Wednesday, January 29, 2020

An Exercise

Trust in...
Your conscience?
Your intuition?
Your reason?
Your intellect?
Your opinions?
Your feelings?
Your impressions?
Your experiences?

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick!

Trust in the...
world around you?
society you live in?
books you read?
pastors you listen to?
denomination you grew up in?
church you attend?

Trust in the LORD.
The Lord. 
Not a Lord.
Not "my" Lord. 
The lord of my own creating, 
of my own making, 
of my own imagination. 
The LORD revealed in 66 Sacred Books. 
The One True God.

Trust in the LORD with all...your heart
not some
not most
not sometimes
not most times
not as a last resort
not as a last hope

Unite my heart to fear your name, I cry!

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And do not lean on your own...

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways
not some of your ways
not most of your ways
not many of your ways
not a few of your ways

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And do not lean on your own understanding
In all your ways acknowledge him,
Accept HIS WAY
Admit that He is God; You are NOT.
Confess your weakness.
Confess your need.
Confess your sin.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
Teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

He who makes straight paths  is He who...

makes me lie down in green pastures.
leads me beside still waters.
 restores my soul.
leads me in paths of righteousness. 

Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, January 27, 2020

12. The Gospel According to Satan

The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies About God That Sound Like the Truth. Jared C. Wilson. 2020. Thomas Nelson. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian living; Christian nonfiction]

First sentence: BEFORE THERE WAS DEATH, THERE WAS THE LIE. It begins as a question, a splinter of inquiry slipping smoothly under the skin of the mind. But it’s not a question, really. It is a proposition wearing a mask. The question is a strange, new idea, a smuggled roster of “alternative facts” holding out the prospect of curiosities sated, mysteries solved, even of enlightenments achieved.

Wilson continues, "Before there was death, there was the lie. But before the lie, there was the Liar."

In Jared Wilson's newest book, he addresses EIGHT lies that are being propagated as truth by our society, yes, but also even in the church. (Certainly not every single church, some denominations are more welcoming of these worldly influenced truth-lies. But the influence of these "truths" on Christian thought is present--in our churches, on the radio and television, on bookstore shelves.)
I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 1 John 2:21 (ESV)
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but have itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth...2 Timothy 4:2-4 (ESV)
The eight lies Wilson addresses are as follows: 1) God Just Wants You To Be Happy 2) You Only Live Once 3) You Need To Live Your Truth 4) Your Feelings Are Reality 5) Your Life Is What You Make It 6) You Need to Let Go and Let God 7) The Cross is Not About Wrath 8) God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.

Depending on the lie, Wilson analyzes the lie for glimpses of truth. For example, in the first lie, the problem is with the word JUST. God does want you to be happy--but HOLINESS and being shaped into the image of Christ is more important. True happiness comes from knowing and enjoying God and walking in His path. And in regards to the seventh lie, the cross is definitely more than just about the wrath of God, but it's not about less. The wrath of God cannot be subtracted from the meaning of the cross.

Each chapter could certainly be read (or reread) on its own, but the chapters do build on one another.

I loved, loved, loved this one. I think it is a timely read. I have encountered these lies masquerading as truth. I bet you have as well. These are COMMON beliefs that you encounter in life. Sometimes you get a vague sense of something being a bit off. And other times it's like a RED or YELLOW alert when you encounter a lie. Wilson's book is clear and concise.

Favorite quotes:

"What is joy? Joy is the music that plays when our hearts are tuned to the frequency of God’s glory and our connection to it. Joy is the heart’s settled and worshipful contentment in our justification with God. Joy is the conviction that, no matter the sadness of our circumstances or the weakness of our bodies, we are secure in the sovereign God who loves us. Do you see how joy runs deeper than mere happiness? Happiness is dependent upon our circumstances. Joy is dependent upon our Savior. This is why, though sad times are promised to believers (John 16:33), we are also promised the gift of joy (John 15:11; Gal. 5:22)."

"What Satan would love for you to do is spend this life as if that’s all there is. First, he won’t want you to think about death at all, not even if it brings you a sense of dread. The devil likes to traffic in fear, but it’s not his immediate go-to, because he knows that fearful people often cry out for help, which means fearful people are very close to having their ears open to divine rescue. Instead, he wants you to think of death as some far-off thing, not a big deal, certainly nothing that could happen tomorrow or in the next five minutes. He wants you drunk on a sense of immortality. This comes somewhat naturally to teenagers, boys especially, but it persists in a kind of perpetual teenagerdom in Western culture where youth is idolized and immortality is sold in little packets by pyramid-scheming soccer moms and discounted by “lifestyle gyms” every New Year’s. “You only live once, and it might as well be forever.” That’s the first lie the devil tries. If that doesn’t work—if you insist on acknowledging your own mortality and finitude—he will say, “Okay, okay, yes, you’re going to die. And yes, it may in fact be tomorrow. So get as much pleasure as you can! Gather up those rosebuds, even the ones in somebody else’s yard, even the ones you’re explicitly told not to pick. You’ve only got one life, and it’s way too short to play by the rules.” If you won’t deny you’ll live forever, he will want you focused as much on the here and now as possible, as if death is a great nothingness that threatens to ruin the party. What the devil absolutely doesn’t want is for you to consider what comes after death. “You only live once,” he insists, not simply as a seize-the-day motivational proverb but as a theological dogmatism. He wants you to stop before you get to the last line of Ecclesiastes 11:9 when “for all of these things God will bring you to judgment.” You may think I’m overselling this. But “you only live once” isn’t only the motto of adolescent knuckleheads and adult thrill seekers. It’s the motto of every man whose investment in the future is limited to his retirement plan and the material benefits he leaves his family. It’s the motto of every mom whose chief concern for her children is that they end up healthy, in a good school or with a respectable spouse. It’s the motto of every person who goes through life never thinking of what comes after their last breath."

"The truth is, there is no “your truth” and “my truth.” There is only the truth. What we are saying when we say “I only need to live my truth” is that we don’t care about the facts as God sees them; we only care about the facts as we see them. There is a biblical book that’s basically all about this concept—“Everyone doing what was right in their own eyes.” It’s called Judges, and it’s full of bloodshed and perversion. Moral and relational chaos is the natural result of everybody living “their truth.”"

"Satan wants you to believe that you are all alone, that when you are stripped down to your essence and left with only pain, that’s all you have. He does not want you to see the reality that Jesus will never leave you or abandon you (Heb. 13:5), that he will be with us all the way to the end (Matt. 28:20)."

"When you get to the end of your rope, there is Jesus. This is grounds for immense confidence, even as life threatens to undo us. Even as the condemnation from our Accuser roars in our ears, the surety of Christ’s possession of us and our possession of him is something not even the supernatural power of Satan can assail. Therefore, hope defies what is seen. Everything may look bleak, our reality may be that we feel that all is lost, but if we have Christ, we defy what is visible. And we cling to hope, which demands what is invisible."

"The devil loves a bloodless cross. He doesn’t mind a shiny trinket around your neck so long as it’s not a shining treasure in your heart. Satan is afraid of the blood. He knows it washes sinners clean (Heb. 9:14; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 7:14), that it speaks the word of justice accomplished (Heb. 12:24). He knows that the bloody cross spells his doom, that on the hill Golgotha Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him” (Col. 2:15). And he knows the blood of Christ pays the wrath owed sinners (Rom. 3:23; 1 John 4:10), thereby forever making his accusations against God’s people null and void. The blood of Jesus spells the devil’s doom. Which is why he would love for you to keep your gospel nice and respectable. Tidy. Academic."

"The armor of God is our only defense against the flaming offense of Satan. But notice something unique about each piece of armor. Notice how each piece represents not a work of ours, but a work of God’s: • The armor is the “armor of God” (v. 13). • The belt is God’s truth (v. 14a). • The righteousness that can protect us is God’s (v. 14b). • The sandals are the efficacy of the good news of Jesus (v. 15). • The shield is the faith God has gifted to us (v. 16). • The helmet is our salvation (v. 17a). • The sword is God’s Word (v. 17b). None of these things originate in us or are anything we can do. From head to toe, we are shod in the powerful work of God. This is why Paul begins this treatise on spiritual warfare with the admonition to “be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength.”"

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Thoughts on Cheer

I recently binge-watched the six-part docuseries Cheers. It wasn't at all like I was expecting. And that's a good thing. It gave me a glimpse of what reality television COULD be or perhaps SHOULD be in a more-perfect world. I would recommend it for those who are drawn to human interest stories. I would recommend it for those looking for something authentic, genuine and thought-provoking in their reality tv.

It got me thinking. Much like Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK gets me thinking. How VERY LITTLE we know about those we pass by. You can't see another person's pain, loss, grief, heartbreak, heartache. You often can't see their strength, resilience, potential. You can't see another person's joys and sorrows, hopes and dreams. What would the world look like if we recognized that we are all walking wounded. That every single person has felt pain, is feeling pain, is healing from pain. Would we be kinder? Would we listen more? Judge less?

The series isn't 100% profanity free so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as family viewing if you've got little ones--but it GOOD.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

First Things First

I am LOVING my ESV Creeds Bible. I have read the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the Westminster Larger Catechism. I've started the Heidelberg Catechism. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the first question in both of these catechisms.

The Shorter Catechism

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever. [Ps. 86:9; Isa. 60:21; Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 6:20; 10:31; Rev. 4:11; Ps. 16:5-11; 144:15; Isa. 12:2; Luke 2:10; Phil. 4:4; Rev. 21:3-4]

The Larger Catechism

Q.1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
Answer: Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever. [Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Psalm 73:24-28]

Heidelberg Catechism

1. Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. [I Cor. 6:19, 20, Rom. 14:7-9. , I Cor. 3:23; Tit. 2:14.  I Pet. 1:18, 19; I John 1:7; 2:2.  John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14, 15; I John 3:8.  John 6:39, 40; 10:27-30; II Thess. 3:3; I Pet. 1:5. Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18.  Rom. 8:28.  Rom. 8:15, 16; II Cor. 1:21, 22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13, 14.  Rom. 8:14.]

For the warm, fuzzies it doesn't really get much better than the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism. In fact, I think this question would be a GREAT jumping off place for a funeral sermon. At the very, very least I think it would be a great jumping off point for a blog post.

I think you only get the warm and fuzzies about BELONGING body and soul to God if you've realized in your own life the joy of ENJOYING GOD, GLORIFYING GOD, DELIGHTING IN GOD.

So long as you're living for you, putting yourself first, glorying in self...then the idea of belonging to anybody but yourself--especially a kill-joy God--is anything but comforting and a source of hope.

But God isn't a kill-joy. Far from it. A person can have no greater joy, no greater happiness than in finding ALL their joy in God himself. We were MADE for him. We were made BY him. We were made to WORSHIP Him. We belong to him not only because he created us, designed us, purposed us--but because HE redeemed us. His redemption was costly. God himself is our greatest gift, our greatest blessing, our great possession. To live for God is to truly LIVE.

I belong to God. I belong body and soul to God. I belong to God in my life. I belong to God in my death. Jesus has FULLY PAID for ALL my sins...with HIS PRECIOUS BLOOD. Jesus has set me from ALL the power of the devil. Jesus PRESERVES me. Not a hair can fall from my head apart from the will of the Heavenly Father. ALL THINGS must work together for my SALVATION. I am assured by the Holy Spirit of ETERNAL LIFE. The Holy Spirit makes me HEARTILY willing and ready to live for him.

This is a great source of hope and joy indeed to LIVE OUT these doctrines. Doctrine matters.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

11. Growing in Holiness

Growing in Holiness: Understanding God's Role and Yours. R.C. Sproul. 2020. Baker Books. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy] [christian nonfiction; christian living; theology]

First sentence: Where we’re going is crucial, but so is knowing how to get there. When we embrace the Bible’s teaching that God created us so that we might praise Him through holy living, it is tempting to seek quick fixes and fast solutions.

It is January. It is perhaps too early to say that I've found my absolute favorite book of the year. Though I can say with confidence that it is absolutely my favorite read of January. I can say this book is all kinds of fabulous. It is a GREAT read.

Earlier this week I reviewed John MacArthur's Sanctification. It was a good book, a solidly good book. But this one was AMAZING. (TRUE, it was twice as long. If MacArthur's book had been equally long, close to two hundred pages, perhaps his book would be equally wonderful and gush-worthy.)

This book covers all aspects of sanctification, aka GROWING in HOLINESS. In other words, it tackles the question: how do I live a life that is pleasing to God?! do I live out the faith I profess? I believe. I've been baptized. Now what?!

Sproul urges throughout that there are no short cuts to holiness, to growth. That one doesn't just happen to grow, or accidentally becomes holy.

Sproul writes, "If we want to experience greater Christlikeness, we need to intentionally plan to grow. If we want to grow in holiness, we must begin with our Maker, Designer, and Sustainer. Knowing our destination shapes our journey along the way. To grow in holiness assumes a standard to live by. It also assumes One who requires such a standard. So we begin with God as both Creator and Redeemer."

I loved this book--every chapter, every page. It was EXCELLENT. It was OUTSTANDING. If you only read one book on holiness, read this one...

Favorite quotes:

  • "“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13). Those verses were weighty to me because I began to see that spiritual growth is something that, in the ultimate sense, rests in the grace of God. He is working in us, through us, and with us. But at the same time there is an admonition for us to work out our salvation. I understood even then that spiritual growth, this progress in the Christian life, is a matter of labor, of toil."
  • "I like to be able to see the finish line and give everything I have in a short burst of energy to make it to the end. But that’s not the way the Christian life works. The Christian life is a marathon. You have to learn perseverance. You have to keep on keeping on. You have to know how to press on with the work. The Greek word translated here as “press” indicates applying force, applying pressure (if I may borrow from the word itself). So how does that apply to us? We tend to live from spiritual high to spiritual high. We hope that we will be sanctified in large doses, all at once. We want to relax and celebrate the victory in the 100-yard dash. But the Christian life is different. You run a 100-yard dash. But as soon as you break the tape, you’re exhausted. You fall to the ground, panting and gasping for breath. But then the first thing you hear is, “On your mark, get set, go!” and you have to do it again. You have to press on. We don’t finish this race quickly and that can feel discouraging. But notice why Paul perseveres: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14)."
  • "God is calling us, even now. We usually think He is calling us to do this or that task—to live in this or that city. And those realities are true. But even further, Christ is standing in heaven calling us to Himself. That’s where we have to keep our vision: on the goal line, on the end point, which is exactly where Paul’s vision was set. The reward for all the pain in our souls and for all our patient endurance is Christ Himself. He is the reason we press on toward the mark."
  • "The understanding that I encounter frequently in the church is that creation reaches its pinnacle on the sixth day. That is the day when the image-bearer of God is created and man is given dominion over all the earth. And certainly, in that ordering structure of Genesis, we do see such a rising crescendo that reaches a high point on the sixth day. But there is a great danger in looking at the sixth day as the pinnacle of creation, because the creation account does not stop at day six. There are not six days in creation. There are seven. And if we are moving in a rising crescendo, we must see that the pinnacle, the acme point, is not day six. It is day seven. The seventh day is the highest point of creation."
  • "We can’t stop on the sixth day. We must go to the seventh day and see that the goal of creation is Sabbath holiness to the glory of God."
  • "If we read the Old Testament carefully, we see that the goal of human life is to mirror and to reflect the very character of God. God is holy, and we are to reflect that holiness so that this whole work of growing in sanctification is a growing in holiness. It is a growing within us—not only of redemption, but of movement toward the fulfillment and consummation of the very purpose of our creation. We were made to glorify God and to bear witness to the whole cosmos of God’s character. He demands of His people, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16, which quotes numerous Old Testament passages, such as Lev. 11:44–45)."
  • "Make it a practice every Sabbath to think about why it exists. Ask yourself, “What is this rest toward which my heart yearns?” The Sabbath points to the day when God will remove all our restlessness and when He will welcome us into His eternal rest. We will see Him as He is. We will be holy and blameless in His sight. We will praise Him for all eternity. So again, just as God aims to glorify Himself through our lives in redemption, so also do we see that same aim in creation."
  • "But there’s a certain sense in which God is much more concerned about what we are than about what we do. He looks for greater Christian character and godliness as we are being molded and conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29)."
  • "Unless I have the Word of God feeding my soul, I’m not going to make very much progress in reaching my purpose of sanctification in this world. Another vital means of grace is prayer. I know that my spiritual development will be stunted radically if my prayer life is weak, so one of my objectives is to be more fervent and active in prayer in order to grow spiritually. Similarly, I need to be involved in worship in the church on Sunday morning. These are various means of grace, and we can state them as objectives in the Christian life. But how do we translate such values into specific, concrete goals?"
  • "The greatest problem in our theology today is that God has been created in a human image. That is why we said earlier that people have been created with a unique capacity to reflect and to mirror God’s character. That means that you, as a human being, have been so constituted, so made, so endowed by your Creator with certain faculties that you therefore have a capacity in creation to reflect or to mirror the holiness of God. You are not holy in and of yourself. But God is holy in and of Himself, and He has called you as His creation to bear witness to Him—to reflect to the rest of the world His very character. Is that not what Christ does in His life of perfect obedience? Does He not fulfill the purpose and the destiny for which humanity was created?"
  • "Oh, what great glory we lost when we sinned. Will it always be this way? The best part of the gospel is that we can confidently answer, “No!” In his first epistle, John tells us, See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1–2)"
  • "We shall see God as He is. Not as He is reflected. Not as He is mirrored by the glory of His creation. Not even by the image of His people whom He has made. But we will see Him as He is in Himself. We will look directly into the unveiled face of God, and in that moment the whole fullness of our human spirit will be satisfied as the whole fullness of His beauty will be glorified."
  • "The goal of our lives is to be conformed to the image of Christ. To fulfill the original purpose for which we were created; namely, to reflect the very character of God to the world around us. The first catechism question I learned as a child was from the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is man’s chief end?” or “What is man’s principal purpose?” or “What is the goal of the human race?” And the answer I was taught to recite is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” I was never able to put those together in my youth because I didn’t think glorifying God could be enjoyable. However, I have since learned that my greatest joy is God’s highest glory. We were made for this very purpose: to glorify the Creator of the universe. We were made for holiness. And when we reject it, we suffer a deprivation—a deep-rooted sense of lostness and restlessness because we are out of sync with the nature for which we were made. But when our souls prize the glory of God, we have the motivation we need to press on toward the goal of living holy lives. The end fuels the means."
  • "If nature takes its course in a Christian’s life, that Christian’s spiritual power would atrophy in five minutes or less. Easy-believism is so destructive."
  • "The great Reformer Martin Luther said that the three principal obstacles to Christian growth are the world, the flesh, and the devil. I’m guessing you’ve heard it put that way before. But have you ever thought about how the world stands as an obstacle to your spiritual growth, how the flesh stands as an obstacle to your spiritual growth, or how the devil stands as an obstacle to your spiritual growth?"
  • "Sadly, the question in our society is not, “What does God require of me?” The question is, “What is everybody else in the culture doing?”"
  • "But the idea of contending for truth has been one of the noblest virtues of all Christian history. Yet in our day it’s considered a vice—not because God says it’s a vice but because the culture says it is."
  • "One of the tests of our sanctification is how willing we are to be hated, to be persecuted, to be led as lambs to the slaughter in order to stand for the truth of God. But if the world tells me—indeed, if my church tells me—that such stands are taboo, do you see how hard it is? It’s hard enough even when it’s considered a virtue. The world erodes our resolve to be faithful defenders of Christ and instead entices us to imitate its patterns. If we are going to get past these obstacles of the world, we have to fill our minds with the norms, the standards, and the rules of conduct that come from God."
  • "The biggest obstacle I have to my sanctification is my heart of flesh that still clings to wicked desires and evil yearnings. I am still tempted by the idea that sin will make me happy. We sin because we want to sin, and we want to sin because we believe that committing the sin will make us happy. It won’t make us happy; it will give us pleasure, but there is a difference between pleasure and happiness."
  • "If you want to grow in your spiritual life, two things have to happen according to the New Testament. The first is obvious. The old man or the flesh must be put to death. Second, the new man must be nurtured and strengthened. In simple terms, it means that the flesh has to be weakened and the spirit has to be strengthened. We must be strengthened and fortified through the grace of God. And we begin to kill the old man by dying daily."
  • "There’s a sense in which we need to read the Bible with new eyes and hear it with new ears. We must not replace the values of Christ with values that creep in from the culture in which we live."
  • "When we stand before God, we will either stand naked, trusting in our own works and our own filthy rags, or we will stand clothed in the righteousness of Christ, which is given to all who truly put their faith in Him. The worst folly you could ever commit is to assume for a moment that you can stand before a holy God on the basis of your own performance, your own merit, your own works, or your own righteousness. The only righteousness that is holy enough to satisfy the demands of God’s law is the righteousness of Christ. The only way you can have that is by genuine faith."
  • "People may be enamored by a phony Jesus, a plastic Jesus, a Jesus who doesn’t exist. There are those who say, “Yes, I love God,” and then they define God as love and mercy without any demands. I say, “Do you love the holiness of God, or do you get angry when we talk about the holiness of God? Do you love the sovereignty of God, or does that cause you to turn away? Do you love the righteousness of Jesus? Do you acknowledge the fact that He is altogether lovely? Do you want to love Him more?” You can’t truly have that desire unless the love of God is already in your heart—unless you were already made alive by God the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5; Eph. 2:5)."
  • "The search for God begins at conversion, but it doesn’t end there. Until people are converted, they are not seeking after God. In fact, the normal image that we find in the Scriptures about our natural fallen state is not that we are searching every nook and cranny of the universe to find some clue to the existence of God. Rather, we are fugitives. We are fleeing from God, just as Adam and Eve fled from the presence of God in paradise (Gen. 3:8). Because of their sin, they went into hiding. They tried to evade the presence of God. And now, while mankind certainly desires God’s benefits—peace, security, forgiveness—we don’t desire God Himself."
  • "Do you love the biblical Christ? Or is the Christ you love merely a cultural Christ? A Christ who never exercises judgment? A Christ who doesn’t call you to commit your life to Him? A Christ who doesn’t call you to repent of your sins? Maybe your view is of a Jesus who is gentle, meek, and mild. He exists to solve all your problems, to answer all your requests, and to give you health and wealth. That’s why it is distressing to hear about the health-and-wealth prosperity gospel. Under that system people can be converted to the promise of prosperity, but they miss the living Christ. What we are called to do is come to the real Christ. Jesus is a real, historical person with a real mission, and He has performed a real act of redemption. And it is Jesus—His person and His work—that must be the object of our saving faith."
  • "The good news is that justification is not the end of the Christian life. It’s the beginning of it. Justification is the beginning of sanctification. It’s not the result of sanctification. We don’t have to wait to be sanctified in order to be justified. We don’t have to wait until we’re righteous for God to regard us as righteous. We are regarded by God as righteous once He transfers to our account the righteousness of Jesus."
  • "Why is sin so enticing? One of the most important distinctions we can grasp is the difference between pleasure and happiness. Sin is pleasurable. It does bring pleasure, but sin does not bring happiness. It brings the immediate feeling of fun or excitement or thrill. It cannot bring what the Bible means by happiness nor the fulfillment, peace, and contentment of a righteous life."
  • "God didn’t give us His Word in a mere one-page summary. Scripture’s basic message of salvation is simple. It can be understood by a child. But the depths and riches of God contained in the biblical revelation are so profound and deep that they can keep the most brilliant person occupied for a lifetime—and they still won’t have plumbed the depths of that revelation. Thus, we are called to pursue the knowledge of God with all our mind so that we can have a mature understanding of God."

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The "Problem" with the Bible

We sadly live in a culture where the Bible is frequently seen not as the Word of God, but the Word of Man. Or perhaps I should clarify my statement: The Word of Many Men, who, BLESS THEIR HEARTS, did their utmost best to try to put into words their beliefs about God, a God who despite their best, most noble intentions, reflects more upon them--the writers--than anything else. Instead of humbly reading the Bible and acknowledging it as THE WORD OF GOD, the TRUE revelation of God Himself, the LIVING WORD, The Word that Comes with POWER and AUTHORITY, we read it as the product of its time and culture, the creation of man.

We live in a culture where God is being shaped, reshaped, molded, remolded, designed, redesigned into the image of this generation. Every generation is playing creator and their creation is God, a God that they can stomach, a God that they can approach with confidence and boldness. Are they even aware they're playing Creator? Perhaps. Perhaps not. You see....
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9
The problem with the Bible? It presents a view of man, of mankind, of humankind, of humanity that is distasteful and offensive. The problem with the Bible is that it accuses ALL men--all men, all women, all children--of sin, of being sinners, of being unacceptable, unpresentable, offensive to a holy, righteous, just God. The problem with the Bible is that it quite clearly presents man as LOST, BLIND, DEAF, DEAD (OR AT THE VERY, VERY LEAST DYING), WILLFULLY DISOBEDIENT AND STUBBORN. It presents man as PROUD and STUBBORN and PUFFED UP WITH KNOWLEDGE. It presents man as naturally wicked and disobedient--unable, unwilling to seek God, to worship God, to obey God. It presents man in NEED of a Savior. It presents ONE WAY and only one way to God. A way that demands--commands--repentance, a turning away from sin, from sinful desires, pleasures, lifestyles. It demands a turning TO as well as a turning AWAY. It isn't enough to give up "sins" we must turn to a Savior, follow and obey. It presents a view of God that no one "wants" to believe true: HELL IS REAL AND PUNISHMENT IS FOREVER.

The problem with the Bible? If you approach it with HUMAN eyes and HUMAN understanding and read INTO what you WANT IT TO SAY instead of reading it with SPIRITUAL EYES and SPIRIT-GIVEN understanding, you will find so-called "weaknesses" and "problems."

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

The problem with the Bible? We don't like to be pricked, poked, prodded, corrected, disciplined, convicted. We don't want ANY one--not even God--telling us what to do, how to act, what to believe, how to live. We don't mind the occasional warm and fuzzy promise--often take out of context. (That is a promise written TO believers that is subsequently broadened to include anyone who has ever breathed.)

IF the Bible clashes with ME, IF the Bible clashes with what I want, IF the Bible clashes with what I need, with what I desire, IF the Bible clashes with the world, with what the world says is right, with what the world says is good, with what the world says is just...then THE PROBLEM IS THE BIBLE, NOT ME, NEVER ME, NEVER THE WORLD.

God is God is God is God is God. God means what He says and says what He means. Scripture should not be added to, subtracted from, altered, twisted, distorted, warped, erased. Playing around with what Scripture means leads to deadly consequences. It's the work of a PROUD heart, for one thing. When preachers and teachers play around with Scripture, alter the meaning, if their interpretation of what a text "really, truly" means CLEARLY contradicts a passage's clear meaning, and encourages others to believe the takes my breath away.

The problem with the Bible? Me and you. We need to read with spiritual eyes, repentant hearts, opening our minds to the WORD (the Bible) and THE WORD (Jesus Christ). Open minds--open to the Spirit, open to the truth, open to being taught. BUT CLOSED, FIRMLY CLOSED, to the WORLD, to the LUSTS OF THE EYES, TO THE LUSTS OF THE FLESH, TO THE PRIDE OF LIFE. (1 John 2:15-17). We don't need to read the Bible with our hearts in alignment with the WORLD, WITH THE CULTURE, WITH SOCIETY, WITH OUR SINFUL, LUSTFUL HEARTS, WITH OUR POLITICAL BELIEFS, WITH OUR PHILOSOPHIES AND WORLDVIEWS. We need to set our minds on THINGS ABOVE (Colossians 3:1-10). God's truth is the ONLY truth.

The problem with the Bible? We're unwilling to see the bad news is TRUE news. We're unwilling to believe that the bad news is the truth of God and it's about US, me and you, here and now. So long as we can edit out ALL the bad news of the Bible (sin, the fall of mankind, disobedience, wrath, justice, GOD AS JUDGE, the need to repent, our actual need for a Savior, the existence of hell, the exclusivity of heaven, the fact that JESUS IS THE ONE AND ONLY WAY instead of one of many ways) it's fine to believe in Jesus Christ's teaching of LOVE of PEACE of JOY of HOPE. There is no fear of God, because we strip away any and every teaching that might give us a glimpse of a God worthy of being feared.

Run far, far, far away from ANY professing believer who approaches the Word of God as if it were written on a dry/erase board. Turn away from any professing believer who erases what he/she does not want to be true. Reject any teaching that is from man's vain imagination. (2 Corinthians 10:5) The truth is once you start "rejecting" any verse from the Bible as not being true, not being inspired, not being the word of God but just a human idea by a human author, it isn't long before you start rejecting chapters AND verses, whole books of the Bible, whole sections of Scripture.

There will always, always, always, always be doctrines of Scripture that will prove DISTASTEFUL and OFFENSIVE and UNCOMFORTABLE and DISCONCERTING to natural, fallen man. Our very natures--the natures we were born with, our own natural sense of right and wrong, our own natural sense of good and evil, our own desires and wants and needs--will be in conflict with the Word...until we are BORN AGAIN and SET FREE. 1 JOHN 3 reads, "You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin...The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." (1 John 3:5, 8)

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:23-25

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. John 17:17

The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. Psalm 119:160
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:2-4

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:19-21

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Psalm 19:7-11

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. Psalm 18:30

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

10. Sanctification

Sanctification: God's Passion for His People. John MacArthur. 80 pages. 2020. Crossway. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy] [christian living; christian nonfiction; theology]

First sentence: We have a clear window into Christ’s continual intercession for his people in John 17. That passage is known as Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer. Its centerpiece is a plea for the sanctification of his disciples: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:17–19). Then Jesus pointedly applies that request not only to the Twelve, but also to every Christian in all subsequent generations: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (17:20).

There is nothing quite so satisfying as a concise yet delicious dose of truth to nourish the soul. John MacArthur's Sanctification is a delightful length on a topic that doesn't get as much attention as it deserves. For the record, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the doctrine of justification. But I also love, love, love the doctrine of sanctification. The fact that many believers are not familiar with these essential truths is sad.

I am not speaking of familiarity with the exact terms "justification" or "sanctification" but the concepts and truths of these doctrines. Perhaps this is because often there isn't a thorough understanding of sin, original sin, the fall of man. If one doesn't have a proper understanding of sin--what it is, how it separates us from God, how deadly dangerous it is, etc.--then there's a SO WHAT or WHO CARES when it comes to later doctrines like justification and sanctification.

The book is timely and relevant--as truth always is. The focus is more on WHY you should care about sanctification.

Namely, this book is urging--begging--preachers to ACTUALLY CARE. He believes--rightly, in my opinion, that pastors should CARE if their flocks grows in the faith, if they bear fruit, if they are living holy lives and FOLLOWING Jesus. Pastors should not care exclusively about attendance or about feedback and approval. They should not be talking to hear themselves talk...but instead be teaching and preaching with the sanctification of their hearers--their flock--in mind.

MacArthur writes, "Despite the diversity of so many responsibilities, all those pastoral duties ultimately point to one clear and singular goal: the sanctification of God’s people. All the man’s energies and all the faculties of his heart and mind must remain focused on that one long-range goal, and he must never lose sight of it. This is, after all, God’s ultimate purpose for his elect: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). That is how Scripture summarizes the goal of sanctification—not merely to make us appear holy, but to make us truly and thoroughly Christlike."

He addresses misconceptions on holiness and some of the faults of the modern church. Two of the misconceptions are legalism and antinomianism. Chances are you've heard those terms but perhaps struggle to distinguish between these two. MacArthur is great at explaining the differences and pointing out why both are wrong. He writes, "The legalist thinks he’s spiritual because he observes a law; the antinomian thinks he’s spiritual because he doesn’t. Both define the Christian life by what they do with regard to the law rather than stressing the need for the Spirit’s empowerment to conform us to Christ’s likeness. The legalist will never be able to restrain the flesh with his legalism (Gal. 5:17). And the antinomian who refuses even to hear the law because he thinks rules of any kind are a threat to his “liberty” is still in bondage to sin (Rom. 6:15–16)."

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, January 20, 2020

9. Journey in Prayer

Journey in Prayer: 7 Days of Praying with Jesus. John Smed. Justine Hwang. Leah Yin. 2012/2020. [May] Moody Publishers. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy] [prayer; devotional; christian nonfiction]

First sentence: My journey in prayer begins in a monastery garden.

Journey in Prayer: 7 Days of Praying with Jesus is centered around the Lord's Prayer. Books about prayer abound. There are books that focus on the why, the how, the when, the where. Just about any aspect of praying--there's a book that covers that aspect exactly. Even so, I find Journey in Prayer to be hard to classify.

The Lord's Prayer is the jumping off place certainly. But it's more the spring to get you lifted up and going. It isn't grounded and rooted into learning more about The Lord's Prayer, not really. It's more like the Lord's Prayer is the stone you throw in the water, and these devotions, these studies are the ripples that follow. I wouldn't classify this one as saturated in Scripture so much as saturated in feelings, emotions, stories, illustrations, quotes.

The book has a lot of blank spaces for readers to write in. This is supposed to be an immersive, interactive journey. One can only gain by actually doing the exercises. Theoretically speaking of course.

If you are seeking out a book on prayer--in general--I'd go elsewhere. If you are seeking out a book on the Lord's Prayer specifically, I'd definitely go elsewhere. It perhaps is lacking a little in depth and substance, but has plenty of width. It's like a swimming pool that's only two feet deep. Depending on where YOU are in your faith journey, you may or may not benefit from reading it.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, January 17, 2020

8. Jesus

Jesus: A Theological Primer (Board book) Devon Provencher. Illustrated by Jessica Provencher. 2020. [February] 22 pages. Crossway. [Source: Review copy] [board book; children's book]

First sentence: Incarnation. Jesus took on a human nature and. Lived among us.

This board book is intended for Christian families to read aloud to their little ones. The text keeps things simple for the most part. There isn’t exactly a cohesive story, more a collection of terms and ideas that are then explained in a simplistic way. At times this works well, “ King. Jesus is the ruler of all things forever.” Could you make it any clearer?! I don’t think so.

Other terms are less clear, for example, priest: “Jesus stands in his people’s place before God.” The concept of priesthood is way more complex than that of kingship. Jesus is our high priest. No question. Is “stands in his people’s place” a simplified way of saying stands before God and intercedes for his people?! Maybe. Maybe not. The way they define it could be defining sacrifice. Which again Jesus is our atoning sacrifice. Atonement is the next word. I don’t have a great issue with this—let’s be honest, most toddlers aren’t going to be big theology debaters before they can read and write. There’s time to grow and expand, clarify and distinguish in the many, many years ahead. But when I hear priest I think mediator. I think intercessor. I think representative.

I thought there was some variety in the words chosen. This isn’t a story of his life. This isn’t a gospel presentation. It is a loose collection of terms centering on Jesus. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, January 13, 2020

7. Writing Joy on My Heart

Writing Joy on My Heart: A Bible Memory Devotional. Jean Fischer. 2020. Barbour Books. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Devotional]

First sentence: Where are you on your path through life? Is there always joy in your heart? Dictionaries define joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” If you rely on that definition alone, you will discover that joy is fleeting. It is impossible to sustain that kind of joy 24-7. Life’s path, your journey from birth to death, is strewn with obstacles intended to steal your happiness. Satan will deliberately put roadblocks in your way. Jesus confirms this in John 10:10 (nkjv): “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” Satan’s purpose is to steal joy—sustained feelings of great pleasure and gladness—and obliterate it.

Fischer has selected six verses with the theme or subject of JOY which she is encouraging her readers to memorize. She provides tips throughout her devotions for how to memorize Scripture. So. Six verses, six weeks, seven days worth of devotions per memory verse. This one is essentially straight forward. What you see is what you get...mostly.

The six verses are:

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. Psalm 16:11
This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32
And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. Colossians 3:23
Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32:7
These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. John 15:11

Without a doubt these are six fantastic verses that everyone should consider memorizing or at the very least meditating upon.

I began this one with hope in my heart. I wanted the devotions to be good--aka BIBLICALLY SOUND and Berean approved. But ultimately I was disappointed. Not initially. Not from the first week of devotions. But more and more with each passing week.

Stop and consider these sentences:
You radiate true beauty when you find joy in yourself. It begins with you! Unless you first find joy in who you are—God’s creation and His beloved child—your senses can’t fully enjoy and rejoice over all the wonderful blessings He puts around you.
Shouldn't it be you radiate true beauty when you FIND JOY IN GOD?! when you FORGET ABOUT YOURSELF?! Isn't there a song that goes LET'S FORGET ABOUT OURSELVES AND MAGNIFY THE LORD AND WORSHIP HIM?!?!

Begin each day talking with God. Ask Him to help you block any negative self-talk, and ask Him to show you the beauty He set within you. Recognize your worth as the daughter of the King of all kings, the Creator of the universe.
You could I suppose ask God to help you block any negative self-talk, or, you know you could ask him to forgive you of your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. You could ask God to show you your own beauty or worth, or, you know you could ask him to open your eyes to HIS beauty and HIS worth.

At the end of the day, tell God about the beauty you found inside you, and thank Him for putting it there.
Okay. So let's get this straight. We are supposed to go to God at the end of the day and brag on ourselves and all the good and beautiful things we have found within ourselves that day...with the excuse that God planted that goodness there?!?! Isn't that a bit vain and prideful? That doesn't sound like a model prayer from the Bible to me.

Turn your thoughts to God’s love for you. As His love grows within you, so will your love for yourself.
So it's not turn your thoughts to God...or turn your thoughts to God's love...or God's goodness...or God's anything else...but God's love for YOU. Because apparently God really wants you and me to LOVE ourselves more and more.

Compare your relationship with God five years ago to the relationship you have with Him today. Here are ten questions to guide your thinking: 1. Overall, have you grown closer with God? 2. Has your relationship with your heavenly Father made you a better person? 3. Have you dug deeper into Bible study? 4. Do you spend more time now praying and listening to Him? 5. Has your trust in Him grown? 6. Are you more aware of what God expects from you? 7. Have you become more compliant with His rules? 8. Are you more comfortable sharing your faith with others? 9. Do you think about God more often throughout the day? 10. Do you rely more on Him for guiding your decisions? If your bond with God hasn’t grown stronger during the last five years, think of ways you can improve it. Prayer is the best starting point. Talk with God about how you plan to make a more powerful connection with Him. If your relationship doesn’t feel stronger right away, persevere. Believe that God is drawing you nearer to Him.
Legalistic much?! Not that some self-reflection is a bad thing. It can be good--in moderation. THINK OF WAYS *YOU* CAN IMPROVE IT. Not God. Not Jesus. Not the Holy Spirit. Not prayers of repentance and confession. Not prayers for humility. Not praise or gratitude. ABOUT HOW *YOU* PLAN TO MAKE A MORE POWERFUL CONNECTION WITH HIM. Seriously?!?! Because apparently it's all on you and the Holy Spirit doesn't have a thing to do with it?!?!

Today, list five good things about yourself. Then give thanks to the Lord.
I'm speechless. I am. Again we're being prompted to brag on ourselves and our worth and thank God for how good we are?!?!?!

And be ye kind to yourself, tenderhearted, forgiving yourself, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Just guessing that the the ORIGINAL meaning of that Scripture doesn't line up exactly with this "new and improved" one that is help you love yourself because you're awesome.
Your relationship with God should be your first priority and then your relationship with yourself. If you aren’t right with God and if you have unresolved issues with yourself, your other relationships will suffer.

Again, you can look to Paul as an example. He resolved his issues with God and himself. He went on to find joy in hardship and teach others to do the same.
I wonder if Paul knows this about himself?! 

In Noah’s story, God sets the perfect example of organization and efficiency. Your goal is to model yourself after Noah and work as if working for the Lord. To do that you need to rid yourself of any clutter that gets in the way of serving Him. When you work in an orderly way, you can serve God joyfully and efficiently.
Wow!!!! Apparently I've been reading the story of Noah all wrong too!!! All my life I've been under the impression it was about GRACE and MERCY--finding REFUGE from God's wrath and punishment. 

Don’t just read about Jesus; study Him! Ponder His relationships with others. Then try to be more like Him. 
This isn't as out-there-weird as some of the earlier statements. But. Jesus isn't to be studied and examined so much as trusted in, loved, obeyed, worshipped.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, January 9, 2020

6. Words of Jesus

Words of Jesus: 180 Devotions and Prayers for Kids. Emily Biggers. 2020. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Children's Book; Devotional; Christian Nonfiction]

First sentence: Of all the words ever spoken, the ones we should pay the most attention to are those spoken by our Savior, Jesus Christ! These words are often set apart with the color red on the pages of a Bible.

Words of Jesus is a children's devotional. There are 180 devotionals in all. If you've got school-age children, this might be just about right for reading before (or after) school. Each devotional begins with Scripture and ends with a prayer. The devotions are short--don't expect Spurgeon-sized sermonettes. But I think this devotional offers much food for thought. It didn't read as condescending to me, which is good.

The theme--if you haven't guessed it--are the words of Jesus. Scriptures are taken from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Revelation.

I would recommend this one.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

5. Last Words

Last Words: Seven Sayings from the Heart of Christ on the Cross. Robert J. Nash. 2020. New Growth Press. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian Nonfiction; Theology; Devotional]

First sentence: The last words of a hero or heroine in a story pack a punch. The final chapter of a book ties up loose ends. Epitaphs and eulogies have a summarizing power. Phone calls, visits, and whispers of those on hospice become riches locked away in the fading memories of those left behind. Jesus shared seven last thoughts as he died that contain a wealth of meaning we should not forget or neglect. This book seeks to mine those words to challenge the soul.

My favorite devotionals tend to be short devotionals. Not those that span an entire year, but those that can be picked up and treasured ANY time of the year. Last Words is a short read--under a hundred pages--but its packed with treasures. Nash is closely examining the last words of Jesus Christ on the cross. And believers could profit from such a close study of their Savior's last words.

Each saying gets its own chapter. Two chapters are much longer than the others. These happened to be my favorites. But really all of the chapters are GOOD. Each chapter is broken into sections: "See Your Need," "See Jesus," "Come Near to God," and "Go To Others."

So as a refresher course....Here are Jesus’s seven last statements made while on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26–27). “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). “I thirst” (John 19:28). “It is finished” (John 19:30). “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).

This book would make a wonderful gift to a friend or a lovely treat for yourself. You could read it at any time but it might mean the most to you during Advent or Passion Week.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

4. Holy Land Handbook

Holy Land Handbook: History, Geography, Culture, Holy Sites. George W. Knight. 2020. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian Nonfiction; Reference; Travel Guide]

First sentence: This book is for anyone who has ever wanted to know more about the Holy Land—its geography, culture, history, and especially its holy sites. Travelers who want to get the most out of their visit to this unique land should find it a useful guide. But it is also meant for armchair travelers, Bible students, and the downright curious who wonder about the ancient land God promised to Abraham and his descendants.

What you see is what you get. Sometimes that is exactly what you WANT in a book. The book is informative, concise, conversational. I was worried that it would be dry and dull. That the narrative would be practically nonexistent and that it would be a sluggish read. I was wrong. It was actually quite pleasant. I'd definitely recommend it for those interested in learning more about the culture and geography especially. It was definitely well-organized.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, January 6, 2020

3. Serving Up Love

Serving Up Love: A Harvey House Brides Collection. Tracie Peterson. Karen Witemeyer. Regina Jennings. Jen Turano. 2019. Bethany House. 384 pages. [Source: Library] [Christian Fiction; Historical; Romance]

Serving Up Love is a novella collection with four stories. Each heroine is a Harvey House girl. The stories are: “A Flood of Love,” by Tracie Peterson, “More Than a Pretty Face,” by Karen Witemeyer, “Intrigue a la Mode,” by Regina Jennings, “Grand Encounters,” by Jen Turano.

A Flood of Love by Tracie Peterson is an enjoyable historical romance. Gretchen’s heart has been broken in the past. In returning to her hometown, she didn’t expect to see the man who broke her heart, her near fiancé Dirk. But a chance meeting with his daughter leads to the promise of maybe just maybe something more. But a natural disaster may prove an insurmountable obstacle to their happily ever after.

I would rate this 4/5.

More Than a Pretty Face by Karen Witemeyer is a lovely historical romance. This one stars Rosalind Kemp a character first introduced in More Than Words Can Say. She is Abby’s sister!!! She is on the run from her past—a secret that was first revealed in that book. Can Caleb, her most loyal customer, love her as is?! He’s pursuing her and wanting a future, Will a secret from her past dissuade him?!

I love Karen Witemeyer. I am admittedly biased since I adored More Than Words Can Say. 5/5

Intrigue a la Mode by Regina Jennings is another enjoyable historical romance. This is the only of the four to have a mystery suspense element to it. Something illegal is happening at this particular Harvey House...and searching for clues may bring these two strangers together.

I liked this one. 3/5

A Grand Encounter by Jen Turano is a satisfying historical romance. Myrtle is a likable heroine for sure. She has an extremely handsome and loyal customer. The problem? He’s super quiet and shy. He may like like her—many of the other waitresses think so—but he’s never said a word....until his super talkative brother comes to town. Jack has to start talking to stop his brother from scaring her away...will these two find a way to be together?

I rate this one 5/5.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Black Construction Paper to the Rescue

We live in sad times. We live in days where Bible pages are incredibly, super thin--practically see through--and font sizes are tiny. While black construction paper can't solve the size of the font, it can help with bleed-through issues in your Bibles.

It isn't the only option, of course, for helping with bleed through. You can a) buy your Bibles second hand and find Bibles published in the good old days where Bible paper was actually thick and bleed-through a much rarer occurrence, b) buy super-super expensive premium bibles where the paper is extremely high quality c) read the Bible on devices in apps like OliveTree and Bible Gateway, etc. d) use black construction paper trimmed to size and manually move it from page to page as you read.

I originally heard about this tip a few years ago from someone who worked at Mardel. I didn't try it for the longest time. I tried it once last year with the Jubilee bible, but, I didn't trim it to size and it was bulky and awkward. This year I trimmed the paper to size so it fits just right. I am using it in the MEV giant print Bible. I've been reading in it for about two weeks now and I am getting used to it.

With the construction paper behind it

Without the construction paper behind it

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, January 3, 2020

2. A Small Book for the Hurting Heart

A Small Book for the Hurting Heart. Paul Tautges. 2020. New Growth Press. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian nonfiction; Devotional; Christian Living]

First sentence: Loss comes in many forms: loss through the death of a spouse, child, or other loved one; loss of relationships through conflict, betrayal, estrangement, divorce, or a move across the country; loss of financial security due to business failure, foreclosure, or long-term unemployment; loss of health or personal dreams because of disability or terminal illness. And the list goes on. Whatever your grief, whatever your pain, whatever your loss, there is comfort available.

A Small Book for the Hurting Heart is a fifty-day devotional for men and women. Each entry is rooted deeply in gospel truths and saturated with Scriptural promises. Each entry is short, concise, a bit no-nonsense. What your heart needs--what any heart needs--is to better know who God is and to better trust His word to us.

I read this one in one sitting. I wasn't supposed to. The author urges his readers to read one per day. To take their time. To let the ministering words have their effect. But I was wearing my book reviewer hat. I didn't have fifty days to slowly absorb with biblical truths. I instead immersed myself in the book. While his approach may be preferred for most readers, I don't know if there's a wrong way to read it. What did I appreciate most about this one? I loved the scripture-saturation. I love, love, love, LOVE the Bible. The Bible is my meat-and-drink. It is where I come to feast. I suppose you could say without a doubt I am a Bible glutton. I don't come sporadically to the table; I come many, many, many times a day. I don't just want a tiny bit here and there. I want MORE, MORE, MORE. So I appreciated his use of Scripture throughout. I thought the book covers the basics well. I could see this one being of benefit to those who are new to Scripture and don't know where to turn in the midst of their pain and grief.

Tears are a gift from God, a means to embracing your pain, releasing emotion, and revealing the depth of your love. Poetically, if God collects all the tears you cry during your life’s journey, if he keeps track of all your sorrows, then surely he cares about them. He is aware of what causes them. God records them all in his book!

Life hurts, but God heals. He heals through Jesus. Because of Jesus’s suffering, you can be assured there is no grief or loss you experience that is outside his understanding or compassion. There is nothing beyond his redemption.

In the Son of God, you have one who is more than qualified to comfort you in the burdens you now bear and the tears you now shed, since he is well acquainted with grief. Though he suffered unimaginable loss, he triumphed in the end. Because of Jesus’s resurrection from the grave, and ascension into heaven, you can have confident hope that all your hurts will one day be healed in heaven. As you think about that future day when God “will wipe away every tear” from your eyes (Revelation 21:4), remember that Jesus is now at the right hand of God praying for us (Romans 8:34).

Grief can lead to worship, if we recognize God’s hand in it. If we allow our grief to focus exclusively on our loss, we might be tempted to try to go it alone—even without help from God. But when grief is embraced by faith, it results in the humility of worship. Worship can and should coexist alongside grief. In fact, grief that does not worship will eventually become self-destructive.

We persevere through the valleys of sorrow and pain by strengthening the grip of our faith on the immovable mountain of God. Since Jesus is a sympathetic high priest, “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

1. The 12 Brides of Christmas

The Twelve Brides of Christmas Collection. Barbour Books. 2015. 544 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Historical; Romance; Christian]

The 12 Brides of Christmas Collection is a novella collection featuring twelve holiday-themed romances. It features novellas by Margaret Brownley, Mary Connealy, Diana Lesire Brandmeyer, Amanda Cabot,  Susan Page Davis, Miralee Ferrell, Pam Hillman, Maureen Lang, Amy Lillard, Vickie McDonough, Davalynn Spencer, and Michelle Ule.

Love Christmas stories? Love historical romance? Love predictable-but-oh-so-sweet romances? Want to give the screen a rest and cuddle up with a good book instead? I do recommend The 12 Brides of Christmas. I read one to two stories per day this past Christmas vacation.

The Festive Bride by Diana Lesire Brandmeyer
First sentence: Southern Illinois, 1886 Roy Gibbons stirred the pot of oatmeal while doing his best to ignore the state of his kitchen. “Papa, it shouldn’t look like that.” Eight-year-old Elisbet glared at him. “I can’t wait until our Christmas mama gets here.”

Premise/plot: Roy Gibbons is a widower who is looking for a marriage of convenience--his children have asked for a new mama for Christmas. Can he find them a mama by Christmas?!?! 

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. I thought Alma and Roy made a great couple! I'd rate this one 5/5.

The Nutcracker Bride by Margaret Brownley
First sentence: Kansas, 1880 Thunderous hoofbeats broke the silence on that gray December day.

Premise/plot: Lucy finds herself caught in the middle of an ADVENTURE or a predicament. Take your pick! It involves outlaws, a Texas ranger, and an ailing father....

My thoughts: As much as I enjoyed the first story, I loved this one even more!!! The ending was so incredibly satisfying. Definitely 5/5.

The Christmas Star Bride by Amanda Cabot
First sentence: November 27, 1885 Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory There had to be a way. Esther Hathaway punched the dough with more force than normal.

Premise/plot: Esther wants her niece to have a super-super-super special gift for her Christmas wedding. For five generations, there have been star ornaments with painted miniatures of happy couples. But Esther will have to find a painter--and fast if she wants the tradition to continue. 

My thoughts: I take back what I've said before...this is my favorite...I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED  Esther and Jeremy!!!! 5/5

The Advent Bride by Mary Connealy
First sentence: Lone Tree, Nebraska Monday, November 29, 1875 Being a teacher was turning out to be a little like having the flu. Simon O’Keeffe. Her heart broke for him at the same time her stomach twisted with dread for herself. 

Premise/plot: A school teacher is TROUBLED by one of her students...if only she could find a way to engage his interest...but in doing so...she might just have caught the attention of the boy's father....will she find love for Christmas.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I did. But I honestly didn't love it as much as the earlier novellas in this collection. 3/5

The Christmas Tree Bride by Susan Page Davis
First sentence: Wyoming, 1867 Polly Winfield dashed about the dining room, setting up. On days the stage came through, she and her mother always prepared to serve a full table. The passengers would eat quickly, reboard the stagecoach, and hurry away toward the next station.

Premise/plot: Polly REALLY, REALLY, REALLY wants a Christmas tree for their western home--something to remind her of Christmases long, long ago. Will she get her tree and a love of her own this Christmas?

My thoughts: Compared to the other stories, I found this one a bit silly. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed it enough to keep reading--I read at least one novella each night. But this one didn't wow me like some of the earlier stories. 3/5.

The Nativity Bride by Miralee Ferrell
First sentence: Goldendale, Washington September 1875 A pillow connected with Curt Warren’s backside, and he staggered but caught himself. “Where did you come from, Deb? I didn’t even see you there.” He raised his down-filled pillow above his head and ran across the Summers’ kitchen after sixteen-year-old Deborah Summers as her laughter filled the air.

Premise/plot: Curt and Deborah have loved each other forever....but their relationship faces obstacles and hardships...will these two ever say I do?!

My thoughts: I think this story did a great job with redemption. 4/5

The Evergreen Bride by Pam Hillman
First sentence: Sipsey Creek, Mississippi, December 1887 Samuel Frazier’s heart skittered into double time when Annabelle Denson rushed into the sawmill. She grabbed his arm, her touch sending a jolt of awareness coursing through him.

Premise/plot: Annabelle is dreaming of a white Christmas, a trip to Chicago to visit her cousin, Lucy, and maybe just maybe a little bit of love. But what she doesn't realize is that she doesn't need a trip to find her one true love...she just needs to open her eyes to what is right in front of her...

My thoughts: The narrator seems a little silly and immature. I find myself drawn more to the stories where the heroines are a little older and wiser...that being said...this wasn't a bad story...just a tiny bit silly. 3/5

The Gift-Wrapped Bride by Maureen Lang
First sentence: Chicago, Illinois November 1848 Boom! Snap! Pop, pop, pop! Sophie’s scream echoed the sudden whinny of horses startled by shots exploding on the busy Chicago street.

Premise/plot: Sophie thinks she knows everything about Noah Jackson...but what she doesn't account for is time, maturity, and God's grace. Will Sophie end up falling in love with the BULLY from yesteryear?!

My thoughts: I definitely enjoyed this one. 4/5

The Gingerbread Bride by Amy Lillard
First sentence: Ozark Mountains, Arkansas, 1870 “Madeline!” Maddie Sinclair winced at the sharpness in her sister’s tone.

Premise/plot: Maddie just knows that the love potion she bought from her neighbor has worked and the man she's been dreaming of is noticing her at last....too bad she feels too guilty to say yes to his proposal.

My thoughts: I HATED this story. I thought it was all kinds of stupid. I don't know if a character could get any more annoying than Maddie. 1/5

The Fruitcake Bride by Vickie McDonough
First sentence: Bakerstown, Missouri December 1890 Sitting on the edge of her seat, Karen Briggs wiped the dust off the train window with her handkerchief and searched the crowded depot for her fiancé. With a loud hiss, the train shuddered to a stop. She’d had the whole journey to ponder her decision to marry Clay Parsons. Had she made the right choice?

Premise/plot: Karen has come to marry her sweetheart, a pastor, but begins feeling overwhelmed by the expectations the town has for what a preacher's wife should be...will he convince her that she is the one?!

My thoughts: I liked this one! 3/5

The Snowbound Bride by Davalynn Spencer
First sentence: Spruce City, Colorado 1885 Arabella Taube clutched her small carpetbag as tightly as her breath and turned her back to the coach car. The man in the brown bowler had watched her all the way from Denver. He was watching her now through the window. She was certain of it.

Premise/plot: Arabella Taube is running away from her family...but her plans go awry when she becomes snowbound with a stranger and his family. Will this happy accident lead to a happily ever after?!

My thoughts: I liked this one. 3/5

The Yuletide Bride by Michelle Ule
First sentence: Fairhope, Nebraska, 1873 Ewan Murray’s fingers shook so much, he had trouble tightening the tuning nut on his fiddle. After four long months, the moment he’d dreamed of beckoned. Surely she wouldn’t be late to church.

Premise/plot: Ewan loves, loves, loves, loves Kate. But her family thinks he doesn't have enough money to support her. Can he earn $70 by Christmas to prove that he can?!

My thoughts: I liked this one. It was sweet but slightly silly. Both Ewan and Kate are musicians. And Kate learns to play or "play" the bagpipes in this one. I liked it. 3/5

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible