January 21, 2017

Shalom in Psalms

I love the Psalms. Not only were they the prayerbook of God's people in the early church and synagogue, they contain the prayers Jesus and His apostles prayed in private and in corporate worship too.

Reading these prayer-poems in various translations gives us a broader perspective of their beauty and meaning, but the Tree of Life version (TLV) helps us to hear a uniquely Jewish voice, which Jesus Himself had. Since the TLV especially interested me for its roots in the Messianic Jewish movement, I requested a review copy, which Baker Books kindly sent.

I wasn’t disappointed. Besides better hearing the original voice of the Psalms, commentary by Jeffrey Seif, Glenn Blank, and Paul Wilbur follows each prayer-poem, adding information and insights we might otherwise miss.

As Paul Wilbur tells us in “A Worship Leader’s introduction to the Psalms”:

“This book of meditations on the Psalms has been compiled not only for your edification but with the sincere desire for you to receive revelation that will inspire and provoke you to love and good deeds.

“I pray that the Holy One of Israel who breathed these words into the psalmists so many years ago will revive them in your heart with insight and revelation so that you may finish strong!”

In “A Literary Editor’s Introduction to the Psalms,” Glenn Blank writes:

“The psalms teach us many different ways to pray. Many prayers are deeply personal, reflecting circumstances… to which we can still relate today. Others are corporate, calling us to honor our God as a community.”

The book of Psalms contains worshipful lyrics, poems of thanks and praise, prayers of petition, and wisdom, which “urges us to trust in God’s ways, confess sin and do good, seek answers to difficult questions such as why evil people prosper while good people suffer in this life, and reaffirm God’s faithfulness to those who wait patiently on Him.”

To give you an example of the devotional readings or commentary below each psalm, these words from Jeffrey Seif accompanied Psalm 4:

“People who pursue futility and practice deceit suffer tragic ends, do they not? But ‘prayer changes things,’ as the saying goes, so every human being, though guilty, is but a single prayer away from a changed life – from experiencing God’s graciousness. This psalm assures us that God is particularly predisposed to reach down and help those who reach up and pursue Him.”

Reviewed by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2017

Shalom in Psalms, paperback

January 13, 2017

Standard Lesson Study Bible, NIV

Unlike most study Bibles with small fonts and footnotes, the Standard Lesson Study Bible has a pleasant-to-the-eyes 10-point font in a two-column format with the NIV (New International Version of the Bible) alongside the best of Standard Publishing’s best-selling Bible study lessons. As soon as I heard about it, I immediately requested a review copy, which David C. Cook Publishing kindly sent.

To give you an idea of the type of study helps this edition has, I turned to Genesis 1, which appears in the left-hand column of the page and, to the right, notes such as ”The Bible does not attempt to prove God’s existence. God simply is…” and “The earth was… formless, or unfinished,”and:

“1:3-5 On the first day of creation, God spoke: Let there be light. Light is essential for life. God separated light from darkness, which has no real existence but is simply an absence of light, a ‘without.’ Thus darkness serves as an apt metaphor for the chaos of moral evil and sin – living ‘without God,’ our moral light…”

At the bottom of the right-hand commentary, this edition provides questions for discussion:

Why are the aspects of creation important in understanding both God and our world?

Talking Points for Your Discussion
. Orderliness/design
. Creative power of God
. A world created to be good”

With that same format running consistently throughout, the lessons alongside the “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 have this to say:

“13:4-7 Paul defined love by what it was and was not. Obviously thinking of the pride the Corinthians were taking in their spiritual gifts, Paul warned that love doesn’t boast about what one has or envy what someone else has received. Furthermore, love does not lead us to desire, to do, to celebrate, or even to think about anything that dishonor(s) others. Instead love is centered in truth, protecting everything one values, trusts in, and hopes for while awaiting a brighter future.”

In addition to the information and insights in commentary immediately adjacent to the scripture readings, this edition include book introductions to review before beginning the study of a book. For example, part of the introduction to Revelation reads:

“Although separated by 15 centuries, Moses and John faced similar situations. Both dealt with rulers who demanded worship. The plagues of Egypt are best understood not as plagues against people, but against the gods worshipped by them. The Pharaoh saw himself as the chief of these. When we recall stories of Pharaoh’s hardened heart, we gain insight to the similar personality of Domitian Caesar.”

Other unique study aids include a pronunciation guide in the front pages to help Bible teachers pronounce unfamiliar names easily.

In the back matter, I particularly enjoyed “Everyday Expressions That Come from the Bible” such as “apple of my eye,” “drop in a bucket,” “a little bird told me,” and “let justice roll down like water.”

Other articles in the back pages help to teach teachers how to teach more effectively and students at all levels to learn more about God’s Word.

If you love a good laugh, as the Creator of Wit does, you’ll also enjoy the collage of stories expressing “Humor in the Bible.”

Throughout the commentary alongside the scriptures, the question “What do you think?” evokes discussion and reflection, reminding me now to say, I think very highly of this unique study Bible.

Review by poet-writer Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017

Standard Lesson Study Bible, NIV, hardcover

Standard Lesson Study Bible, NIV, imitation leath, duotone

January 6, 2017

Holy Bible: Love Letters from God

The New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) of the Bible sprang from the ever-popular NIV but with shorter words and sentences to make this, not a Bible storybook, but a simplified version of God’s Word. In the NIrV, for example, the opening verses of the Bible say:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth didn’t have any shape. And it was empty. There was darkness over the surface of the waves.”

To make this particular edition even more child-friendly and personal, Zondervan included pages of Love Letters from God, written by Glenys Nellist, who obviously has a heart for children.

Since I’d previously read and appreciated Glenys’ work, I requested a complimentary copy of the Holy Bible: Love Letters from God from BookLook Bloggers, who kindly sent me a free copy to review.

To give you an idea of the “letters,” a page-insert referencing Genesis 1:31 says:

Your Love Letter from God
Genesis 1

Dear __________

Do you like making things? Have you ever made something you felt really proud of, something you thought was so good it made you smile? That’s how I felt when I made the world. I had so much fun! But do you know the very best thing I made? It was you! And everything I make is good. So remember this – I made you, and you are good. I love you.

Your Creator,

In the adjacent column, the page includes a section to “Write Back,” which encourages children to: “Write a letter to God telling him about something you made – a story, a painting, a science project, a building-block city… may even a tree house!” Immediately beneath that text, double-spaced lines have been provided for each child’s personal response.

In addition to 80 “letters,” the edition includes slick, colored page inserts on such topics as “The Ten Commandments,” written in child-speak, and “What Is…” definitions of sin, repentance, forgiveness, grace, and more. Another such page discusses “How to Pray.”

Younger readers might prefer a slightly larger font than this edition has, but all readers will see colored maps in the back matter, along with space for notes and a ribbon bookmark to show where the child has left off reading a Bible that clearly speaks to them and encourages them to keep on reading.

Bible Reviewer, Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017

Holy Bible: Love Letters from God, hardcover

I review for BookLook Bloggers

December 27, 2016

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

When the NIV Zondervan Study Bible came out last year, Zondervan kindly sent me a complimentary copy covered in soft, supple leather to review. This year, they sent a hardback review copy of the new large print version, which, unfortunately for my eyes, is only 9-point. However, if print size isn’t a factor, and you’re looking for an impressively thorough study Bible of encyclopedic proportions, this is it!

In my previous review, I talked about the impressive side bars, in-text maps, color photos, and numerous contributors to the study materials. So this time I want to focus on the articles written by a variety of theologians on such subjects as the glory of God, sin, covenant, law, love and grace.

The article “Prophets and Prophecy” by Sam Storms especially interested me as that’s not a topic typically discussed in study editions. In this one, though, we read, “A prophet’s primary function in the OT was to serve as God’s representative or ambassador by communicating God’s word to his people.” Furthermore, “The primary purpose of prophetic ministry is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort believers.” (See 1 Corinthians 14:3.)

In the article “Justice,” Brian S. Rosner writes, “the concept of justice in the Bible covers more than wrongdoing. It included treating all people not only with fairness but also with protection and care. God calls all people to seek justice for those most vulnerable to suffering injustice.”

In “Wrath,” Christopher Morgan says, “Whether presented as wrath, fury, displeasure, judgment, venegance, or indignation, God’s wrath first takes stage in the biblical story when sin enters.” Regardless of the terminology, “God’s wrath is his holy revulsion against all that is unholy, his righteous judgment against unrighteousness, his firm response to covenant unfaithfulness, his good opposition to the cosmic treason of sin.”

When we think of “Worship,” singing often comes to mind, but as David G. Peterson writes in the article by that name, “It may be best to speak of congregational worship as a particular expression of the total life-response that is the worship described in the new covenant…. Singing to God is an important aspect of corporate worship, but it is not the supreme or only way of expressing devotion to God. Ministry exercised for the building up of the body of Christ in teaching, exhorting, and praying is a significant way of worshiping and glorifying God.

With many other articles and copious notes throughout, this very hefty edition might not get lugged to Bible study but will serve as a major resource for those of us who teach, preach, or write about God’s word. And, in Christ Jesus, that word is “Shalom.”

In the article “Shalom,” Timothy Keller tells us “Shalom is one of the key words and images for salvation in the Bible. The Hebrew word refers most commonly to a person being uninjured and safe, whole and sound. In the N.T., shalom is revealed as the reconciliation of all things to God through the work of Christ…. Shalom experienced is multidimensional, complete well-being – physical, psychological, social and spiritual; it flows from all of one’s relationships being put right – with God, with(in) oneself, and with others.

If you want to begin your new year with a renewed commitment to Bible study, I hope you’ll order this hardcover edition to keep on your desk or study area, which is what I plan to do. May your prayerful reading of God’s word and the adventures of a new year fill you with shalom.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2016

NIV Zondervan Study Bible, hardcover

December 16, 2016

Battlefield of the Mind Bible

Some years ago, I took to heart Romans 12:2, which says, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your minds, so you may discern what is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.”

Although I’d read the Bible regularly since childhood, I began reading it, cover to cover, in every English translation I could find in hopes of giving my mind a biblical make-over. This not only began to work for me, it’s apparently worked well for the popular Christian writer-speaker Joyce Meyer.

Now, Joyce’s articles and commentary on the Amplified Version (AV) of the Bible have been included in the new Battlefield of the Mind Bible, published by FaithWords – a division of Hachette Book Group, who kindly sent me a complimentary copy to review.

In the opening pages, “A Personal Word from Joyce Meyer” clarifies a belief with which I heartily agree:

“Everything in life – the decisions we make, the words we speak, and the actions we take – begins in the mind. Before we say or do anything, we think about it. The fact that our thoughts are so powerful and wield so much influence over every area of our lives is why the enemy, Satan, attacks our minds so often and so strategically.”
She goes on to say, “I have developed this study Bible because I have learned from personal experience that the only way to win the battle of the mind is with the Word of God.”

Throughout this edition “Winning The Battles Of The Mind” articles appear, representing the author’s “teachings on the battlefield of the mind, the power of thoughts and words, and the importance of aligning mind-sets with God’s Word.”

For example, “The First Battle of the Mind” article concludes:

“Most of our problems are rooted in thought patterns that produce the problems we experience. This is where Satan triumphs at times. He offers wrong thinking to all of us; it’s not a new trick devised for our generation. Eve lost the first battle for the mind; we have continued to fight for it since that time. But because we have the power of the Holy Spirit to help us think according to God’s Word, we can win – and keep winning.”

“A Prayer For Victory” follows each of these articles. For instance, the article “Know What God Says About You” closes with this prayer:

“Lord God, in light of what You say about me in Your Word, forgive me for not always embracing Your words with all my heart. In the name of Jesus, I receive these truths as my own and choose to focus on Your words. Amen.”

I receive Bible truths as my own.

I choose to focus on God’s Word.

As we put those thoughts in our minds, we call them into action as we believe not what an unkind person has said about us nor what we’ve felt or feared. Instead, we renew our thinking with scriptures such as:

“You are a new creature in Christ; old things have passed away and all things are made new, (see 2 Cor. 5:17).”

“God created you and everything He created is good (see Gen. 1:31).”

“We are called God’s beloved (see Rom. 9:25).”

How can we speak against someone who’s beloved by God? How can we speak ill of ourselves?

In addition to the articles cited, other features such as “Keys to a Victorious Life,” “A Prayer To Renew Your Mind,” and “Powerpoint” sidebars help each reader’s renewal – a word which, according to some dictionaries or thesaurus, translates as “regeneration” or “rebirth.”

When people seek to be “born again” in Christ Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit does not stop there but continues to help us renew, refurbish, renovate, or revamp our minds in accordance with God’s Word.

Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-writer, reviewer, ©2016

Battlefield of the Mind Bible, hardcover

December 13, 2016

NKJV Airship Genesis Kids Study Bible

When I received a complimentary copy of the new Kids Study Bible in NKJV (New King James Version) from BookLook Bloggers, the first thing I noticed was David Jeremiah’s name in goldish letters that stood out from the rest. This visual emphasis on a person rather than the translation or on the presentation of a study edition for children would quite likely have been a decision made by the publisher Thomas Nelson, rather than the author of the study materials, but a reversal would make more sense.

That said, the “Airship Genesis: Legendary Bible Adventure” logo on the slightly padded front cover will most likely appeal to the children for whom this edition exists. As they open the book and turn the title page, the bold lettering Psalm 119:105 will surely catch their eyes, informing young readers in all caps:


Now that’s an important emphasis!

Likewise, David Jeremiah’s warm greeting in the Foreword gets readers off to a blessed start and says, “The Bible is the best book you’ll ever own, and it’s important to read it each day.” That simple statement might be exactly what a child needs to begin a lifelong love of God’s Word. At least, that’s what happened when my Sunday School teacher said similar words to me, which got me started reading the Bible regularly as a child – a habit that continues decades later.

Even more important, the Foreword embraces each child with these loving words:

“My greatest prayer is that you’ll come to know the Hero of the Bible – the Lord Jesus Christ – as your Savior, Lord, and Friend. He has a wonderful plan for your life; and as you study His Word, you’ll understand it more and more.”

To help young readers understand, the next page bullet-points the author’s answers to “What Is the Bible All About?”

The Love Of God
The Results Of Unbelief
The Gift Of Life
The Reason Jesus Had To Die
The Importance Of Faith
The Result Of Faith
The Assurance Of Heaven

In addition to a Bible reference and brief statement about each of those points, the author then lets readers know they can ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The context and light touch make that very likely!

Next comes several kid-appealing action figures who will act as guides throughout this study edition. For example, Genesis 11 includes the “Rupert Report” on the Chaldeans which says:

“That h is silent: Chaldeans is pronounced Kal-dee-ens. They were a group of people that, in ancient times, lived in the place we identify today as Iraq and Iran. A very important Bible hero was a Chaldean: Abraham.”

Other sidebars place a spotlight on a variety of “Bible Heroes.” For example, 1 Samuel 15 gives a glimpse of “Samuel, the Bold Prophet” with this illustration:

“If you saw someone doing something wrong, what would you do? It depends. You might need to tell a teacher or your parent or another adult. Or you might have to say something yourself. That’s what a prophet named Samuel did. He knew that Saul, the king of Israel, had disobeyed God. And Samuel knew he had to say something to the king. So Samuel spoke to the king about what he had done. It was difficult because God removed Saul from being king. But Samuel knew he needed to be bold.

Being bold can feel scary. But God wants us to do and say the right things for Him. God can use us to make the world a better place.”

Still other sidebars present short articles, memory verses, and in-text maps to help readers envision and apply God’s Word as they read. In addition, “Power Force” insets focus on biblical truths or goals such as “Be Trusting,” which says:

“Sometimes little kids are afraid to jump off a diving board for the first time. So a parent gets in the pool and says, ‘I’ll catch you!’ The child has to decide is she trusts her parent or not. Almost always, the child jumps and learns that she can trust her parent to catch her. It’s the same with God. We trust His promises, His love, and His protection. Our job is to leap into His arms where we are always safe.”


Mary Harwell Sayler, poet-writer reviewer, ©2016

NKJV Airship Genesis Kids Study Bible, hardcover

NKJV Airship Genesis Kids Study Bible, imitation leather

I review for BookLook Bloggers