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Friday, 11 August 2017

The End is Not the End



Paul lived there two whole years in his own rented quarters and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with complete boldness and without restriction.
Have you ever come to the last paragraph of a novel and finished the story with a sense of regret that such a wonderful narrative should come to an end? I sometimes have. The characters and situations have become so real that you want to know more of what has happened. At the same time, there is a sense of conclusion, an understanding that this is where the author has finished his work.
The above quotation is the final verse in the book of Acts, the wonderful Bible book written by Luke, the evangelist, physician and travelling companion of Paul. The book records the establishment of the early church throughout the Mediterranean region, following Christ’s death and resurrection and impartation of the Holy Spirit, who breathed fire and power into the disciples of Jesus. In a roller-coaster narrative, we see miraculous healings and escapes, visons, riots, a shipwreck, squabbles, persecution and most of all, determined faith.
Luke chronicles the complete turnaround in the life of a young man who zealously persecuted the followers of Jesus, yet was transformed into a person who passionately lived and died for the sake of the gospel. The apostle Paul gave all he had and suffered much to serve the God that he loved, to preach and teach the gospel and to establish local church fellowships wherever he went. As the inspired, God-breathed word, Paul’s epistles or letters to various congregations and individuals comprise much of the teaching of the New Testament and as such are continuing to encourage and equip the church today.
When I read the last verse of Acts, I wonder why Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit, chose to finish the historical narrative at that point. It may be that the book of Acts was written before Paul’s final trial and execution around 65AD, in order for Luke to chronicle events while they were still fresh in his mind.
As it stands, Acts finishes on a note of triumph, as well as sadness. In the final chapter, we are told that the Jews have rejected the gospel. The time of the Jewish conversion will come eventually, as we see in the prophecies of Revelation. The gentiles are being converted however, and the church is growing rapidly, taking the gospel message into new lands. Paul is teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ “with complete boldness”, even though he is under house arrest.
I’m thankful that the book finishes in this way, rather than by chronicling Paul’s death. Jesus’s death is recorded, but that was not the end. His glorious resurrection, ascension to heaven and the promise of His return give us great joy and hope. For death may be the physical end of our earthly lives, but it is but a step into the next part of our eternal lives, the doorway into our Father’s presence in Heaven.
What a great encouragement the book of Acts is. This last verse reminds me that God will give me the power and courage to live for Him and to have joy in knowing His love throughout my life.

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.