Friday, March 27, 2020

29. Discover Jesus

Discover Jesus: An Illustrated Adventure for Kids. Tracy M. Sumner. 2020. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Children's Book; Christian Nonfiction]

First sentence: If someone were to ask you what you know about Jesus, what would you say? You probably know that Jesus was born a little over two thousand years ago in the land of Israel in a town called Bethlehem. And you probably know that He died on a cross so that people could be forgiven for their sins. Maybe you’ve heard some great stories about the miracles He performed, or even the important things He taught about loving God and other people. That’s a good start. But with this book, you have the opportunity to learn a lot more.

This one is written for children as an introduction to the basics of the Christian faith, an introduction to Jesus Christ.  It gives an overview of the Bible and how Jesus Christ fits into that big picture of the Bible. Jesus' story did not start in Bethlehem--far from it! Jesus has always existed and participated in the creation. Through the chapters one does get an appreciation for the big picture and what it all means. The language is very basic--which is probably kid-appropriate and only fitting.

The main audience of this one is 8 to 12 years old. I'd say that is about right. It could be used by families with young children in that age group or even in a classroom library at a church or private school.

I reviewed an advanced reader copy in e-book format. As an adult I didn't find the illustrations--photographs of the Holy Land plus Christian art drawn throughout the histories--particularly necessary. They do not add to the 'adventure' of the story. That could just be me--I find the gospel ADVENTURE enough without adding anything to it--even something as harmless as art.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, March 23, 2020

Bible Review #1 ESV MacArthur Study Bible

ESV MacArthur Study Bible. John F. MacArthur. 2010. Crossway. 2144 pages. [Source: Bought] [Bible, Study Bible]

First sentence: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

I'm just a girl who can't say no when it comes to buying MacArthur Study Bibles. But I finally, finally finished one cover to cover.

I chose to read the ESV MacArthur Study Bible for the Bible in 90 Days project. I started reading December 25, 2019. I finished March 23, 2020. For those reading this in the future, the world has changed in that short length of time.

I chose to read the kindle version of the book. Mainly I chose the e-book version--even though I own both print and ebook--because the font size in the print is super-tiny for my eyes.

I loved the ability to highlight! I never, ever, ever do this in print Bibles. So that was a nice surprise bonus to using the e-book.

I mainly read in the evening--though sometimes the afternoon--with my tea time.

I would like at some point to see Crossway publish a large print edition of this. Though at this time it's been so many years since this was first released, I find that a bit unlikely!!! If they do make it large print. I would like to see the font size of the text be at least 11 to 12 point font and and the study note font size be at least 9 to 10. That's a laughable dream since most large print bibles--even large print study bibles--feature the "large font" text size about 9.5 to 10 and the study note size at 8 or 8.5. Laying flat is a must. I do have the NASB MacArthur large print--the text runs hard and fast into the margins. There is no place that it actually opens and lays flat where you can read the inner column of text.

So I would recommend this one to those looking for a study Bible. If you have bad eyesight, I'd recommend the e-book version.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

14 Day Reading Plan

This reading plan will see you through the New Testament and Psalms and Proverbs in 14 days.

Old TestamentNew Testament
Day 1Proverbs 1-31Matthew 1-7
Day 2Matthew 8-28; James
Day 3Psalm 1-18Mark, 1 Peter, 2 Peter
Day 4Psalm 19-29Romans, Galatians
Day 5Psalm 30-51Hebrews, 
Day 6Luke 1-9, 1 Corinthians
Day 7Luke 10-24, 2 Corinthians
Day 8Psalm 52-72Acts 1-15, Ephesians
Day 9Psalm 73-89Acts 16-28, Philippians, Colossians
Day 10Psalm 90-1071 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 
Day 11Psalm 108-1181 Timothy, 2 Timothy
Day 12Psalm 119Titus, Philemon, Jude
Day 13Psalm 120-138John 1-21, 
Day 14Psalm 139-1501 John, 2 John, 3 John, Revelation

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

28. Stand Firm

Stand Firm: Living in a Post-Christian Culture. John MacArthur. 2020. [April] 152 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian living; Christian Nonfiction; theology]

First sentence: The New Testament resounds with calls to holiness.

It continues, "We are told to abstain from fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11), mortify the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13), love not the world (1 John 2:15), flee immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), put off the old man (Eph. 4:22), and think on what is true (Phil. 4:8). We read commands to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16), to put on the breastplate of righteousness (Eph. 6:14), to buffet our bodies to bring them into subjection (1 Cor. 9:27), and to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). We hear the call of the Apostle Paul to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh (2 Cor. 7:1), walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), and lay aside all bitterness, anger, and malice (Eph. 4:31). Peter quoted from Leviticus in his charge to live disciplined, godly lives: “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15–16). Most Christians are well versed in those commands—we know them and we believe them. However, familiarity and mental assent are not enough to produce righteous results. In fact, the church seems to be rapidly losing the battle for holiness and purity. Consider the worldliness that pervades the church today. Some congregations are virtually indistinguishable from the world; many more are moving fast on a similar trajectory. Others don’t necessarily wear their worldly affections on their sleeves, but their outward acts of piety and devotion cannot conceal the corruption within. The reason is simple. The battle for holiness is not primarily about public professions and external displays. Rather, if God’s people are going to be holy, we must first win the battle on the inside."

John MacArthur's newest book is essentially a primer on the Christian life. It covers a wide range of subjects essential to living out the Christian life.

Chapter One: The Christian Life Means Being Called to Holiness
Chapter Two: The Christian Life Means Loving Your Neighbor and Your Enemy
Chapter Three: The Christian Life Means Loving Until It Hurts
Chapter Four: The Christian Life Means Engaging In Prayer
Chapter Five: The Christian Life Means Repudiating the Myth of Influence
Chapter Six: The Christian Life Means Persevering to the End

If there is a common thread to these chapters--to these subjects--it's that Christians are called out ones. No matter if we live in a so-called "Christian" culture or the worldly-world, we are called out by God, commanded to live not for the world, not for ourselves, but for Him and Him alone. Often this means countering culture and society, choosing to follow and believe what God has said.

I love short books. (Of course, I also love long books--but that is besides the point!) There is something oh-so-satisfying about sitting down with a little book and reading it in a day--or two or three. If it is super-relevant and packed with truths--both familiar and new--so much the better. I would definitely recommend this one.

  • A properly functioning conscience is fully informed by the truth of Scripture. When David said, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11), he was confessing his desire for a fully informed conscience. Christ prayed for the same thing for His disciples: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Holiness comes as a result of the Word of God informing the conscience and the conscience informing the person.
  • God’s people must not buy in to the demonic lie that God is only concerned with the exterior—that sins of the heart and mind are acceptable as long as they remain secret. 
  • In truth, there is no such thing as a private, secret sin. The wicked imagination is merely the seedbed of external sin. No one “falls into” immorality or adultery—the sinner indulged those lustful desires internally long before he ever acted on them. In the same way, the thief ’s heart was corrupted by covetousness long before he ever stole anything. Wickedly toying with sin internally is the best way to guarantee that it will eventually manifest itself externally. And in the meantime, the conscience is battered and defiled while its cries fall on deaf ears.
  • We cannot afford the occasional dalliance with sins of the mind. We cannot indulge our sinful imaginations with impunity. If we think the sins of our imagination are truly secret, we’re lying to ourselves. There is no corner of our hearts or minds that is hidden from the Lord.
  • The fact is that it isn’t easy for any of us to love someone else as thoroughly as we love ourselves. Our love for ourselves is unfeigned, fervent, habitual, and permanent. It generally respects and prioritizes all our needs, wants, desires, hopes, and ambitions. It consistently promotes our well-being. It does everything possible to secure our own happiness and satisfaction, protect our own welfare, produce our own comfort, and meet all our own interests. It seeks our own pleasure and fulfillment, and it knows no limit of effort to secure all of these things. Scripture says that is exactly how we are to love our neighbor. But Israel’s religious elite left that out, reducing “love your neighbor” to something less than such consummate devotion. Worse still, the rabbis and scribes had narrowed the definition of “neighbor” to exclude virtually everyone but themselves.
  • if we are going to be known as our Father’s children, we need to manifest that same kind of love for the lost. He demonstrates His love to sinners through general goodness, pity, warning, admonition, real grief over their plight, and a pleading offer of the saving gospel. We must love our neighbors—including our enemies—in the same way. We need to prioritize their general welfare. If that means a meal, clothing, money, or some other kind of assistance, we give it freely, out of a sincere desire for their good. More than that, we show them pity, compassion, and grief over their slavery to sin and the consequences that await if they do not repent. Loving our enemies also means warning them of God’s judgment and faithfully, lovingly admonishing them to repent and believe while there is still time. That is loving our neighbors the way God loves.
  • The world talks a lot about love. But the more people talk about it, the less it seems as if they actually know what they’re talking about. They certainly don’t seem to understand what divine love is or how it functions. Worse still, the same kind of confusion is creeping into the church. For example, you have probably heard some pastor or some church describe their desire to “just love on people.” That sounds good, but often it doesn’t actually mean anything beyond the superficial. Increasingly, what it actually means is, “We don’t want to make people uncomfortable.” Churches like that routinely settle for a vague sense of acceptance that’s not grounded in any biblical truth. They inevitably skirt the difficult topics and the penetrating and convicting truths, instead planting their flags in whatever inoffensive common ground they can identify. They’ve mastered the technique of sounding loving without having to say anything of substance.
  • I want to see the lost redeemed and the slaves of sin set free. I want to see society changed and righteousness prevail. But the only way it can be changed is through the power of the Spirit and the truth of the gospel. There is no other hope for the spiritually dead, no other means by which the Holy Spirit makes dead sinners alive in Christ.
  • The gospel produces hostility. It is popular to attempt to alter it, not only to make it easier for people to believe but to take some of the heat off themselves for presenting it. In fact, the word of the cross is so shameful and antagonizing that even faithful Christians struggle to proclaim the true gospel, afraid of the rejection, ridicule, and embarrassment it will bring. That’s why it is hard for even some Christian leaders, when they get on television in secular settings, to speak the gospel with honesty and clarity. Sometimes they can’t even seem to get the name “Jesus” out of their mouths.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, March 12, 2020

27. Finding the Right Hills to Die On

Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage. Gavin Ortlund. 2020. [April] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian nonfiction; theology; christian living]

First sentence: There’s an old saying (I can’t remember where I heard it): “There is no doctrine a fundamentalist won’t fight over, and no doctrine a liberal will fight over.” Strictly speaking, that’s not quite fair to thoughtful liberals and fundamentalists. But we can probably recognize these two instincts. Most of us have a tendency in one direction or the other—to fight over doctrine too much or too little.

I loved, loved, loved FINDING THE RIGHT HILLS TO DIE ON by Gavin Ortlund. The premise is simple: Are there theological doctrines worth fighting for? (Yes) Are all theological doctrines worth fighting for or fighting over? (No.) How does one distinguish between the doctrines worth fighting for and the ones not worth fighting for? How does one discern which doctrines are so fundamental and essential to understanding, proclaiming, and believing the gospel...that they must be fought for and preserved...and which doctrines are secondary or even tertiary? Theological triage is the practice of discerning and deciding these matters.

"Ortlund usefully develops four tiers in his theological-triage system: (1) doctrines that are essential to the gospel; (2) doctrines that are urgent for the health and practice of the church, such that Christians commonly divide denominationally over them; (3) doctrines that are important for one branch of theology or another, but not such that they should lead to separation; (4) doctrines that are unimportant to gospel witness and ministry collaboration."

There are dangers in the two extremes: The first extreme being people who refuse to fight for (stand up for, defend, protect) ANY doctrine; unity must be preserved no matter what. The only absolute perhaps being UNITY AT ALL COSTS. All other absolutes can be whittled down, thrown out, reinterpreted, given a new spin. The weakness of the first extreme, in my opinion, is that every opinion counts or matters--except the Voice of God. The Bible has lost authority, lost status, lost a place. Perhaps that is the extreme of that extreme. Perhaps that is the worst case scenario of that extreme. But certainly when a denomination values being in step with the times, with the culture, with the world, with unbelievers and sinners, with majority-voted morals and virtues, rejecting the idea of absolute truth, etc., they are essentially throwing out the Word of God and saying we know better than God.

The second extreme being people who are willing to fight for (stand up for, defend, protect) ALL doctrines. It doesn't matter the doctrine, if you don't agree with me--then we're at odds and can't work together or be unified. You're my enemy and Christ's enemy if we're not 100% in sync with one another. Neither extreme is healthy or ideal. The second extreme has SO MANY PERCEIVED ENEMIES that their focus tends towards being right, being proved right, getting the best of others. Little room for love, lots of room for hate. The weakness of the second extreme Ortlund writes, "If our identity is riding on our differences with other believers, we will tend to major in the study of differences. We may even find ourselves looking for faults in others in order to define ourselves."

As Christians live their lives--during the week and on Sunday--they will encounter those who disagree with them. How does one react? How does one live peacefully? How does one come to terms? Which disagreements are worth speaking up about, fighting about, fighting for, defending. And which ones are best avoided and pushed aside? He writes, "Most of the battles you could fight, you shouldn’t. And I’d go so far as to say that the majority of doctrinal fights Christians have today tend to be over third-rank issues—or fourth. We deeply need to cultivate greater doctrinal forbearance, composure, and resilience."

Ortlund quotes from others who have written about this subject. (It hasn't always been called triage, but Christians have been calling for discernment and defense for centuries.)

"Erik Thoennes offers a helpful list of criteria: 1. Biblical clarity 2. Relevance to the character of God 3. Relevance to the essence of the gospel 4. Biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it) 5. Effect on other doctrines 6. Consensus among Christians (past and present) 7. Effect on personal and church life 8. Current cultural pressure to deny a teaching of Scripture."

"Wayne Grudem provides a list of questions that churches and organizations should ask when considering whether to draw a new theological boundary: 1. Certainty: How sure are we that the teaching is wrong? 2. Effect on other doctrines: Will this teaching likely lead to significant erosion in other doctrines? 3. Effect on personal and church life: Will this false teaching bring significant harm to people’s Christian lives, or to the work of the church? 4. Historical precedent: Is this teaching contrary to what the vast majority of the Bible-believing church has held throughout history? 5. Perception of importance among God’s people: Is there increasing consensus . . . that this matter is important enough that the false teaching should be explicitly denied in a doctrinal statement? 6. Purposes of the organization: Is the teaching a significant threat to the nature and purposes of the organization? 7. Motivations of advocates: Does it seem that the advocates of this teaching hold it because of a fundamental refusal to be subject to the authority of God’s Word, rather than because of sincerely held differences of interpretation based on accepted hermeneutical standards? 8. Methods of advocates: Do the advocates of this teaching frequently manifest arrogance, deception, unrighteous anger, slander, and falsehood rather than humility, openness to correction and reason, kindness, and absolute truthfulness?"

I would say primarily this book might be best suited for pastors, elders, church leaders, teachers. But I think all Christians could benefit from reading this one.

  • Do we have a “warm corner in our hearts” for every single true Christian, even if we strongly disagree with him or her on various issues?
  • A good prayer to pray is this: Lord, give me a “warm corner in my heart” for other Christians, especially those I am tempted to reject or despise. I know that I cannot solve all the divisions in your church, but show me what the next step might be for me personally to pursue and cultivate and honor the unity of your bride.
  • The Bible itself commends an attitude of eager responsiveness to God’s word in its entirety.
  • Confusion may be an understandable response to some passages, and grief to others; but indifference should not be our response. A casual, take-it-or-leave-it attitude about theology is totally incompatible with how we are to receive the word of God. Its contents may call for trembling and tearing of clothes, but never shrugging.
  • The truth is unchanging, but culture is constantly changing; so there will always be points of friction between truth and culture.
  • The gospel is simply too controversial, too disruptive, not to be attacked. Therefore, there can be no effective, long-term ministry of the gospel without a corresponding willingness to engage in its defense.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Testimony of A (Bible) Glutton

Reading Ron Horton's Alive To The Purpose got me to thinking about how I've approached Bible reading in the past. I realized that I've gone through several stages.

Pre-1986. I'd say I was big into stories--all kinds of stories. I loved to be read to, loved to read. I was familiar with certain Bible verses because of memorization--I went to a Christian school, where memory verses were expected of all grade levels and abilities. But there wasn't so much a Bible presence as a Bible Story Book one. I remember reading The Book for Children cover to cover multiple times. I'd also say that I had a super-super-super-super wonderful teacher who retold Bible stories drawing stick figures on the blackboard.

1986-1989. I started reading the Bible--the Living Bible--on my own, with great eagerness and curiosity. I mainly stuck with what I knew from Bible stories--Genesis and Exodus; Ruth, 1 Samuel through 2 Kings, Jonah; all the New Testament. (Probably Psalms and Proverbs?)

1989-1996. I would still say I was a bit of a picky reader. But the summer before sixth grade I started reading more of the Bible. I remember reading Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, etc. for the first time. In high school, I started venturing into the major and minor prophets. I still wasn't reading the whole Bible. I still had spots I avoided. My translation of choice these days was the NIV 1984.

1996-1998. I graduated from high school, started college, and actually read the Bible cover to cover. In a relatively quick amount of time. I started to realize the JOY that came from reading large chunks of Scripture and seeing the big picture. I know one of the Bibles I read during this time was the Narrated Bible--a chronological Bible. I read it through in three weeks.

1998-2008. These were my famine and feast days. I had two settings it seemed. I was either all in--and reading the Bible two to five hours a day. Reading through the Bible multiple times in a year. Reading with gusto and passion and zeal. Or I was all out--going months, and perhaps even years without any personal Bible reading. I was STARVING myself. I'd feel the lack, but love of sin, love, love, love of sin was keeping me from going to where I could feast. I had moments of guilt and shame. But I seemed unable to break the pattern-hold. When I was on, I was a theological zealot. Love for God, love for the Word consumed me--filled my days and nights. When I was off, I was a HUGE mess. And yes, a BIG, BIG, BIG hypocrite.

2008-present. Around the time I started the Operation Actually Read Bible blog, I started tithing my time. I thought it was all kinds of wrong to claim that I DIDN'T HAVE TIME TO READ THE BIBLE when I was spending four or five hours a day reading every book but the Bible. (And also having time to BLOG reviews of what I was reading.) I didn't have "time" and I didn't have "energy" were just excuses, bad excuses at that. I also started reading the Bible first--before picking up any other book for the day.

Also around this time--either 2008 or 2009--I participated in my first (but not my last) Bible in 90 Days challenge. That really taught me two things 1) I definitely DID have the time (and also energy), 2) the Bible was the absolute best for feasting. After this I was not satisfied with ten minutes a day. I did not feel full. I still felt hungry. My spiritual stomach had been stretched. I'd become a GLUTTON. It left me with a HUGE spiritual appetite, but also the pattern or habit of setting aside hour(s) each day to feast. Supposedly, it only takes three to four weeks to establish a new habit or break out of an old habit. 90 days was more than sufficient to start a "habit" or "pattern" that was life-changing. My favorite translation these days: KJV, NASB, ESV.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

26. Alive to the Purpose

Alive to the Purpose. Ronald A. Horton. 2020. [May 2020] BJU Press. 120 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian nonfiction; Christian living; Bible reading]

First sentence: The Bible is a special book to be read thoughtfully with a curiosity that carries us forward with eagerness. We should read with all our faculties fully focused and alive to the literary pursuit, exercising the same skills and readiness we use when we read works less important to our growth in God.

Before I begin my proper review, I have a few questions for you:

True or false: The Bible should be read primarily for profit, and any pleasure derived is bonus.
True or false: The Bible should be read primarily for pleasure, and any profit--or growth--is bonus.
True or false: The best way to profit from Scripture is to actually ENJOY reading it.
True or false: Our love of God is cultivated by our reading of Scripture.
True or false: Our love of God--the author of Scripture--goes hand in hand with our love of His Word. Can anyone love God if they don't love His Word?!

The premise of this one is simple: "The Bible is more often studied and searched and scrutinized and analyzed and theologized and memorized and dipped into and skimmed and scanned—all worthy and important actions—than it is read, that is really read." Horton urges--pleads with-his readers to ACTUALLY read the Bible. READ.

He writes, "It is that most certainly—a special book to be read in a special way. But it is also a special book to be read in a non-special way—that is, to be read thoughtfully with an interest that carries us forward with eagerness and rapt attention."

When was the last time you approached Scripture with eagerness, with attention, with curiosity, with both heart and mind fully engaged???? (Or even partially engaged?!)

It's a fair question, in my opinion. Because without this basic-as-breathing approach to Scripture, it is hard to grasp the meaning and come to know the God of the Bible.

I appreciated Ron Horton's Alive To the Purpose. My own experiences reading Scripture--over the past three decades--leans closer to a 'readerly reading' then anything else. So what is a readerly reading?!

"Readerly reading allows the Bible to interest us in the same way a well-chosen story does. This can get forgotten—if ever learned—in the humdrum, pressured business of life. To read in a readerly fashion is to devour a well-crafted story with pleasure. We deprive ourselves of what writers of stories have always known: that what we call literature can serve serious purpose in powerful ways. Pleasure and serious purpose can meet in our reading of God’s Word. In fact we diminish that reading experience when we fail to bring to it the skills and readiness in play when we read what is less necessary to our growth in God."

The book gives readers a glimpse of this in action as Horton explores several passages of Scripture. (A bit of the gospel of John, the book of Hebrews, the book of Romans, a couple of Psalms, some Old Testament stories from the history books).

Horton stresses for readers that they should be reading the whole Bible. That readers should be grasping the BIG picture of the WHOLE Bible. That readers should come to a point where they know how the Bible fits together as a whole, and how parts relate to one another.

As I mentioned before, I appreciated this one. I have a bias. I am a Bible glutton. The Bible is my feast. I come often--many times throughout the day--and often read in large, chunky doses. When it comes to my time in the Word, my approach is PILE THAT PLATE HIGH, it's FEASTING time. I read both the Old Testament and New Testament. I love, love, love all genres of Scripture. I am just not satisfied with a "reading" plan that calls for one chapter a day; or two; or three; or even four. I don't think most reading plans cultivate a love for reading Scripture. I don't think most reading plans care about PLEASURE, about cultivating an absorption of the Word, about cultivating a curiosity, an eagerness, a MORE, MORE, MORE, MORE approach to Scripture. Most reading plans feel more like someone pushing a vitamin supplement to swallow than sitting down to FEAST at a MEAL. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, March 6, 2020

25. Seen. Known. Loved

Seen. Known. loved: 5 Truths About Your Love Language and God. Gary Chapman and R. York Moore. 2020. [July 2020] 96 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian living]

First sentence: WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? MANY OF THE PEOPLE WE ENCOUNTER are looking for more out of life. They are looking for meaning—for a purpose for existence. They want to sense that their life has value. They want to be connected to others and work together to make the world a better place. In short, they want to love and to be loved. Both of us have met hundreds of people who have shared their struggles in life with us. Most have a history of broken relationships. Beneath all of these struggles is the cry for love.

Seen. Known. Loved. is a little book just perfect for readers who have worn out their copies of any of the 5 Languages books previously published in the past few decades. It applies the 5 Languages technique to "help" readers find a way to connect with God. This is what it says in the introduction, "What can we learn about God through the five love languages? How can we connect with His love—so we actually feel it? That is what we are exploring in this little book."

I'll be honest: I found this book to be a little unnecessary. I will agree that YES people need to feel seen, feel known, feel loved. And I will agree that YES God is a God who SEES, a God who KNOWS, and a God who LOVES. But what does "Gary Chapman's 5 Love Languages" have to do with the gospel?! Very little in my estimation.

The book is not clearly written enough to be a gospel presentation for nonbelievers, for so-called seekers. It introduces you to Chapman's 5 Love Languages and presents a couple of verses here and there to show that God has love languages too. That he is "communicating" to us in love languages as is evidenced in the Bible. But the emphasis seems to stay on the 5 Love Languages. And it never really explains or answers that a gospel presentation should. Who Jesus is. What he came to do. Why Jesus died. How he saves us. What he saves us from. What he saves us to. No, the emphasis is YOU ARE LOVED. YOU ARE WORTHY.

Okay. Maybe the target audience isn't unbelievers or seekers. Maybe the target audience is Christians.  Maybe the assumption is that the target audience doesn't need to know the gospel, hear the gospel, reconnect with the gospel. It's a silly assumption since we should preach the gospel to ourselves daily, because daily we need reminders. But maybe the book is written for those that are so well-versed in the gospel that it would be a waste of time to go there. If that is the the book one that satisfies?! Maybe. Maybe not. The book is redundant to anyone who regularly reads their Bible. To those who know their Bibles, the idea that God is a God who SEES, KNOWS, LOVES is nothing new. These essential doctrines are to be loved, treasured, hoped upon, lived and experienced. But these books don't celebrate these foundational doctrines of historic Christianity so much as proclaim how they fit into the 5 Languages program.

"Through your mobile device, you can read God’s words to you and experience love and companionship in a way you may never thought possible. Most people are not Bible readers, but studies have demonstrated the fact that regular Bible reading reduces stress, produces peace, and helps people live lives of love and appreciation. Why is that? Simply because there is a power in the words of God’s affirmation to us in the Bible that we cannot substitute with words from other people."
"When we hear words of affirmation coming out of our own mouths back to God, it helps us truly receive God’s words to us. And it will help us to feel more love and give more love."

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, March 5, 2020

24. The Mayflower Pilgrims

The Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable. Derek Wilson. 2019. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy] [nonfiction; adult nonfiction; christian nonfiction]

First sentence: Is there such a thing as a Christian country? If so, what would it look like?

I'll be honest I was shocked when I saw that this one was 256 pages. Why? It felt like it was twice that long! Perhaps because the chapters tended to be on the longer side. (If you need to stop mid-chapter to use the bathroom--there's a clue that the chapter is too long.)

This one is all about putting the Mayflower Pilgrims into context, a specific time and place. The story of the Mayflower Pilgrims does not begin at the dawn of the seventeenth century--far from it. At least the way Derek Wilson tells it. He grounds HIS story into the English Reformation--the split from Roman Catholicism. This alone places us a hundred years back. But even that isn't quite far enough, deep enough. For Martin Luther was not the first nor the only to become disgruntled with the status quo and begin asking questions. Before Luther there was Wycliffe and his Lollards--just to name one. No, this story tells the history of religious (and to some extent religious and political dissent) in England (it only touches on Europe in bits and pieces here and there.)

Primarily it focuses on the years 1520 to 1620. (As I mentioned above, it goes a bit further back here and there as context demands.) It is important for readers to understand from page one that this story ends BEFORE a single pilgrim steps aboard the Mayflower. If you go into the book thinking that it will end with the Pilgrims arriving in America, or dare I say the Pilgrims celebrating the first year or two of survival--celebrating with a feast. You'll be mighty disappointed.

From the introduction, "If we really want to discover, as best we can, who the 1620 pioneers were, we need to probe their past, their heritage and their response to that heritage. And we also need some understanding of their context in the world they grew up in, the convictions they embraced, the assumptions they rejected and the changes with which they attempted–not always successfully–to cope. That is why the following narrative does not begin with the 180-ton Mayflower, after a series of false starts, clearing Plymouth harbour. Rather, it ends there. The huddle of religious separatists on the ship’s deck, watching their past disappear over the eastern horizon, believed they knew what a Christian commonwealth would be like and that, far from the satanic influences of the Old World, they could, under God, create it. We know that they were wrong. The communities they planted replicated the vices and the virtues of the ones they had left. The seeds of corruption lay within themselves. The perfect human society is a chimera. But we would do well to guard against cynical superiority."

This story touches on just about everything--royalty, politics, church politics, war, navigation and exploration, literature, philosophy, science, theology, and BUSINESS. (To name just a few sub-topics).

It explores essentially one question WHY. Why would anyone--man, woman, boy, or girl--set off into the unknown, risking their life??? The voyage across would be dangerous. But after that voyage, then what?!?! Talk about true unknowns and great uncertainty. There is no simple single answer to the WHY question. The answers would be varied and much more complex than we can imagine.

There were a few chapters that I just loved, loved, loved. I found them insightful and interesting. Other chapters I found overwhelming--it seemed the narrative was flying way over my head...and as a result, I found the reading dull. But not every chapter was like that. There were some truly great moments. And I think readers may have to work at staying engaged with the text.

One of my favorite chapters was on the first Bible translations in English. It was fascinating.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, March 2, 2020

23. Suffer Strong

Suffer Strong. Katherine and Jay Wolf. 2020. Zondervan. 224 pages. [Source: Library] [Biography; Christian Nonfiction; Christian Living]

First sentence: Our stories are glorious. They’re also painful, unfair, scary, and almost always quite different from what we thought they would be. Yet it seems that those parts might be the very means through which the glory is most revealed.

Katherine and Jay Wolf continue to share their story, journey, experiences, lessons learned, encouragement with readers. This is the second book together for this husband and wife.

The theme of the book is redefining perspectives, outlooks, and world views. The chapters are alternating narrators.

Redefining limitations
Redefining the past
Redefining celebration
Redefining trauma
Redefining loss
Redefining failure
Redefining beauty
Redefining commitment
Redefining community
Redefining healing
Redefining hope

Pollyanna is often misunderstood and misapplied by our culture and society. This book isn’t about pasting on a happy face and grinning your way through tough times. The joy, hope, and ultimate strength come from faith in the God of the Bible. This isn’t about finding your inner strength and powering through tough situations by speaking what you want into the universe. The book is grounded in Scripture. We may be weak, but He is strong. We may not have the answers, but we can trust in the One who does. We can rest in the sovereignty of God and rest securely in his love knowing that he is working all things for our ultimate good. Not our comfort in the here and now, mind you. Not according to what we think is our ultimate good. Not according to our desires of the moment. Not according to our time of when we want it. But trusting in God, his wisdom, his goodness, his faithfulness, his grace and mercy.

Knowing you can’t do everything is a harsh reality, but it’s also a sweet gift. You couldn’t do it all on your own anyway, and you don’t have to. (25)

It seems that God does give us more than we can handle—sometimes much more. And yet He does this so He can handle it for us and so we can handle it together. (33)

Every story starts with a memory.... I’m convinced that what happens to us in life actually matters far less than how we remember it. Sometimes our memories—and more specifically, the way we remember them—can draw us to a uniquely inspiring way of looking toward our future. Through this lens, we get to tell a whole new kind of story and remember a new kind of future. (37)

Just because your pain might not be the worst-case scenario doesn’t mean it’s not still pain. None of us need to apologize to anyone, ourselves included, for the stories we’ve been given. There will always be harder stories than ours, and there will always be easier ones. For some reason, we’ve been given the one we’ve been given, and it’s up to us to figure out why and, more importantly, what we are going to do with it. In the big scheme of things, our worst stuff falls under a great umbrella of all the worst stuff. That collective worst stuff was bad enough that God himself died to make it all not so one day. Our personal trauma matters to God, because all the traumas ever felt matter to God. (70)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible