July 19, 2014

Today’s Light Devotional Bible

As a lifelong lover of the Bible, I’ve read many reader’s editions and many, many study Bibles that helped me to learn a lot about God and God’s Family. Thankfully, that family includes me – and you. However, on the “Welcome” page of Today’s Light Devotional Bible, Jane Fryar reminds us that God is “not so much interested in your learning facts about Him, though that’s certainly part of the process. The holy, all-powerful, infinitely gracious God of the universe wants to reveal Himself to you. To you!”

Isn’t that awesome! Okay, so we live in an era where people call almost everything “awesome,” but God’s Word of love to us truly is!

As I read the review copy of this edition of the English Standard Version (ESV) that Concordia published and kindly sent to me, I wished I'd had it when I first began reading and studying the Bible as a preteen with little clue about what I was reading! Insightful comments by Jane Fryar remedy that situation by providing brief commentaries to help us “Get the Big Picture” then “Sharpen the Focus” for each book and most of the chapters in the Bible.

Those ongoing insights make this edition especially recommended for teens, young adults, and newcomers to the Bible. And, all of us will find a helpful layout throughout the text that correlates with the three checklists at the back of the book meant to guide our choices of a one-year reading plan, a two-year plan, or (what I'd like to try next) a plan to read the Bible chronologically.

But, what about the welcoming word that says the “God of the universe wants to reveal Himself to you”? How does Jane Fryar go about getting this across?

The examples extend beyond the space I have here, but to start at the beginning, “Get the Big Picture” says: “Genesis records many firsts – the first people, the first family, the first sin, the first city, the first musician, and more first besides. Today’s reading [One Year (Week 1, Monday) Genesis 1:1-3:24; Two Year (Week 1, Monday) Genesis 1:1-2:25] zeroes in on the first week of our world’s existence and on the first home God gave His human creatures. As you read, note the care God took as He made this home for us – the first paradise.”

Think about it! God gave everything we needed to live in paradise from the beginning of time, rather than the end. Knowing this about God is good to know, of course, but more importantly, good to ponder and sink into our spirits. Then, as this edition encourages us to do, we, too, can "...see God’s power, creativity, wisdom, and tender concern for His human creatures – His children.” Yes, that’s you; yes, me.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a traditionally published author of 26 books in all genres, including two poetry books, the Bible-basedOutside Eden and environmentally-oriented Living in the Nature Poem that encourages us to be good caretakers of the earth as God intended.

Today’s Light Devotional Bible, hardcover

July 14, 2014

NIV Life Journey Bible

If you’ve ever read the bestselling book Boundaries, you’ll know why I was glad to get a review copy of the NIV Life Journey Bible from Zondervan. In addition to providing the revised text of the super-bestselling NIV (New International Version) Bible, this edition includes 20 essays and 300 “Insights” by Boundaries authors, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. What a combination!

According to our Jewish ancestry, which came to all Christians through Christ, a person’s faith in God involves the body, mind, and spirit. In Luke 10:26-28 and Matthew 22:37, for example, Jesus tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind.”

Most of us “get” the spiritual side of believing, the physical side of putting those beliefs into practice, and the mental side of opening our minds to the mind of Christ through prayerful Bible reading. In worship services, we also hear sermons or homilies on spiritual growth and the various ministries requiring our physical presence and, perhaps, a little grease from our elbows.

Many Bible resources have been developed to help us draw closer to God spiritually and materially or tangibly, but articles and notes in this edition help us to draw closer to God mentally too. As explained in the front matter, “The Insights feature will give you an inside track on tips for emotional and relationship health, including where signs of emotional health and maturity, or their absence, occur in various stories, teachings and events found in Scripture.”

When it comes to dealing with problems, the Book of Job has much to say! For example, “God’s Right: Saying No” gives us this “Insight” on Job 2:9-10, where “Job did not ‘make God bad’ in his own mind. In all of his complaining, he did not end his relationship with God. Job didn’t understand God, but he allowed God to be himself. Job never withdrew his love from God, even when he was angry with him. This is a real relationship, and he was rewarded for his faithfulness, honesty and devotion to God, even when God did not do what he (Job) wanted.”

Another “Insight” pertains to “Sharing All Our Feelings With God,” where “Job wanted to fully express his protest to God (see Job 13:3).” However, Christians “often fear being honest with God because it has not been safe to express honesty in our earthly relationships. Like Job we fear both abandonment and retaliation. ...Rest assured, however, that God desires truth….(and) seeks people who will have a real relationship with him.”

Nevertheless, suffering can be expected, and so the “Insight” on Job 42:1-17 addresses “Suffering of Different Kinds,” where, “One is suffering as a result of working on our character, and the other is suffering that happens as a result of being in a fallen world. The key is to be able to tell the difference between the two and apply the right kind of experience to each. Too often in the church those who have been victims of destructive events are told that God is trying to teach them a lesson or that what they are going through is a result of their own sin or a part of the growth process.” But as happened with Job, “In reality, they are innocently suffering.”

Either way, disappointment will most likely occur – in God, in ourselves, or in other people, and so, an essay in this well-done edition offers thoughtful responses to the important question: “How Should We Respond to Disappointment With God?”

We do, of course, have choices as the “Insight” for Revelation 3:20 reminds us saying: “God has no interest in violating our boundaries so that he can relate to us. He wants us to love him freely, not because he controls us into it…. Intimacy with God is based on freedom, as are all good choices.”

When we think of “trespassing” as over-stepping the boundaries, we can choose to trust God not to trespass against us! The more we recognize God as loving, trustworthy, and true, the more we want to remove the obstacles, misunderstandings, and other boundaries between us. This edition can help to show us how.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler is a lifelong student of the Bible, writer in all genres, and poet-author of the Bible-based book of poetry Outside Eden.

NIV, Life Journey Bible, hardcover

I review for BookLook Bloggers

July 8, 2014

Psalms and The Wisdom of God

We’ve talked about the Psalms before in The One Year Book of Psalms, a daily devotional from Tyndale, highly recommended for individual use. Recently, Crossway sent me review copies of the Psalms: A 12-Week Study and also The Wisdom of God, a 10-week study which includes 5 weeks on the Psalms. Whether for personal use or group study, I highly recommend both books.

As previously mentioned, studying psalms and wisdom books of the Bible gives an excellent foundation for prayer, poetry, and biblical insights into the people of God, who have turned to these books over the centuries for guidance. More importantly, both books from Crossway show how Psalms provide insight into the mind of Christ as they repeatedly point to Him, prophetically and poetically.

From Crossway’s Knowing the Bible series, Psalms: A 12-Week Study coordinates somewhat with the ESV Study Bible, but any translation you or your Bible study group chooses will, of course, be fine as you proceed numerically through the Psalms.

Beginning with the “Week 1: Overview,” the text offers a helpful outline of the five “books” within the book of Psalms. For instance, Book 1 includes Psalm 1-41, many of which were written by King David where “Prayers issuing from a situation of distress dominate” and are “punctuated by statements of confidence in the God who alone can save.”

In Book 2, Psalms 42-72 present the Korah collection where “Once again, lament and distress dominate the content of these prayers, which now also include a communal voice.” In Book 3, the “tone darkens” as it brings “most of the psalms of Asaph (Psalms 73-83), as well as another set or Korah psalms (Psalm 84-85; 87-88).” However, Book 4 (Psalms 90-106) “may be seen as the first response to the problems raised by the third book.” Then Book 5 (Psalms 107-150) “declares that God does answer prayer (Psalm 107) and concludes with five Hallelujah psalms….”

In addition, a footnote in this Overview tells us “the basic type of psalms can be summarized as laments (presenting a trouble situation to the Lord), hymns of praise (calling believers to admire God’s attributes) and hymns of thanksgiving (thanking God for an answered prayer). There are also hymns celebrating God’s law…, wisdom psalms…, songs of confidence…, historical psalms…, and prophetic hymns (echoing themes found in the Prophets, especially calling God’s people to covenant faithfulness).”

Throughout the study guide, a consistent format considers the setting, glimpses of the Gospel, theological terms, and personal implications with ample room for writing responses in “Reflection and Discussion.” Besides the high quality of information provided, Bible students and discussion groups will appreciate the high quality of the paper, cover, and print in this well-done series.

In the Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament series, previously included in a review of Bible Study Resources, Nancy Guthrie gives us insight in studying The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books.

As a 10-week study that also includes the books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, five of those weeks focus on the Psalms. Instead of a sequential study, however, the author groups the psalms, not by book, but by divisions of “Psalms: The Songs of Jesus,” “Blessing and Perishing in the Psalms,” “The Royal Psalms,” “Repentance in the Psalms,” and “The Suffering and Glory of Messiah in the Psalms.” The wise insights and personable writing style make you feel as though you’re having a deep conversation with Nancy about the scriptures, but this series works well in group study too.

If you’re as interested in the psalms and wisdom books of the Bible as I am, you might decide to do what I did: Soak up both of these excellent resources from Crossway.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a lifelong lover of the Bible, writer in all genres, and poet-author of the Bible-based book of poetry Outside Eden

Psalms: A 12-Week Study from the Knowing the Bible series, paperback

The Wisdom of God (A 10-week Bible Study): Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Book, paperback

Outside Eden,paperback

June 30, 2014

NIrV Adventure Bible for Early Readers

Until Zondervan sent me a review copy of the NIrV Adventure Bible for Early Readers, I hadn’t read the New International Readers Version of the Bible, which relies on the NIV but uses shorter words and sentences to encourage children to read the Bible themselves. Great idea! and well-done....

More than a Bible storybook that retells stories for children, the NIrV might be called an English translation for school kids. For example, Genesis 1 begins: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth didn’t have any shape. And it was empty.”

This child-friendly edition also includes inserts and sidebars to highlight or explain Bible principles. For example, “Words to Treasure” features key verses such as Genesis 1:1 to memorize and “Did You Know” to clarify words and concepts such as “1:1 The word create means to ‘make something new.’ Genesis tells us that God is the creator of all things.”

Also in the beginning, “Live It!” articles begin with such titles as “You’re Special” followed by an encouragement to “Read Genesis 1:26-27. God made us in his own image. We are God’s very special creation./ Look at pictures of your mom or dad when they were children. How were they like you? How were they different?... / God made you in his image too. You are special to God. He loves you. Write a message to God to thank him for loving you.”

Other child-friendly features include full page inserts such as the “Ten Commandments for Kids” and small sidebars such as “Life in Bible Times” and “People in Bible Times.”

In Acts, for instance, we read about “Purple Cloth,” which explains that “Purple dye came from crushing the shells of tiny purple sea creatures. Hundreds of these shellfish were needed to make enough purple to dye one robe. So purple cloth was very expensive….” Then, on the adjacent page, “People in Bible Times” talks about Lydia, who “sold beautiful purple cloth. One day she heard Paul talk about the gospel. Lydia believed what Paul said….”

Believing comes from hearing and receiving the Word of God. With this Bible to accompany children throughout childhood, they can hear on their language level then read and re-read God’s word as though the Bible were written especially for them.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a lifelong lover of the Bible and traditionally published author of 26 books in all genres, including two poetry books, the Bible-basedOutside Eden and environmentally-oriented Living in the Nature Poem.

NIrV Adventure Bible for Early Readers, paperback

June 19, 2014

NIV Teen Study Bible

Lauded as the “Bestselling Bible for Teens,” the NIV Teen Study Bible published by Zondervan comes in a variety of cover choices, ranging from my paperback review copy to the attractive leather-like cover in the compact edition shown below. Regardless of the appearance outside, the inside includes helpful sidebars and interesting inserts by Larry and Sue Richards, who obviously had teens in mind in this updated version of the reader-friendly New International Version (NIV)of the Bible.

For example, the front matter provides The Apostles Creed, used by many denominations as a clear statement of faith. Then, a “We Believe” page lists, verse-by-verse, relevant biblical references throughout the text, so young people can see how the creed came about and what each phrase means.

In Genesis, for instance, a “We Believe” page addresses the belief that “God is ‘the Maker of Heaven and Earth’,” then goes on to explain how “Genesis 1 teaches that God created the universe. Life didn’t ‘just happen’ as molecules bumped into each other. How do you know? Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1:18-20 suggest that you look around. If you saw a shiny new Mustang in a junkyard, would you think it ‘evolved’ from the junkyard parts?” With the universe far “more complex than a Mustang,” we can be sure of God’s good work and, more importantly, know “that the heavenly Father who loves you is the all-powerful creator of the universe.”

Scattered throughout this highly recommended edition, you’ll also find Introductions to each book of the Bible, Q&As of Bible trivia, teen-friendly side bars, and article inserts such as “Dear Jordan.” For instance, a “Dear Jordan” question in Genesis asks why it’s so hard to resist temptation, while a question in Job wants to know why God didn’t heal a friend who died. In Romans, another teen asks about her relationship with her parents, and in each case, “Jordan” provides a biblically sound response.

Christian teens will also appreciate the additional helps in the back matter such as the “Bible Truth Index” and “Teen Life Index,” each of which addresses subjects young people wonder about -- alcohol, anger, dating, swearing, and even zits! Odd, perhaps, but God cares about every aspect of us and our lives as this teen-loving edition clearly shows.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a lifelong lover of the Bible and traditionally published author of 26 books in all genres, including two poetry books, the Bible-basedOutside Eden and environmentally-oriented Living in the Nature Poem.

NIV Teen Study Bible, paperback

NIV Teen Study Bible, compact edition, leather-look cover


June 13, 2014

The Lutheran Study Bible

When Concordia sent a copy of The Lutheran Study Bible in the English Standard Version (ESV) for me to review, I noticed the heft, of course, but, more importantly, the sturdiness and quality of this hardback edition, which I later discovered was printed, Smyth-sewn, and manufactured in the United States. Yea!

I greatly appreciated, too, how Concordia wasted no time or space getting to basic beliefs by printing “The Lord’s Prayer” on the inside hardcover followed by a “Brief Service of the Word” (order of worship) and prayers such as this “Prayer to See God’s Ways:”

“Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears. Please show me
now Your ways, that I may gain Christ and be found in
Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes
from the Law, but that which comes through faith
in Christ. Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light
to my path. Give me life, O Lord, according to Your
Word, and I will declare Your greatness. Amen.”

In the high quality opening pages, you’ll also find clearly labeled maps of the Holy Lands and a moving painting portraying Jesus, while the back matter include blank pages for writing notes. In between, the paper seems a bit thin, presumably to lessen the overall thickness and weight of the book, but, even with a little bleed-through, the text is easily readable.

As mentioned, the text chosen by Concordia is the ESV, known for accuracy and poetic grace when read aloud. With that translation literally in hand, hundreds of workers from Lutheran churches around the world were asked to read portions of the Bible and present questions, which a team of Bible scholars then addressed in the footnotes. Those questions numbered under 1,500 but resulted in over 26,500 study notes from a Lutheran perspective.

Other unique features to this impressive edition reportedly include “Insights from early church, medieval and Reformation era church fathers,” over 200 informative articles, and “over 2,000 application notes and prayers for every part of the Bible.”

Since I’ve been studying biblical wisdom, I turned to the Book of Job where I found interesting information on the “Legal Language in Job,” which helps to place that poetic debate into context. For ex., “In the ancient Near East, the elders of a community would typically hold court in a city gate (Jb 29:7). In the ancient city of Gezer, archaeologists have found stone benches in the gate chambers where the elders sat…. Parties in dispute would approach them at the gate, explain their case, and count on a wise ruling…. Job served as such an elder, and his friends likely did as well… The Book of Job never mentions that its setting is the city gate, but its dialogues are filled with the legal language of such proceedings (e.g., 10:2, 23:1-7; 29:7-17, 21-25; 31:11, 13, 21, 35-37).”

In Job’s case, however, his “friends” ruled against him. Although Job “was famous for defending the defenseless (29:15-17), he did not have the skill to argue his case before the ultimate judge: the Lord.” When he eventually realized he needed an arbitrator or mediator, he cried, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives’ (19:25).” As a note in chapter 28 attests, “People cannot find wisdom by their own reason or strength. God alone can give it through His declaration – His Word. St. Paul calls Christ Jesus ‘our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.’ (1 Co 1:30).”

To better grasp such terminology common to the Christian faith, a concordance in the back offers scriptural references while, in the front pages, “Luther’s Small Catechism” addresses issues of his day and ours.

For instance, in asking “What does this mean?” of sanctification, the catechism explains: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith./ In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith./ In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers./ On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ./ This is most certainly true.”

The many prayers, quotes from church fathers, and contemporary articles in this highly recommended edition consider the challenges we all have as Christians while letting us know that members of the clergy, laity, academia, and community of faith around the world join us in our struggles and our common faith.

© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a lifelong lover of the Bible and traditionally published author of 26 books in all genres, including two poetry books, the Bible-basedOutside Eden and environmentally-oriented Living in the Nature Poem.

The Lutheran Study Bible, hardcover

The Lutheran Study Bible, black bonded leather, thumb-indexed

May 31, 2014

Little Rock Catholic Study Bible

While leading round table discussions in one of my favorite Bible study groups, I became familiar with the excellent study materials provided by the Little Rock Bible Study series, edited by Catherine Upchurch. So when I saw she also edited the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible, I immediately requested a review copy, which she graciously sent right away.

For some reason I thought Little Rock might produce all of the supplemental materials in this edition, so I was surprised to discover the extensive footnotes and introductions to each book were the same ones found in the Catholic study Bible from Oxford I reviewed a couple of years ago. However, the more I leafed through the pleasantly smooth, bright white pages of the Little Rock edition, the more I saw unique aspects that encourage Bible study and reading.

First of all, the quality paperback binding allows the book to lay flat, so you’re not constantly trying to keep pages from closing like an elevator door. This especially matters to me when I’m interacting with a Bible, jotting thoughts and notes in the margins, which the cross-referencing columns with lots of white space in this edition nicely allow me to do.

As the first four pages point out, other unique features include quick summaries of each book, author, content, and characters with definitions and descriptions interspersed for clarification and interest. For instance, you'll find helpful "Archaeological insights," "Social justice teachings," "Prayer starters," "Liturgical use of Scripture," "Cultural Connections," and "Photographs."

Interestingly, these features also provided a visually appealing layout. Opening the pages to Matthew 5, for example, lightly colored insets separate helpful mini-comments and definitions from the biblical text. As one note tells us, “The Beatitudes recorded in Matthew have an ageless quality that has fascinated every generation of Christians. The church has variously seen them as signs of the kingdom of God, ideals to be striven after, or unique virtues meant primarily for Jesus’ followers.” So, in #1716, “The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the Beatitudes ‘the heart of Jesus’ preaching’.”

Then, beneath a clear, concise definition of a beatitude, we see a sidebar on “Applying the Beatitudes” that says, “The U.S. bishops noted the importance of the Beatitudes in implementing economic justice for all people in their pastoral letter on the topic,” which the note goes on to quote:

“We write to share our teaching, to raise questions, to challenge one another to live our faith in the world. We write as heirs of the biblical prophets who summon us ‘to do the right and to love goodness and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8). We write as followers of Jesus who told us in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness….’ These words challenge us not only as believers but also as consumers, citizens, workers, and owners.” Therefore, “The challenge for us is to discover in our own place and time what it means to be ‘poor in spirit’ and ‘the salt of the earth’ and what it means to serve ‘the least among us’ and to ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’.”

If one were to prayerfully read every word, every sidebar, every note in this highly recommended edition, perhaps we could begin to meet that challenge, with God's help, individually and as the church Body of Christ alive in the world and empowered in Jesus’ Name.

© 2014, Mary Sayler, poet, writer, lifelong Bible lover, and reviewer

Little Rock Catholic Study Bible, paperback