Saturday, June 24, 2017

True or False with Tozer (Knowledge of the Holy edition)

My last game of True or False with Tozer was in December 2016.

1. True OR False: To know God is at once the easiest and the most difficult thing in the world.
2. True OR False: God does not love populations, He loves people. He loves not masses, but men. He loves us all with a mighty love that has no beginning and can have no end.
3. True OR False: We do God more honor by believing what He has said about Himself and having the courage to come boldly to the throne of grace than by hiding in self-conscious humility among the trees of the garden.
4. True OR False: For our souls' sake we must learn to understand the Scriptures.
5. True OR False: We can never know the enormity of our sin, neither is it necessary that we should. What we can know is that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
6. True OR False: Both the Old and the New Testaments proclaim the mercy of God, but the Old has more than four times as much to say about it as the New.
7. True OR False: We can hold a correct view of truth only by daring to believe everything God has said about Himself.
8. True OR False: Nothing that God has ever said about Himself will be modified; nothing the inspired prophets and apostles have said about Him will be rescinded. In God no change is possible; in men change is impossible to escape.
9. True OR False:  For every man it must be Christ or eternal tragedy.
10. True OR False: Sin has many manifestations but its essence is one. A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares, "I AM." That is sin in its concentrated essence; yet because it is natural it appears to be good.
11. True OR False: We can never know who or what we are till we know at least something of what God is.
12. True OR False: A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, June 23, 2017

Book Review: The Knowledge of the Holy

Knowledge of the Holy. A.W. Tozer. 1961/1978. HarperCollins. 128 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

From the preface: True religion confronts earth with heaven and brings eternity to bear upon time.

From chapter one: What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. 

Why read A.W. Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy?

Because…"It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is."

Because…"What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."

Because…"Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true."

Because... "If we insist upon trying to imagine Him, we end with an idol, made not with hands but with thoughts; and an idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand."

Because…"We can never know who or what we are till we know at least something of what God is."

Because…"It is not a cheerful thought that millions of us who live in a land of Bibles, who belong to churches and labor to promote the Christian religion, may yet pass our whole life on this earth without once having thought or tried to think seriously about the being of God."

Technically, all those reasons are reasons to read the Good Book, the Word of God, Holy Scriptures. But I think the Holy Spirit can and will use Tozer's words--long after he's dead--to inspire new generations to seek God.

The Knowledge of the Holy is a theological-devotional book about the attributes of God. You may not be used to theology crossing over into devotions, but this Tozer quote sums up how this is so.
The study of the attributes of God, far from being dull and heavy, may for the enlightened Christian be a sweet and absorbing spiritual exercise. To the soul that is athirst for God, nothing could be more delightful.
What is an attribute?

  • An attribute of God is whatever God has in any way revealed as being true of Himself.
  • An attribute, as we can know it, is a mental concept, an intellectual response to God's self-revelation. It is an answer to a question, the reply God makes to our interrogation concerning himself.
  • What is God like? What kind of God is He? How may we expect Him to act toward us and toward all created things? Such questions are not merely academic. They touch the far-in reaches of the human spirit, and their answers affect life and character and destiny.
  • Between His attributes no contradiction can exist.
  • The divine attributes are what we know to be true of God. He does not possess them as qualities; they are how God is as He reveals Himself to His creatures. Love, for instance, is not something God has and which may grow or diminish or cease to be. His love is the way God is, and when He loves He is simply being Himself.
I recommend Knowledge of the Holy to every believer--no matter their age, gender, or denomination. You may or may not agree with every single sentence Tozer ever spoke--ever wrote--but what you will find is someone who challenges you to think, to consider, to grow. Tozer rarely leaves readers the same. 

 


© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, June 22, 2017

My Summer with Psalm 119 #3

As a few of you know, I love, love, LOVE Psalm 119. I thought it would be great to spend a summer focusing on that psalm and what others have had to say about it. I'll begin with Thomas Manton's Exposition of Psalm 119. It may take all summer to read all 158 sermons. But they're so GOOD, so RICH, I think it will be worth it.

Sermon three covers Psalm 119:2. 

This is the second sermon by Thomas Manton which covers the second verse. It's a rich verse, and it deserves more attention. Essentially, this time we focus exclusively on SEEKING God. 

I think John Piper would approve of this sermon very much!!! The ideas in this sermon may seem a bit radical, a bit extreme to modern ears. But certainly not to John Piper! He has been advocating the whole DELIGHT in God concept for decades. 

I invite you to read and reread these quotes slowly, to really stop and consider what it means to seek God. Do you agree with Manton?!  

  • We do not live merely to live; but for this end were we sent into the world, to seek God.
  • God is the cause of all things, and nature cannot be satisfied without him.
  • We were made for God, and can never enjoy satisfaction until we come to enjoy him;
  • We are seeking that for which we were created, when we seek and inquire after God.
  • The chiefest good should be sought after with the chiefest care, and chiefest love, and chiefest delight; nothing should be so precious to us as God.
  • It is the greatest baseness that can be, that anything should take up our time, our thoughts, and content us more than God.
  • If anything be sought from God above God, more than God, and not for God, it is but a brutish cry.
  • It is our benefit to seek God. It is no benefit to God if we do not seek him. The Lord hath no less, though we have less. He that hides himself from the sun, doth not impair the light. We derogate nothing from God if we do not seek him. He needed not the creature: he had happiness enough in himself; but we hide ourselves from our own happiness and our own peace.
  • Every hour we need his direction, protection, strength; and we are in danger to lose him, if we do not continue the search.
  • Wrestle through discouragements; though former endeavours have been in vain, yet still we should continue seeking after God.
  • It is not enough to own Christ to be the true Messiah, but we must embrace him, put our whole trust in him.
  • To seek God with the whole heart, is to seek him with the highest elevation of our hearts. The whole heart must be carried out to God, and to other things for God’s sake.
  • He that gives but part to God doth indeed give nothing.
  • The devil keeps an interest as long as one lust remains unmortified, and one corner of the soul is kept for him.
  • We were not mangled in our creation; God, that made the whole, must have the whole. He preserves the whole. Christ hath bought the whole:
  • All that you have is to be glorified in the day of Christ; all that you are and have must be given to him—whole spirit, soul, and body. Let us not deprive him of any part.


© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book Review: Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia

Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia. John Dunlop, MD. 2017. Crossway. 208 pages.  [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from introduction: Dementia, dignity, and honoring God—you must be kidding! Chances are you have never seen those three thoughts in the same sentence. How can such a tragedy as dementia be dignified, and how in the world can God be honored through it?

Premise/plot: Dunlop provides a Christian perspective of care on dementia in his new book. He writes in the introduction, "My purpose in writing this book is to provide a theological lens through which we can view dementia and then give a number of practical ways in which it can be applied. I trust it will be useful for those who are developing the disease as well as those who care for people at any stage of it. I also hope that many professional caregivers, whether doctors, nurses, chaplains, or social workers, will benefit from this read. In addition, I believe it will be useful for pastors, other church leaders, and members of ethics committees. I suspect that most readers will be followers of Jesus, but I truly hope that the book will be read by non-Christians as well. I am impressed by how many who do not embrace the Christian faith nevertheless hold the life and teachings of Jesus in high regard. My desire is that they will profit from a deeper consideration of how Jesus would respond to dementia."

Table of Contents:
Introduction
God and Dementia
What Should We Know About Dementia?
What about Diagnosis?
Can Dementia Be Prevented or Treated?
How Does It Feel to Have Dementia?
The Experience of Caregiving
Help for Caregivers
How Can We Honor God Through Dementia?
Respect the Dignity of Those with Dementia
Meet the Needs of Those With Dementia
What Should the Church Do?
Grow Through the Experience of Dementia
End-of-Life Issues

My thoughts: First and foremost the book is practical and packed with information. Some of this information is medical: what is dementia? what are the different types of dementia? what are the signs of dementia? when should you see a doctor if someone you love is showing signs of dementia? are there ways to slow down dementia? what kinds of help are available for caregivers? The book has plenty of tips.
There are number of practical ways in which we can respect dignity by entering the world of people with dementia. Here are a few examples: 1. Get to know their past history, if you are not already familiar with it. Talk to them about stories from their past to allow them to enjoy the memories they still have. It may help to compile a picture book and have them explain the pictures in it. 2. Share some funny stories. They may not understand them, but if you laugh, they may enjoy laughing along with you. 3. Learn what they prefer to be called and use that when speaking with them. It may be the nickname they had as a child. 4. Learn their likes and dislikes from earlier in their lives. You might take them to places they used to enjoy and serve them the comfort foods they once relished. Their forgetfulness may enable you to do this repeatedly. If they used to love mac and cheese, they may be fine eating it every day. 5. Play the music and sing the songs they used to love. 6. Slow down to get into their world. Life for those with dementia moves slowly. Anything you do together will take more time, as it may upset them or even lead to a meltdown if they feel rushed. 7. Respect the constrictions of dementia. As the disease progresses, patients will be less interested in the past and future and more focused on the present. They will be less interested in news of the world outside and may not want to leave the comfort of their home or room. What is going on in the lives of other people may not be important to them; eventually, however, they will care only about how they feel in the here and now. To respect their dignity, those around them must learn to enjoy the present moment with them. At times, being touched and held may be all they want. Recognize that caregivers’ need for activity may be far greater than theirs. 8. Respect their resistance to change. Establish routines they are comfortable with. Having meals at the same time and going to bed and getting up on a regular schedule are usually best. The world they live in does not require much variety. 9. If they perceive that you did something wrong and have become upset by it, accept that their understanding of what happened may be totally different from yours. Do not make excuses but apologize profusely. That will affirm them, avoid arguments, and allow them to feel better. 
But there are also theological aspects of this one. Dunlop examines the subjects of dignity and human worth. He asserts that it is not our intellect or memory that makes us have worth; our image-bearing does not stop with diagnosis. No matter how much the mind deteriorates, our worth and value does not diminish or lessen. Dunlop also focuses on God. God is good. God is faithful. God is sovereign. God is wise. God is ever present. God is the God of all comfort. He writes, "As we celebrate God’s goodness, we must recognize that part of his loving care for us is allowing difficulties to come into our lives—such as dementia. We cannot deny that dealing with dementia, whether from the perspective of the patient, the caregiver, or other observers, involves emotional, spiritual, and at times even physical suffering. To handle it well, Christians need to be taught early in their lives that God is in control, that he always does what is good, and that we can trust him through the hard times of life. If we are going to endure suffering in a way that honors God, we need a robust understanding of how God uses suffering. This must start with an understanding of who God is."

He concludes, "If we are going to honor God in and even through dementia, we first need to know God in an intimate way. We need to think the way he thinks, respond to life’s situations the way he responds, love the things he loves, and value the things he values. When we know God in this way, we are able to respond to dementia the way God himself would respond."

Favorite quotes:

  • Compassion is not only showing love and kindness, but it is also understanding how others feel and then allowing ourselves to feel that same way. It is taking the time and effort to get into their lives to see the world as they see it. If they are frustrated, for example, we must allow ourselves to feel that frustration. This is crucial when relating to those with dementia.
  • Caregiving is a distinct call from God. It is not something we randomly fall into. Unfortunately, it may seem like this responsibility is foisted upon us, but that is not true. We often think of God’s calling as something that comes to us through a great, supernatural experience, but often the call comes to us by the circumstances he puts in our path.
  • Caregiving may be a trial, but it is carefully orchestrated by a loving God to transform the life of the caregiver. Furthermore, the caregiver will recognize that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was, in part, to be an example of sacrificial giving to others.
  • We basically have three options for how we spend our time: we may choose to invest time well, doing things with eternal value; we may spend most or part of our lives in sin; or, third, we may spend time doing things that, though not bad in themselves, are frankly a waste of time. There will come a day when we will stand before God to have our works judged. Thankfully, we will not be judged for our sinful deeds, for when we trusted Christ, they were forgiven. What will be judged is the amount of time we invested in doing good for eternity in comparison to the time we wasted.
  • Since memory is so important and God values it so highly, we must do whatever we can to preserve the memories of those who have dementia. We can do this by repeatedly telling them the stories of their lives. We should emphasize how God graciously brought them to himself and worked in and through them. And they may never tire of hearing the Bible stories they knew from Sunday school. We need to keep repeating that God loves them and that Jesus died for them. We need to use hymns, either singing or listening, as they will touch their emotional memories. We should also continually remind them of our love for them. 
  • We must never allow their cognitive impairment to blind us to their emotional needs. They may feel much more than they know, and how they feel may be far more important to them then what they know.
  • Music is a wonderful way to reach the spirit of people with dementia. Our church used to offer a worship service in the assisted-living facility next door. One dear friend was there every weekend playing his guitar and singing the old hymns. We were amazed how many of the residents, even with dementia, would either sing along or sit smiling in quiet reverie. I would on occasion be asked to present a brief devotional. In spite of my best efforts, many slept or did not follow even the simplest of thoughts. It was not the preaching that reached their souls; it was the music.
  • The best thing that a local church can do to prepare victims and caregivers for the spiritual challenges of dementia is to instill in them a deep and joyful experience with Jesus. If Christians memorize Scripture and sing hymns often enough to ingrain them in their brains, they may become part of their emotional and procedural memories, thereby being more likely to recall them once faced with dementia. For the caregiver, Scripture and hymns may sustain them through days of challenge and difficulty when they have so little time to nurture their own spiritual lives.
  • There is no guarantee that prayer, reading the Scriptures, and other disciplines of the Christian life established prior to the onset of dementia will continue through the course of the disease, but it is fairly certain that if they were not practiced before the onset of dementia, they will not be practiced afterward. 
  • God’s people must understand that suffering is not a tragic mistake that comes into our lives. Scripture assures us that it is the norm for a Christian. In the book of Acts the apostles taught that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Peter writes, “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator” (1 Pet. 4:19). Yes, times of suffering are not a tragic mistake in God’s universe; he ordains them according to his will.


© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Check In With The Cloud

  • What have you been reading? What are you currently reading?
  • Have you finished anything for the challenge?
  • Have you read any new-to-you authors yet?
  • Have you found any new favorites?
  • Are you writing down favorite quotes? Have any to share?
  • Have you learned anything that you'd like to share?
  • Would you be interested in reading a book together? If so, what month would be good for you?

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

My Year with Owen #25

I will be sharing some John Owen quotes this year. The second book I'll be reading is Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It.
  • The word of Christ is the word of the gospel; the word by him revealed from the bosom of the Father; the word of the Word; the word spoken in time of the eternal Word. ~ John Owen
  • Now this word is called “the word of Christ’s patience,” or tolerance and forbearance, upon the account of that patience and longsuffering which, in the dispensation of it, the Lord Christ exercises toward the whole, and to all persons in it; and that both actively and passively, in his bearing with men and enduring from them. He is patient toward his saints— he bears with them, suffers from them. He is “patient toward us” (2 Pet. 3: 9)— that is, that believe. The gospel is the word of Christ’s patience even to believers.  ~ John Owen
  • He that knows not the word of Christ’s patience as a sanctifying, cleansing word, in the power of it upon his own soul, neither knows it nor keeps it. The empty profession of our days knows not one step toward this duty; and thence it is that the most are so overborne under the power of temptations. Men full of self, of the world, of fury, ambition, and almost all unclean lusts, do yet talk of keeping the word of Christ! (See 1 Peter 1: 2; 2 Timothy 2: 19.) ~ John Owen
  • We have arrived, then, to the sum of this safeguarding duty, of this condition of freedom from the power of temptation: He that, having a due acquaintance with the gospel in its excellencies, as to him a word of mercy, holiness, liberty, and consolation, values it, in all its concerns, as his choicest and only treasure— makes it his business and the work of his life to give himself up unto it in universal obedience, then especially when opposition and apostasy put the patience of Christ to the utmost— he shall be preserved from the hour of temptation. ~ John Owen
  • He that keeps close to Christ is crucified with him and is dead to all the desires of the flesh and the world (as more fully: Gal. 6: 14). Here the match is broken, and all love, entangling love, dissolved. The heart is crucified to the world and all things in it. ~ John Owen
  • If liking and love of the things proposed, insinuated, commended in the temptation be living and active in us, we shall not be able to resist and stand. ~ John Owen
  • He that makes it his business to eat daily of the tree of life will have no appetite unto other fruit, though the tree that bear them seem to stand in the midst of paradise. ~ John Owen
  • “Let a soul exercise itself to a communion with Christ in the good things of the gospel— pardon of sin, fruits of holiness, hope of glory, peace with God, joy in the Holy Ghost, dominion over sin— and he shall have a mighty preservative against all temptations.” ~ John Owen
  • Consider that you are always under the eye of Christ, the great captain of our salvation, who has enjoined us to watch thus, and pray that we enter not into temptation. What do you think are the thoughts and the heart of Christ when he sees a temptation hastening toward us, a storm rising about us, and we are fast asleep? Does it not grieve him to see us expose ourselves so to danger, after he has given us warning upon warning? ~ John Owen



© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: New Testament Words for Today

New Testament Words for Today. Warren Wiersbe. 2013. 207 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence from preface: If you know how to select them, five words can express unforgettable, life-changing thoughts.

Premise/plot: New Testament Words for Today is a devotional by Warren W. Wiersbe. It contains one hundred devotions for believers. Each devotion is based on a New Testament scripture. (He goes through the New Testament books in order.) Within each scripture, he italicizes five words for emphasis. The devotional itself is based on the whole verse. 

Here are some of the five words:
  • And he called His name Jesus.
  • This is My beloved Son
  • Therefore you shall be perfect
  • do not sound a trumpet
  • O you of little faith?
  • Enter by the narrow gate;
  • seek, and you will find;
  • Lord, I am not worthy
  • He was moved with compassion
  • I will build My church,
  • I will go before you
  • “I am willing; be cleansed.”
  • My soul is exceedingly sorrowful,
  • your sins are forgiven you.
  • Bless those who curse you
  • but the laborers are few
  • Do not fear, little flock
  • Bring out the best robe
  • and the Word was God.
  • you shall be free indeed.
  • I am the good shepherd.
  • your joy may be full.
My thoughts: This would be a great devotional for those reading through the New Testament--whether for the first time or the tenth time. And it's not such a bad goal to read the New Testament itself in 100 days or less. The devotionals are definitely Christ-centered and thoughtful. There is plenty of information and insight to be found. 

Favorite quotes:

  • Once he gets us to doubt God’s love, Satan has an easy time destroying our faith, hope, and love.
  • Whenever you are tempted, never once question the Father’s love.
  • The cross is the greatest proof of God’s love. We know God loves us, not because we are healthy, wealthy, and enjoying an easy life, but because he told us so in the Scriptures. In fact, the Father loves us just as he loves his own Son.
  • When you doubt God’s love, visit the cross.
  • The lost world will never believe John 3:16 if Christians don’t obey 1 John 3:16—“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” And 1 John 4:11 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Christians are to be channels, not reservoirs; we share God’s love with others as the Holy Spirit works in and through
  • If our faith does not operate in the affairs of daily life, it will never operate in the great challenges of ministry or spiritual warfare.
  • The more we feed on God’s truth, the stronger our faith will become. 
  • Prayer is not simply a conversation with God in which we tell him all our needs. Prayer is also a journey with God during which he shows us himself and his resources.
  • If we don’t know what we are seeking, our journey will be a waste of time.
  • We are never more like Jesus than when we are compassionate.
  • Everybody you meet is wearing some kind of yoke, some responsibility that burdens them, and most of them are trying to do it alone. Those who know Jesus as Master know that he is the burden-bearer, not carrying the burdens instead of us but carrying them with us.
  • When we are intimate with Jesus in his Word, we grow in our knowledge of God and his will for us. We cannot control the world around us, but with God’s help, we can control the world within us and experience the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).
  • When we find ourselves troubled about things that are beyond us, let’s obey the voice of Jesus: “Bring them here to Me.” We are not manufacturers; we are distributors.
  • You and I have enough to do handling our own lives without meddling with the lives of others.
  • We don’t live on explanations or contracts; we live on the promises of God.
  • Let’s take time for individuals, no matter how full the schedule or how weary the body. This makes us more like our Master. 
  • To carry a cross means to be headed for crucifixion. Each day we must willingly take up our cross and die to the old life.
  • Don’t fear the cross, for it leads to the crown. What seems to be loss will turn out to be glorious gain, both in this life and in the life to come.
  • Our lives, our prayers, our worship, and our service can reach around the world and bear fruit for eternity, but we won’t know about it until we see Jesus.
  • Prayer is both the thermometer and the thermostat of the Christian life. It reveals our “spiritual temperature” and also helps to regulate it. If we are neglecting prayer or if we are praying listlessly, then we are “cold” (Matt. 24:12). If we are “up and down” in an undisciplined prayer life, we are “lukewarm,” neither hot nor cold (Rev. 3:15–16). If we are walking with the Lord, meditating on the Word and yielded to him, our hearts will “burn within us” and energize us (Luke 24:32). Being honest in answering these questions in a brief inventory can help us improve our prayer ministry.
  • Physical freedom is useless if we don’t have spiritual freedom, for it is only in spiritual freedom that we have divine life, truth, and love.
  • Unless we allow Jesus to minister to us, we are not prepared to minister for him to others.
  • The world’s greatest sin is unbelief: sinners have not trusted Jesus Christ, and this is why they are lost. Conscience may convict a person of sins, but only the Spirit can convict them of the greatest sin—rejecting Jesus Christ. A person may abandon both the sins of the flesh and of the spirit (2 Cor. 7:1) and still be lost, for it is only faith in Christ that gives new birth into the family of God.
  • God’s people are witnesses, not prosecuting attorneys, so let’s leave the convicting to the Holy Spirit.
  • We live before a watching world and the way we respond to disappointment, trials, and conflicts gives us opportunities to bear witness to the lost people who know us. When we rejoice instead of complain and worship instead of whine, the unsaved take notice and wonder how it can happen. 
  • God’s method for reaching lost people is not imitation but incarnation. He sent his Son in the likeness of flesh so that he could be seen and heard and eventually be crucified. “Christ lives in me,” Paul wrote (Gal. 2:20). That’s incarnation! The Holy Spirit enables us to reveal Christ to the world around us and make a difference where we live.
  • Jesus befriended sinners but never imitated their way of life, and yet they were attracted to him and listened to his teaching.
  • The church that imitates the world with hopes of attracting the world will be disappointed. Lost people can tell the difference.
  • Holy men of God paid a price to write the Bible, and the Bible cost Jesus his life. Down through the centuries, dedicated servants of God were persecuted, imprisoned, and even slain because they translated the Bible, distributed copies of it, or preached from Scripture. Are pastors showing love for God’s truth when they fail to study the Bible and instead borrow other preachers’ sermons? If we plan fun and games for Sunday school but ignore Scripture, what does that say to the next generation? Do we use worship music that is based on Scripture? I fear that technology and entertainment are more important today in many churches than are the Word of God and prayer. Christians are imitating the culture instead of living countercultural lives.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Week in Review: June 11-17

KJV Reformation Study Bible

  • Ecclesiastes
  • Jeremiah 34-52
  • Lamentations
  • Ezekiel
  • Hosea
  • Joel


Living Bible

  • 2 Samuel
  • Hosea
  • Amos 
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Romans
  • Ephesians

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, June 16, 2017

Book Review: The Button Girl

The Button Girl. Sally Apokedak. 2017. 394 pages. [Source: Review copy provided by author]

First sentence from the Prologue: REPENTANCE ATWATER STOOD BESIDE HER little sister, Comfort, studying the damp ground where all the mushrooms grew. 

Premise/plot: Repentance has always been taught to reverence Providence; from the time she was a girl she's been taught the will of Providence, taught to submit to the will of Providence no matter the personal cost. But Repentance is sixteen, and, she has a decision to make. Should she accept the status quo and button with Sober? If she does the first two boys they have will belong to the Overlord and become slaves. (For Repentance and Sober both live in a breeder village.) If she does not button with Sober, then she herself--and Sober--will become slaves, will be carted away from their families and SOLD. A happy ending seems impossible, no one that she knows has fought back, resisted, persevered and won against the Overlords. Should she be the first from Hot Springs to do so?

As you might have gathered, The Button Girl is a fantasy novel. I would say it is best for young adults and adults. Repentance herself is sixteen, but, the decisions she makes thrust her into a very adult world. A world where young women, especially attractive young women are sold as sex slaves. The book isn't just about sex slaves, though, but about slavery itself. The world in which Repentance and Sober live, slavery is a harsh reality--the way things are, the way things have been for over two hundred years.

My thoughts: I loved this one. I did. Here are just a few thoughts and opinions on why.

I loved the names. Repentance's full name is Repentance Joyous Forgiveness Abounding Atwater. And there is a story behind it.
It was largely supposed that Providence cursed her for the sin committed by her mother before her birth. And, truly, it must have been a terrible sin. What else would have required that her mother give her such a lengthy name? Repentance Joyous Forgiveness Abounding—it must have been a great sin for her mother to gush so over the forgiveness of it. The villagers didn’t think it forgiven, though. They assumed Providence had demanded payment from the mother by cursing the child. Why else, they wondered, would Repentance have such odd coloring? 
I loved the heroine. Repentance follows her heart. She may or may not always make the best decisions. But she always does what she thinks is right. She has a conscience and follows it no matter the cost. Repentance rarely does what is easy and convenient and comfortable. She chooses the harder, bumpier path; the path with more twists and turns and RISKS. She isn't doing it for the sake of more adventure and thrills however.
“I’m not really your merchandise, you know,” Repentance said, selecting another potato from the basket on the floor. “You can’t tell me what to think. What’s inside is the real me, and that’s between me and Providence. You can’t own that part.” Jadin burst out laughing. “You are welcome to your insides, Repentance. I cannot package and sell them. No man cares to buy the thoughts of a silly girl.”
I loved the hero. The young man who wants to button with Repentance is named Sober Marsh. Though many would conclude that Repentance was his last chance--his only chance--to avoid slavery, Sober insists that he deliberately chose--waited for, sought out--Repentance to his wife. Sober paid the purchase price for her. She was to be his. But she rebels. Though not against Sober personally. Her rejection is not of Sober as a man, as a husband, as a button-mate. Her rebellion is against the system, against the evil overlords who breed them for slaves. Sober Marsh may be one of my favorite heroes that I've met this year.
“Did it ever occur to you that I wasn’t trying to get buttoned the first four years?” Sober asked. “Did you stop to think that I might have been waiting for someone?” She took a swig from the canteen. Milky, frosty liquid ran down her parched throat. “Oh, that’s rich,” she whispered. “That’s rich? That’s all you have to say?” He turned his back to her and pulled the blanket up over his shoulder. Repentance took another drink. What was Sober carrying on about? Her heart gave a little trip and stumbled against her ribs. He’d waited for her?
I loved the romance. The pacing was just right. Sober's love for Repentance was constant, unconditional, sacrificial. His love wasn't dependent on her feelings or her actions. Even when she refused to button with Sober, even when her actions led to him being sold into slavery, he loved her still. He purchased Repentance twice. That's how much he loves her.
Sober turned to Repentance and said gently, “I do owe Mistress Merricc. She saved me when she bought me off the dock. I have to work to repay her the beads she spent on me.” “And now my family? Are you working to pay her for them, too?” His cheeks flushed. “I’m happy to do it, Repentance.” She nodded. “But we’ll be in Montphilo and you won’t be there with us.” He smiled. “Are you saying you’ll miss me?” “Of course she’ll miss you,” Lord Carrull said. “You’re her hero.” Hearing a noise, he turned toward the secret door. “Ah, Compassion, good. I’m guessing our guests would appreciate turns in the bathing rooms before bed.”
Repentance had to be wooed. She didn't comprehend how anyone could love someone else so deeply, so unconditionally, so loyally.
A memory tumbled through her mind unbidden. She did remember him. He dove from the waterfall into the pool below to save Ambivalence Bigrock. Repentance had been—what?—in her tenth year? So Sober had been in his fifteenth. Everyone in the village thought he was the bravest boy. And he was cute even then, with dark curls and dark eyes and that slightly crooked nose. So why hadn’t anyone buttoned him the following year? Or the one after that? She wasn’t sure she believed he’d been waiting for her. She wanted to believe, but no boy ever waited five years for a button mate. It was too dangerous. The girl you chose might die, for one thing. She’d half believed he’d made that story up to cover up whatever flaws the button girls had seen in him when they turned him down four years in a row. But now, with him sitting right next to her, she found it hard to believe anyone would find him flawed. He shifted a bit and his hip snuggled against hers. She scooted back, pressing herself up against the corner of the settee, but she couldn’t get away from him. He was so big and so near. She bit her lip. What had she been thinking about? Oh, yes, his flaws. He hadn’t any.
He looked confused. “Of course I love you. Was that ever in question?’ “So you’re not having a joke on me? You really were waiting for me all those years?” He looked shocked. “How many times must I say it?” “I don’t understand why you would do that. You didn’t even know me. We’d not spoken more than a few words before that trip up the mountain.” “I loved you all the same,” he looked at her, his face flushed and his eyes bright. “I’ve loved you since the day I saw you in the swamp picking persimmons for Comfort, when everyone was saying your mother wasn’t right in the head. I heard you singing to Comfort and telling her you’d never let anyone take her away. I wanted to protect you. That’s why I put the bunches of swamp bananas on the ground every week just at the time you were out with Comfort looking for breakfast. And the berries and nuts. Didn’t you ever wonder why the squirrels loved you so much that they left you mounds of berries in the summer and nuts in the winter?” She laughed. “You? I used to thank Providence for all that food. I thought he knocked those bananas out of the trees for us.” “No, that would have bruised them. He made me crazy in love with you so I climbed the trees and carried the bananas down and gently laid them on the ground for you.” Repentance blushed. He was crazy in love. She was overwhelmed. She never knew. And even after she caused him so much pain, he still loved her. She swiped at the stray tears that slipped down her face. “And here I was afraid you might want to button with Generosity.” 
Even when Repentance was "unworthy" and "undeserving" of his love. Sober loved without reserve.

I loved the writing and the storytelling. I loved the buttoning vows.
With my heart I’ll love you, With my hands I’ll serve you, By your side, I’ll abide, forever and always.
With my heart, I’ll hold you, With my arms, enfold you, Beside you, I’ll guide you, for now and for always.
It is a fantasy novel, and it did involve a lot of world-building. It has biblical themes in it certainly, but, it isn't a true allegory or parable. I loved that one of the themes was forgiveness and love.



© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, June 15, 2017

My Summer with Psalm 119 #2

As a few of you know, I love, love, LOVE Psalm 119. I thought it would be great to spend a summer focusing on that psalm and what others have had to say about it. I'll begin with Thomas Manton's Exposition of Psalm 119. It may take all summer to read all 158 sermons. But they're so GOOD, so RICH, I think it will be worth it.

The second sermon covers Psalm 119:2. 

Essentially this sermon is about what it means to KEEP God's testimony (the Word of God) and what it means to SEEK God. This sermon leads to a series of questions. What should the Bible mean to a believer?! What does the Bible mean to me? Am I living in light of the Word of God? Am I keeping God's testimony? What does it mean to seek? What does seeking look like in the Christian life? Also am I seeking God? 

The whole sermon was RICH. I love how thought-provoking it is. 

My favorite quotes:
  • To keep it in our hearts is to have an affection to it.
  • Many have this word in their mind and memory, but not in their lives. Without this, hearing is nothing;
  • It is not enough to understand the word, to be able to talk and dispute of the testimonies of God, but to keep them. It is not enough to assent to them that they are God’s laws, but they must be obeyed.
  • The great care of their souls is to find God, that he may direct, comfort, strengthen, and sanctify them, and to have sweet experience of his grace.
  • To serve God is one thing, to seek him another. To serve God is to make him the object of worship, to seek God is to make him the end of worship
All the quotes I liked:
  • The whole word is the testimony which God hath deposed for the satisfaction of the world about the way of their salvation.
  • God would not leave us in the dark in the matters which concern the service of God and man’s salvation. He hath given us his testimony, he hath told us his mind, what he approves and what he disallows, and upon what terms he will accept of sinners in Christ. It is a blessed thing that we are not left to the uncertainty of our own thoughts: Micah 6:8, He hath showed thee, O man, what is good.’ The way of pleasing and enjoying God is clearly revealed in his word. There we may know what we must do, what we may expect, and upon what terms. We have his testimony.
  • God’s testimony is the ultimate resolution of our faith.
  • What is it to keep the testimonies of God? Keeping is a word which relates to a charge or trust committed to us. Christ hath committed his testimonies to us as a trust and charge that we must be careful of. 
  • Look, as on our part we commit to Christ the charge of our souls to save them in his own day, 2 Tim. 1:12, so Christ chargeth us with his word—(1.) To lay it up in our hearts. (2.) To observe it in our practice. This is to keep the word.
  • We must understand the word of God, assent to it; we must revolve it often in our thoughts, and have it ready upon all occasions. Understand it we must if we would be blessed: He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me,’ John 14:21.
  • To keep it in our hearts is to have an affection to it.
  • Many have this word in their mind and memory, but not in their lives. Without this, hearing is nothing;
  • It is not enough to understand the word, to be able to talk and dispute of the testimonies of God, but to keep them. It is not enough to assent to them that they are God’s laws, but they must be obeyed.
  • Those that would be blessed must make this their business, sincerely to seek after God.
  • To seek the Lord presupposeth our want of God: for no man seeks what he hath, but for what he hath not. All that are seeking are sensible of their want of God.
  • This seeking may be known by the things sought. What do we seek for? Union and communion with God: Ps.105:4, Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his face for evermore.’
  • Communion with God is the main thing that we seek after, as to the enjoyment of his favour in the acceptance of our persons and pardon of our sins.
  • Faith is often expressed by terms of motion—coming, running, going, seeking. Thus is the whole tendency of soul towards God expressed by terms that are proper to outward motion. Coming notes our serious resolution and purpose to make after God. Going notes the practice or progress in that resolution. Running notes the fervour and earnestness of the soul to enjoy God. And seeking, that notes our diligence in the use of means. That faith is implied in seeking appears by comparing these two scriptures: Isa. 11:10, To it shall the Gentiles seek.’ Now when this is spoken of in the New Testament, it is rendered thus, Rom. 15:12, In him shall the Gentiles trust.’ So that it notes confidence and hope.
  • The great care of their souls is to find God, that he may direct, comfort, strengthen, and sanctify them, and to have sweet experience of his grace.
  • To serve God is one thing, to seek him another. To serve God is to make him the object of worship, to seek God is to make him the end of worship, when we will not go away from him without him: Gen. 32:26, I will not let thee go unless thou bless me.’ It is not enough to make use of ordinances, but we must see if we can find God there.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Book Review: Meditations on the Trinity

Meditations on the Trinity. A.W. Tozer. 2017. Moody. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Just because God cannot tell us what He is, He very often tells us what He is like. By these “like” figures He leads our faltering minds as close as they can come to that “light which no man can approach unto” (1 Tim. 6:16).

Premise/plot: Meditations on the Trinity is a new devotional published by Moody featuring one hundred selections by A.W. Tozer. The book is divided into four sections: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and God Three In One. The devotional readings are excerpts from Tozer's sermons and/or books.

If you're unfamiliar with A.W. Tozer and his work, this Tozer quote serves as a great introduction:
"Are you contented with nominal Christianity? If you are, I’ve nothing for you. Are you contented with popular Christianity that runs on the authority and popularity of big shots? If you are, I’ve nothing for you. Are you content with elementary Christianity? If you are, all I’ve got for you is to exhort you earnestly to press on toward perfection. But if you’re not satisfied with nominal Christianity, popular Christianity, and the first beginnings of things and you want to know the Triune God for yourself, read on."
My thoughts: I would definitely recommend this one! I would especially recommend it to those new to A.W. Tozer's works. I think it would make a very good first book. I personally have read a LOT of Tozer. (Though there are still some books I don't own and thus haven't read just yet.) The more I read Tozer, the more I love Tozer. I love his zeal and passion for the glory of the Lord. I love his reliance on the Bible. I love seeing someone so JOYFUL so PASSIONATE about the Word of God. Tozer was a man who loved God first and foremost. And because he loved God, because he treasured the Word of God, because God was his 'one thing' he fought to uphold truth no matter the cost. Tozer was not afraid to speak up and speak out.

Some of my favorite quotes:
Mercy is not something God has but something God is. If mercy was something God had, conceivably God might mislay it or use it up. It might become less or more. But since it is something that God is, then we must remember that it is uncreated. The mercy of God did not come into being. The mercy of God always was in being, for mercy is what God is, and God is eternal. And God is infinite. There has been a lot of careless teaching that implies that the Old Testament is a book of severity and law, and the New Testament is a book of tenderness and grace. But do you know that while both the Old Testament and the New Testament declare the mercy of God, the word mercy appears in the Old Testament over four times more often than in the New? That’s a bit hard to believe, but it’s true. This popular idea is a great error because the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New is one God. He did not change. He is the same God and, being the same God and not changing, He must therefore necessarily be the same in the Old as He is in the New. He is immutable, and because He is perfect He cannot be added to. God’s mercy was just as great in the Old Testament as it was and is in the New.
God does not play by ear, or doodle, or follow whatever happens to come into His mind or let one idea suggest another. God works according to the plans which He purposed in Christ Jesus before Adam walked in the garden, before the sun, moon and stars were made. God, who has lived all our tomorrows and carries time in His bosom, is carrying out His eternal purposes.
That is the fact before us: God is faithful! He will remain faithful because He cannot change. He is perfectly faithful, because God is never partly anything. God is perfectly all that He is and never partly what He is. You can be sure that God will always be faithful. This faithful God, who never broke a promise and never violated a covenant, who never said one thing and meant another, who never overlooked anything or forgot anything, is the Father of our Lord Jesus and the God of the gospel. This is the God we adore and the God we preach.
God is not “greater.” God is great. “Greater” is a word applied to creatures who are trying to be like God. But you cannot say that God is greater, because that would put God in a position where He was in competition with someone else who was great. God is simply God.
God is the sum of all patience and the essence of kindly good will. We please Him most, not by frantically trying to make ourselves good, but by throwing ourselves into His arms with all our imperfections, and believing that He understands everything and loves us still.
I would remind you that His seeking voice has never died out. The echo of that voice is sounding throughout the widening years. It has never ceased to echo and reecho from peak to peak, from generation to generation, from race to race, and continent to continent, and off to islands and back to the continent again. Throughout all of man’s years, “Adam, where are you?” has been the faithful call.
There was no moral necessity upon God to redeem mankind. He didn’t have to send His Son Jesus Christ to die for mankind. He sent Him, but at the same time Jesus did it voluntarily. If God was willing, it was the happy willingness of God.
When you think about Jesus, you have to think twice. You have to think of His humanity and His deity.
To believe on Christ savingly means to believe the right things about Christ. There is no escaping this. A.W. Tozer
We are not wrong to believe—and proclaim—that while Mary’s Son, Jesus, died alone, terribly alone, on that cross, the loving heart of God the Father was as deeply pained with suffering as was the heart of the holy, dying Son. We must ask our Lord to help us comprehend what it meant to the Trinity for the Son to die alone on the cross. When the holy Father had to turn His back on the dying Son by the necessity of divine justice, I believe the pain for the Father was as great as the suffering of the Savior as He bore our sins in His body. When the soldier drove that Roman spear into the side of Jesus, I believe it was felt in heaven.
The work of Christ on the cross did not influence God to love us, did not increase that love by one degree, did not open any fount of grace or mercy in His heart. He had loved us from old eternity and needed nothing to stimulate that love. The cross is not responsible for God’s love; rather it was His love which conceived the cross as the one method by which we could be saved.
God felt no different toward us after Christ had died for us, for in the mind of God Christ had already died before the foundation of the world. God never saw us except through atonement. The human race could not have existed one day in its fallen state had not Christ spread His mantle of atonement over it. And this He did in eternal purpose long ages before they led Him out to die on the hill above Jerusalem. All God’s dealings with man have been conditioned upon the cross. . . . The Scriptures never represent the Persons of the Trinity as opposed to or in disagreement with each other. The Holy Three have ever been and will forever be one in essence, in love, in purpose.
Jesus Christ came in the fullness of time to be God’s salvation. He was to be God’s cure for all that was wrong with the human race.
What is your concept of Jesus Christ, my brother? If the “ten-cent-store Jesus” that is being preached by a lot of men, the plastic, painted Christ who has no spine and no justice and is pictured as a soft and pliable friend to everybody—if He is the only Christ there is, then we might as well close our books and bar our doors, and make a bakery or garage out of this church! But that Christ that is being preached and pictured is not the Christ of God, nor the Christ of the Bible, nor the Christ we must deal with. The Christ we must deal with has eyes as a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished brass, and out of His mouth comes a sharp, two-edged sword. He will be the judge of mankind. And, thank God, you can leave your loved ones who have died in His hands, knowing that He Himself suffered, knowing that He knows all, that no mistakes can be made, that there can be no miscarriage of justice, because He knows all that can be known! This is one of the neglected Bible doctrines of our day—that Jesus Christ is the judge of mankind. The Father judges no man. When the Lord, the Son of Man, shall come in the clouds of glory, then shall be gathered unto Him the nations, and He shall separate them.
God has given Him judgment, authority, to judge mankind, so that He is both the Judge and Saviour of men. That makes me both love Him and fear Him! I love Him because He is my Saviour and I fear Him because He is my Judge.


For everything we need, we are called back to the simplicity of the faith, to the simplicity of Jesus Christ and His unchanging person. The very same Jesus—a Brother who bears your image at the right hand of the Father, and who knows all your troubles and your weaknesses and sins, and loves you in spite of everything! The very same Jesus—a Saviour and Advocate who stands before the Father taking full responsibility for you and being easier to get along with than the nicest preacher you ever knew and being easier to approach than the humblest friend you ever had. The very same Jesus—He is the sun that shines upon us, He is the star of our night. He is the giver of our life and the rock of our hope. He is our safety and our future. He is our righteousness, our sanctification, our inheritance. You find that He is all of this in the instant that you move your heart towards Him in faith. This is the journey to Jesus that must be made in the depths of the heart and being. This is a journey where feet do not count.
A doctrine has practical value only as far as it is prominent in our thoughts and makes a difference in our lives. By this test the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as held by evangelical Christians today has almost no practical value at all. In most Christian churches the Spirit is quite entirely overlooked. Whether He is present or absent makes no real difference to anyone. Brief reference is made to Him in the doxology and the benediction. Further than that He might as well not exist. So completely do we ignore Him that it is only by courtesy that we can be called Trinitarian. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity boldly declares the equality of the Three Persons and the right of the Holy Spirit to be worshiped and glorified.
I contend that we are in error to believe that Bible study can remove the veil that keeps us from spiritual perception. The Word does not say “no man knoweth the things of God except the man who studies his Bible.” It does say that no man knows the things of God except by the Holy Ghost. We will never know more about God than the Spirit teaches us. We will never know any more about Jesus than the Spirit teaches us, because there is only the Spirit to do the teaching. He is our Teacher, and if He does not teach us, we never can know. He is our Illuminator, and if He does not turn on the light, we never can see. He is the Healer of our deaf ears, and if He does not touch our ears, we never can hear.
The Scriptures are the only trustworthy revelation of God, and we depart from them at our own peril.
None of us can ever be fully pleasing to God if we are not willing to be well taught in His Word.
God is boundlessly enthusiastic. I’m glad somebody is, because I don’t find very many Christians who are.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

My Year with Owen #24

I will be sharing some John Owen quotes this year. The second book I'll be reading is Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It.
Meet your temptation in its entrance with thoughts of faith concerning Christ on the cross; this will make it sink before you. Entertain no parley, no dispute with it, if you would not enter into it. ~ John Owen
Say, “‘ It is Christ that died’— that died for such sins as these.” This is called “taking the shield of faith to quench the fiery darts of Satan” (Eph. 6: 16). Faith does it by laying hold on Christ crucified, his love therein, and what from thence he suffered for sin. Let your temptation be what it will— be it unto sin, to fear or doubting for sin, or about your state and condition— it is not able to stand before faith lifting up the standard of the cross. ~ John Owen
Suppose the soul has been surprised by temptation, and entangled at unawares, so that now it is too late to resist the first entrances of it. What shall such a soul do that it be not plunged into it, and carried away with the power thereof? First, do as Paul did: beseech God again and again that it may “depart from you” (2 Cor. 12: 8). And if you abide therein, you shall certainly either be speedily delivered out of it, or receive a sufficiency of grace [so as] not to be foiled utterly by it. ~ John Owen
Second, fly to Christ, in a peculiar manner, as he was tempted, and beg of him to give you succor in this “needful time of trouble.” ~ John Owen
Third, look to him who has promised deliverance. Consider that he is faithful and will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able. Consider that he has promised a comfortable issue of these trials and temptations. Call all the promises to mind of assistance and deliverance that he has made; ponder them in your heart. And rest upon it, that God has innumerable ways that you know not of to give you in deliverance; ~ John Owen
Fourth, consider where the temptation, wherewith you are surprised, has made its entrance, and by what means and with all speed make up the breach. ~ John Owen
And, therefore, I shall show: (1) What it is to “keep the word of Christ’s patience,” that we may know how to perform our duty; and (2) How this will be a means of our preservation, which will establish us in the faith of Christ’s promise. ~ John Owen

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, June 12, 2017

Book Review: Sins We Accept

Sins We Accept. Jerry Bridges. 2013. NavPress. 59 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: A pastor invited the men in his church to join him in a prayer meeting. Rather than praying about the spiritual needs of the church as he expected, all of the men, without exception, prayed about the sins of the culture, primarily abortion and homosexuality. Finally, the pastor, dismayed over the apparent self-righteousness of the men, closed the prayer meeting with the well-known prayer of the tax collector: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). The attitude toward sin reflected in the prayers of those men seems all too prevalent within our conservative, evangelical circles. Of course, this is a broad-brush observation, and there are many happy exceptions. But on the whole, we appear to be more concerned about the sins of society than we are the sins of the saints. In fact, we often indulge in what I call the “respectable” or “acceptable” sins without any sense of sin.

Jerry Bridges challenges readers to re-examine their lives for so-called "respectable" or "acceptable" sins. He urges his readers to get serious about sin. Serious about sin in their own lives. He's not calling for readers to get more serious about the sins in others' lives. No, it's personal. And Bridges wants YOU to take a long look at your own life. What sins in your own life do you not see "as sin"?!

He writes,
"Why do we not also mourn over our selfishness, our critical spirit, our impatience, and our anger? It’s easy to let ourselves off the hook by saying that these sins are not as bad as the flagrant ones of society. But God has not given us the authority to establish values for different sins."
He points out,
"The truth is, all sin is serious because all sin is a breaking of God’s Law. All sin, even sin that seems so minor in our eyes, is lawlessness. It is not just the breaking of a single command; it is a complete disregard for the Law of God, a deliberate rejection of His moral will in favor of fulfilling one’s own desires. Sin is sin. Even those sins that I call “the acceptable sins of the saints”—those sins that we tolerate in our lives—are serious in God’s eyes. Our religious pride, our critical attitudes, our unkind speech about others, our impatience and anger, even our anxiety (see Philippians 4:6)—all of these are serious in the sight of God."
His book has a timely, relevant message for us all--both as individuals and as a community.

Sin is not a popular subject. Our culture dismisses sin all the time. In fact, rare is it for a culture these days to have a concept of sin and the guilt that accompanies that concept. Anything and everything is okay but holding to the doctrine of sin.

Some churches hold onto the doctrine of sin. But some have a tendency to look at sins without the church more than sins within the church. That is, they are experts in identifying their neighbors' sins, their coworkers' sins, the general sins of society. But they are weak in the area of confessing their own sins, repenting of their own sins, recognizing their sins as an offense against God. My sin is not that bad. Your sin will see you burn in hell.

The truth is any sin--every sin--no matter how "big" or "small"--makes us guilty and fit only for hell. The truth is if we got what we deserved, the justice our actions called for, we'd all be destined for hell.

We tend to segregate sins into categories, types, levels. That sin, well, God doesn't care about that sin. It's not a big enough deal for me to have to deal with. This sin of mine isn't keeping me and God apart. Don't be ridiculous? Me need to repent?! I already prayed a prayer once to take care of all that sin business.

Bridges writes,
"All sins—both the so-called respectable sins of the saints, which we too often tolerate, and the flagrant sins of society, which we are quick to condemn—are a disregard for the Law of God and are reprehensible in His sight. Both deserve the curse of God."

He continues,
"Ralph Venning, the author of The Sinfulness of Sin, uses especially colorful (in the negative sense) words to describe sin. Over the space of only a few pages, he says that sin is vile, ugly, odious, malignant, pestilent, pernicious, hideous, spiteful, poisonous, virulent, villainous, abominable, and deadly. Take a few moments to ponder those words so as to get the full impact of them. Those words describe not just the scandalous sins of society but also the respectable sins we tolerate in our own lives. Think of such tolerated sins as impatience, pride, resentment, frustration, and self-pity. To tolerate those sins in our spiritual lives is as dangerous as to tolerate cancer in our bodies. Seemingly small sins can lead to more serious ones."
The good news is only GOOD because we recognize the bad news as being BAD. We will never be thankful, never rejoice in God's grace, never have compassion for others, never have zeal for sharing the good news, IF we never recognize that we deserved hell but that another bore our sins in our place. Jesus SAVES us from something that we deserved. Jesus paid the price for our rebellion against God. He took my sin so I could take his righteousness. Sin was as foreign to Jesus as righteousness is foreign to me. But God made a way to reconcile himself with sinners, and that way was--is--Jesus.

One of the sins that Bridges talks about a good deal is the sin of ungodliness.
"Ungodliness may be defined as living one’s everyday life with little or no thought of God, or of God’s will, or of God’s glory, or of one’s dependence on Him. You can readily see, then, that someone can lead a respectable life and still be ungodly in the sense that God is essentially irrelevant in his or her life. The sad fact is that many of us who are believers tend to live our daily lives with little or no thought of God. We may even read our Bibles and pray for a few minutes at the beginning of each day, but then we go out into the day’s activities and basically live as though God doesn’t exist. We seldom think of our dependence on God or our responsibility to Him. We might go for hours with no thought of God at all. In that sense, we are hardly different from our nice, decent, but unbelieving neighbor. God is not at all in his thoughts and is seldom in ours. One cannot carefully read the New Testament without recognizing how far short we come in living out a biblical standard of godliness."
He argues that ungodliness is at the center of all our other sins.
"For the godly person, God is the center and focal point of his or her life. Every circumstance and every activity of life, whether in the temporal or spiritual realm, is viewed through the lens of this God-centeredness; however, such a God-centeredness can be developed only in the context of an ever-growing intimate relationship with God. No one can genuinely desire to please God or glorify Him apart from such a relationship. Sins of the tongue—such as gossip, sarcasm, and other unkind words to or about another person—cannot thrive in awareness that God hears every word we speak. The reason we sin with our tongues is due to the fact that we are to some degree ungodly. We don’t think of living every moment of our lives in the presence of an all-seeing, all-hearing God."
Bridges, as you might have gathered by now, gives us PLENTY to think about. He asks hard questions. He challenges his readers to really examine their hearts, minds, and souls. He asks you to go beyond what you profess, and examine if how you are living your life day-to-day matched what you profess to believe.

Bridges advocates preaching the gospel to yourself daily. The cure for sin is the gospel. Since Christians are still sinners, since temptation is still very much a part of Christian warfare, the gospel is the way to go about it.
"Make no mistake: Dealing with our sin is not an option. We are commanded to put sin to death. It is our duty to do so. But duty without desire soon produces drudgery. And it is the truth of the gospel, reaffirmed in our hearts daily, that puts desire into our duty. It is the gospel that stokes the fire of our motivation to deal with our respectable and subtle sins. It is the gospel that motivates us to seek to be in our daily experience what we are in our standing before God."
"As we struggle to put to death our subtle sins, we must always keep in mind this twofold truth: Our sins are forgiven and we are accepted as righteous by God because of the sinless life and sin-bearing death of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no greater motivation for dealing with sin in our lives than the realization of these two glorious truths of the gospel."
We are responsible to put to death the acceptable sins in our lives. We cannot simply lay this responsibility on God and sit back and watch Him work. At the same time, we are dependent; we cannot make one inch of spiritual progress apart from His enabling power.
I would recommend this short little book because it is rich in truth, very relevant to how we live our lives, speaks to anyone and everyone no matter their age or vocation, and is practical not abstract. The book isn't about sin in the abstract, the doctrine of sin; no, it is about the effect of your sin on your life.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Week in Review: June 4-10

KJV Reformation Study Bible

  • Ruth
  • Job 33-42
  • Song of Solomon
  • Jeremiah 1-33
  • Acts


Living

  • 1 Samuel
  • Romans 1-8
  • 2 Corinthians


© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

Friday, June 9, 2017

Book Review: Conversion

Conversion: How God Creates a People. Michael Lawrence. 2017. Crossway. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from chapter one: In the introduction, I mentioned my friend who was concerned that his well-mannered adult children weren’t really Christians. You might say they were nice, but not new—not new creations. His experience raises questions about the doctrine of conversion, as well as what that doctrine should look like in the life of a church. It’s crucial to get both our doctrine and our practices right. Churches should believe that God makes people radically new, not just nice, through conversion. But they should be able not only to write this out on paper, but also to live it out. What does that look like? In two of the most important passages in Scripture for understanding conversion, both the prophet Ezekiel and Jesus help us answer that question.

Premise/plot: Michael Lawrence's newest book is on the doctrine of conversion. But it's not dry theology--far from it. As he argues in his book, our doctrine of conversion has practical implications. Our doctrine of conversion influences not only how we live our lives daily in our families but also communally in our churches and neighborhoods. Lawrence's main point--one of them anyway--is that Christians can have the "right" the "proper" definition of conversion in their minds, as part of their creed. BUT if this doctrine isn't lived out, isn't experienced, doesn't change our relationships then something is very wrong. Doctrines are to be applied. And our doctrine of conversion is essential for helping the church do church.

Essentially in his book, Lawrence does two things. First, he unpacks the doctrine of conversion. He explains what it is and what it isn't. Being a new creation, being born again, isn't becoming nicer or more moral. It is an act of God--a miracle. Second, he argues that a rightly held doctrine should be rightly applied in our churches, in our homes, in our neighborhoods. Our doctrine of conversion, of regeneration, is closely related to our doctrine of evangelism and missions. And if we hold contradictory doctrines, there's a big problem that we need to address and that we ultimately need to change! 

Lawrence in his own words, 
If conversion means that we are made new through the sovereign, saving work of God that results in a complete reorientation of our hearts in worship, what difference should that make? To begin with, it means that we are not healed therapeutically. Instead, we actually become holy. What does it mean that Christians are holy? It doesn’t mean that Christians are better than others. It doesn’t mean we can adopt a “holier-than-thou” attitude. It doesn’t mean that we’re rule keepers, whether those rules come from the fundamentalist right or the progressive left. Rather, a Christian is holy because he or she has been (1) set apart (2) to a new master (3) with a new love.
Lawrence challenges his readers to rethink how they understand and apply doctrine.

For example, Lawrence points out some of the signs on how to tell if we have been misapplying doctrine. If we've been accidentally teaching the doctrine of nice instead of the doctrine of rebirth.
  • We condemn the world’s sin more than our own. 
  • We put sins in a hierarchy, and tolerate some sins (especially our own) more than others. 
  • In church, we sing songs and pray prayers of praise, not songs and prayers of confession. 
  • We describe our own sins as “mistakes.” 
  • We use Bible stories to teach children to be good rather than to point them to a Savior: “Be like David” not “You need a new and better David, who is Christ.” 
In another chapter, Lawrence describes what a false convert looks like. He writes, "Often, it is someone who...

  • is excited about heaven, but bored by Christians and the local church; 
  • thinks heaven will be great, whether God is there or not; 
  • likes Jesus, but didn’t sign up for the rest—obedience, holiness, discipleship, suffering;
  • can’t tell the difference between obedience motivated by love and legalism; 
  • is bothered by other people’s sins more than his or her own; 
  • holds grace cheap and his own comfort costly. 
Throughout the book he covers essential topics: conversion, repentance, faith, grace, evangelism, God's wrath and justice, heaven and hell, salvation, assurance, discipleship, church and church discipline. 

Some of his definitions:
Evangelism is faithfully communicating an authoritative message from God. It is that message that warns us about our very real need, whether we feel it or not. It is that message that requires a very particular response. And it is that message that, remarkably, converts sinners like you and me by the power of the Holy Spirit. So the question to ask is not, how do we make the sale? It is, how can we communicate the message? The challenge is not technique, but faithfulness and clarity. The gospel has a definite content. The heart of the gospel is that Jesus died and rose again as a substitute for sinners, appeasing God’s just wrath and reconciling us to himself. When we advertise the felt-need benefits of the gospel and neglect the core content of the gospel, we’re not doing biblical evangelism but something less.
Repentance is not a feeling. Repentance is being convicted by the Holy Spirit of the sinfulness of our sin—not the badness of our deeds but the treachery of our hearts toward God. Repentance means hating what we formerly loved and served—our idols—and turning away from them. Repentance means turning to love God, whom we formerly hated, and serving him instead. It’s a new deepest loyalty of the heart. If repentance really is a change of worship, then our churches must not pressure people to make hasty, illconsidered “decisions” for Jesus, and then offer them quick assurance. Instead, we must call people to repent. When we separate repentance from conversion, either because we think it can come later or we fear scaring people off, we reduce conversion to bad feelings or moral resolve. Worse, we risk assuring a “convert” that he is right with God when in fact he is not. It’s almost like giving someone a vaccine against the gospel.
Christian faith is wholehearted trust that God will keep his promises in the gospel. Real faith leans, and depends, and follows, and works. True faith unites itself to a local church even as it unites itself to God. Genuine faith has three aspects to it. First, there’s knowledge. You can’t believe something you don’t know. Second, there’s agreement. It’s not enough to know the claim that Jesus lived, died as a substitute, and then rose from the dead. You have to agree with it. But third, there is also personal trust. It’s not enough to know and agree that chairs are for sitting. Faith means sitting down and trusting the chair with your weight.
His book is packed with truth that we need to hear and hear often. Some of my favorites:



  •  These days, there are lots of different kinds of nice. There’s the polite but detached tolerance of “live and let live” nice. There’s the socially conscious and politically engaged nice. There’s religious nice in many different denominational and faith-community forms. There’s “spiritual but not religious” nice. There’s even what’s known in my town as “Portland nice,” a sort of nonconfrontational, “let’s not make anyone feel uncomfortable, even though we’re silently judging and dismissing you in our minds” nice. But for all the different kinds of nice, the appeal of nice hasn’t changed much in the last two thousand years. To be a nice person, a good person, a person who’s becoming a better person, is to feel good about yourself. It’s that appeal of moral self-commendation that binds our modern variations together into a common religious program that Nicodemus would have recognized (see Luke 10:25–29). Nice allows you to commend yourself to others, and maybe even to God. Nice gives you the means of self-justification and the ability to vindicate your life to whoever is asking. That’s appealing. The appeal of nice is always based on three ideas: an optimistic view of human beings, a domesticated view of God, and a view of religion as a means of moral self-reform.
  • No churches ever explicitly teach the religion of nice. In fact, they typically teach the exact opposite. But those same churches are filled with people who believe that God will accept them based on how good they’ve been. I’ve heard it on too many living rooms couches and nursing home beds. Not perfect—no one ever says that—but good enough.
  • Perhaps the main way we teach nice is how we present Christ. We commend Christ and the gospel as a method of self-improvement. It’s not that we fail to talk about the cross or even sin. It’s that sin is presented as a problem primarily for how it messes up our lives and relationships and gets in the way of our goals. And Jesus Christ is presented as the one who will change all that. We tell people that Jesus will make a difference in their marriages and in their parenting. Jesus will bring love, joy, and peace to their home. Jesus will give them renewed purpose at work. Come to Jesus, and he will make a difference in your life. Jesus, of course, does make a difference in the lives of believers. It’s just not the difference of a better life now in all the ways we might want. After all, what did Jesus say? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). That means Jesus might make a difference in your marriage by giving you the grace to persevere with a spouse who no longer loves you. He might bring love, joy, and peace to your home by making you an agent rather than a recipient of those things. He might give you renewed purpose at work by changing your attitude rather than your job description. 
  • When churches look more like the world than Christ, we effectively preach a different gospel. More than likely it will be the gospel of nice. 
  • It’s popular to think of God’s judgment of sinners in hell as God giving us what we ask for—life without God. It’s true that hell is the absence of God’s love. But hell is also the presence of God in his justice, measuring out to sin what it deserves. And it is this, the wrath of God, from which we must be saved.
  • Since God is good, he will pay back injustice and sin what it deserves. And we all have sinned. This has enormous implications for our preaching. For the gospel to make sense, we must preach the justice and wrath of God. Too easily, however, churches downplay these basic truths and so change the gospel. It’s hard to talk about hell and God’s wrath. It is much easier to talk about being saved from purposeless lives, low self-esteem, or unhappiness. So we treat Jesus as the solution to a subjective, internal problem. Come to Jesus; he’ll give you purpose and meaning. The trouble is, subjective problems can be solved through subjective solutions. I might choose Jesus to gain a sense of purpose, but my friend down the street sincerely chooses a career. Who’s to say which is better? It’s all subjective. When we fail to preach the justice of God and downplay his wrath, we are talking about some other gospel. We have changed it from an objective rescue to a subjective path to personal fulfillment.
  • Grace is what saves. Faith is the instrument. Which means: we’re not saved by faith. We’re saved by grace, and faith receives that grace. Faith trusts that gift.
  • What happens when we think faith saves us? Sincerity becomes paramount. We begin to think of faith as a single act—a prayer prayed, a decision made, a card signed, a hand raised—rather than as a whole-life orientation. The trouble is, we can never be sure if we were sincere enough. So insecurity follows, and a culture of rededication develops. Anxious children pray “the prayer” over and over. Youth rededicate themselves at every youth retreat. Adults do the same. All are hoping that this time the expression of faith will be sincere enough. 
  • The language of God’s love is the language of God’s choice, his election. God chooses to love. He doesn’t have to love us. In fact, by all rights, he shouldn’t love us. But he does. God’s love for us isn’t on a whim. If we turn this around, so that God loves us because we chose and love him, Christianity becomes a religion of self-salvation. The message is that God is obligated to save us because of our love, our choice, our sincerity. Our faith, not his love, becomes the deciding factor. And we introduce pride into the heart and soul of our churches. The gospel has been turned on its head.
  • We are saved not by sincerity. Not by intense feelings. Not by loving God or doing any good work. We are saved by God’s gracious work in Christ. When our churches understand and live this out together, we show the whole world that Christian conversion is not like changing political parties or denominations. It’s not a mere change of mind or feeling. Christian conversion is a rescue. It’s a rescue from death to life, from wrath to forgiveness, from enslavement to freedom. And it’s God rescue. Only he can do it.
  •  We were created to worship, and if we won’t worship God, we’ll worship something else. Calling people to repentance, then, means calling for a reorientation of worship. So who or what are we worshiping rather than God? What compels our time and energy, our spending and our leisure? What makes us angry? What gives us hope and comfort? What are our aspirations for our children? Idols make lots of promises, even though they can’t keep them.
  • Repenting means exchanging our idols for God. Before it’s a change in behavior, it must be a change in worship. How different that is from how we often think of repentance. Too often we treat repentance as a call to clean up our lives. We do good to make up for the bad. We try to even the scale, or even push it back to the positive side. Sometimes we talk about repentance as if it were a really serious, religious New Year’s resolution.
  • The problem is not that we have Christians in our churches who still sin. Of course we do. The problem is that we have “Christians” in our churches who are not Christians. But we have given them assurance and told them to never let anyone question it.
  • We can easily harvest, manipulate, and collect decisions. But Jesus told us to go and make disciples. Not decisions, not converts, but disciples—life-long followers who endure hardship, take up their cross, and follow Jesus. 
  • When our churches slip into a therapeutic gospel, we treat the Christian life less as a battle against sin and more as a battle to feel accepted. We stop singing the old hymns about sanctification and perseverance, and sing instead the romanticized lyrics that trade heavily in images of Jesus’s closeness, embrace, and tender touch. We regard every exhortation against sin in a sermon as legalistic, incentivized obedience through guilt. We define our relationship wholly in terms of acceptance.
  • Once again, what’s the difference between the therapeutic gospel and the biblical gospel? In the therapeutic gospel, Jesus has come to fill the void in your heart. In the biblical gospel, he has come to establish his lordship over your life. The therapeutic gospel doesn’t deny that Jesus is Lord. It just ignores it. But the effect is the same, because my heart’s sovereign need for love and acceptance is left unchallenged. I might confess that Jesus is Lord, but his lordship would never lead me into suffering or persecution. It would never confront my sin, especially through the correction of other Christians. It would never ask me to give up my kids to his service, rather than a respectable career. I remain Lord, and my need to feel safe and loved is my ruling principle. 
  • The therapeutic gospel is a half-truth gospel. It tells us that we are loved by God through Christ, and so we’ve been healed from our emptiness. But the whole truth is so much better. It lifts us out of the petty kingdom of our needy heart, changes us, and sets us apart in the service of the King of love. Through Christ, you have been declared holy. And by God’s grace, that is what you will be. 
  • Churches are filled with people who are saved from purposeless, unfulfilling lives. But are they saved from God and his judgment? The biblical doctrine of conversion has enormous implications for our approach to evangelism.
  • Our work is to proclaim a message plainly, honesty, urgently, and confidently. God’s work is to save and convert. Recognizing this changes how we measure success. Success for us does not depend on results or numbers. It depends on our faithfulness. You and I are not responsible for the results, and so we don’t need to pressure or manipulate. We’re not trying to close a deal, which—I must say again—creates false converts. Instead, we are free to love, to urge, even to implore with words of warning and words of peace.
  • The gospel is for Christians because the gospel not only converts us but also produces lasting change in us. Confront sin, lest you risk making people feel more comfortable on their way to hell. But don’t confront by saying, “Clean up and try harder, here are some tips and tricks.” Instead, call each other to renewed repentance and faith, and so prove to each other that you believe.
  • We each have character flaws that make us limp, and we may limp our whole lives. We have to bear with one another’s limps, because if your hope is in Christ, you belong.
  • Our theology of conversion matters in our churches’ discipleship, gospel counsel, and even church discipline, because the presence of sin remains, and we are the walking wounded. We need each other’s help in churches filled with people who will battle with us. 
My thoughts: I thought this was a wonderful refresher. I would definitely recommend this one. I remember vividly when I first learned of the (reformed) doctrine of conversion. It was life-changing, life-giving. It was one of those THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING moments. This book was a great reminder of that initial excitement, the embrace of grace. 

Lawrence's book is relevant; it is packed with truth that we all need to hear. Whether we've ever thought much about conversion or not. To the old, to the young, we could all use some truth.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible