Where would we be…

Cover of The Book that Made Your WorldI’ve been reading a book lately called “The Book that Made Your World” by Vishal Mangalwadi, a Christian from India who brings his experiences in India and the East to an examination of how the Bible and Christianity have shaped western society in ways most of us don’t even realize. I’m not going to review this title here ( I do recommend everyone read it!) but rather will just make a couple of short comments on our current social wars.

Mangalwadi suggests that the Bible is the springboard for everything from western literature to science & medicine, education, and even the American political system. He makes a good case that even though China & India & the Middle East had a major head-start in all these areas, it took the reformation and the printing press to bring about the world that we now take for granted. This is certainly not the first book to suggest that western society has been shaped (some would say “warped” by Christianity and the Bible, but it’s the first I’ve read in some time, and it has given me a great deal to think about.

I’m especially taken by how little understanding most of us have of how integrated the Bible is in every social and ethical issue we debate. We all share a common heritage and a common base of ethics, but a good portion of our culture denies the Biblical basis of their own morals.

Slavery has been illegal (in the western world, at least) for over 100 years, yet it still stirs the pot of indignation & anger. The “white man’s” religion of Christianity is excoriated for justifying the institution of slavery. Christians are denigrated as purveyors of hate & bigotry. Yet, without the Bible and Christianity is it even likely the folks who hold those positions would even be in a position to care?

Slavery is still practiced in other parts of the world. For most of our history it was an accepted practice and was the primary engine of economic enterprise. It took the industrial revolution and Christians to bring about the abolition of the slave trade in England. Mangalwadi argues that without a Biblical & Christian belief in the value of the individual, there might not even have been an industrial revolution. With enough slaves (or lower castes) why create machines to replace them? Indeed, in the Middle East & Asia, there was no industrial revolution. It was essentially imported to them by Christian missionary efforts!

But back to slavery… as I look at the issue, my feeling is that apart from Bible-based ethics, the practice would still exist in the entire world.  The Bible is the source of our belief in the worth of the individual. Those who eschew Christianity & Bible-base ethics are arguing against the very thing that created their own social concepts!

There are so many issues that have this same conundrum:

Feminism? Apart from the biblical idea that all humans have value, and that women and wives are to be given honor where would the concept of feminism even develop? Certainly not in the Middle East, or Asia.

Civil Rights? What civil rights? Without a concept of individual worth, the only political truth is “might makes right.”

Legal rights? See the above.

I could go on, but I think you see the point. There is much that is wrong with our society. There is much that is and has been done wrong in the name of Christ. But the simple truth is that without Christianity & the Bible, most of the issues we are so indignant about would not even be considered.

 

Hither & Yon…

Well, my stated aspiration to blog on a more consistent basis has sorta fallen flat… Good intentions & all that. The biggest problem with blogging is that I often find  I don’t  have much to say! I phone my mother every week and we have a similar problem. “What’s new?” “Nuttin’ much” How are you?” “Fine” That seems to cover most of our weeks, but it doesn’t keep us from talking for about an hour.

Unfortunately, when I blog, I feel like I should have a little more of value to relate than “We’re having nice/so-so/horrible weather today.” So I just don’t say anything. Come to think of it, that probably enriches our world more often than not. So, not having any great philosophical insights to impart today, I thought I’d just talk a bit about a couple of books & Bibles I’m reading right now.

First, the Bible:  I’m using the Jesus Bible for my morning readings right now. As I’ve stated before, I try to read a different Bible each year (or there-abouts – I’m not a stickler for finishing in precisely 365 days.) This year I chose the Jesus Bible, an NIV translation with notes and commentary edited by Louie Giglio, of Passion fame. Similar to the “Jesus Centered Bible” (NLT, from Group Publishing), The Jesus Bible structures the commentary around how the Bible points to Christ from Genesis to Revelation.

But that’s where the similarities end. The Jesus Bible has more notes, which are situated in wide margins, giving you plenty of room to add your own meditations. And the tone of the commentary is more formal and I find it more informational as well. Big name feature writers are Randy Alcorn, Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, John Piper & Ravi Zacharias — heavy hitters, all. Many others contributed the well written notes that comprise the bulk of the material.  I recommend picking this Bible up. It will definitely be a valuable addition to your Bible study arsenal.

Book 1: Invitation, Habingers Cycle One. What do you get when you have four writers known for their eerie writing styles writing together to create an unusual collaboration – a book that’s four times as spooky? Not really, but you do get a fun read with interesting twists as each writer writes one of four different segments of the book. The story line is that four people with different gifts but little natural affinity for each other are brought together by supernatural events that require their team-work to overcome.  Each segment is a stand-alone story that loosely builds on the story before it, spoken by a different member of the team which allows the author to add his or her own creative voice to the book.

Written by four well-known Christian fiction authors (Bill Myers, Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, & Alton Gansky), Invitation is the first in a series of books that I’m not sure the authors themselves know what or when the end will be. But however it turns out, the journey is sure to be enjoyable and maybe a little spooky, certainly inspirational & occasionally thought-provoking. It was a pleasant read.

Book 2: I’ll Push You.  Taking a complete 180 and turning to non-fiction, I’ll Push You is an absorbing, entertaining and challenging account of two lifelong friends who take a pilgrimage together on the Camino de Santiago – a 500 mile trek through the rugged terrain of northern Spain. Justin and Patrick have shared an unusually strong bond through the years, a bond which was not diminished as Justin succumbed to a neuromuscular disease that left him unable to use his arms or legs. When Justin expressed his desire to do the pilgramage, Patrick’s response was “I’ll Push You!”

Neither of them knew the full import of what would be required of them to accomplish this task, but they began preparation and God seemed to be blessing their plans as all the necessary pieces fall into place for their trip. Patrick’s boss gives the okay for the extended leave time required with a requirement — they needed to film it for others to see. A film company is then recruited to the effort, and they are off to Spain for a life-changing experience.

Both men share the experience from their own position, Justin, prone in a wheel chair and completely dependent upon others for everything; Patrick, pushing, pulling, learning to receive as well as give as he also learns that he is unable to do the trip without the help of many others. Donald Miller writes the forward: “The story within these pages reminds us that God didn’t create us to live alone. He never meant us to be solitary creatures. I’ll Push You demonstrates what it means to live in community with one another and reveals what can happen when we shoulder each other’s burdens.”

This is a challenging, entertaining, inspirational book. I highly recommend it.

 

 

Glorious! Reflections on The Jesus Storybook Bible on a beautiful spring day.

Glorious!

I’ve just returned from a Sunday afternoon bicycle ride, something I do all too infrequently. The weather today is unbelievable. There is just one word to describe it, and that’s the title of this post. Wow! God has outdone himself today — well, maybe not quite that extreme, but man, what a beautiful day to rejoice and be glad in!

And that made me think of a quote from the Jesus Storybook Bible which is a paraphrase of Psalm 19:1-2:

The Heavens are singing
about how great God is;
and the skies are shouting it out,
“See what God has made!”
Day after Day… Night after night…
They are speaking to us.

 

If you are unfamiliar with this delightful book for children of all ages, I encourage you to correct that deficit soon. It deserves to be at the top of every parent’s or grandparent’s list of bedtime/anytime read-to-me books, or for that matter as a book to read and enjoy just for one’s self.

Sally Lloyd-Jones created this collection of Bible stories with beautiful prose, whimsical humor, and a good smattering of wisdom and insight. Each story is framed so that the reader can learn how the whole Bible speaks of Jesus. The artist Jago (no surname given) contributed unique and appealing illustrations that perfectly set-off each story and prose.

From the introduction:

You see, the best thing about this Story is — it’s true.

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle — the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

And so we begin at the beginning. Ms. Lloyd-Jones doesn’t skimp on creation. 8 pages of prose and picture detail the beginning of the beginning.

God spoke. That’s all. And whatever he said, it happened.

God speaks everything into being — in a Lloyd-Jones paraphrase, of course, that paints vibrant word pictures that makes the story come alive. (Jago’s artistic contributions don’t hurt any either)

God said, “Hello light!” and light shone into the darkness. God called the light, “Day” and the darkness, “Night”. “You’re Good,” God said. And they were.

As most Bible storybooks do, The Jesus Storybook Bible covers the normal ground — Adam & Eve, Daniel & the Lions Den, Jonah & the whale — the stuff you’d expect to find. But also included are the stories of Naaman, the Syrian general who was sought healing from Elijah, and even a section about Isaiah and God’s promise of a savior. Some of Jesus’s sermons are presented at a child’s level, and the book concludes with John’s revelation.

I particularly enjoyed the Sermon on the mount. After sharing how God clothes & feeds the birds & the flowers, Jesus says

“Little Flock, you are more important than birds! More important than flowers! The birds and the flowers don’t sit and worry about things. And God doesn’t want his children to worry either. God loves to look after the birds and the flowers. And he loves to look after you too.”

Jesus knew that God would always love and watch over the world he had made — everything in it — birds, flowers, trees, animals, everything! And, most of all, his children.

Even though people had forgotten, the birds and the flowers hadn’t forgotten — they still knew their song. It was the song all of God’s creation had sung to him from the very beginning. It was the song people’s hearts were made to sing; “God made us. He loves us. He is very pleased with us.”

It was why Jesus had come into the world; to sing them that wonderful song; to sing it not only with his voice, but with his whole life — so that God’s children could remember it and join in and sing it, too.

Glorious! That’s the word for today, and for the message of God’s love for a wayward world. What a joy to have a perfect book to celebrate that love, and what a day to enjoy it in!

While we were yet sinners…

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.This morning as we were praying for our day and our customers I was reminded that this week SHOULD have greater significance than the normal day-to-day activities of bookselling. I confess that passion-week often comes & goes for me like any other, except that we have a little extra candy after Sunday.  Easter morning is a special celebration and I am mindful of the significance of it all. But the reality of living is that after 60 some-odd years of celebrating the most important event in history, I’m a little too comfortable with the idea. I know all about “whosoever will” and “Jesus Loves Me” and “By his stripes…” etc. I’m thankful and blessed by it all, but more often than not, just a tad complacent in my relationship with the Savior.

As we were praying I reflected briefly on “While we were yet sinners…” and asked God to help us remember and rejoice in that revelation. I opened my email box to find the above meme waiting for me. I guess that’s going to be a theme this week.

 

A late look at “The Shack”, by Wm. Paul Young

I’m a little late to the table with this one. Yes, I’m very aware that the book is 15 years old, has been a multi-million copy best seller, and The Scroll has carried it for the whole time. But I hadn’t ever read it before. With the advent of the movie, I decided it was time to see what the fuss was all about.

To say the least, this book has it’s ardent supporters, and just as ardent detractors. To be honest, if I had been doing my job better, I should have read it before now, if for no other reason than to assure myself that it deserved  a place on our shelves. I’ll discuss my decision on that a little later in this post. In the meantime, for those few of you who are still unfamiliar with the book, here’s the quick rundown.

Mackenzie Allen Phillips is a man in great pain. Three years have passed since his youngest child was abducted and murdered, and the “Great Sadness” still overwhelms Mack & his family. His relationship with God, never foremost in his life is perfunctory now with more than a tinge of distrust. His wife’s own faith is bruised but strong and she still expresses love and trust in “Papa”, as she calls the Father.

Out of the blue comes a cryptic letter, signed “love, Papa”, inviting Mack to return to the location of the murder. Mack finds himself compelled to go there, where he is confronted with Papa (or God, as a middle-aged black woman), Jesus (as a young Jewish man), and the mysterious Sarayu (the Holy Spirit as a beautiful young woman.) This representation of the Trinity takes Mack through conversations and experiences that allow him to unburden himself of grief and unforgiveness, and Mack is returned to his family a different man.

This story is fiction, and as such is allowed some latitude in theological rigorousness. It is understandable, however, since the theology and opinion are being put in God’s mouth that some readers would have cause to cry foul at those points they feel miss the mark. As a result, there has been considerable controversy over whether this book is perfectly acceptable, mildly controversial or completely heretical!

There is much to be admired in The Shack. I was actually surprised at how powerful the story is, and how much emotion it evoked in me. I have long held that all story is based on THE Story. When the good guy saves the girl from the bad guy and does so with great wisdom & virtue, that is reflection of how God saves us from many spiritual bad guys around us. When the protagonist sacrifices his or her life for the good of their story mates, we remember Jesus and His sacrificial love. The Shack is primarily a conversation about God’s love for his creation.

To sum up the message of the book in a few words, it would have to be: “God is good, all the time.” That’s not my favorite saying – a bit trite, and not terribly sophisticated. But it completely summarizes a bottom-line statement of our faith. We live, to borrow another phrase, “in a world of hurt” — a world of pain created by man turning from the creator in numerous daily ways. We see evil, greed, pain, sorrow on every side, and it is one of the prime reasons many  use to defend their atheism. “How could a loving God allow…?” We’ve all heard it, or even asked it.

Mack is asking this question pointedly throughout the book. Why did God not intervene to save his innocent daughter from such evil. Did God intend it to happen? Was it necessary to further some other important plan of God? Can I trust a God like that? The conclusion he reaches is the one we all need to reach. God is Good! A Romans 8:28 kinda good. ALL things are worked to our benefit, even the things God would prefer we not do. Even the things that hurt deeply. This is the basic theology that permeates the book, and I agree with it.

There are question marks. At one point (while Mack is still a bit skeptical about who Papa really is ) he asks Papa if she isn’t angry at her creation. What about God’s wrath?

“It seems to me that if you’re going to pretend to be God Almighty, you need to be a lot angrier… Weren’t you always running around killing people in the Bible? You just don’t seem to fit the bill.”

Papa’s answer doesn’t respond to the “God of the Old Testament” question.

“I’m not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”

This certainly has to raise red flags for many. Loving the sinner, but hating the sin is a central component of the faith, but to deny God’s just wrath at the unrepentant goes against many traditional grains. There are other areas I noticed that undoubtedly rub some theological fur the wrong way, but I think I’ll let you google reviews from folks who are better qualified than I to share their thoughts about the doctrinal mishaps of The Shack.

I said earlier that I would answer whether I thought the book deserved a place on our shelf. I have decided that the answer is “yes”. In spite of doctrinal wobbliness which concerns some, I believe that this depiction of a God who is in love with His creation is important. Most of us have no difficulty feeling guilty, unlovable, undeserving of grace & mercy. I suspect more than a few of us attend church and take part in beneficent activities partly out of a desire to “make good” with God rather than from a joyful expression of thanksgiving for God’s love. And there are many who harbor doubts & question whether God really does have their backs. “How can a loving God…?”

There is a part of The Shack where Jesus has just told Mack that there are those who love Him from every system and religion in the world. Mack in response asks “Does that mean that all roads will lead to you?”

“Not at all.” Jesus smiled as he reached for the door handle to the shop. “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”

That is a message that needs to be heard.