March 5, 2018

The #Bible: Reading is Believing

God's love seems like an abstract concept, but reading the Bible makes it real. Through God’s Word to us, we can feel the Holy Presence with us. We can discover the way to love God, other people, and ourselves. We can learn what true love is and how we can become part of that Eternal Life of Love.

As we read the whole Bible, cover to cover, we can also see how the Law, Prophets, and Wisdom books point to Christ. Jesus Himself confirms this when “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures,” Luke 24:27, New American Standard Bible (NASB.)

In Luke 24:44-46, the risen Christ also said, “'These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

If we don't understand what we're reading or we feel confused about the character, will, and purposes of God, we can pray for the Lord to guide us and give us insight. “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope,” Romans 15:4 (NASB.)

In an encouraging letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote, “you have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work,” 2 Timothy 3:15-17, New Living Translation (NLT.)

Another word on the Word comes in Psalm 119, which I encourage you to read in the many translations presented by Bible Gateway. Or read my favorite renderings of Psalm 119, also found on Bible Gateway.

Comparing various translations will let you know which ones you prefer. If you don’t have a copy of that particular one, type the name of the translation into the Search box on this page to read reviews of Bibles translated from the original languages into your favorite English version.

May the Lord continue to bless your continual reading of God's Word.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018


February 23, 2018

Christian Standard Bible: Kids Bible

Shortly after I’d featured the CSB Giant Print Reference Bible I bought to read during Lent, B/H Lifeway Bloggers kindly sent me a free review copy of the new Kids Bible edition of the Christian Standard Bible (CSB.)

This accurate and readable text not only invigorates my straight-through reading, it’s ideal for children ready to read and/or for parents to buy beyond Bible storybooks. With its clear language, large print, and a sturdy colorful cover, this edition will appeal to children from grade school on, especially since it includes a variety of features they can grow into such as study helps, maps, and a “Bible skills checklist.” Also, the CSB text corresponds well enough to other translations that it makes a good choice for encouraging memorization.

Scattered throughout the book, colored inserts provide important suggestions kids might not otherwise know such “How Do I Have Quiet Time With God?” or “The Names Of God” with biblical references to various characteristics Bible people used to describe and/or call upon God.

Another page features “The Ten Commandments” and, yet another, “The Books of Poetry” in the Bible. On the flip-side of the latter, “Psalms For All Times” lets children know to turn to “Psalm 8 & Psalm 19 (to) help you praise God for His creation,” whereas “Psalm 37:3-8 can help you trust in God.”

The New Testament has similar inserts such as “The Names Of Jesus” (Immanuel, Holy One, Chief Cornerstone, King of Kings), “The Miracles Of Jesus,” and also a double-page spread on the apostles. If some of these features are new to you, remember, you’re one of God’s kids too, so there’s no reason you can’t enjoy your own copy! Otherwise, I highly recommend this as an excellent Easter gift for children of all ages.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018

Kids Bible, Christian Standard Bible, hardback

February 15, 2018

CSB Giant Print Reference Bible

The CSB Giant Print Reference Bible from Holman comes in a genuine brown leather cover with sewn-in pages that present the text in a very large 13-point font. This edition also has thumb-indexing (for easily finding each book of the Bible), scriptural references (for easily finding relevant verses), and clear maps (for easily finding biblical locales.) However, I bought this reader edition to read for Lent because of its clear, accurate translation.

Last year Holman Bible Publishers introduced me to their new Christian Standard Bible translation when they sent me a review copy of the CSB Study Bible, which I keep on my desk for study and research. No way, though, could I use that edition to read the whole Bible cover to cover during Lent!

To prepare for my Bible study groups each week, I rely on the hefty CSB study edition (and others, too) to get a better understanding of the scriptures we’ll read and discuss together. But the heft of a study Bible and the wealth of footnotes and sidebars become very distracting when you just want to sit down and read the Bible straight through as you would any book.

Conversely, this nicely sized Bible fits comfortably on my lap, and the goatskin leather feels comforting to the touch. Although the cover might feel slightly dry at first, the natural oils in our hands will soften and silken the leather in time. Since I didn’t want to wait for that pleasure (which serves the lovely purpose of enticing me to hold on and keep on reading!) I rubbed a little mineral oil onto my hands then rubbed the entire surface of the leather. Not only does this soften the cover immediately, it helps to protect the leather without going rancid as vegetable or animal oil will eventually do.

The important aspect of this particular Bible, though, is that it speaks to me!

As occurs with every text translated from one language into another, countless choices of synonyms present themselves - each of which must stay in keeping with the context of the overall thought and the surrounding verses. In addition, word usage changes over time, making it even more complicated to translate Hebrew and Greek biblical texts into English we can relate to and understand. The CSB does this exceptionally well, which encourages me to keep reading as I aim to take in the sweeping view of God’s Word during these 40 days of preparing for Easter.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer

CSB Giant Print Reference Bible, genuine leather, thumb-indexed

February 2, 2018

100 Days with Jesus: a book review

When Lifeway Bloggers kindly sent me a review copy of 100 Days with Jesus written by Diann Cotton and published by B&H, I saw what a fine gift this book makes for Easter, new Christians, or anyone who wants to get better acquainted with Jesus the Person and Jesus the Messiah.

Those of us who had the blessing of being introduced to Christ years ago might be more apt to use this well-made little hardback as a reminder of the character and power of our Lord.

With an inspiring photograph on the left page and a Bible reference, definition, and “name” of Jesus on the right, brief devotionals on the “Chosen One,” the “Prince of Peace,” the “Reconciler,” the “Source of Eternal Salvation,” and more can provide a springboard for meditation and contemplation of Who Christ IS in our lives.

To give you an idea of the text and format, “Consolation” begins by quoting Luke 2:25-30 in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) version then provides a definition of consolation followed by a one-paragraph response including these words:

“Simeon waited his whole life to see the One who would rescue and comfort his people. When he realized You were the One, he had complete peace. He knew that You were the only answer to this broken world…”

The page closes with a question and suggestion:

“To what are you looking for CONSOLATION and comfort? Thank Him, praise Him, and worship Him as your CONSOLATION today!!”

As another example, the page on Jesus as “Head of the Church,” says: “Jesus, You are the HEAD - the One who gives leadership and supplies the spiritual life to the body of believers…” then goes on to ask, “How does this give you peace today, knowing that Jesus is the HEAD OF THE CHURCH?”

May each “name” of Jesus lead us to pray for the church and our part in His Body and help us to receive Christ's consolation for ourselves and the world.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer

100 Days with Jesus, hardback


January 30, 2018

The New Manners & Customs of Bible Times: a book review

As I began researching the culture and era in which Jesus lived, I saw that Ralph Gower had updated the 1953 best-selling book Manners and Customs of Bible Lands by Fred Wight in the 2005 book, The New Manners & Customs of Bible Times, published by Moody Publishers. I also ordered other Bible resources to help me research the biblical novel I hope to do, but I’m reviewing this one first because it’s a must for every Bible teacher, Bible student, and anyone interested in Christ, Christianity, and the Bible.

Divided into two sections, the book presents family life in Part One and “Institutions and Customs” in Part Two. This edition has about 350 pages with over 250 full-color or black and white photographs and drawings beautifully illustrating the text and helping us to envision what life was like - from typical attire to the tools Jesus would have used in His early days of carpentry. If we merely looked at the illustrations and read their captions, we’d get a clearer, vibrant picture of everyday life.

Bold captions help, too, as does the text that follows. For instance, “Cleaning clothes” tells us: “Clothes were cleaned by allowing the swift current of a stream to pass through the coarse-woven cloth, washing the dirt out and away, or else by placing the wet clothes on flat stones and pounding out the dirt.” If soap was necessary, it was “made either from olive oil or from a vegetable alkali.”

That example seemed timely since I’m presently washing clothes in a machine with lots of choices and an electric dryer beside. But, oh, I’m even happier I don’t have to weave my own cloth - especially on a horizontal loom!

“The problem with the horizontal loom was that the width of the cloth was limited to the arm span of the weaver, because the weaver had to sit or crouch at his work. The invention of the upright loom enabled wider material to be made because the weaver could walk across the face of the cloth.”

Knowing that and seeing the illustrations for the text help me to better understand why soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ robe: It had no seams. (See John 19:23-24.) And what about shoes? Wondering about those led me to the Apostle Paul’s profession of tentmaking since a tentmaker was actually a leatherworker who mainly made leather bottles, belts, military equipment - and shoes.

As the book describes the profession: “A tentmaker (or leather-worker) had first to skin the animal, then remove the hairs from the hide, make it supple for use, and sometimes dye it as well. The hairs were removed by a combination of scraping, soaking, and (applying lime.) The hides were then soaked in water containing oak galls and sumac leaves, rubbed with dog manure, and hammered. The smell of the work was so bad that the tanner had to work outside the town in the direction of the prevailing wind, and it was so bad personally that it could become grounds for divorce.” No wonder Paul never married!

Most Jewish men would have married around their eighteenth birthday, which Paul had presumably passed before meeting the risen Christ. For more about that, the pages on marriage include a photograph of a woman wearing a traditional headdress and a detailed illustration of “The Wedding Feast” as it would have been in Bible days.

Other pages give a rich and well-illustrated history of Jerusalem, typical modes of travel, paper-making, “The Zealots,” “The Roman Empire,” and so much more, I hope you’ll get the book for yourself. It’s one to open often.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018

The New Manners & Customs of Bible Times, hardback

January 15, 2018

Christ Chronological – a book review

God does provide! Right when the research for my newest writing project required a chronological account of Christ, B&H Lifeway Bloggers kindly sent me a review copy of Christ Chronological, which I highly recommend for Bible students, teachers, pastors, writers, and all who want to follow the sequential movements of Jesus as shown in the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) translation of the Gospels.

Beginning with “The Prehistory and Birth of Christ” and ending with “The Resurrected Jesus Completes His Ministry,” this hardbound book presents each color-coded Gospel account of Jesus with headnotes or footnotes in black ink to illuminate each passage. Regarding “The Birth of Jesus,” for example:

“Matthew seeks to show the cohesion between Jesus’s birth and OT prophecy through his many ‘fulfillment’ quotations (1:22-23). Luke, however, gives an account of the events that triggered the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem as a means of placing Jesus’s birth in the context of Greco-Roman history. Chronologically, Luke’s account could fit seamlessly between Matthew 1:25 and 2:1.”

In “The Anointing of Jesus at Bethany,” we learn:

“There is little variation between Matthew and Mark on the account of Jesus’s anointing. John, however, fills in a number of details that are left unstated in the Synoptics. John, for example, highlights the role of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, three key characters in his Gospel. A harmony of the three accounts would seem to indicate that Jesus, his disciples, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were all present at the home of Simon, a man presumably healed of leprosy by Jesus. John singles out Judas Iscariot’s indignation, whereas Matthew and Mark refer more generally to all the disciples. This shows the underlying contrast John is seeking to make between Mary’s devotion and Judas’s impending betrayal.”

In discussing “The Passion of Jesus,” footnotes tell us:

“All four Gospel writers record the arrest of Jesus at the hands of his betrayer, Judas. Each author, nevertheless, has his own emphases. Matthew is characteristically concerned with showing how the unfolding of the events fulfills Scripture. Mark has a similar interest in fulfillment but adds an interesting detail about a naked bystander – an insertion that many believe to be a cryptic reference to the author himself. Luke adds more vivid detail to the event, including Jesus’s healing of a servant whose ear was severed. Not surprisingly, John offers the most detail about the characters. In addition, Judas’s role is overshadowed by Jesus’s surrender. Through this, John demonstrates how Jesus remains in complete control of the unfolding events. Collectively, the four accounts give a full-orbed picture,” which could well be said of this entire book.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer

CSB Christ Chronological, hardback

January 4, 2018

a unique Book of Bible Stories

The Book of Bible Stories by Amy Welborn is one of the most unusual and helpful presentation I’ve seen among the many editions for children. Published by Loyola Press, who kindly sent me a copy to review, this collection opens with stories relevant to Advent – the beginning of the liturgical church year – and ends with stories of Christ’s resurrection, Saul’s conversion, and “The Life of the Early Christians” while including Old Testament stories that foreshadow Easter in the redemptive tales of Noah, Moses and the Exodus, and “Ezekiel and the Dry Bones.”

Not only does this unique presentation of Bible stories give readers a clearer living portrait of God’s people – from Genesis through now, the author skillfully weaves in “various aspects of Catholic life that are informed by (the) Scripture passage: prayers, devotions, sacraments, teachings, and the lives of the saints.”

The opening section “Advent,” for example, begins with good news as “Prophets Say That A Messiah Is Coming.” Reading their Old Testament stories, “we join them on their journey. When God’s people of the old days are sad, we are sad. When they hope, we hope too.” And, “we pray about our journey right now,” then “we prepare for the future. The time of peace and harmony that God shows us in Isaiah’s vision is not here yet, but it will be. Listening to Isaiah, we hear of God’s power to bring all people together. We learn to see the world not with despair, but with hope!”

With Christmas, we’re reminded of “Isaiah’s Prophecies about the Messiah”:

“For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:5)”

As the church enters “Ordinary Time,” stories of Old Testament Patriarchs and Kings abound as do the “Parables of Seeds and Other Growing Thing.”

“Jesus knew that stories are the best way to teach. Jesus used a kind of story called a parable. A parable is a story that helps us understand one thing by comparing it to another….”

“When Jesus preached and taught, he was talking to ordinary people who lived in a certain time and place: first-century Israel. So his stories were about things those people would understand. The characters are farmers, travelers, judges and widows, brothers and businessmen, rich and poor. In Jesus’ parables, people are planting, cleaning, building, feasting, spending money, going to court, building houses, and managing businesses.

“Jesus’ parables remind us to look for signs of God in every part of life….”

To further aid readers of all ages in doing this, the author includes a “Think Quietly” challenge and an opportunity to “Pray Together” at the conclusion of each story. For example, in the Easter story where “The Risen Jesus Appears To His Friends,” the author reminds us that Jesus comes to us in communion, reconciliation, and service, then concludes the story with this call:

Think Quietly: How did the Apostles experience Jesus after he rose from the dead? How is this similar to how we experience Jesus in the Church today?

Pray Together: Risen Jesus, we believe in you and rejoice in the life you share with us.”

Obviously, I recommend this book highly for children growing up in the Catholic Church, but also people of all ages who want to know more about Catholicism and its strong biblical connections with God’s people and God’s Word. The more we listen to the Bible and each other, the more loving and receptive we are to each vital part of the Body of Christ.

Reviewed by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018

Book of Bible Stories: 60 Scripture Stories Every Catholic Child Should Know