Thursday, May 28, 2020

In A World Full of Doubters...

I found the news about Hawk Nelson's lead singer, Jon Steingard, announcing he no longer believes in God to be sad and sobering. I won't say shocking because I believe in spiritual warfare, that there is a battle for our hearts, minds, and souls going on every day. (You can read more about his announcement in several places...Christian Post, People, Billboard).

There are two Hawk Nelson albums that I have probably listened to hundreds--yes hundreds--of times. Made and Diamonds. So even though I couldn't have told you the name of even one member of the band, Hawk Nelson's music, at least, is part of me.

I have many mini-reactions and responses.

  • Only God knows the heart. Only God knows the beginning, middle, and end of Jon's story. 
  • Only God knows. He knows our thoughts--every single one of them. He knows our struggles, our doubts, our wrestling. He knows our words and actions, too, but individuals can keep the outer motions going. You can't keep secrets from God. This 'surprise' announcement wasn't a surprise to God, though it may be to fans.
  • Having doubts isn't sinful--especially, especially if and when you take those doubts straight back to God. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. 
  • Faith is a gift we receive--a gift we receive from GOD through the Spirit. Faith isn't something that can be manufactured or manipulated by will power or peer pressure. Faith comes from outside ourselves--from God to us--and it's not something that generates naturally within the human heart/soul.
  • Faith is personal. You can't piggyback on anyone else's faith. You can't piggyback on the shoulders of your dad, your mom, your grandparents, your spouse, your friend, your brother. You can't have enough faith to will someone into a saving relationship with Christ. 
  • The Bible is foundational to the Christian faith. But it takes spiritual eyes to understand, to interpret, to process. The Bible judges us--reads us. It is not our place to judge the Bible and decide what is "fair" or "not fair" or "true" or "not true." We are not to call good evil and evil good. 
  • Our desires reveal much. Think about it. If you don't have a spiritual appetite or desire for God and all things eternal, then you may have a big, big, big problem. How we feel about the spiritual disciplines--Bible reading, praying, meditating, praising and worshipping God, fellowship with other believers, being taught from the Word, etc--reveals our spiritual temperatures. If the last thing you want to do on earth is "spend time with God" then heaven would be hell for you. We are prepared for heaven on earth. 
  • Honesty is better than dishonesty. Lying about your beliefs won't help anybody. Going through the motions of being in a right relationship with God--when clearly your heart, mind, soul, and body are not genuine--won't help on judgment day.
  • Being raised in the faith doesn't mean that you actually actually get the ABCs of the gospel and understand the ins and outs of the faith. It just means you can be fluent in Christianese and church talk. You can parrot the phrases without internalizing what it means. 
  • It is perhaps dangerous to be assured of our salvation if we are only looking at one moment in time--the moment we signed a card, prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, got dunked, etc. It is a walk. Walking requires steps and movements. Yes, a walk can include missteps, stumbles, falls. Yes, a walk can include a few crawling moments here and there. But a walk is more than one moment in time.
  • That being said, Christianity is not a to do religion. It is a done religion. Jesus paid it all. All to HIM I owe. It isn't what we do that assures us of our salvation. It is WHO we are trusting in--hour by hour, day by day, week by week, etc. Every day is a day we trust, we believe, we cling, we cry out. 
  • God is God is God is God. We may never understand the big picture this side of eternity. We may not be able to answer all of the why did this happens. But just because we don't see how every single detail fits together doesn't mean that God's big story isn't pieced together with wisdom and goodness. 
  • Only God knows. End of story. It is not our place to speculate if he was ever truly saved...or not. The truth is you can't look at someone and say "saved" or "not saved." Or "elect" "not elect." No one is beyond God's capability of saving. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

43. Epic An Around the World Journey through Christian History

Epic. Tim Challies. 2020. Zondervan. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It began with a breakfast.

Epic: An Around the World Journey Through Christian History chronicles the Tim Challies' global travels as he seeks to tell the history of the Christian faith through objects. It is a journey that would see him travel in 24 countries, six continents, and eighty museums. Each object gets its own chapter. Chapters cover his travels, his experiences, his reasons for selection, and why he believes it contributes significantly to the epic story that is Christianity.

He writes, " My focus for this journey was on historical objects, not buildings or locations. I also wanted to avoid statues, markers, and memorials that had been constructed after the fact. I wanted to focus on original, historical artifacts. I also wanted to focus on objects that are available to the public, not locked away in archives and available only to scholars or researchers."

Other objects are included almost as asides that don't quite meet all the above perimeters.

I would recommend this one to those that love to travel, to do research, to study history. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

42. Sixty Days with John Owen in Hebrews

Sixty Days with John Owen in Hebrews. John Owen. Edited by Daniel Szczesniak. 2011. 190 pages. [Source: Bought]

Do you have an interest in actually reading John Owen but find accessing his works to be a bit daunting, a bit intimidating, a bit overwhelming? Don't know where to start? Don't know if there'll be enough reward for your effort? I am recommending Sixty Days with John Owen in Hebrews edited by Daniel Szczesniak.

What you see is what you get. Sixty devotional entries that cover the entire book of Hebrews verse by verse by verse, all thirteen chapters. John Owen's commentary on Hebrews has been edited down to daily readings. The book of Hebrews itself may seem an intimidating read. But don't worry, somehow, someway these two fit together perfectly. I found it to be an enlightening gem of a read.

I chose to read it not in SIXTY days but in thirteen days. I chose to read all the devotional readings for each chapter of Hebrews. (All of the entries covering Hebrews 1; all of the entries covering Hebrews 2; all the entries covering Hebrews 3; all the entries covering Hebrews 4, etc.) I also chose to read the devotions AFTER daily Bible reading in Hebrews. (I am using the M'Cheyne devotional bible reading plan, so I was already reading Hebrews one chapter per day at this time.)

If you don't typically read devotionals because they are too light, fluffy, lacking nutritional value, not really worth your time, effort, energy...then this is the perfect choice for you. It is MEATY and rewarding.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

41. Saints and Scoundrels in the Story of Jesus

Saints & Scoundrels In the Story of Jesus. Nancy Guthrie. 2020. Crossway. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The story of Jesus includes all kinds of characters—a second cousin who recognized him, parents who loved him, disciples who misunderstood him, fastidious law-keepers who tried to trap him, a friend who betrayed him, priests who plotted against him, and followers who died for him. While some embraced him, others hated him. While some wanted to serve him, others wanted to use him. Some who claimed to be saints proved to be scoundrels. And, some who began as scoundrels were transformed into saints.

Saints and Scoundrels in the Story of Jesus is a lovely read. Each chapter chooses one (or two, possibly three) characters to focus on. Guthrie writes in the introduction, "I hope to add to, deepen, refine, or perhaps correct your grasp of the various people I feature in the following chapters. I hope to show them to you from an angle you may not have seen before or at least to show them through a more intense lens than you may have previously examined them." She continues, "But mostly, I want to help you to see Jesus more clearly through delving into these stories and these people. Over and over again, we’ll see how Jesus interacted with people—people with hopes, dreams, hurts, and disappointments. We’ll hear what Jesus said to those who welcomed him and wanted him, as well as to those who rejected him and ridiculed him. We’ll also get a sense of what Jesus wants from us and what he offers to us."

This isn't a book to be read on its own. She encourages you--as do I--to read this one alongside the Bible itself. B

But the book also uses people to explore topics and themes. The chapter on hypocrisy was great.

If you’ve ever said, “I’ll pray for you,” and didn’t actually pray, you might be a religious hypocrite.
If you’ve ever said, “I forgive you,” but continued telling others how you’d been wronged, you might be a religious hypocrite.
If you’ve ever said, “Amen,” to someone’s prayer even though you’d actually been making a mental grocery list during the prayer, you might be a religious hypocrite.
If your lips have uttered the words, “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” with no intension of submitting to God in a particular area of your life, you might be a religious hypocrite.
If you regularly watch explicit programs that you’d never watch with church friends lest they think you are not as holy as you want to appear, you might be a religious hypocrite.
If your words to your family on the way to church are often harsh or unkind, but then friendly to everyone once at church, you might be a religious hypocrite.
If you’ve ever been glad to be observed donating money to your church, a mission project, or a “Go Fund Me” page for a particular cause, you might be a religious hypocrite.
If you have judged others for their judgmental attitudes and actions, you might be a religious hypocrite.
If you’ve ever hoped people would think that you’re reading the Bible on your phone during church when in reality you were scrolling through social media, you might be a religious hypocrite.
If you’ve ever used phrases like “the Lord led us” or “God told me” simply to make a decision sound more spiritual, you might be a religious hypocrite.
If you’ve ever posted something on social media hoping that viewers will think you are more virtuous, more compassionate, more “woke, ” more “with-it,” than you really are, you might be a religious hypocrite.

I would definitely recommend this one. I think it could even be a profitable book to reread every few years.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, May 18, 2020

Bible Review #4 NKJV Woman's Study Bible

The NKJV Woman's Study Bible: Receiving God's Truth for Balance, Hope, and Transformation. Thomas Nelson. 2017. 2112 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

I bought this one when the physical Lifeway stores were closing and everything (yes, everything) was being clearanced out. It was a bittersweet time. On the one hand, I bought probably four or five Bibles that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise. On the other hand, not much time goes by--a week, perhaps two or three--where I don't MISS Lifeway and wish that they were still open. 

I had an earlier edition of the Woman's Study Bible in the NKJV that came out in the 1990s. It drove me CRAZY because the text was broken down into syllables. I HATE, HATE, HATE that "special feature." That was my reasoning as to why I "needed" this one. (The fact that it was clearanced certainly helped.)

I started this Bible at the end of March 2020. I finished it in mid-May 2020. 

This Bible is HEAVY. Granted, it is large print, or should I say "large print." You would think that for its weight it would actually feature text that was actually actually LARGE print. If the font size is 11 points like the page says, it is absolutely the SMALLEST 11 point I've ever stumbled across. It looks more like 9 points--possibly 10. The note size is listed as 7. That I'd believe. It is absolutely TINY. Almost insultingly so! The notes are absolutely impossible to read no matter how much you squint. Since the notes are impossible to actually actually read, you'd be better off going with a text-only large print or "large print" bible.

I wouldn't mind the weight of the Bible IF the weight was justified by actual large print.

It is red letter.

The layout is beautiful--absolutely beautiful. But it is impractical to have a beautiful bible with notes so impossible to utilize.

I didn't notice much bleed through in the pages.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

40. The Whole Counsel of God

The Whole Counsel of God: Why and How to Preach the Entire Bible. Tim Patrick and Andrew Reid. Foreword by J Gary Millar. 2020. [March] Crossway. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian nonfiction; theology]

First sentence from preface: This book was motivated by our love for the Lord and his church. In writing it, we were driven by our twin convictions that the church is established and grown by the word of the Lord, and that the Lord is rightly honored when the church sits under his word. While none of this would seem to be in any way controversial among evangelical Christians, the sobering reality is that a great deal of the Bible—perhaps, in fact, the majority—is never preached to the people of God, even in evangelical churches.

The Whole Counsel of God: Why and How to Preach the Entire Bible is written for a very specific audience. It is written for a) preachers-still-in-training, b) recently graduated and newly hired preachers c) preachers with some experience. The authors are challenging preachers to make a long-term plan for preaching through the whole Bible--all 66 books, all chapters and verses. They insist that preachers need a long-term plan, a serious plan, that will see them through decades of ministry--presumably in the same church, the same congregation.

The authors believe that preachers are not preaching thoroughly through the Bible, every book, every chapter, every verse. The authors think that churches need to be taught and "fed" from the WHOLE Bible. There isn't one verse of Bible that shouldn't be fed to the flock and expounded on. The churches--and their ministers--need the balance that only comes from believing, knowing, trusting, applying the whole counsel of God.

So part of this one is about the need to preach from the whole Bible, and why the Bible is so essential to the health of the church. The rest sets out to be more practical and applicable. How exactly does one go about preaching and teaching the whole Bible. How does one lay out--plan ahead, schedule--sermon series thirty or forty years in advance?!?! How does one balance teaching from the Old Testament and the New Testament?

How does a minister prepare his heart and mind to preach through the whole Bible? to understand it? to preach it and teach it in a way that it makes sense to his listeners?

I am a reader, a reviewer if you're being generous. I love, love, love the Bible. I love the idea of listening to sermon series that take me through whole books of the Bible. (I don't look for this in a physical church; I don't necessarily look for this from just one teaching ministry.) I do believe that expository preaching is the best kind of preaching. I do believe that the church needs the whole counsel of God. I do believe that the teaching needs to be biblical. Preachers not reading in their own ideas and beliefs into the text, but faithfully interpreting the Scripture for what it is.

I am NOT a preacher. This book was not written with me in mind. It isn't really applicable to me.

For better or worse, many denominations do not have one minister that is there for the duration: A man of God who settles down in one church for decades--two, three, four, possibly even five decades. This book almost demands such a situation of job security--a pastor knowing that he'll be in that one church for his whole career. Is this realistic? Maybe. Maybe not.

I say for better or worse. There are certainly ministers that I've had for eight years that felt like they were there for twenty. And there have been times where I genuinely wished my denomination was different and didn't move the pastor after three or four years. It's hard for a congregation when the Shepherd is changed every three to four years. Visions and directions change--progress potentially lost. Conflicts seem inevitable with change being the only constant.

But really, let's be honest, many denominations wouldn't really go for this expounding the whole Bible--all chapters and verses--because it wouldn't be politically correct and socially acceptable. Liberalism isn't even subtly sneaking into our churches and denominations. It's quite proud and out and wanting the majority of the vote. I believe this starts with seminaries and universities. I believe by the time a preacher reaches the church, his or her mind is set and determined not to take the Bible so literally as the very Word of God itself.

So this book faces several different challenges for readers.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, May 11, 2020

39. Arlo and the Great Big Cover-Up

Arlo and the Great Big Cover-Up. Betsy Childs Howard. Illustrated by Samara Hardy. 2020. [June] Crossway. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] [picture book; children]

First sentence: It happened during quiet rest time. Arlo noticed a scratch on the wall, just over his bed. The scratch looked like a mouth.

Premise/plot: Arlo, the star of this Christian picture book, is tempted during rest time to do something naughty--really naughty: draw on the wall with MARKERS. He isn't just tempted; he gives into temptation--all the way. But once he sees what he's done--its permanence, its obviousness, well, Arlo feels DREAD and regret. What will his mom say? Is it really there forever and ever? Will it be a forever reminder of his disobedience? What sounded like a great, fun, super idea...has turned into something awful.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I was a bit hesitant at first. Would this picture book be well written? Would it be preachy from cover to cover? Would the characters be relatable? Would it be super cheeseful? But I was well pleased. I thought Arlo and his situation were definitely relatable. As were his feelings. It didn't really turn preachy until the last page--and it was a good kind of preachy. (If that makes sense.)

Overall, I definitely liked it and would recommend it.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

38. Is God Speaking to Me?

Is God Speaking to Me? How To Discern His Voice and Direction. Lysa TerKeurst. 2020. [September] 64 pages. Harvest House. [Source: Review copy] [Christian Nonfiction]

First sentence: Hi friend, Have you ever wondered if God still speaks to us today? Or even more so…whether what you’re hearing is really God speaking to you, or just your own thoughts? I understand. I’ve wrestled through these very same questions. But what I’ve discovered through my own study of Scripture is that God absolutely does still speak to us through His Word (2 Timothy 3:16), through His son, Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2), and through the Holy Spirit that lives in us as believers (John 14:16-17, 1 Corinthians 3:16). Yes, the Lord is speaking to us and inviting us into a more satisfying relationship with Him than we’ve ever known before. And our job is to respond in obedience. But you don’t have to learn how to do this alone!

The question isn't a negligible one. It is a question with some significance. Will readers agree with Terkeurst's conclusions? Perhaps. Perhaps not. (I know Justin Peters would not.) Essentially this is what she says:

Though I hear from God all the time, I’ve never heard His voice audibly. When God speaks to me, it is a certain impression on my heart that I’ve come to recognize as Him.
I’ve also learned to ask five key questions to help me determine if what I’m hearing is from God or not: 1. Does what I’m hearing line up with Scripture? 2. Is it consistent with God’s character? 3. Is it being confirmed through messages I’m hearing at church or studying in my quiet time? 4. Is it beyond me? 5. Would it please God? Asking these questions helps me tell the difference between my thoughts and God’s impressions. Let’s look at each of these to unpack what they mean a little bit further.
This is a tiny little book! I consider that a plus. It is actually an excerpt from another of her (previously published) books. If you wanted to be introduced to this author--this tiny book might give you an idea of if you'd be a good match.

I shared my thoughts on the subject as a reaction post to a Justin Peters' sermon I listened to in February this year. But essentially, here is where I stand on the subject:

1) I believe in the Sufficiency of Scripture.
2) I believe that God is not speaking to us in the same way as He spoke to the authors of Scripture. That the way God spoke to and through believers then--and by believers I mean the human authors of the 66 books of the Bible--Old and New Testament--is not normative; that we should not expect the same revelation. I don't believe in continuous revelation, new revelation. God is not going to be adding more books to the Bible.
3) I believe in the authority of Scripture. I believe the Scripture should judge us and NOT that we should judge Scripture.
4) I believe in God's Sovereignty.
5) I believe in God's Providence.
6) I believe that all believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and joined to Christ.
7) I believe that the Spirit living in us helps us spiritually see and understand the Spirit-given text in front of us. We are indwelled with the Author of the Book. I believe that the Bible takes SPIRITUAL sight to understand, to interpret, to apply.
8) I believe that we are called to store up God's Word in our hearts and minds. That we are to meditate on it, "chew the cud," to memorize it, to really let the Word saturate our hearts, minds, lives. We are to be people of the Book. We are to know the book. The Bible is our meat and drink--it is nourishment for our very souls. By it--and through it--our minds are renewed and lives are transformed. Scripture should interpret Scripture. The Scripture teaches us how to interpret it, how to make sense of it.
9) It would be impossible for the Spirit to speak contrary to the Revealed Word of God. The Holy Spirit will never tell you something that is contrary to what the Bible says. It will never disagree with Scripture. It will never be in opposition to Scripture. If you've got the Word of God in front of you and Spirit inside of you disagreeing--then it is not the Holy Spirit at work. The Spirit will never green-light sin in a believer's life, it will never make excuses or justification for why you can keep on disobeying God's Word. It won't happen. It's a false spirit, a lying spirit, a spirit perhaps masquerading as an angel of light, but it's a deception.
10) Discernment, discernment, discernment. Always. Everywhere. Never slack. Never surrender.

I can only speak from my experiences, but when I say--or when I think--of using the phrase, "God spoke to me," or the "Spirit revealed to me" what I really mean is the Spirit brought to my mind a specific text of Scripture, that a truth within Scripture is being illuminated by the Spirit, I am having a spiritual "aha" moment, a light bulb has lit up, a truth that has always been truth has been realized. I am not having a "new" or "special" revelation. I am just having my eyes opened to the Word of God--which is one of the things that the Spirit does in the life of the believer. It is perhaps lazy to think of it as "the voice of God speaking to me." But I would imagine that most believers have been guilty of using this phrase innocently enough.

I think it is also possible that what we think of as God speaking to us falls more into these categories a) God providentially working things out in our lives b) God answering our prayers. For example, when God is "putting someone into your mind" that you need to pray for that person--maybe God is using you as an answer to someone else's prayer. Maybe it is part of God's providential plan for you to speak encouragement, to build up, to give comfort to another. Or another example, a guest speaker might come into a church saying, the Spirit wanted me to preach from this text. This could very well be an answer to prayer. They've prayed for discernment and "help" on knowing what to teach/preach. They have prayed for the Spirit to work through them and their message.

I would hope that most people would recognize that the Spirit speaks to us in the words of the Word. The Spirit is teaching us--as we read the Word; the Spirit is guiding us and interpreting for us as we read, study, and meditate. The Spirit is illuminating the Word so we know how to apply it. The Word is indeed Sufficient. But the Spirit's work is ongoing. Not in giving NEW revelation, but in opening our eyes, opening and renewing our minds, working in the heart, working and transforming our lives.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

37. The Complete Guide to the Names of God

The Complete Guide to the Names of God. George W. Knight. 2020. Barbour Books. [August 2020 this edition] 432 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Reference; Dictionary]

First sentence from introduction: King Solomon of Israel (ruled about 970–930 BC) inherited the task of building the temple in Jerusalem from his father, David (2 Chronicles 6:7–11). Solomon and his subjects thought of this ornate sanctuary as a place where God’s presence would dwell. But when he dedicated the temple, the king declared, “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27 niv). Solomon was right. God is so much greater than the little human systems we build to place Him in a box. We should approach any study of His names and His characteristics with a strong dose of humility. I have tried to strike this chord of reverence and humility in this book. It brings together one man’s thinking on the major names of God in the Bible. These divine names—of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—give insight into who God is and how He acts in the world. Throughout the book you will also find related articles with timely information on the nature and work of God. These topics include people, places, and ideas that are especially associated with Him and His redemptive purpose for humankind. I have been teaching the Bible to Sunday school groups for more than fifty years. We have spent many exciting hours discussing the subjects in this book. I hope the information you find here will kindle your appetite for even deeper study of the nature and purpose of the awesome God whom we serve.

This book is an A-to-Z guide. Entries are arranged alphabetically. All entries--or most entries--will prove potentially useful and/or enlightening to believers. But that being said, I can't help but feeling this one has been misnamed. The title doesn't quite fit what you get.

The Complete Guide to the Names of God. What do you think of?! Do you think of all the names, titles, attributes, roles of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Do you think ONLY of the names, titles, attributes, roles, types etc. Prophet. Priest. King. Seed. Branch. Messiah. Lamb. Lion. Alpha and Omega. Perhaps If a book is titled Complete Guide to the Names of God, I'd expect 95% of the entries to be specifically related to the subject at hand. I feel this one is more of Bible dictionary. You've got entries on people--Adam, Aaron, Abraham, David, etc. You've got entries to provide context: Baal, black magic, idolatry, demons, Satan, atheism, agnosticism, Islam, etc. You've got entries of key terms for the faith: covenant, atonement, backsliding, etc. The entries seem to be all over the place.

If the book was in fact a Bible dictionary, I wouldn't really think twice about the inclusion of any of the entries.

In addition, I didn't always agree with the definitions and entries. Specifically their entry on FREE WILL.

FREE WILL OF MAN The phrase “free will of man” does not appear in the Bible. But the concept is at the heart of Christian theology. Perhaps the best way to grasp the idea of human free will is to contrast it with divine sovereignty. God is all-powerful (sovereign), so He can do whatever He desires. But in His wisdom He has chosen not to force us to do His bidding. He created us with free will—the right and ability to decide whether to obey His commands or to ignore His instructions. Does human free will somehow negate God’s purpose in sending His Son into the world? Not at all. Just as in Jesus’ time, some people will believe in Him and some will not (see Acts 17:32–34). God wants all people to become a part of His kingdom, but only those who choose to accept Him through the exercise of their faith—their own free will—will be saved (see Ephesians 2:8). See also Divine Election

DIVINE ELECTION The doctrine of election deals with God’s selection of specific groups or individuals on whom He confers His favor. In the Old Testament, He selected the Israelites to be His special people. God did not choose them because they deserved this great honor. It was because He loved them and was determined to keep the covenant He had made with their ancestor Abraham (see Deuteronomy 7:6–8).

I also didn't really understand why it needed to be illustrated. If ever a book didn't really need illustrations it would be a book on the names of God.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible