The Book That Made Your World

Normally I prefer to leave my book reviews until I have finished the book. In the case of The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi I am making an exception.

It is intellectually robust, and thus not a quick read. However in the many pages, Mangalwadi lays out how the Bible – and the Christian faith – was instrumental in creating Western civilization. What sets this book apart from others is that Mangalwadi, can compare and contrast with lived-experience the Christian influence against that of other Eastern religions including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

It is a book of solid intellectualism, rationally and carefully constructed logic; but that doesn’t mean it is uninteresting. With personal anecdotes and reflections, it has a living, breathing heart behind the words. And from the first chapter, “The West Without its Soul: From Bach to Cobain“, it retains an essence of the here-and-now, even as it looks backward through history to explain why.

There are many, many worthy quotes – and several dozen are applicable in our current environment:

“the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find out why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so, by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. . . . our own age is also “a period” and certainly has, like all periods, its own illusions.”

C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.

Starting with music, and moving onto literature, Mangalwadi illustrates just how all-pervasive the Bible is in our culture. Mangalwadi shows that the Bible – not Greek and Roman culture – have influenced every aspect of the West.

Homer wouldn’t pick any of us as heroes. But all of us can be like Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. If extraordinary things can happen to simple people, if through the obedience of faith we can become a blessing to our neighbors and to the nations of the earth, then all of us can be heroes. … Transformation and development of character is an important feature of the Bible that has had enormous impact on modern writing. Homer’s heroes don’t change. But Jacob does. He begins his career by deceiving his father, stealing his brother’s blessings, and cheating his father-in-law. His experiences with God transform him into a very different person. He then blesses his children and grandchildren with a prophetic faith in the future.

I recommend this book as an educational experience, that will grow your appreciation for the Word of God and the saints who went before us.

Advertisements

Living Water: Lessons from Esau

When I was reading the excellent Living Water some months ago I’d planned to write blog posts for each chapter. After discovering Kindle didn’t allow chapter-only exports I had to delay my plans. Because of this post #1 on Repentance sat alone for a long time.

Chapter 2 of Living Water is entitled ‘Lessons from Esau’. Months ago I sat looking at this chapter, trying to extract my blog post. It wasn’t coming to me, no matter how hard I tried so I planned to skip writing about the chapter. And yet, now as I see my post for chapter 2. Clearly my heart or mind wasn’t in the right place at the time. This post, therefore, is chapter 2, ‘Lessons from Esau’ (which relates to Genesis 25:29-34).

The chapter starts by quoting Revelations 3:11-13, 19. The first two sentences stand out to me.

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.”

If Jesus tells us to ‘hold on’ and ‘to overcome’ then there is an adversary who is trying to take ‘our crown’ from us. Satan will do all he can to steal our identity in Christ, to weaken our faith and to make us ineffective spiritually. I don’t think he cares how he does it: it could be through physical distraction, emotional injury or spiritual apathy. We need to realise the tug of war is real, ongoing, and the costs of losing are personally high.

Verse 19 says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”

Godly rebuke and discipline is given to us because of God’s love for us. But discipline is only beneficial if we accept the correction. I paraphrase that, ‘Listen carefully and respond accordingly.’

When I was first trying to find my ‘post’ I was looking at the chapter too narrowly. I read it as primarily talking about sexual sin, pride and greed and how they’ve derailed so many high-profile Christians. However, that isn’t what Yun’s talking about. He writes, “Satan is an expert at tempting us to fall.” I’ve heard it said before that Satan isn’t all-knowing, but he’s had plenty of experience in working out which buttons to press. Yun recounts from his own life how his pride resulted in him being imprisoned in Myanmar because he stopped listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t matter what our weakness is, we need to guard against the enemy exploiting it. As Yun writes the following (taking Esau’s bowl of stew as a metaphor):

“There may be a bowl of stew in your life as well. If you make a wrong decision and partake of it, it can destroy your life and bring you untold misery and pain.”

Which raises the question, what are the ‘bowls of stew’ in my life? What are the things that are more likely to distract me from the things of God? I think it’s important identify the areas of vulnerability and bring those areas before God in prayer and surrender. It could be rewards (e.g. promotion, money, fame) or pleasures (activities, sports, relationships) or even attitudes (cynicism, independence from God, selfishness). Yun advises,

“This doesn’t mean that we control ourselves, but it means we must submit to the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us and who helps us to fear God and hate sin. …it is only the grace of God that can help and train us to overcome temptation.” (italics his)

I know that there are areas which I need to reflect on, and take to God. Two scriptures stand out to me.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

This passage does not say that there isn’t a speck in our brother’s eye, but that we first must see clearly before we can reliably help our brother. And also,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7).

It is all too easy to get tied up in worry, even worrying about ‘good things’. We aren’t supposed to worry; we should take things to God. Worry crushes our spirit, faith that God’s looking after something can give us peace and confidence.

Escaping

In the last couple of weeks I’ve made significant progress in my revision of Escape from Hell, my faith-based story. When I announced the re-write I mentioned my goal was to lengthen the story in order to smooth out the abrupt ending, which almost universally caught readers by surprise.

(Side note: Now that I think about it the abrupt ending was kind of ironic given that the character dies abruptly at the beginning of the story… and that our own deaths can come equally without warning. The unintentional irony works with my dark sense of humour; but that doesn’t mean it makes for a good writing quality).

The story has gone from approximately 9,000 words up to 23,000 in this first draft. I expect it to contract a little as I tighten my prose. The original story wasn’t formatted for chapters; now there are a total of 7 chapters, 3 of which are entirely new content.

The most important question though: is the story better for it? That’s the question I’ll be asking myself (and soon, alpha readers) as I let it’s melody play in the foreground while I do another editing pass. There are definitely elements in which the story has improved: the story has more depth and the ending is smoother now that it has more of a story and character arc. And yet, I’m still a bit apprehensive.

The first few chapters (the pre-existing chapters) that I wrote while highly inspired sing to me. I’m not sure yet if the other subsequent chapters are singing in harmony.

Even my choice of metaphor is suspect: who’d think I’d ever be any kind of singing conductor…

Distracted

With the rare exception, I have written a blog post every week for a long time. Except it’s been over a month since my last post. So what has happened?

Distraction. Some of what has distracted me has been good-distraction in-and-of-itself. Like maintaining and strengthening relationships, or good stewardship of what I’ve been given (i.e. maintaining the garden), or beneficial long-term (i.e. occupation focused work). Other distraction has been less-good and less productive: gaming, avoidance and other time investments that will never pay dividends.

There’s also been a big block of stress during that period, which mentally constipated me and had me reaching for any mind-numbing procrastination as though it were Valium. And more recently illness that quite literally put me on my back. Thankfully both of those issues have now been resolved.

The truth is the distraction began earlier in the year. At the start of January I was more focused on the things of God and faith. And then like a man heading out for a distant port, I heard the siren’s song of temptation. I started to have more ideas for stories, and my hunger for other hobbies grew too. Now I know that God has given me giftings to use for his glory but that doesn’t mean they should overshadow my desire for him. These were not his blessings, but the enemy’s temptations. I have allowed these other activities to absorb more of my time, thoughts and heart than they had any right to. It’s time for me to re-evaluate my priorities.

I have recently been pondering this passage from Colossians 3:


1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

What does this mean for my life? How does it translate to how I spend my time? On if and what I write? If I am God’s servant, his adopted child, how is my life different in a day to day, hour by hour fashion. My life is not my own, I was bought with an incredible price.

That’s actually a danger that I face as a creative person. My mind can spin a dozen ideas out of thin air – and each of those ideas could easily absorb hundreds of hours of writing time. But I want to make sure that I’m not spending my life on something inconsequential.

All that matters is that which lasts for eternity.

A World in Need of Balance

This week there was some pretty disgusting news that in New York the abortion laws were extended. It’s not the first state in the US to allow it, but it’s the first I’d heard about.

The new law allows a child to be killed up to 6 months for any reason. It also allow a child to be killed up until birth, for the nebulous “health reasons” of the mother. Tired of the sore back? That’s a health reason. Stressed your life is going to change? That’s a health reason. Worried about how the budget is going to stretch? Also a health reason.

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/foetal-development-worksheet-6257624

The above chart is pretty shocking. Think about it – at 16 weeks the baby can suck it’s thumb.

It makes me sick. It makes no sense that an abortion is legal 1 minute before birth, and considered murder 1 minute after.

Babies are treated with less regard than convicted serial killers; they at least get 20 years in prison. Let’s dispense with the euphemisms and the rare outlier stories which make the law seem more palatable: what we’re actually talking about is personal convenience (or responsibility avoidance) and corporate profit.

As a disabled man my parents could have decided that I wouldn’t have a fulfilling life, or that I might be too much of a burden. Thank God they resisted the doctor’s advice to give me a chance. I was only a helpless babe; I needed someone in my corner.

(I know some who read this, may be confronted and hurt by my words. I honestly don’t want to hurt you, but neither do I want to permit the normalization of abortion or shield you from hard truths. It’s only when we acknowledge our guilt before God that we can be forgiven (1 John 1:9)… and I too have much to confess myself (Rom 3:23). To ignore the guilt we have is to choose not to accept God’s forgiveness).

How Faith is the foundation of my Marriage

This month the beautiful Mrs Ezard and I celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary. And celebrate we do. We don’t take it or each other for granted.

Marriage has some incredible blessings, but is also hard work no matter how “in love” you are. There will always be days where one or both of us are slightly off-alignment and rub each other the wrong way. No marriage is perfect; neither spouse is perfect, so why should we expect different?

With God’s blessing our friction is occasional and minor (not huge gear-shredding arguments). I remember one particular day when I walked in the door after work and for no reason whatsoever, the first few words out of both of our mouths had a sharp edge to them. It was so odd that I actually said “let me try that again”. I went outside, shut the door behind me and then came back in. It was a reset and we were perfectly fine afterwards. Sometimes you have to recognise the grumps have nothing to do with reality (or rationality).

I believe that marriage is intended to the most intimate and fulfilling relationship that a man and a woman can have. Marriage is an analogy of, and an expression of, God’s love for humanity. It is the strong core of the family unit; the building block of society.

As marriage is such a critical element of individual’s lives and society, no surprise that our enemy Satan would wage war upon marriage at every opportunity and at every level. All who are married should realise they are at war – it’s just not their spouse they should be fighting against. The real enemy of themselves, their spouse and their marriage is Satan. Back-to-back take on the real enemy.

Many people have good marriages; I believe that my Christian faith has been a monumental, irreplaceable, reinforcing strength in my marriage. In today’s blog, I’m going to give you 3 reasons why…

Continue reading

A Real Miracle

This is a true story of a real-life miracle that happened a month or two ago. While I might paint the scenery around the foreground to make the blog post more interesting, the core of the story is entirely true and without exaggeration.

To comprehend the situation fully you first need to understand something about my wife and for that let me use an analogy: women are like vehicles. Some women are shiny, sleek racing cars; others are reliable SUV mini-people-movers; still others are utility vans. As different as the vehicles are, they all have their good qualities. Notwithstanding my wife’s beauty and lovely personality, she’s definitely an M1A2 Abrams Tank. She probably averages about 0.8 sick days a year. If you cut her arm off she’d stay home only long enough to cauterize the wound with the heated base of a fry pan and only let out a barely audible hiss of discomfort while doing it. Then she’d be at work without delay. Such is my wife; one tough unit.

So about a month or so back I told her I was experiencing some minor back pain. Not too uncommon for me, just enough to let make me uncomfortable and let me know I’d better not overdo it. I’d give it a 1/10 on the pain threshold. She said she too had a bit of back pain. Not unheard of, we’re both aging :). Throughout the week neither of us said much about it but we were both still dealing with it, without much in the way of visible signs.

On the Wednesday night she didn’t play basketball because of her sore back, which clued me in slightly that this was more than just discomfort. (I’m not the most observant man). I suggested we didn’t need to do a food shop this week. She replied we did have to because we were having dinner guests on Friday night. I offered to do the food shopping if she needed me too; she went ahead and did it herself anyway.

At work on the Friday I got an email in which she told me her back was really quite bad, and she’d just cancelled our dinner plans for the evening. Our outing for Saturday (adventure rooms) was also in jeopardy. For her to tell me she was in pain I knew it was bad. I offered to leave work early and catch a bus to her so I could drive her home. I suggested she leave work early. She declined both. Only later did I find out that “bad pain” actually translated to excruciating pain like:

  • I can’t stand up from my seat
  • I’ve been holding back tears all day

That’s my wife – a real unit of strength and tight-jaw suffering. I wasn’t sure what condition she’d be in when I got home. I certainly didn’t expect what I found.

I walked in the door to see her standing in the centre of the lounge room with tears of joy in her eyes and worship music blaring on the stereo. “Watch this,” she said as she lifted her knee up to her chin, and then the other one, followed by other displays of radical flexibility.

As she tells the story, she’d been suffering with the pain all day. As a colleague was leaving for the day she prayed with her for healing. Nothing overly special: just a prayer. A few minutes later my wife was driving in the car and realised she could lean forward without any pain. She tested it, moving around as much as she could and there was no pain. When she was at home she tested it fully: 100% movement, 0% discomfort. A miracle. Praise God.

Some might say it was just a fluke, some movement which cleared the pain. It’s possible, but unlikely. What’s the chances that after a week of pain, and a whole day of excruciating pain, it just happened to go within mere minutes of prayer? It could be a coincidence but once “coincidences” stack up continuously, then you have to believe it is something more.

We have faith and know that God can and does listen to our prayers. Why he answers some times, and not others, who can say… but what a wonderful example of God’s love demonstrated to my wife.