the advocate | book review

I’ve always been a great historical fiction fan.  I just finished this audiobook that pretty much blew my mind and made it to my list of top ten favorite historical fiction novels.

TheAdvocate

The Advocate by Randy Singer

Rating: 5.0 – 5.0

My Thoughts:

In books of Luke and Acts, the two-part piece of work written by physician/evangelist Luke, are addressed to Theophilus (Luke 1:3,4; Acts 1:1).  The Bible doesn’t say anything about Theophilus but it is generally believed that he was a benefactor of Luke and Paul.  Beyond this, there are only theories.  One of those theories is that Theophilus was the lawyer that represented Paul during his trial before Nero and that Luke wrote the books of Luke and Acts so he would know the facts as he prepared for the trial and he would “know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed” Luke 1:4.  It is upon this theory that Randy Singer tells his story.

Singer tells the story of a man who not only witnesses but plays a role in the trials of both Jesus of Nazareth and the apostle Paul.  It is an epic tale and that put me in mind of Wallace’s Ben Hur and reminded me of my favorite book from the 8th grade, The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare (which I now feel like re-reading!). He expertly paints a picture of Roman societal, religious, and political life as you follow the experiences of a man who must make sense of what truth really is as Rome meets her decline and a new religion is born.  It was super educational without being textbook-y, just as a good historical piece should be.

About halfway through the story, I wondered how much more story Singer could possibly tell.  I was not expecting what was to come.  You know the feeling you get at the end of a long, epic movie?  You wonder how things could take such a turn, how the character’s life in the beginning could be so diametrically different from his life at the end?  Your emotions get played and you wonder how you’d deal with it if were your story.  Yeah, that’s how I felt at the end of this book.  Bittersweetness isn’t quite the word to use but it’s the best I can come up with.  It was beautiful and horrible and real.

You should read it.  For real.  Go to Audible and download it or Amazon and get the Kindle or print copy.  I actually got my audio copy from ChristianAudio.

This will definitely be on my list of favorite books read this year, I can’t recommend more highly!  Seriously, read it.  You won’t regret it!

Happy reading, y’all!

This book counts towards the following challenges:

Operation Deepen Faith

I’ve been trying to make a habit of taking my goals in strides–one at a time, here and there–rather than all at once, thus overwhelming myself.  My final and the most important reading challenge is Operation Deepen Faith.

OperationDeepen

This is something I did not keep up with last year but I’ve already started this year.  Here’s how it works:

There are multiple sections and as the host says, participants don’t have to sign up for each one but picking multiple sections is encouraged!

  1. Wonderful Words of Life: Goal–Read the Bible
  2. How Firm a Foundation: Goal–Study 1 book of the Bible throughout the year
  3. Deep & Wide: Goal–Read multiple books in multiple translations
  4. Meditate or Memorize: Goal–Choose about a verse a week to reflect and meditate on
  5. Christian Nonfiction: Goal–Read different Christian nonfiction

Click HERE for full details.

I’m going to commit to

  • Wonderful Words of Life: Goal–Read the Bible
  • How Firm a Foundation: Goal–Study 1 book of the Bible throughout the year
  • Meditate or Memorize: Goal–Choose about a verse a week to reflect and meditate on 
  • Christian Nonfiction: Goal–Read different Christian nonfiction

I’ve already begun reading the One Year Bible and picking my verses and other titles.  My goal is to post monthly on my progress and maybe break down goals into quarterly tasks.

Now, I’m officially set with all my reading goals for 2015!

Happy reading, y’all!

Operation Deepen Faith 2014

I know I said in my previous post that I’m keeping my reading goals modest this year.  Yeeeah, well, I’ve kind of disregarded that already.  I’ve already pledged to read 100 titles this year instead of the 50 I tried for last year.  Notice I said ‘tried for‘ because I didn’t quite make it.  Almost, but not quite.  Is that going to stop me from the temptation of pledging to read 100 titles?  Pshh, ‘course not!  You can check out book reading pledges on GoodReads and 50 Book Pledge

But I’m starting off-topic.  Let’s get to the purpose of this post.  There is one more reading challenge I want to participate in and it deserves it’s own post.

OPERATION DEEPEN FAITH

OperationDeepen

Hosted at Operation Actually Read Bible

I tried to read the whole Bible last year and didn’t finish (I’m noticing a trend in book reading failure :P).  I found this great challenge and decided to give it a go.  Here’s how it works:

I. Wonderful Words of Life. Goal: Read the Bible using a Bible Plan

  • I’m going to be reading the Bible chronologically this time around.  I’ve chosen the Chronological Life Application Study Bible KJV. It’s on it’s way from Amazon now and will arrive on Saturday :). Sooooo excited to begin!!!

II. How Firm A Foundation. Goal: STUDY one book of the Bible throughout the year.

  • I’m not quite sure which book I’m going to choose yet… I’ll keep you posted!

III. Deep and Wide; Goal: read multiple books of the bible in multiple translations.

  • My pastor is doing a study on different Bible versions so this is perfect!  I’ll pick a few to go through specifically this year!

VI. Christian Nonfiction. 

  • My minimum goal will be to read at least 10 Christian nonfiction titles.  And they can be in any genre: spiritual growth, women’s interest, biography, etc.

I am super stoked about this challenge!! Check out the complete details for Operation Deepen Faith and peruse the whole website by clicking HERE.

Stay blessed and Happy Reading!!

true woman 101: divine design review

I’m very much a book nerd, as this blog proves, but I’m also very much a girly girl.  Not in a high-maintenance kind of way, but in a I-like-dressing up-going-shopping-and-watching-Jane-Austen-flicks kind of way.  And I love books on biblical femininity and womanhood.  So when I saw this Bible study on biblical womanhood, I couldn’t wait to buy it!

productimage-picture-true-woman-101-divine-design-1238_jpg_400x400_q85

Mary Kassian & Nancy Leigh Demoss team up to teach women about what it means go after what God wants for women.  They start at the beginning and talk about God’s purpose for both men and women and why we were created differently and how those specifics are important when it comes to glorifying God.  From there, they go on to address how the beautiful framework of womanhood has been attacked by Satan and how cultural and societal lies have been accepted and woven into our thought processes.  It was extremely interesting and inspiring and I didn’t want it to end!

What’s also super great about this study, is that there is a companion website where you can visit and watch “table talk” videos for each lesson.  Here, authors Mary and Nancy, along with a panel of other women, discuss each chapter and how the lessons have impacted their lives.

This is a great study for women’s groups.  I highly, highly recommend it!  Married, single, it doesn’t matter.  There are so many different ideas and theories about what womanhood is and what femininity means.  This study answers a lot of questions about God’s design is for women and how beautiful His plans for us truly are!

To check out the book and additional resources, check out the website: http://www.truewoman101.com.

read along tuesdays – week 5

What?!  A Read Along Tuesday post on a Tuesday?  No lame Wednesday or Thursday edition?  I’m actually getting it together!!

Nope not really.

I was going to skip again like I did last week because I’m shamefully behind (and no I’m not telling you how far behind!) and didn’t feel like pretending I knew what just happened in the last several days (K, I guess that gives you a rough idea of how far behind I am! XD).  But then I thought, “Elyssa, why do you have to pretend?  You’re not the only person who has slacked off while reading the Bible in a year!  It’s a hard challenge, especially when you get to books like Leviticus where there aren’t anymore stories…” Okay, starting to see where I’m struggling?  Leviticus is NOT a particularly exciting read like Genesis and Exodus were.  So you can imagine my amazement when I realized that, alas, I am now supposed to be in Numbers! Whaaa?  And now, tomorrow, I’m starting Deuteronomy?  Oi!  Yeah, something has definitely got to change!  The Enemy knows I’m struggling with some of these ‘less intriguing’ passages and thinks that I’m going to just drop the ball here.

Yeeeeeah, no.  Not happening!  I’ve come to a bump in the road, not the end of the line.

Soooooooo, since I have no commentary today, (I’m going to have to do special Read Along editions for Leviticus and Numbers!) I thought I’d put together a short list of tips for reading the Bible in a year!

1. Pray

This is huge.  If you’re reading the Bible simply for academic or literary purposes, that’s great!  You’re reading the best authority on literature and philosophy out there!  (And of course, as a Christian, I must say that hope you feel God tugging on your heart and you respond to Him!)  If you are reading the Bible to grow spiritually then you know that Satan does have it in for you.  Big time.  When God’s people read His word, that deepens our connection with our Heavenly Father and makes us stronger Christians and brighter lights in a dark world and Satan can’t stand that.  So it’s imperative that you pray for the Holy Spirit to guide your heart and your thoughts as you read the Bible.

2. Mindset

If you come to this with the wrong mindset, you’ve already shot yourself in the foot. Rmember, you’re not reading the Bible to pass the time.  As a Christian, you’re reading the Bible to get to know the Lord better and draw closer to Him.  It’s a date you set with Him everyday to deepen the most important relationship of your life.  You think of it that way, and you’ll look forward to reading!

3. Do Not Play Catch Up!

Playing catch up is a sure fire way NOT to succeed.  If you miss a day, keep going.  You can go back when you have more time later.  JUST READ TODAY’S ASSIGNMENT.  Don’t try and go back and read what you missed before finishing what you’re supposed to read that day because, unless you have a 2-hour train commute to and from work, you’ll never make it. (And if you do commute 4 hours everyday to work, my heart goes out to you!)

4. Take Notes

This is called active reading.  The more you engage in what you’re reading, the more you’ll absorb and the more you’ll remember.  Jot down your thoughts, favorite verses, etc. You can also write down questions to ask your pastor or Bible teacher later!

5. Audio

I hesitate to include this because I don’t want it to become a crutch.  If you read my post, Audio vs. Hard Copy: How Do You Read?, you know that, while I love audiobooks, I’m more apt to regard listening as a different experience than reading print.  And I think this is especially the case with the Bible. Okay, having said that, I think audio versions of the Bible are great (especially for those 2-hour commutes!).  My mom plays the Bible on CD in her car all the time and it’s a wonderful thing.  I’m probably going to listen to the chapters I need to catch up on.  The reason why I hesitate is because it’s so easy to get distracted.  However, it’s a useful resource and it’s better than not catching up at all!

6. Set Up a Reward System

We’re human and we like goodies after we’ve completed a difficult task.  So pick some milestones and reward yourself at the completion of each!  Here’s a list of the categories found in the Bible:

Old Testament

The Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy)

History (Joshua – Esther)

Poetry/Wisdom (Job – Song of Solomon)

Major Prophets (Isaiah – Daniel)

Minor Prophets (Hosea – Malachi)

New Testament

Gospels (Matthew – John)

History (Acts)

Letters of Paul (Romans – Philemon)

General Letters (Hebrews – Jude)

Prophecy (Revelation)

Okie dokie!  There you have it!  Well we’ve got some difficult months ahead since I’m sure this is only the first of many times we’ll feel like quitting the whole thing!  But God is good and I know He’ll be there to pick us up and take our hands and continue the journey!  Just don’t quit whatever you do!!  

Y’all have a blessed Tuesday =)

read along tuesdays, wednesday edition

Read: Exodus 1:22 – 21:29

I’m late again, I know.  And I’m also behind.  I was trying to decide whether I should catch up and then blog or just reflect on what I’ve read.  I decided on the latter.  So here goes!

This week’s reading began the long history of the Israelites and their adventures, misadventures, victories and utter failures and disappointments.  I hesitate to admit that I struggled (am struggling) with this book in a way that I didn’t struggle with Genesis.  I know I’m going to deal with this as I work my way through the Scriptures, but, being as familiar with the narrative of Moses and the Israelites as I am, I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it’s because it’s been one of those weeks.  It’s that cognitive dissonance again.  Ugh, horrid feeling.

I wonder if the Israelites suffered from cognitive dissonance.  Here is this great mass of people, escaping from their bondage in a foreign country and traveling to a land promised them by God.  They have just witnessed terrific, horrible plagues and have crossed the Red Sea on dry land!  God has preserved and prospered them in the midst of slavery, chaos, and destruction.  And now they’re in the middle of the wilderness.  Wishing they were back in Egypt.

Whaaa?  How do you go from being a slave to being set free, and then wishing you were a slave again?  It wasn’t until I studied American Reconstruction that I sorta’ kinda’ understood where they were coming from.  After the Civil War ended and slaves left their masters to begin new lives as free men and women, some found themselves wishing that they could go back to the plantation.  They may have been freed, but America, as yet, didn’t know what that meant politically or socially.  Freedom for blacks didn’t hold the same meaning it held for whites.  The question of what equality means in America wouldn’t be answered for many years and only after much suffering, chaos, and heartache.  As a result, some would have rather returned to the old way of life where, at least they had a place to stay and food to eat, rather than have no certain place in society at all.

That train of thought makes sense for the black ex-slave of 19th century America, but not for descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  How do you question your place in the world when you have a pillar of cloud keeping you cool and guiding you through the day and a pillar of fire keeping you warm and protected at night?  How do you experience the miracle of living in the only part of a country that has light when the rest it is shrouded in heavy, suffocating darkness?  How do you question God’s will for your life when all around you are the bloodcurdling screams of those who’ve lost their eldest sons and your sweet child is still alive and well?  How do you cross the Red Sea on dry land and look back to see that the waters have swallowed up your enemies and then question whether or not you should have left Egypt after all?  I don’t get it!  I will never understand what was going through the minds of these stubborn people!

On one hand, they know that God has saved them from bondage.  They know this is the same God who gave Abraham a son in his old age, who wrestled with Jacob and renamed him Israel, who brought Joseph to Egypt and made him second in command to Pharaoh and saved the world from a seven year famine.  They knew all the stories that had been passed down from generation to generation.  These were their stories.  This was their family.  But they also knew that traveling in the wilderness, the scarcity of water, the cries of tired children, the uncertainty of the great unknown was not what they bargained for when they dreamed of freedom.  And as these two beliefs swam around in their travel weary brains, I can only imagine their discomfort.

That is cognitive dissonance.  When two or more conflicting cognitions try to set up shop in your mind, you can’t help but feel uncomfortable.

Perhaps I struggled (am struggling) in Exodus because I got bored.  I know this stuff backwards and forwards after all, must I read this again? Can I just skim this so I can type up something intelligible for Read Along Tuesday?  But when I stop long enough to pay attention, I know that this frame of mind is utterly ridiculous because this is my story!  The dissatisfied child of God who is facing the great unknown and would rather go back to what she knows and is comfortable with.  Yeah, that’s me.  I know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  I know that He is King of kings and Lord of lords.  I know that He’s the Beginning and the End.  How can I stand at the start of 2013 and look back at all the battles He has fought for me thus far and question my worth?  How can I read journal entries and look through and not know that God takes care of me despite of all the stupid things I’ve said and done?  How can I look back at all the wonderful memories of the past twenty-something years and not know that my heavenly Father has a specific place in this world for me?  This is my God who brought me out of the land of my enemy, out of the house of captivity.  I am free indeed.

Enough with the cognitive dissonance.  I know in whom I believe and He holds me in His care :)

There’s an old Sara Groves song called ‘Painting Pictures of Egypt’ that captures perfectly the sentiments in Exodus.  It started playing in my head halfway through this post!  Enjoy!

On to Leviticus!!

read along tuesdays – week 2

Read: Genesis 21:1 – 50:26

Whew! Finished the book of Genesis!  I’m going to attempt a few comments on what I read this past week.  How readable they’ll be remains to be seen.  It’s late, my brain is fried but I’m determined to finish this before I go to sleep!! So here goes!

I don’t think I’ve ever gone through the entire book, at least, not all in order.  It was fascinating to say the least.  There were a few verses that surprised me, stuff that I’d either forgotten was there or had never read before.  Then I began wondering what would the headlines look like in the morning papers back then…

90 Year-Old Woman Gives Birth to Her First Child

Rich Man’s Servant Sent to Far Away Country to Find a Wife for His Master’s Son

Hunter Sells His Birthright to His Twin Brother for a Bowl of Pottage

Cheating Twin Cheated on Out of His Beloved on His Wedding Night 

Woman Uses Her Son’s Narcotics to Hire Her Husband for a Night

Two Brothers Avenge Their Sister’s Innocence and Wipe Out a City’s Male Population

Jealous Brothers Sell Father’s Favorite Son to Slave Traders

Hebrew Slave Becomes Second in Command to the Pharaoh of Egypt and Saves the World from a Seven Year Famine

Of course, those are only a few possibilities.  I may have made similar comments last week but, I mean, for crying out loud, these stories just magnify the fact that these were real people who had real struggles, real problems, real joys, real sorrows, real challenges, and did really stupid things.

I don’t have the time to comment on everything I read about this week, but here are some thoughts on the major stories:

ABRAHAM & SARAH

Here is a couple that is uprooted from their hometown and commanded by God to go.  And it’s not like God took a map and said, “Okay, I want you guys to travel this road for several hundred miles, make stops here, here, and here and in about, oh several months or so, you’ll end up here, where I’ve marked with a star.”  No.  God just said go and that’s it.  They knew just enough to get them through the day.  Talk about walking in complete faith!

A lot of fuss is made about Abraham and how much faith he had and he did, no doubt, but his wife was there too.  She had to pick up and follow God just as her husband did.  Abraham was to be the father of great nation and that meant she was to be the mother of that nation.  Her story is just as important as Abraham’s which is why she has a place in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11.

What amazes me is even when Abraham lied about the fact that Sarah was his wife, even when Sarah gave up and determined to help God out by giving her maid, Hagar, to Abraham to bear his promised child, even when Abraham lied AGAIN about Sarah being his wife, even when Sarah laughed when the Lord said He still intended to keep his promise and give her a son, even though Abraham questioned and had to be reminded again and again, GOD KEPT HIS WORD.  And Isaac was born.

*mind blown*

That gives me hope for my pathetic, puny faith.  If God was that long suffering with Abraham and Sarah, He won’t give up on me.

ISAAC & REBEKAH 

For some reason, after all these years, I haven’t made up my mind about how I feel about these two.  Their story begins with a rather sweet romance.  God arranges their marriage and they’re happy at first but then it feels like they change as they age and not for the better.  I don’t know why but I feel like the tone of their lives shifts after the births of Esau and Jacob.  Perhaps it’s because each parent chooses a favorite son and that’s never a good situation.  Maybe it’s cause Isaac, chip off the old block, lies to the men of Gerar and tells them Rebekah is his sister!  Nevertheless, Isaac is blessed by God and his wealth grows!  My opinion of Rebekah certainly changes drastically when she convinces Jacob to trick Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing.  How did such a sweet girl turn into such a conniving woman?  But then again, it’s not a matter of virtuous woman gone bad but rather a daughter of God losing faith.  God told her that her younger son would serve her older son.  Like Sarah, Rebekah saw an opportunity to ‘help God out’ and took it!

Nothing good ever comes when we think we know best and try to help God out.  Oh that I would learn to stay in step with Jesus and quit trying to run ahead of Him all the time!

JACOB

I know I’m jumping ahead but I have always wondered how a man doesn’t know that the woman he’s in bed with is not the same woman he worked 7 years for!!  There’s a headline for you!  How was that even possible?  Okay, I just needed to get that out of the way cause that has always boggled my mind.  There is so much to the story of Jacob, I don’t even know where to begin so I’ll say two things:

1. To love a woman so much that you’ll work a total of 14 years to win and keep her is incredible.  I think, as twisted as it does ends up, Jacob and Rachel’s love story is beautiful.

 2. It blows my mind how Jacob fought all night with the angel and refused to let go until God blessed him.  I hear people talk about how they pray and pray and plead and plead with the Lord for days, weeks, months, even years to answer their prayers.  They refuse to let up until God answers them.  And it’s not like God waits around til He feels like granting wishes.  He’s listening.  But sometimes the answer is ‘wait’.  Even if what we’re praying for is in line with God’s will for our lives, our timing may not be God’s timing.  That’s how faith is strengthened.  Waiting upon the Lord is intense stuff.  That’s how it was with Abraham and Sarah.  That’s how it was with Jacob that night before he faced his brother Esau.  The Lord didn’t answer him right away and Jacob struggled, but he held on.

Like Jacob, we could be in the midst of our darkest night, not knowing what the morning will bring but we cannot lose hope until God gives us the strength and the peace we need to face another day.

Whew!  My fuzzy, exhausted brain is blown again!

JOSEPH

Joseph is one of my favorite Bible heroes!  I love his story!  This guy does not move.  He is unwavering.  He does not give in.  He does not falter.  He does not complain, despair or distrust.  He knows the God he serves and will not back down.  Unlike his forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, there is not one negative word written about this young man.  He passes every test of character and as a result, receives the highest promotion a guy in a foreign country could ever dream of!  Being sold as a slave by his own flesh and blood, then later framed by his master’s disgruntled wife and thrown in jail doesn’t hold him back.  In both cases, he allows God to use him and faithfully waits on the Lord perfect timing.

Yes, Joseph is a keeper!  I pray I can develop a noble character he did.

It’s after midnight and I’m wiped out.  I hope my comments are readable!! Technically it’s Wednesday but I’m saying it’s still Tuesday night and I made the deadline!

On to the book of Exodus and week number 3!!

But for now, good night, y’all :)

read along tuesdays, thursday edition

I’ve been trying to write this post for the past couple of days and I’m determined to get through it today!  Here’s the Thursday edition of Read Along Tuesdays :P.

I figured that since the year began on a Tuesday, I’d do weekly post every Tuesday and talk a little bit about what I’ve read in the Bible that week.  Yeeeeeeah.  As one might imagine, commenting on scripture is a whole different ball game than commenting on any other book!  Where do I begin to talk about Adam & Eve and Cain & Abel and Methuselah and Noah and Abraham & Sarah and Lot and Isaac and Ishmael and Hagar…?  So much is covered in these 27 pages!  So many lessons to be learned.  So much to absorb and  ponder over.

I haven’t yet determined how brief or in-depth my comments will be in the future, but for today, I’ll keep it short and sweet. First of all, WOW. When I tried to read the Bible last year, I don’t think I even made it this far. Now that I’m actually taking the time to sit and read and not just pick off passages for reference purposes or hearing a verse during morning and evening devotions, but actually reading through and building on context and the various happenings, it’s such a rewarding experience. The Bible is just a super cool book! There are no two ways about it, God’s Word is awesome!! And because it’s His word, there’s something wonderful that happens to your soul when you’re reading it. It’s a calm and an inspiration you don’t get from any other reading, that you’re not meant to get from any other reading! As inspiring as other great writing can be, these words, inspired by the very Creator of the universe, capture human heart in a way that can only be realized in the reading of them. It’s truly a beautiful thing!

As a Christian, to me the Bible isn’t just a great work of ancient literature (cause it is that), it’s not just a collection of interesting, sometimes heartbreaking or humorous, stories (cause it is that), it’s not just a great text on history (cause it is that), it’s not just an authority on the sciences (cause it is that), it’s not just philosophy, psychology, sociology or even religion, (cause it’s all of those too).  The Bible is the living, breathing, ever relevant Word of God.  From “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” in Genesis to “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” in Revelation, God reveals His heart.  How can I deny myself the pleasure of drawing nearer to the heart of God?  The very idea that God even cares that much about me to condescend to give my this letter of His love brings tears to my eyes.

That’s why I’m going to make it through this year in His word.  I’m finally committing to this way of getting to know my loving heavenly Father.  And I’m relishing every moment of it!

Okay, so I didn’t comment on anything I read.  I was just basking the utter coolness of the Bible.

I’ll pick it up next Tuesday :)

Y’all have a blessed day!