor of my God.
There amidst the love and glory
He is waiting yet;
On His hands a name is graven
He can ne'er forget.
Who is this, who comes to meet me,
On the desert way,
As the Morning Star foretelling
God's unclouded day?
He it is who came to win me,
On the cross of shame;
In his glory well I know him,
Evermore the same.
O the blessed joy of meeting,
All the desert past;
O the wondrous words of greeting,
He shall speak at last!
He and I together ent'ring
The fair realm above;
He and I together sharing
All the Father's love.
Where no shade nor stain can enter,
Nor the gold be dim,
In His holiness unsullied,
I shall walk with HIm.
Meet companion then for Jesus,
From Him, for Him, made--
Glory of God's grace forever
There in me displayed.
He who in His hour of sorrow
Bore the curse alone;
I who through the lonely desert
Trod where He had gone;
He and I, in that bright glory,
One deep joy shall share--
Mine, to be forever with Him;
His, that I am there.
I haven't decided if I love, love, love this one...or not. At the very, very least it's given me food for thought. I haven't unpacked ALL the theology yet of this one. But for some reason it is resonating with me. It is in the section upon Joyous Anticipation of Christ's Return.

From "Jesus Lives, and So Shall I" by Christian F. Gellert
Jesus lives, and so shall I.
Death! thy sting is gone forever:
He, who deigned for me to die,
Lives, the bands of death to sever.
He shall raise me with the just:
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.
Jesus lives and reigns supreme;
And, His kingdom still remaining,
I shall also be with Him,
Ever living, ever reigning.
God has promised; be it must.
Jesus is my Hope and Trust. (first two stanzas)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Week in Review: February 17-23

Bible Reading

Did I read Revelation this week? Which translation? Revised English Bible
Am I keeping up with my 30 Days of Psalms, Psalms 42-72? How many times have I read it so far? Which translations? Yes. Revised English Bible, Jerusalem Bible, KJV, KJV, ESV, KJV, ASV.
Am I keeping up with the Daily Chronological Bible Reading Plan for the Growing 4 Life reading group? What have I read so far? Yes. We started Numbers this week.
Am I keeping up with the 90 Day Bible Reading Challenge (Knowable Word)? What have I read so far? Yes. I'm in Ezekiel.
Have I done any other Bible reading not related to one of those projects? Which books and which translation, if any? Yes. CSB Study Bible for Women Genesis 39, 40, and 41. 1599 Geneva Bible 2 Kings and 1 Chronicles.

Other Reading

Christian Fiction Read This Week:

Christian Nonfiction Read This Week:

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Devotional Journaling #8

I am reading two devotionals this year. One is Living Hope for the End of Days: 365 Days of Devotions from the Book of the Revelation by John Samuel Barnett. The other is Joni Eareckson Tada's Diamonds in the Dust.

Living Hope for the End of Days. This week's theme was "Look Into Christ's Eyes."

  • Have you ever wondered what it would be like to personally look into the eyes of Jesus Christ?

Yes. So has anyone who has ever listened to Steven Curtis Chapman. His Eyes is actually a great song. 

Diamonds in the Dust. 

  • When you read a book like Ezekiel, Daniel, or even the book of Revelation, please don't be confused by the strange and mysterious descriptions of God, or heaven, or terrifying accounts of the last days. These descriptions are man's best effort to explain the unexplainable. Instead of avoiding those books, rejoice that your God is high and lifted up, and will never be reduced to terms that we can manage. (February 19)
  • Happiness is fleeting and elusive, but joy is an overflow of the perseverance and hope that comes from demonstrating faithful sacrifice and committed service. (February 22)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Psalms 46:10, Various Translations

'Pause a while and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted over the earth!' Psalm 46:10 -- Jerusalem Bible

'Let be then: learn that I am God, high over the nations, high above the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- New English Bible

'Let be then; learn that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted in the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- Revised English Bible

'Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- KJV

'Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the heathen, and I will be exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10 -- 1599 Geneva

'Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- ASV

'Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- NASB 1977

'Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!' Psalm 46:10 ESV

'Stand silent! Know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation in the world!' Psalm 46:10 -- Living Bible

'Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.' Psalm 46:10 -- NLT

'Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- NASB 1995

'Stop your fighting, and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- CSB

'Stop your fighting--and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- HCSB

'Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- MEV

'Be still, and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth!' Psalm 46:10 -- Revised Standard Version

'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! Psalm 46:10 -- NKJV

'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- NIV 1984

He says, 'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- NIV 2011

'Surrender your anxiety! Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God. I am the God above all the nations, and I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- The Passion Translation

'That's enough! Now know that I am God! I am exalted among all nations; I am exalted throughout the world!' Psalm 46:10 -- CEB

'Be still, be calm, see and understand I am the True God. I am honored among all the nations. I am honored over all the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- The VOICE

'Be still and know that I am Elohim: I will be exalted among the Goyim, I will be exalted in ha'aretz. Psalm 46:10 -- Orthodox Jewish Bible

'Desist, and learn that I am God, supreme over the nations, supreme over the earth.' Psalm 46:10, Complete Jewish Bible

'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted in the Gentiles, I will be exalted in the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- Jubilee Bible

Our God says, 'Calm down, and learn that I am God! All nations on earth will honor me.' Psalm 46:10 Contemporary English Version

'Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God. I rule the nations. I rule the earth.' Psalm 46:10 -- God's Word Translation

'Stop fighting,' he says, 'and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme over the world.' Psalm 46:10 -- Good News Translation

'Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.' Psalm 46:10 -- The Message

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, February 22, 2019

Book Review: The New England Primer 1777

New England Primer (1777 edition). Various authors. 90 pages. [Source: Online]

First sentence: HOW glorious is our heavenly King, Who reigns above tha Sky! How shall a Child presume to sing His dreadful Majesty!

Premise/plot: This is essentially the first textbook specifically written/published for the American colonies. The book was published before 1777--by almost a century--but earlier copies than the 1777 edition are rare. I found no online sources for earlier editions. Benjamin Harris published it in America--Boston, I believe; he had published a textbook or primer entitled The Protestant Tutor in England before fleeing to America in 1686.

My thoughts: It would be easy for most modern readers to dismiss this one completely as outdated religious propaganda. But what is a Christian to make of The New England primer?

One section of this one reminded me of my own instruction in reading--for better or worse. They have separated out vowels and consonants into "easy syllables."
Ab, eb, ib, ob, ub
ac, ec, ic, oc, uc
ad, ed, id, od, ud
af, ef, if, of, uf
ag, eg, ig, og, ug
aj, ej, ij, oj, uj
ba, be, bi, bo, bu
ca, ce, ci, co, cu
da, de, di, do, du
fa, fe, fi, fo, fuc
ga, ge, gi, go, gu
ha, he, hi, ho, hu
I can't honestly say that I learned to LOVE reading based on this system of sounding out letters. First learning to "blend" two letters into one sound...but I did learn to read.

Some of the words in the "words of one syllable, two syllables, three syllables, four syllables, etc." are interesting. You'd never really think about children needing HOW to read them. Words such as argument, damnify, abominable, abomination, mortification, etc.

Some of the alphabet poems are better than others. I do like "In Adams's fall/ We sinned all."

One section pairs the alphabet with bible verses. This again is very similar to my own instruction. Though not the exact same pairings--but the general idea.

It does include the Lord's Prayer and The Creed. Surely these are still relevant for believers of all age to be familiar with.

The Verses for Children...I found lines here and there which I liked.
He gave me life, and gives me breath,
And he can save my soul from death,
By JESUS CHRIST my only Lord,
According to his holy word.
He clothes my back and makes me warm:
He saves my flesh and bones from harm.
He gives me bread and milk and meat
And all I have that's good to eat.
When I am sick, he if he please,
Can make me well and give me ease:
He gives me sleep and quiet rest,
Whereby my body is refresh'd
The Lord is good and kind to me,
And very thankful I must be:
I must obey and love and fear him,
By faith in Christ I must draw near him.  
Now I lay me down to take my sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.  
It does include a list of proper names of men and women to "teach children to spell their own..." I can't say many of these are common these days. I wonder how many Xenophon's there were among the Puritans? Mehitable does make the list for women.

One section focuses on the martyr John ROGERS and the advice he gave his children in the days before his death.

It does include the WESTMINSTER shorter catechism. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the Westminster Catechism. It is AWESOME. There are 107 questions in this catechism.
 Quest. WHAT is the chief end of man ?
Ans. Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him ?
A. The word of God which is contained in the scriptures of the old and new testament is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God and enjoy him.
 Q. 3. What do the scriptures principally teach ?
A. The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man. 
I am all for teaching catechisms to children--to believers--of all ages. Though I did not discover them until I was an adult.

The next section is "Spiritual Milk for American Babes" by John Cotton.
Q. WHAT hath God done for you ?
A. God hath made me, he keepeth me, and he can save me.
Q. Are you then born a sinner ?
A. I was conceived in sin, & born in iniquity.
Q. What is your birth sin ?
A. Adam's sin imputed to me, and a corrupt nature dwelling in me.
Q. What is your corrupt nature ?
A. My corrupt nature is empty of grace, bent unto sin, only unto sin, and that continually.  
Q. What is sin ?
A. Sin is a transgression of the law.
Q. What is faith ?
A. Faith is the grace of the Spirit, whereby I deny myself, and believe on Christ for righteousness and salvation.
Q. What is prayer ?
A. It is calling upon God in the name of Christ by the help of the Holy Ghost, according to the will of God.
Q. What is repentance ?
A. Repentance is a grace of the Spirit, whereby I loath my sins, and myself for them and confess them before the Lord, and mourn after Christ for the pardon of them, and for grace to serve him in newness of life.
I honestly don't know what to make of the rhyming dialogue between Christ, Youth and Devil. I'm stumped.

It ends with further advice to children on how to live.

Overall, there were elements that I liked--namely the catechisms and creeds--and elements that perhaps weren't as timeless.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Book Review: A Hilltop in Tuscany

A Hilltop in Tuscany. (A Garden in Paris #2) Stephanie Grace Whitson. 2006. Bethany House. 301 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: "You should see her, Jeff."

Premise/plot: A Hilltop in Tuscany is the sequel to Stephanie Grace Whitson's A Garden in Paris. This contemporary Christian romance novel has multiple narrators: Liz Davis, Mary or "Mimi" Davis, and Jeffrey Scott. Liz and Jeff are engaged to be married. Mimi is now living in Paris and settling down. She's not sure if she's in a relationship with her ex...or...perhaps falling madly, deeply in love with her ex's best friend. Liz is in bridezilla mode. Jeffrey is dealing with FAMILY DRAMA and growing more tired each day of Liz's selfishness and stubbornness.

Will there be a wedding?

My thoughts: I really loved, loved, loved the first novel, A Garden in Paris. I liked the sequel. I am glad with how the story turned out overall. But this one seemed much more focused on getting Jeffrey Scott and Liz Davis saved--converted--then on anything else. I don't have a problem with that for the most part. I think because the focus was so much more on Liz and less on Mary that it became wearisome to me at times. Not that Jeff was always 100% right in every single conversation--but more often than not Liz was getting on my nerves and being a drama queen. I hope that a born-again-Liz will be easier to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

I am glad I finished this one. But it wasn't quite as magical for me overall.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Book Review: Dark Clouds Deep Mercy

Dark Clouds Deep Mercy: Discovering The Grace of Lament. Mark Vroegop. 2019. Crossway. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from the introduction: Learning to lament began on my knees. “No, Lord!” I pleaded. “Please not this!” It was 2004, and my wife, Sarah, awakened me, concerned that something was wrong with her pregnancy.

First sentence from chapter one: Who taught you to cry? The answer, of course, is “no one.” Although you don’t remember it, the first sound you made when you left the warm and protected home of your mother’s womb was a loud wail.

Dark Clouds Deep Mercy is a must read book for Christians in my opinion. It is simply an AMAZING read. Vroegop guides readers through the four elements of lament by teaching through four lament psalms and an entire book of laments--Lamentations. By the end of the book, believers will know what it means to lament, why it is important to lament, and perhaps more importantly still how they can themselves lament and learn from the process.

I believe that every person has either suffered pain or loss at some point in his or her life. So the book is more likely than not already relevant. If not yet--it probably will be soon enough. Lament is the Christian response to living in a world ruined--soured--by sin, injustice, pain, suffering, loss, grief, death.

What is lament?
  • Lament is how you live between the poles of a hard life and trusting in God’s sovereignty.
  • Lament is how Christians grieve. It is how to help hurting people. Lament is how we learn important truths about God and our world.
  • Lament is the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness.
  • Lament is rooted in what we believe. It is a prayer loaded with theology. Christians affirm that the world is broken, God is powerful, and he will be faithful. Therefore, lament stands in the gap between pain and promise.
  • Lament typically asks at least two questions: (1) “Where are you, God?” (2) “If you love me, why is this happening?
  • Lament is a path to praise as we are led through our brokenness and disappointment.
  • Lament is a prayer that leads us through personal sorrow and difficult questions into truth that anchors our soul.
  • Part of the grace of lament is the way it invites us to pray boldly even when we are bruised badly.
  • Lament helps us to practice active patience.
  • Trust looks like talking to God, sharing our complaints, seeking God’s help, and then recommitting ourselves to believe in who God is and what he has done—even as the trial continues. Lament is how we endure. It is how we trust. It is how we wait.
  • Lament tunes the heart so it can sing about trust.
  • Lament is not merely an expression of sorrow; it is a memorial. Memorials help us remember by making us feel the weight of a tragedy. Without them, we are prone to forget and repeat the mistakes of the past.
  • Lament is the language that calls us, as exiles, to uncurl our fingers from our objects of trust.
  • Lament rises from a firm belief in the character of God, an understanding of the brokenness of sin, and a heartfelt longing for the completion of God’s redemptive plan.
  • Lament is the historic prayer language for hurting Christians. It provides a biblical vocabulary and a model for talking to God about our pain or helping those who are walking through suffering.
  • Lament cracks the door open to talk to God again—even if it’s messy.
  • Lament helps us see that complaining to God is not necessarily sinful. For hurting people, knowing that this expression of grief is a biblical and a God-given category can be a watershed moment. 
What are the four steps in lamenting?
  • Turning to God
  • Bringing Your Complaint to God
  • Asking Boldly of God
  • Choosing to Trust God
Food for thought:
  • Without hope in God’s deliverance and the conviction that he is all-powerful, there would be no reason to lament when pain invaded our lives.
  • To pray in pain, even with its messy struggle and tough questions, is an act of faith where we open up our hearts to God. Prayerful lament is better than silence. Giving God the silent treatment, it is the ultimate manifestation of unbelief.
  • What portions of Scripture do you use to anchor your soul to who God is?
  • You are not meant to linger in complaint. If you never move beyond complaint, lament loses its purpose and its power.
  • Suffering refines what we trust in and how we talk about it.
  • Every Christian has a record of God’s steadfast love. Therefore, we should remind ourselves about God’s worthiness to be trusted. To be a Christian means trusting in what God says and who he is. We came to faith that way. We trusted that the Bible is true. We believed forgiveness is possible for those who receive Christ. Trusting in God’s grace welcomed us into God’s family. But that was only the beginning. Christians don’t leave behind trusting God after coming to faith. On the contrary, being a follower of Jesus requires that we walk through life in continual trust.
  • One of the greatest joys of the new heavens and the new earth will be the absence of all songs of sorrow. Perhaps we’ll sing the Psalms, but we’ll not sing all of them. In God’s presence there will be no need to lament. All our complaints will be complete. Our requests will have been answered. Praise will be in the air we breathe.
I loved, loved, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this book. It is a fantastic read. Every chapter is packed with the Word of God. It is a practical book as well. He teaches readers how to unpack their pain and suffering in a biblical way.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Book Review: The Crown and the Crucible

The Crown and the Crucible. (The Russians #1) Michael R. Phillips and Judith Pella. 1991. Bethany House. 416 pages. [Source: Bought]

From the prologue: 368 AD The solitary figure of a man receded into the distance.

From chapter one: A solitary figure bent himself against the elements.

Premise/plot: The Crown and The Crucible is the first in a seven book historical series set in Russia. The first novel opens in the 1870s.

Yevno Burenin and his wife have five children but he dotes on his oldest two Anna and Paul. Though they've been "free" for a little over a decade, life is still incredibly difficult. The family is facing a tough choice: should they send their oldest daughter, Anna, away to be a servant in a nobleman's household? If they do, then she might be able to support herself and find her own way in the world. If they don't, then, well they'll continue to struggle to have enough food to eat. Yevno feels that Anna is his brightest child--she can read and write--and that she deserves her best chance at life. Paul is bright but perhaps not wise. He's fallen into "bad" company--revolutionary company that is promoting dangerous ideas that could overturn the government.

The novel mainly follows Anna with only the occasional return to her family--her father and brother. Anna DOES decide to leave her family and small village. And she does begin her new life as a servant--first in the kitchen as a scullery maid--and then as a lady's maid. Now if you're thinking that's a HUGE jump--it is. But Anna catches--quite by accident--the attention of the spoiled Princess. The Princess Katrina is looking to replace her bossy Nanny with a maid near her own age. So Anna starts her training under the guidance of Nina--the maid of Katrina's mother Princess Natalia.

Readers follow the lives of two families primarily--Anna's peasant family and Katrina's noble family. Also some scenes with the tsar and his family are included here and there--but they are never the main focus.

My thoughts: I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. It had me at hello. Okay perhaps the prologue didn't hook me--nor did it deter me--but once I met Yevna and his family it was LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT. (And I was thankful I had taken the time to read the prologue.) I found this an addictive novel to read. I thought the writing was absolutely fantastic.


He treasured the written word almost as if he were able to read books himself. The Bible and the book of fairy tales were his two favorites.
God brings new winds to our lives to keep us from being too attached to this world, and to make us trust Him. He brings the rains, he brings the snows, then He brings back the sun. Always life is changing. No matter what happens, He will sustain us through it.
Even if from fairy tales, she knew something of the scope of human nature. She realized there were good people and evil. She knew there were choices to be made that would determine her future.
“A hundred servants!” repeated Anna. “I thought the prince had only his wife and two children!” “And no doubt they think they live as peasants because they have only twenty-five servants each!” Polya laughed.
If the army has taught me anything, it is that people are people. A man is a man, a woman is a woman—whatever their background and upbringing may have been.
The next hour passed as if it were only a few minutes. Oblivious to the frigid temperature, the son of a prince and the daughter of a peasant spoke openly and freely, as if no barriers existed between them.
It was a blessing there was no mirror. Poor Katrina had no idea how silly she looked.
“But rain is good, Papa, and troubles are not.” “How do you know that, my son?” “Is it not obvious?” “In time of flood, the rain appears as an enemy. Yet without the rains, the earth could not survive half a year. Might it not be so with the pains of life as well? 
My heart is so grateful that you are here—call it a fairy tale, call it whatever you wish. I was only saying that for most Russians, except for the privileged few, their lives are a matter of fate.
Fingal smiled. “No, that is not what I mean, dear Anna. Education and wisdom are unrelated. I love education and learning and knowledge, but give me a man with wisdom any time.” “Faith does not come by education, Princess, any more than wisdom does,” said Fingal. “What do you mean?” “Faith is something you practice, something you live—not a subject you learn about, like mathematics.” “But how do you do it, if you don’t know anything about it?” “Everyone knows enough to begin,” said Fingal with a tender smile.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, February 18, 2019

Book Review: Discovering the Good Life

Discovering the Good Life. Tim Savage. 2019. Crossway. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from the prologue: This is a book about life... When God created life, he meant it to be fulfilling. How do we find fullness of life in a world full of trouble? No one ever radiated more life than Jesus Christ. It is the burden of my heart, in the pages that follow, to uncover his perspective of life.

First sentence from chapter one: What is so good about life? Our hearts long for a winning answer.

Tim Savage sets out to answer the question WHAT IS THE GOOD LIFE? or to phrase it slightly differently WHAT MAKES LIFE GOOD? His answer is simple and obvious--to some--but perhaps not to others. Jesus is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. There is no good life apart from Christ Jesus--that is Savage's premise.

How he sets about sharing this good news about the good life is unique. He arranges the gospel as the story of three trees: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a shoot from the stump of Jesse, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit. (The second tree is NOT the cross but the person of Jesus Christ.)

A chapter is spent on each "tree" and he takes care to join all three together into a strong, compelling narrative. The last chapter is spent on the healing powers of the fruit of the tree of life. In this chapter he goes through many of Paul's lists. There was so much to unpack in this chapter--I feel like I could read it a few more times and still be picking up more insights.

But the book isn't just a unique or clever gospel presentation. The book is about how people answer some of life's biggest questions. What is the meaning of life? Is life good? Is life worth living? Why am I here? Why am I so unhappy? Why am I never satisfied? Why does life feel so empty and worthless? Savage points the way to HOPE and JOY. Again the answer is JESUS.

The imagery and phrasing of some of Savage's text was a bit new and perplexing to me at times. But overall I think this is a good read. I particularly enjoyed the later chapters of this one which really focus on how to live life well.

  • Looking carefully at the biblical account, we can see that the first tree is a gift more valuable than the cumulative worth of all the other trees. What makes the first tree so special is the prohibition against eating its fruit. Without such a sanction, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would probably differ little from its arboreal neighbors. It would possess leaves, bark, and fruit, just as any other tree. But by declaring it off limits, God distinguishes it from the others, if not by appearance, then at least by function.
  • The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil has the power either to make or to break human beings. It holds the key to life.
  • Why did Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit? The answer can be summed up in one word: desire. Powerful and passionate desire. 
  • Chasing desire, the first humans lost Paradise. This is the lesson of the first tree, and it is a lesson we ignore at our peril. When we seek to satisfy our desires apart from God, we will not find satisfaction of life; instead, we will find a life greatly diminished.
  • There is a word in the Bible for seeking to build a life apart from God. It is the word sin. Sin is an ugly word. If we had our way, we would probably banish it from our vocabulary, regarding it as a useless relic of a religious past. But banish it we must not. Sin is actually a good word, for it discloses the root of our problem. Without an understanding of sin, we don’t know what ails us or, consequently, how to seek a cure. 
  • Godly anger is the flip side of godly love. Not to be angry in the face of unfaithfulness is not truly to love.
  • “There’s only one safe route to the summit. All others could prove fatal.” Narrow prescriptions can both fend off death and enrich life.
  • Are we ready for the second tree? First, we must confess our need of it, acknowledging that we have veered from the trail. We must admit our sin. Second, we must ask—we must pray—that God would reach down to us again with a second tree.
  • In the ancient world, crucifixion was so reviled that the Greek word for cross, stauros, was considered an expletive and unfit for public conversation. Frequently in the literature, it was not even spelled out. Only the first letter, sigma, appeared, followed by six hyphens.
  • The cross was the most repugnant object of antiquity. But it was also history’s most fruitful tree. It was on a cross that a Shoot from the Stump of Jesse produced the world’s greatest harvest. It was there that Jesus restored life to humanity. Life drawn from an instrument of death—how is it possible? It is the quintessential paradox.
  • By swimming against the prevailing tide of his day, by pushing against the attempts of men and women to build better lives for themselves apart from God, by opposing the sins of humanity, Jesus ran headlong into the dominant flow. By pushing upstream, he elicited pushback. 
  • Jesus posed a mortal threat to the way they pursued their lives. To safeguard their existence they mounted a counterattack. In selfdefense, they pushed back. They sought to crush what would otherwise crush them and their way of life. It was a battle to the death—the countercurrent of Jesus pushing upstream and the popular current of humanity pushing back. At the intersection of the two flows, a mighty collision took place.
  • Jesus was no passive victim. He was a warrior with a purpose. On the cross, Jesus did more than just die to life. He did more than expire by asphyxiation. He also died to sin. By going all the way to the end of his life without once yielding to sin, without once seeking to make a life for himself apart from God, without once succumbing to selfish ambitions, Jesus overcame sin. 
  • Jesus died to sin. And by doing so, he overcame what overcomes us.
  • Liberated from the selfish gene, we are no longer enslaved to self. Too few of us are aware of this liberation. Even many Christians struggle to come to grips with the meaning of cocrucifixion with Christ. 
  • Through his death, he loosens the shackles of the flesh. He sets us free from selfishness and the self-serving dogmas of the world. He liberates us from the contaminating spirits of our day. 
  • Lapsing into selfish thoughts and self-serving behavior is something we all do. But we are not bound to continue. We are free from the domination of sin. Cleansed and forgiven, we are able not to sin.
  • Not only does Christ cut us loose from the shackles of sin, he also severs the cords of death.
  • Life is a quest for fleeting pleasure on the way to oblivion. Except that it is not. In a Shoot from the Stump of Jesse, God creates a new way to be human. On the tree of Calvary, the Creator trades places with us, climbing, as it were, into our well and taking our place at the end of our branch, submitting himself to the death which ought to have been ours.
  • No mortal can earn infinite love. But the inability to earn God’s love doesn’t stop God from loving us. He allocates his love not on the basis of what we do, but on the basis of who he is. 
  • We must return again and again to the foot of the cross and gaze at the love hanging there. We must allow the love of the second tree to penetrate our innermost beings. We must pray it into our hearts. We must marvel that it is ours, and not because of anything we have done, but because of who God is. He is a Father who loves his children.
  • Many contemporary Christians are better schooled in the first half of Christ’s work—death to the old life—than they are in the second half—birth to the new life. Early Christians, however, were well-schooled in both. The crucifixion was central to their faith, but so, too, was the resurrection.
  • The cross anticipates the resurrection and the resurrection crowns the cross. To focus on one and not the other is to diminish the work of both.
  • The last of the three trees occupies a strategic place at both ends of Holy Scripture. It makes a cameo appearance in the initial pages of the Bible, in the garden of Eden, where it is given the name “the tree of life” (Gen. 2:9). Little more is said about the tree until it reappears at the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation.
  • To be seated is to be not standing. Christ, as it were, is no longer on his feet, moving about and walking around. He is no longer healing the sick, teaching the disciples, multiplying the bread and the fish, rebuking the religious authorities, dying on a cross, or rising from the dead. In Paul’s vision of heaven, Jesus is sitting down, and it is important to understand why. It is because Christ has finished his work. This becomes clear when we notice where Christ is sitting, his position. He is sitting “at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). It’s the highest position of all, reserved for the ranking dignitary of the universe. It is a seat Christ occupies by virtue of having finished his work. He has fulfilled the divine commission, the job the heavenly Father gave him to do.
  • We are not as earthbound as we may think. We have been raised up with Christ so high that we can look into heaven. With one foot still planted on earth, we can lift the other foot and stride, as it were, into the Celestial City. We can seek the things above. We can live now in the light of the reality of heaven.
  • Paul is encouraging us to seek and to lock into the things above, which, as we know, is to seek and to lock into Jesus Christ. But note: it is not the Christ of the past, on the cross or in the resurrection, but the Christ of the present, seated at the right hand of God in heaven and presiding over ultimate realities. We lock into the ascended Christ.
  • To know ourselves to be indwelled by Christ is to be filled by infinite life. It is to be secure in him. It is never to lose heart. It is always to be more than a conqueror.
  • Sin clings to our inner beings like stage 4 cancer. It must be excised. We need the hands of a skilled surgeon. Gratefully, we are attended by just such hands. The one who dwells in us is also the one who—prior to indwelling us—scrubs us clean. Jesus is our surgeon. He has the power of God in his hands—hands working from a cross, hands paying the penalty of our sins.
  • Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other—these are the articles of the wardrobe of Christ, and also of people in whom Christ dwells.
  • Life, as God intended it, is a verb. Life is an action. Life gives itself away. This is a crucial insight, but an elusive one. Few of us instinctively regard life as a verb. Rather, we view life as a noun, or as a collection of nouns. We define our lives in terms of people, places, and things—in terms of meeting people, visiting places, and accumulating things. We pursue life by pursuing nouns.
  • It takes daily reminding that, as children of God, we are filled with a love so great that it can never be diminished—not by troubling circumstances, not by failed relationships, not by past regrets, not by present failures, not by any kind of loss. 
  • What do you say to people who have yet to discover fullness of life? You tell them the truth. Jesus Christ promised life and promised it in abundance. Moreover, he has done everything in his matchless power to fulfill the promise. On the cross, he purged the power of what ruins life—sin. On the cross, he paid the penalty of what ends life—death.
  • While much is said in the Bible about sin, about identifying and acknowledging sin, much is also said about putting sin in the rearview mirror. Prolonged contemplation of sin impedes forward movement.
  • What, then, do we do with sin? We confess it, weep over it, repent of it—but we do not linger unnecessarily over it. For Paul, the length of time elapsing between acknowledging his sin—“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”—and shifting into a higher gear—“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24–25)—is probably no more than a few seconds, since the two sentiments appear in consecutive sentences.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Week in Review: February 10-16

Bible Reading

Did I read Revelation this week? Which translation? Yes. Revised Standard Version.
Am I keeping up with my 30 Days of Psalms, Psalms 42-72? How many times have I read it so far? Which translations? Yes to keeping up. I read it in the RSV, HCSB, CSB, Third Millennium Bible, KJV, ESV and NIV 2011.
Am I keeping up with the Daily Chronological Bible Reading Plan for the Growing 4 Life reading group? What have I read so far? Mostly. I read ahead because I refuse to read Leviticus so slowly.
Am I keeping up with the 90 Day Bible Reading Challenge (Knowable Word)? What have I read so far? Yes. I might be a day or two ahead. But I finished Isaiah today.
Have I done any other Bible reading not related to one of those projects? Which books and which translation, if any? Not this week. It was a hard week.

Other Reading

Christian Fiction Read This Week:

Christian Nonfiction Read This Week:

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Devotional Journaling #7

I am reading two devotionals this year. One is Living Hope for the End of Days: 365 Days of Devotions from the Book of the Revelation by John Samuel Barnett. The other is Joni Eareckson Tada's Diamonds in the Dust.

Living Hope for the End of Days. This week's theme Find Hope In Christ's Majesty. He spent some time talking about King David and the Apostle John. 

  • There is no more beautiful or more clearly painted portrait of Jesus in the whole Bible than the first chapter of Revelation.
  • If you want to discover the magnificent sovereign majesty of Jesus Christ, you need to get into the habit of looking for Him throughout the Scriptures.
  • The first chapter alone far exceeds any ideas we may have previously formed of this One we call Jesus. In chapters 2:1–3:22, we see Christ’s glorious majesty challenging His church universal through special messages to the seven churches of Asia Minor. In chapters 4:1–16:21, we learn that Christ’s majesty is controlling His cosmos. In Revelation 17:1–20:15, we see Christ’s majesty conquering the rebellion on earth. In Revelation 21:1–22:5, Christ’s majesty unveils His paradise. In Revelation 22:6–21, Christ’s majesty is again seen in the extravagance of His salvation offer to all who come to Him.

Diamonds in the Dust.

  • It is not possible to always be happy. It is possible to always have the joy of the Lord. (February 10)
  • People are only as secure as the source of their security; if we are in secure in Christ, then we have every reason to be confident. (February 12)
  • If we feel like a martyr faced with heart-wrenching trials, perhaps we're concentrating too much on what God asks of us and not enough on what God has given us. (February 13)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, February 15, 2019

Book Review: God Is In the Small Stuff

God Is In the Small Stuff Twentieth Anniversary Edition. Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz. 2019. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: A popular book suggests that you don't worry about the small stuff. We agree, but we take exception to any idea that the small stuff isn't important. In fact, we want to encourage you to closely examine and cherish the seemingly everyday, ordinary circumstances of your life. Why? Because God is in the details of your life.

There are forty readings in this devotional-type book by bestselling authors Bruce & Stan. Each reading is SHORT and concludes with a proverbs-like list of inspirational fluff. Each entry focuses on a specific topic or theme. The readings are not necessarily related to one another--but sometimes they are. For example, there's a sequence of readings about parenting.

The authors' stated purpose for writing this one is: "to help you see God at His personal best. God created the universe, but He also created you. God knows you, God loves you, and God cares about the tiniest detail of your life."

The entries were devotional in nature. The authors may have refrained from calling these devotions instead using the word "essays" but they are essentially devotions.
Someone once said that you'll be the same person five years from now as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read. The idea is that you won't grow as a person unless you bring new (and hopefully positive) influences into your life. 
When you express yourself through writing, you reveal more about yourself than you ever could by talking, even if you aren't writing about yourself. 
The proverbs-y sections were hit or miss with me. Some I found thought-provoking. Some I found to be PURE fluff.

  • The times when you need God the most are when you don't think you need Him.
  • God won't take away a sin until you give it over to Him. 
  • The way you think about God does not define Him.
  • The person who looks up to God rarely looks down on anyone.
  • Appreciate the commands of Scripture as much as the promises.
  • A bible on the shelf is worthless; a Bible being read is priceless.
  • If you must worry, worry about why you won't do what you should do.
  • A wink delivers a powerful message, so be careful at whom you wink.
  • Leave funny and enthusiastic message on answering machines and voice mail.
  • What happens in you is more important than what happens to you. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Book Review: Navigate Your Faith

Navigate Your Faith: A Christian's Field Guide to Not Getting Lost. Ron Pratt. 2019. Charisma House. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: They wanted the blessings of God in their lives without any personal sacrifice. We live under grace and how we live is up to us was their heart view. They believed their job was to enjoy the lifestyle they desired. Jesus' job was simply to stamp His approval on every expression of that lifestyle.

Premise/plot: Navigate Your Faith is a blend of fiction and nonfiction. On the one hand, it stars a fictional couple: Jason and Cindy. Each and every chapter advances their story. They face challenges--many of them. On the other hand, the author--a pastor, I believe--speaks directly to readers--often in a passionate, zealous, admonishing way--though not without encouragement.

Topics addressed include entertainment, the internet, social media, drinking alcohol, flirting, infidelity, abortion, bitterness, etc.

My thoughts: Is the intended audience of Navigate Your Faith a "carnal" Christian? Someone who professes Christianity but doesn't take ever take the faith seriously? Someone who lives on their own terms and dismisses the Bible as only for zealots? Is it for those "Christians" who have "accepted" Jesus as Savior but never as Lord? Perhaps. That was my first impression anyway. I think the book assumes that readers know the gospel story, and have to some degree professed their faith. The book never did go there--what is the gospel? who is Jesus? how can I be saved? what is repentance? what is justification? what is sanctification?

The focus of Navigate Your Faith seems to be solely on sanctification. How am I supposed to live? Pratt argues that how we live matters--greatly. Christians are not free to live however they want. They  are to live under the authority of the Word of God and be led by the Holy Spirit. They are not to set their own standards of right and wrong. They are not to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to take seriously. They are to show their love for Christ by obeying Christ. Their minds are to be RENEWED; their lives are to be TRANSFORMED. Culture and society should not be forming the hearts and minds of Christians. Christians are called to live holy lives pleasing to the Lord.

The book seems to be building up to the critical moment when Christians like Jason and Cindy--and perhaps readers--ask Jesus to be LORD and surrender "the wheel" to him.

I liked the tell-the-truth-as-I-see-it-approach to this one. I did. I liked the passionate warnings. I don't disagree with the dangers Pratt warns his readers about. We are to live by our convictions and LISTEN to God as he speaks to us through the Word of God. We are not to quench the Spirit but be led by the Spirit. We are to live surrendered lives and be living sacrifices.

There were a few places here and there where his approach felt slightly off to me. For example, in speaking about abortion he lists four steps that are necessary for healing. They are: telling your story; forgiving the others involved in the situation; forgiving yourself; and trusting God with your future. Perhaps it's implied that there is a step zero: repenting/confessing your sin to God and receiving forgiveness. But it didn't feel implied in that chapter. It felt more like an elephant-in-the-room. God did get the fourth step. So he wasn't absent. This seems to be the part in the book where the focus starts to shift towards the importance of "making" Jesus or "accepting" Jesus as Lord of your life and stepping down off the throne of control. The remaining chapters continue this theme--let God be God and you stop trying.

I am not being critical of this specific book when I express my doubts to the school of thought that has "accepting" Jesus as Savior and Jesus as Lord as two separate events. I don't like the phrase "accepting" Jesus either. But I particularly don't like it when used with the phrase "accepting Jesus as Lord." Because Jesus IS Lord whether we recognize HIM as such or not. Even if we never "accept" the Lord's sovereignty--He IS Lord. It's more a manner of recognition and humility. To "accept" Jesus as "Savior" but not as "Lord" is to say, "Thanks for my ticket to getting into heaven. I'll see you on the other side. Meanwhile this is MY LIFE so stay out of it." This monstrosity just should not be--this goes back to being a "carnal" Christian as opposed to a Spirit-filled one. But is there such a thing as a carnal Christian? I'm not prepared to argue that there is--or that there isn't. Only God knows the state of another's soul. God is God. I am NOT God.

I think there is always a matter of growth. We grow from very little knowledge--the tiniest spark of who God is and what it means to follow Jesus--and keep growing our whole lives through. I am not saying that one isn't a Christian until one knows everything and lives by that knowledge. But I think part of being a Christian is realizing that it is a growing process--not a stagnant one. We should be always, always, always seeking more, more, more. We need nourishment. We need the Word of God. We need the teaching of sound biblical preachers and teachers. We need the support and encouragement of Christian friends and a church family. We need to mentor and be mentored. We need to be a community.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, February 11, 2019

Book Review: The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs

The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs. Philip Graham Ryken. 2019. [Feb 28] Crossway. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The woman slipped into the pew in front of me and sat down, alone, just a few minutes before the worship service began.

The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs is a commentary on the book Song of Songs or Song of Solomon--depending on your bible translation. Ryken guides readers verse by verse, chapter by chapter through this Old Testament wisdom book. He invites readers to think of this book as an album of love songs. There are tracks--songs--capturing the whole experience. Courtship. Wedding. Honeymoon. Being In Love. Fighting and making up again. The chapters of this one are poems--songs--and the story they tell isn't as straight-forward (if straight-forward at all) as other genres of Scripture--aka historical writings.

Why do believers need to study the Song of Songs?

In the introduction Ryken writes, "We live in a world where sexuality is ruined by sin, its beauty obscured by our brokenness. We need a divine vision for the way sex was meant to be, with a gospel that offers forgiveness for sexual sin and an empowering grace to live into the sexuality that God wants to give us."

Is the book about human sexuality and marriage? Is the book about Christ's love for the church? Every commentary has to pick a way to interpret the book. Ryken answers with a yes to both. He argues that it isn't about a historical couple--Solomon and one of his many wives. He argues that it is about an ideal couple--courtship and marriage as it should be even if it isn't always. He also believes that it can teach us a great deal about God's love for his people. When Ryken is through guiding us through the book Song of Songs, he takes a chapter to flash to the REAL happily-ever-after--Christ's marriage to the church as celebrated in the book of Revelation.

Who is this book for? Engaged couples? Married couples? Single people? Ryken's audience is all the above. He makes a case that the book is equally for the single. And not in the wimpy way that single people will one day marry and need to start preparing their hearts and marriage now for that moment when all the waiting will be over. He acknowledges that not every single person will marry--and that God's plan may include singleness. That God's good and perfect plan may never include marriage for some. To be single is not to be missing out on God's magnificent plan.

I had my doubts about how much I'd like this one. I am single. I didn't really know how applicable this one would ever be to me. But I found it worth reading.

Sexual restraint is spiritually fruitful. One day the cross-bearing we do with our sexual desires will be crowned with honor and consummated in the eternal life of Jesus Christ. 
We all have a choice to make, whether we are married or single, and whether we desire the same sex or the opposite sex. Will we let our sinful desires govern our reading of Scripture, or will we let the Bible teach us what we should want? Will we let temptation take control, or will we honor God with our bodies by embracing his purposes for our sexuality?
When obedience to God contradicts what I think will give me pleasure, let me ask myself if I love him. ~ Elisabeth Elliot
If I do love Jesus, I will choose purity for him over pleasure for myself. 
The Song of Songs is like the box top for a jigsaw puzzle. When you dump the pieces on the table, they're a total mess; you need a picture to help put them into place. The Song of Songs is a picture of love for people who are still figuring out how the pieces fit together. It doesn't show us everything that's broken, but mainly shows us the way things were always meant to be.
When the Bible says that God is our husband, and when it says that Jesus is the Bridegroom of our salvation, it means that we are loved with this kind of love--the ardent affection that we see in the Song of Songs. 
We need to be careful not to think that sexual sins are worse than other sins, or that they carry a special stigma. 
The sacrifice we make in pursuing sexual purity is a precious gift to God. Practicing celibacy is not merely refraining from any form of sexual intimacy; it is the active choice to dedicate our bodies to God. 
It only takes one person to forgive, but it takes at least two people to reconcile. This is the basic difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. 
The love of Jesus is as strong as death--no stronger! He loved you all the way to death on the cross, but his love did not die in the grave. His death was the defeat of death, and therefore on the third day he rose again with the power of eternal love. HIs triumphant love for you can never be extinguished by any doubt, drowned by any sorrow, or quenched by any enemy, which means that the song of his love for you will never, ever end.
When things go wrong, as they certainly will, we should remember that we are not off script. Instead, we should realize that whatever we are going through was always going to be part of our story.
Sin brings suffering into the world, and there is no way for anyone to escape it. But our trials are only temporary. We will have more joys and more sorrows until our story takes its final turn--one last twist in the plot. Then there will be no more death and no more pain forever!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible