February 14, 2021

The Bible Books of ME

Actually, all of the “Wisdom Books” in the Bible focus on attempts to understand cause-and-effect and/or seemingly random acts that make no sense to us. As we strive to be rational and find profitable ways to live, two “Me” books stand out in particular: Job and Ecclesiastes.

The “Wisdom Books” of the Bible include both of these books, and yet, as we read them, neither Job nor Solomon seems too wise. Why? Both apparently relate to the world as revolving around themselves.

Consider Job. After suffering tremendous losses of family and possessions, he initially had the right attitude:

Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

and naked shall I return.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord,Job 1:21

The second blow, however, affected Job himself, covering him with horrifying sores from head to toe and leaving him so miserable, he couldn’t speak for days. Understandably, he sat in such intense shock, his friends gathered around him, then remained, day and night, for a whole week of silence. When Job finally began to speak, however, he cursed the day he was born!

King Solomon had too much going for him to rue his own birth, and yet he felt so dissatisfied, he began the wisdom book of Ecclesiastes, chapter one, verse two, by saying:

Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”


“Futile! Futile! Everything is futile!”


“Useless! Useless! Everything is useless.”


“Pointless! Pointless! Everything is pointless!”

Well, you get the point. The wisest man on earth saw nothing people gained, no matter how good they were, how hard they worked, or how successful they became. Pretty depressing! Yet most of us have felt the same at some point in our wrestling match with pointlessness.

So, what’s the answer? How did Job and Solomon wise up? How can we? In all cases, the solution is the same:

Turn ME upside down to WE.

Eventually that’s what Job, Solomon, and other wise people concluded: 

Our lives will seem vain or wasted until we place ourselves in God’s hands. 

No longer will we focus our lives on ME, but WE - God and I, God and us.

As we accept and believe that the Lord is too vast and holy for us to fully understand, our part is to trust God, Who Is All Good, and turn to Him in faith, knowing He will ultimately works things out for our good.

Praise God!

And may our wisdom abide and abound in God, Who is All-Wise.


©2021, MarySayler with thanks to Bible Gateway for supplying us with the wonderful richness of God’s Word online




January 29, 2021

The Bible Recap: A One-Year Guide

Published by Bethany House, who kindly sent me a copy for an honest review, The Bible Recap: A One-Year Guide by Tara-Leigh Cobble just didn’t speak to me at first! As the posts on this blog show, I’m really into the Bible and have been since early childhood. So I don’t identify with those who view God’s Word as inaccessible or hard to understand. My way has been to look up difficult passages in various translations and, in recent years, to search Bible Gateway where I find English versions I’d never heard of or don’t have on my shelves.

But that’s me.

Tara-Leigh Cobble also has a passion for God’s Word – just not a similar experience, but rather than giving up, she took another approach to understanding the Bible – one involving relevant questions with which most of us can relate and will do well to ask.

In her opening letter, for example, she approaches the Bible with these vital questions:

  • What does God say or do in this passage?
  • What does this reveal about what God loves?
  • What does this reveal about what God hates?
  • What does this reveal about what motivates God to do what He does?
  • In all of that, what attributes of God are displayed?

As she goes on to explain:

“The questions we ask of the Bible impact the wisdom we glean from it. Reading the Bible is not a means of self-help or an attempt to earn God’s favor. It’s an opportunity to behold the beauty of God and be drawn in by Him.”

After focusing on her favorite passages, the author “decided to read through Scripture chronologically, not front to back. I wanted to see the overall story line or metanarrative,” finding “Some of the questions I had in Leviticus weren’t answered until Hebrews. But all good relationships require patience, and they develop over time. It’s worth holding some things with an open hand and waiting until God reveals more of Himself.


Ironically, my dissimilar approach led me to the same conclusion! So I’d already purchased a chronological Bible before I saw the opening line in “How to Use This Book”:

This book is arranged according to a one-year chronological plan, but you don’t have to buy a chronological Bible. In fact, I encourage you not to because it’s probably laid out differently than the plan we are doing.”

With each day’s reading clearly shown at the top of the page, the author suggests we first read the passage(s) in our preferred translation then return to The Bible Recap for a summary and a commentary on any confusing parts. At the end of each of those introductions is “Today’s God Shot,” which gives a glimpse of an aspect of God relevant to the reading. For instance, at the end of the section “Genesis 1-3,” that sidebar says:

God is our Creator and the Lord over everything, but despite His lordship and His perfection, He’s merciful toward the sinners He’s in relationship with.

At the end of the section for “Exodus 13-15,” we read this “God Shot,” which says:

There is no love without wrath. If you truly love something, you’ll hate whatever threatens it. Out of God’s great love for Israel, He fights for them. And when God makes war, He wins. He has solutions we can’t even conceive of – who would even think to pray for a path through the sea? …He knows better than we do. He loves better than we do. He helps eradicate the things that distract our heart from Him to help us remember that He’s where the joy is!

Joy – delight, elation, and even ecstasy – reside in knowing and loving God, which is the primary theme and purpose of this book. For example, as The Bible Recap reaches the New Testament, we’re encouraged to read “Matthew 5-7” followed by this commentary:

"In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes the upside-down kingdom of God. He opens with eight blessings, and many scholars believe they’re cumulative – the first blessing is the foundation of the rest of the sermon….

When we realize our spiritual poverty, we mourn it which produces meekness in us as we engage the world. Meekness gives way to a desire for God to increase our righteousness. It becomes easier to show mercy to others, because we know what it’s like to struggle. God continues to purify us as we engage with Him. We become people who don’t run from conflict, but who enter into the chaos and create peace. Peacemakers, not peacekeepers….

Amen! Through the Bible, The Bible Recap, and the leading of the Holy Spirit, may God help us to know Him better, incorporate His Word more fully into our lives, and make peace as the Lord empowers us in Jesus’ Name.


©2021, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-writer, Bible Reviewer




January 21, 2021

Eco Bible: Volume 1

In the
Eco Bible, Volume 1: An Ecological Commentary on Genesis and Exodus, the lead editors and contributors, Rabbi Yonatan Neril and Rabbi Leo Dee, bring us an ecological look at the first two books of the Bible. Published by The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, this unique edition includes “quotes from over 100 rabbis and other great Jewish thinkers commenting on verses from the Hebrew Bible.”

As a Christian who believes God’s first command was for all peoples to take care of the earth and each part of creation, I eagerly welcomed this perspective and review copy, and I pray others will too. Why? As the Introduction says:

We have disrupted the ecological balance of all God created on earth, and we owe it to God, to each other, and to all species to restore the balance…. Awareness of the Infinite opens us up to protecting the immediate – the very planet on which we live.

The authors go on to say, “As a fundamental part of many people’s lives, religion can be a key motivator by shaping values.” Consider, for example, these three reasons stated in the book:

First, religion can persuade people to consume in moderation as they find true satisfaction in spirituality, community, and family. Spiritual living should bring consciousness to our consumption.”

“Second, religious teachings help instill foresight and long-term thinking.”

“Finally, and perhaps more importantly, religion embodies hope.”

As the commentary begins with Genesis 1:1, “Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch makes the first verse in Genesis personal and proactive. He writes that the words teach us ‘to think of the world as God’s world and ourselves as creatures of God’.”

The “Sustainability and Spiritual Awareness” found in Genesis 1:3 reminds us that “…the sun was not created until the fourth day,” and “the light God created on the first day of creation was not a physical light but a spiritual one. Rabbi Sholom Berezovsky teaches that ‘without this holy light there is no merit in sustaining creation.’ Those who seek God perceive this spiritual light. The sustainability of creation therefore depends on the spiritual awareness of humanity.”

Packed with wisdom, insight, and helpful information, the book also offers “Suggested Action Items” to end each section with practical application. For instance, we might:

Learn about the environmental challenges faced in your local community. Identify one place where you’d like to focus your attention on the health of the land.” 

This action could be as extravagant as giving a generous gift to an environmentally-aware charity or as simple as picking up trash someone else tossed aside in your neighborhood, on the street, or anywhere litter occurs. As we’re reminded by Exodus 3:5 and the book’s subsequent comment on Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush:

This passage tells us that land is holy, not just a land. In Genesis, God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth; therefore, all lands are touched by God.

With thought-provoking commentary on 450 verses of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible), the Eco Bible collects 3,500 years of Jewish wisdom on creation care, which, applied by us, ultimately shows our caring for ourselves, each other, and our LORD God.


©2021, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-writer, reviewer

Eco Bible: Volume 1, hardcover

Eco Bible: Volume 1, paperback


January 4, 2021

Jesus-Centered Bible


The Jesus-Centered Bible, which Group Publishing kindly sent me to review, highlights the biblical references to Jesus in blue letters, beginning with Genesis and continuing throughout the Bible, while red letters emphasize the words and names of Christ.


With text provided by the 2015 updated New Living Translation (NLT) from Tyndale House, the Jesus-Centered Bible adds such features as “Reframing Jesus Insights” which “offer interesting context, surprising backstories, and penetrating theological insights that highlight the beauty of Jesus threaded through Scripture.” For example, in 2 Kings 15, the sidebar entitled “Jesus Calls Leaders to Serve” has this to say:


As 2 Kings shows, power can be devastating. The leaders in these pages continually vied for power over one another and over their people. What a sharp contrast to Jesus’ actions! Jesus hit the scene as someone who preferred humility and service to power and popularity.(See Mark 10:45). What does this tell us about true leadership and power? Well, for Jesus, leading means serving – not the other way around.


Another thought-provoking feature includes “The Jesus Questions,” which aim to bring the Lord into contemporary life. For example:


When you see or hear Jesus portrayed at Christmastime, what strikes you as not exactly accurate about Him or His birth?


For instance, as you read the reference to Luke 2, you might notice a single angel, then a host of angels, and an indeterminate number of shepherds but no mention of the indefinite number of wise men who come later.


In addition to the challenge to consider facts, other questions might evoke interesting speculation such as, “If Jesus were a graffiti artist, what message would He paint for others to see?” or “If Jesus lived during our time, what kind of car would He drive?” (Of course, He might choose a bicycle to save on fuel consumption and pollution!)


Another feature focuses on questions we all ask with biblical responses provided in “Jesus Answers Life’s Essential Questions.” For example, if you ask “What’s My Purpose in Life?” the page entitled “A Sampler Guide To Essential Questions Jesus Answered” points you to Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 1:16-20, Mark 2:14-17, Mark 9:50, and John 21:15-18.


The remaining questions also address what most of us want to know:


Is God Real?

Why Do Bad Things Happen?

What Is The Meaning Of Life?

Is This All There Is?

Will Everything Be OK?

What Is Truth?

What Is Love?

What Is Right And Wrong?


Each question includes biblical references to look up as often as needed to remind us of what is truly important in life and Who is with us always.



Reviewed by poet-writer and lifelong Bible student, Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2021.


December 16, 2020

The Passion Translation: NT with Psalms, Proverbs, and Song of Songs

A few years ago, BroadStreet Publishing kindly sent me a boxed set of several books in The Passion Translation (TPT) to review, but this year I’ve been wanting a single volume of the New Testament with Psalms to reread, hopefully forever!


Searching online, I found even more than I dreamed in The Passion Translation: NT with Psalms, Proverbs, and Song of Songs, and so I ordered a copy in reddish-brown faux leather. (If I’d seen the large print edition in violet, I probably would have ordered it!)


Besides laying open flat, as a genuine leather Bible would do, this slender edition of TPT, is as attractive as any Christmas gift should be. But what attracts us far more is the highly readable text and exceptional footnotes that even someone with many, many translations of the Bible will welcome.


For example, have you ever thought of Psalm 15 as King David’s “Sermon on the Mount”? I had not, but the TLP footnotes make that comparison.


To give you a better idea of what to expect in this unique Bible, I’ll use 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 as an example. Why? When I previously reviewed the TPT, a reader asked about the word choices in those verses of the “love chapter.” The TPT footnotes will explain, but first, let’s look at the text. [If you’d like to compare it with the King James Version (KJV), click here for the same passage as shown on the Bible Gateway website.]


“4. Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealousa when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. 5. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritatedb or quick to take offensec. 6. Love joyfully celebrates honestyd and finds no delight in what is wronge. 7. Love is a safe place of shelterf, for it never stops believing the best for othersg. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up. 8a. Love never stops lovingh.”


[Note: The italicized words indicate what’s implied by the context of the passage.]


The footnotes aligned with those verses add insight into the above word choices for the TPT translation:


a 13:4 Or “boil with jealousy.”

b 13:5 Or “overly sensitive” [having sharp edges].

c 13:5 Or “resentful” or “does not keep score.” The Aramaic can be translated “Love does not stare at evil.” Love will overlook offenses and remain focuses on what is good, refusing to hold resentment in our hearts.

d 13:6 Or “reality” (for “truth”).

e 13:6 Or “injustice” or “unrightousness.”

f 13:7 Or “Love bears all things.” Although commonly understood to mean that love can bear hardships of any kind, the nominalized form of the verb (stego) is actually the word for “roof” found in Mark 2:4. Paul is saying that love covers all things, like a roof covers the house. See 1 Peter 4:8. Love does not focus on what is wrong but will bear with the shortcomings of others. And like a roof protects and shields, you could say that love springs no leak. It is a safe place that offers shelter, not exposure.

g 13:7 “Or “it never loses faith.”

h 13:8 “Or “love never, not even once, fails [lapses]” or “Love never falls down” [it keeps going higher].


There’s much more to say, but the TLP needs to be read - cover to cover - by all lovers of God and His word.



Reviewed by poet-writer Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2020


If you'd like to order a copy for yourself or someone else, click on your preference:

The Passion Translation: New Testament with Psalms, Proverbs, and Song of Songs, covered in reddish-brown faux leather 

The Passion Translation: New Testament with Psalms, Proverbs, and Song of Songs in large print, covered in violet-purple faux leather 

November 28, 2020

Provoking Proverbs: Wisdom and the Ten Commandments


Published by Concordia, who kindly sent me a copy to review, Provoking Proverbs by David Lawrence Coe takes the unique approach of linking biblical wisdom with the Ten Commandments.  


This study guide, which can be adapted for personal use and/or group discussion, displays bars and side bars laid out nicely, so readers can readily find what they’re looking for in a font that’s easy on the eyes.


In 160 pages, the paperback connects scriptures, quotes from Martin Luther, thought-provoking questions, and suggestions for applying biblical truths. Anyone interested in biblical wisdom in general and God’s guidance in particular will likely come to new insights as study progresses.


To give you an idea, Chapter 3 of Provoking Proverbs focuses on The Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” The author then asks, “What does this mean?” and offers a response in a subsequent paragraph:


“If keeping the First Commandment is fearing, loving, and trusting in God with your heart, and keeping the Second Commandment is fear, loving, and trusting in God with your lips, then keeping the Third Commandment is fearing, loving, and trusting in God with your ears. Luther teaches that the Third Commandment is a gift of time given by God (1) for rest and refreshment after a week of work and (2) for hearing and learning God’s Word. In this chapter, we’ll learn that the Third Commandment pairs labor with leisure, vocation with vacation, and responsibility with recreation. God wants us to work hard and play hard.”


The chapter continues with relevant proverbs from the book of Proverbs, but also from other wisdom books in the Old Testament and the New. You’ll even find commonly accepted social proverbs often quoted by one’s parents or culture!


Then as with each chapter, a pertinent prayer concludes the discussion as does this one from Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation:


We thank You, kind Father, that You give us time to hear Your Holy Word. Grant that fearing and loving You, we may set aside our work to receive Your Son’s words, which are spirit and life, and so, refreshed and renewed by the preaching of Your Gospel, we might live in the peace and quietness that come through faith alone; we ask it for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”


May the Lord give us ample wisdom in the days to come.


Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2020, poet-writer, reviewer




November 13, 2020

Eyewitness: The Visual Bible Experience


In Eyewitness: The Visual Bible Experience, which Group Publishing kindly sent me to review, author Jeff White offers a first-person perspective for each of the 39 Bible people represented in this sturdily bound picture book for adults.


The size (11.5 x 8” horizontally), heft (in pounds, not ounces), and colorful illustrations (120 original works of art by 16 artists from around the world) make this an ideal “coffee table” book with 256 pages to leaf through and read at leisure. However, the fictionalized voice of each Bible person telling his or her own story will most likely make you want to keep reading.


For example, Adam tells about “A First For Everything” in the opening story based on Genesis chapters 1 and 2:


Before the beginning, there was God.

There was no time. No light or dark. No breath, no death. Nothing.

Just God.

Then God decided: it was time for a beginning.

God spoke, and Nothing became a universe of Everything….”


Following a biblical timeline, subsequent Bible stories speak for Eve, the Patriarchs, Matriarchs, and lesser-known people, too, with scriptural references for each. If you’ve read Bible stories as a child or to your children, you’ll see most of the same people have been included, but with factual data we never heard about in childhood.


For instance, Moses’ story confesses his having murdered an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave, covering it up, then becoming a fugitive. Yet God reveals Himself to Moses and calls him to lead His people out of slavery and into a kingdom where “God’s 10 Instructions For The Ultimate Life” would guide them. From Exodus 20:


“These are the words God spoke to His people:

  1. I am your God, and your only God.
  2. Do not idolize anyone or anything but me….
  3. Do not use my name in a way that’s disrespectful or hurtful.
  4. Set aside one holy day every week to rest and focus on me.
  5. Treat your mother and father with respect….
  6. Never murder anyone.
  7. Never cheat on your spouse.
  8. Never take anything that doesn’t belong to you.
  9. Never lie about someone else or spread gossip.
  10. Never long for things that belong to other people.”

The stories continue with Rahab, Ruth and Naomi, David, Solomon, Esther, and a few of the prophets before taking a timely turn to narrations by Mary and the apostles who also have experiences with the Lord to share. But the stories told from Jesus’ viewpoint especially intrigued me.


As a writer and lifelong student of the Bible, I’ve often written Bible-based manuscripts and even planned to write (and maybe illustrate) a Bible storybook for adults someday. However, the idea of taking on Jesus’ perspective, which seems intimidating to me, apparently did not deter Jeff White!


For example, in “Higher Standards,” Jesus (through Jeff) has this to say:


My followers are different from everyone else. They’re salt in a world that has no flavor. They’re light in a world filled with darkness. People will see God at work because of the compassionate things you do. So be salt! Be light!


And in “God’s Kingdom,” we have this perspective from Jesus:


When I talk about God’s kingdom, here’s what I mean.


“My Father’s kingdom isn’t made up of money and possessions. Those things are temporary and can be lost. True riches transcend the physical world, and they’re the only kind that have any lasting value.


“When you focus on the things of God, it’s like a bright light that lets you see as clearly as day. But money and possessions can make you blind to what really matters….”


The many stories continuing from the perspective of Jesus and His followers invite us into their conversations and experiences as though we, too, are there in Eyewitness: The Visual Bible Experience - a "coffee table” book you’ll actually want to read.


Mary HarwellSayler, ©2020, poet-writer, Bible reviewer, and lifelong lover of God and His word


Click the link to order a copy of Eyewitness: The Visual Bible Experience