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Sunday, 28 May 2017

Book review "The Book That Made Your World" by Vishal Mangalwadi



From the outset I will admit that I found this book difficult to read. It was a book that I had long wanted to read and having received a copy as a Christmas present, expected to peruse it in the space of a short time. As it happened it took many readings over a period of a couple of months to complete it all, for several reasons. The scope of its venture is huge, the prose style is somewhat academic, also there is much to meditate upon throughout its pages. Yet I would recommend it as a work which is both simple and profound, enlightening and thought provoking.
The Bible has been the catalyst for shaping Western culture as we know it and is responsible for the prosperity of the west. This is an audacious premise, hypothesized by Mr Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian lecturer, philosopher and writer, himself a descendent of a tribe of warring head-hunters, evangelised in the 1900s by a single Welsh missionary.  Like the great Indian apologist Ravi Zacharias, Vishal lives in a country impacted by the British Raj, who introduced their language, religious beliefs, business practices and culture on a country which already had its own, and Vishal compares and contrasts some of these aspects specifically in relation to India. Most of the book however is a more general historical account of how the Bible and Christians living according to its principles shaped and developed the societies in which they lived.
In chapter after chapter Vishal provides accounts of Biblical impact over a wide range of subjects and there is something to interest everyone, from morality to technology, literature to education, law to science, ethics to economics. It asks the big questions: what shapes a culture? Are all religions the same? Where is Western democracy heading? How do the answers to these questions affect a nation and an individual?
There are many interesting stories and personal accounts documented in the book, and so many ideas presented that it is difficult to single out particular examples, but I would like to share just three quotes:
“Every civilization is tied together by a final source of authority that gives meaning and ultimate intellectual, moral, and social justification to its culture. For Marxists it may be Das Capital or the Communist Party. For Muslims it could be the Qur’an or the caliphate. Rome created the core of what we call today the West. From the fall of Rome to the Reformation, the papacy had been the principal authority for Western Christians. To the present time, Western civilization has had at least five different sources of cultural authority: Rome, the pope, the Bible, human reason, and the current individualistic nihilism whose future will be determined by quasi-democratic culture wars.” P138.

 “Those who saw the resurrected Jesus had empirical grounds for believing that death was not the end of human existence. Resurrection meant that we continue to exist beyond our death and remain accountable to God. Just as the consequence of sin was death, the consequence of faith and obedience was resurrection life. The death and resurrection of Jesus became good news – the gospel- because they were more than historical events. They were a demonstration of God’s redemptive intervention in our history………If God does not come into this world to save sinners, then other sinners-dictators and tyrants – have to do the dirty work of restraining our sinfulness. But by cleaning us from the inside, Jesus makes possible inner self-government, socio-political freedom, and clean public life.” Pp258-259

“What he [Thomas Dixon, Cambridge doctoral student] was sure of was that changing our beliefs can transform negative, harmful or destructive emotions into life-affirming ones. We also know that not every belief is equally conducive to a happy and hopeful life. Every day, therapists confront beliefs that make life a tortuous hell. What a person chooses to believe strongly influences whether he lives in peace or in torment.” p375


This is a book for our times, one that I would wish that some of my atheist friends would read. In our post-Christian society, one frequently described as “secular”, where Christianity is frequently derided, it is well to be reminded of where some of our cultural norms have their origin.

“The Book That Made Your World- How the Bible created the soul of Western civilization” By Vishal Mangalwadi, Thomas Nelson, 2011



Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Fences



There’s an old saying much quoted by country folk around here: “Before you take down a fence, have a good think about why it was put there in the first place.”
Fences, of course, are constructed for a reason. They establish a boundary. They denote property lines. They keep people or animals or things within an established area, or keep others out. They afford protection and privacy. They can screen an ugly view. Without fences, there would be a lot more conflict and anxiety, hence another old saying “good fences make good neighbours.”
Similarly, we need the invisible fences which enable us to live in harmony with others and operate as a society. Such fences can be personal ethics, legal requirements and community standards. I would argue that in western civilization, all these emanate from the Bible.
For over two thousand years the Bible has influenced first canonical law and the western legal systems which sprang from it. The ten commandments established reverence for God, respect for family values and consideration for one’s neighbour. “Don’t steal.” “Don’t kill”. “Don’t commit adultery.” These commands are as important for personal peace and community happiness today as they were when they were first delivered to the Israelites by Moses. The Biblical book of Proverbs contains many succinct principles for godly living which edify those who obey them, including faithfulness in marriage, honest dealing in business and humility in success.
The teachings of Jesus, recorded in the four gospels not only upheld the principles of the ten commandments, but enshrined them in a covenant relationship of God with man, through Jesus Christ. It became a relationship of love, not legalism. Obedience to God’s laws brought joy and peace. Whole societies founded upon Christian values became stable and prosperous.
This is why Christians feel strongly about changes to the law which are contrary to the law of God. In Queensland where I live there have been recent proposals to change the abortion laws which, had they have been passed and not withdrawn, would have allowed abortion of the unborn throughout a pregnancy. Later this year the Victorian parliament will consider laws to legalise euthanasia, which, if passed will make Victoria the only state of Australia to do so.
Whenever we see man trying to change God’s laws, we will hear about the stringent system of checks and balances which will be put in place. History demonstrates that once the law is established, the checks and balances change and diminish. Man pulls up the fence posts and starts to stretch the boundaries, and wonders why it all comes crashing down.
The reality is that God has already established the systems of checks and balances that work.  




Friday, 14 April 2017

When I survey the wondrous cross

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross
    On which the Prince of glory died,
    My richest gain I count but loss,
    And pour contempt on all my pride.
  2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
    Save in the death of Christ my God!
    All the vain things that charm me most,
    I sacrifice them to His blood.
  3. See from His head, His hands, His feet,
    Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
    Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
    Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
  4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    That were a present far too small;
    Love so amazing, so divine,
    Demands my soul, my life, my all.
by Isaac Watts, first published 1707
copyright in the public domain. 

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Gospel/ how do I become a Christian? (reprinted periodically)



The Gospel

In the beginning, God, (God the Father, Jesus Christ his only Son and the Holy Spirit), created the heavens and the earth and everything in it, including the first man, Adam and the first woman, Eve. God created humans to live in relationship with Him, but gave them free will to either obey Him or be disobedient. Satan, the devil, whom the Bible identifies as a fallen angel, tempted Eve to sin by disobeying God and she in turn tempted Adam to also disobey God. For their disobedience Adam and Eve were cast away from God’s presence and the wonderful life God had created for them and through them all their descendents were destined to be born sinful.

Yet throughout history there have been men and women who sought after God. Humanity became so depraved that God destroyed the earth with a global flood, but saved Noah and his family. Through Abraham God established the nation of Israel, who would be God’s favoured people. Moses, Abraham’s descendent, led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt and received the Ten Commandments and many laws of conduct. Because of the sinful nature of man, these laws were not kept, and a system of animal sacrifices was instituted to make atonement for the sins of the people. However, the people both individually and as a nation continued in a cycle of falling away from God and returning to Him.

During the history of the nation of Israel there were prophets who foretold that a Saviour would be born, to save humanity from its sinfulness. Their prophecies were fulfilled when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. Jesus is the only Son of God. He was sent to this earth and lived amongst us as a human, without losing His divine nature. In all things Jesus honoured and obeyed His Father, God. During His ministry on earth, Jesus performed many miracles and taught us regarding God’s nature and way of living. He was tempted by Satan but was without sin. He travelled with a group of disciples who were the foundation of the church – God’s people on earth.

In the same way that animals had been sacrificed to make atonement for man’s sin, it was the purpose of God to send Jesus to earth to become a total sacrifice, once and for all time, for fallen humanity. As was His destiny, Jesus was arrested, tried for heresy and crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem called Calvary. At the time of Christ’s death the curtain in the Jewish temple was torn apart, symbolising that the old system of God only being able to be approached by certain people and in certain places, was finished.

Now all could come into right relationship with God through the shed blood of Jesus, by committing their lives to Him in repentance and faith.

The Bible tells us that Jesus descended into hell and has total dominion over Satan and evil. On the third day Christ rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples and many others on earth. He gave his disciples the “great commission” to go into all nations and preach the gospel. Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven.

After Jesus ascended to heaven, God sent the Holy Spirit to the earth at Pentecost (ten days after Jesus’ ascension). The Holy Spirit is not only alive in the world, but indwells in those who have committed themselves wholly to God and gives such attributes as comfort, counsel, power and discernment. God's temple is now not a building, but the people in whom His spirit dwells. In the same way the church is not a building but the body of Christian believers on earth.

The Bible tells of spiritual battles between good and evil in both earthly and heavenly realms. It includes indications of great tribulation yet to come. We are told that Christ will return to this earth, the second coming, when He will defeat the evil forces raging in the world and will judge the living and the dead.

We who have committed our lives to Christ still struggle in our humanity with temptation to sin, and must choose daily to live in obedience to His will. We grow in our faith through prayer, study and reflection of God’s word, the Bible; and by meeting regularly in fellowship with other Christians.

All this is a fairly factual summary of some of the content of the Bible. But most of all, our lives as Christians are lives that are transformed. We know a love that surpasses anything. We know a deep joy within our spirits springing from God's Holy Spirit within us. We know a power beyond ourselves which touches others and transforms them too. We have a confidence that even when life is difficult and deeply sad and broken and disappointing, we have a relationship which sustains and comforts and gives us hope. God is faithful and He has the best in store. Christianity is not a killjoy set of rules which will spoil your fun. It's the most fantastic life you could ever hope to imagine....and then some more.


How do I become a Christian?

The Bible tells us that there is only one way to relationship with God and that is through Jesus Christ:


"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
“Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. (John 14:5-6)

To become a Christian, you need to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He died on the cross to honour God and for the forgiveness of sin and that He rose again and ascended to His Father God.

You also need to admit or confess that you are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness through Christ. This is known as repentance. Repentance involves confessing that we have done wrong, saying sorry to God and committing to living a life in obedience to God's ways. Becoming a Christian does not make you suddenly perfect. We all still struggle with temptations and failures in this earthly life and continually need God's grace and forgiveness. Repentance does mean that we look to God for wisdom and guidance to resist temptation.

You then need to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. Just as a wedding ceremony begins a marriage, so a prayer of confession and faith can begin, but is just the beginning, of a relationship with God. An ongoing relationship includes learning about God through Bible study; baptism, conversations with God through prayer, and encouragement through Christian fellowship in a caring church.
The following is a prayer which could be used to begin this relationship. You may wish to pray it alone, personally, or you may wish to discuss your decision with a Christian friend or pastor first to fully understand:

Dear Heavenly Father God,
I come before You acknowledging You as the only one God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thank You for revealing Yourself to me. Thank You, Father God, for sending Your only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross, honouring You and making a way for sinful people to come back into relationship with You. I acknowledge that I am a sinner. Please forgive my sin and cleanse me I pray. I receive Jesus Christ into my life to be my Lord and Saviour for the rest of my days. May You give me strength through the power of the Holy Spirit to live my life as a Christian. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour. Amen

May God bless you with an ever-increasing knowledge of His wonderful presence and endless love as you continue to seek and serve Him.

Ephesians 3:14-20 :

"For this reason I kneel before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Ame

Jesus prayed for YOU

 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John's gospel, chapter 17, verses 20-23

At the last meal that Jesus shared with His disciples, commonly known as "The Last Supper" Jesus prayed, knowing the events of His suffering and death which would shortly come to pass. He prayed that His Father God would be glorified and prayed for His disciples, not only for the twelve with Him in the room, but for those who would believe because of their message. If you believe, Jesus was praying for You. His words are as real today as they were two thousand years ago.  The apostle Peter tells us that God is patient: "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)

The love of God which was given to us at such a great price is still freely ours today. There is no greater love than that which God offers to each of us who will turn to Him in repentance and faith.

Thank You, Father God, for sending us Your precious Son. May His name be glorified throughout the earth as we celebrate Easter.  




Monday, 10 April 2017

Godly Mentors




As Christians we have a rich inheritance in the saints who have gone before us, as well as some who are living today. These people inspire us with their faithfulness and lifelong commitment to following Jesus, living godly lives and spreading the gospel.
The majority of us have come to faith through the efforts and prayers of others- parents, friends, family members, workmates, ministers, counsellors, teachers and many more. They are the unsung heroes of our faith. Then there are the more well- known names of Christians who are noteworthy in the advancement of the faith. Thanks to the internet we have access to a wealth of resources from notable teachers, apologists and theologians, living and those who have passed to glory.  We can read classic texts online and hear sermons from some of the greats. Some of my favourites include Ravi Zacharias, David Wilkerson, Derek Prince and Corrie Ten Boom.
In my daily devotions, I frequently reference two resources. One is the teaching series available through Youtube of the late Pastor Chuck Smith. As I read through books of the Bible I listen to Pastor Chuck’s exposition of the particular chapters I’m reading and find this helps to consolidate what I’m learning. The second resource is a book of daily devotions by the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon, entitled “Morning and Evening”. As the name implies, Rev. Spurgeon has prepared a message for every day of the year, to begin and end the day. These messages never fail to inspire me with the sheer lyricism and beauty of Rev. Spurgeon’s prose and the love and reverence for his Saviour which imbue every line. What a testament to a life lived untiringly for God.
With the approach of Easter, I would like to share a little of Rev. Spurgeon’s message for today (April 10):

“Light springs from the midday-midnight of Golgotha, and every herb of the field blooms sweetly beneath the shadow of the once accursed tree. In that place of thirst, grace has dug a fountain that ever gushes with waters pure as crystal, each drop capable of alleviating the woes of mankind.”
 (Morning and Evening by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Zondervan press, no publication date)