Book Review: Ben-Hur by Wallace (5 Stars)

Ben-Hur: a tale of Christ by Lew Wallace

5 out of 5 stars

Read in May 2009

Warning: Spoilers

This was the first book of historical fiction I ever read. It was also the first Christian fiction I read. I can attribute my fascination to ancient history, particularly Roman, to this great story. I also can’t remember if I read the book or saw the movie first – although I’ve read and watched both multiple times over the years.

Judah Ben-Hur is the son of a wealthy merchant who is also friends with Messala, a Roman soldier/politician in occupied Jerusalem. Messala returns to Jerusalem as it’s new tribune and there is a bittersweet reunion between the two. During the parade, a loose roof tile falls from the Hur household, striking the tribune and injuring him. The house of Hur is arrested, the women thrust into a dungeon cell and forgotten, and Judah sold into slavery, chained to an oar on a Roman Naval galley.

Dark dreams of revenge keep Judah alive in what most often is a short brutal existence on a Roman galley. During a naval battle, which the Romans lose, Judah saves the galley’s Roman commanding officer, prevents the Roman from committing suicide, and eventually returns him safely to the Roman Navy. In return, this Roman officer frees Judah and adopts him as his son.

Now that Judah has the means to pursue his vengeance, he finds Messala and decides to compete against him in the great chariot race. Judah befriends a sheik, the loving owner of four swift and beautiful Arabian horses. Judah trains them for the race. The chariot race culminates in Judah surviving Messala’s deadly tricks and eventually running over Messala with his chariot. But his revenge turns frigid as Messala’s dying words tell Judah that his mother and sister are still alive but lepers from their long confinement in the dungeons.

Judah finds his mother and sister, who lead him to a great teacher. Jesus was in the background of this story throughout Judah’s travails. Jesus even slaked Judah’s thirst during his trek across the desert with the rest of the galley slaves. Where Judah searched with revenge in his heart, others would speak of the Rabbi who taught of love, forgiveness and peace.

As Judah moved his family away from the leper colony, they were caught in the storms and earthquakes which occurred during the crucifixion of Jesus. His mother and sister were miraculously healed of their leprosy by the blood of Jesus washed from Golgotha by the rain. Finally, Judah comes to terms with the hollowness and futility of his vengeful hate. He forgives his enemies and receives forgiveness and peace himself.

It’s no wonder, to me at least, that this story inspired many attempts to theatrically recreate it on stage, as a silent film and finally as one of the greatest motion pictures ever filmed.

I highly recommend this novel and suggest you follow this link right now to start reading the ebook edition of Ben-Hur courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

Disembodied Sun Rises on Holy Week Wednesday

Risen Sun Floating Before the Clouds
Sunrise, Wednesday, 04/04/2012

Strange optical illusion shortly after the sun rose today.  The sun appeared to float before the clouds on the eastern horizon (see photo above).  This next photo has slightly better colors:


This will be my last post until after Easter (except for the already scheduled ‘Remembering Roxy’ post which will magically appear early Friday morning).

I will leave you with a prayer for today, Wednesday of Holy Week (Year B):

Creator of the universe,
you made the world in beauty,
and restore all things in glory
through the victory of Jesus Christ.

We pray that, wherever your image is still disfigured
by poverty, sickness, selfishness, war, and greed,
the new creation in Jesus Christ may appear
in justice, love, and peace,
to the glory of your name.


With a Grateful Heart

Today, I reach the end of my ‘Thirty Days of Thankfulness‘ series, but by no means have I reached the end of my blessings.  I barely scratched the surface of all the people, places and things I’m grateful for.  Each morning when I wake up, I’m thankful for my life, my family, my friends, … the list is never ending.

I had grand ideas to post an appeal for world peace in this final entry, beseeching each of us to ‘Just Love’ each other.  And I don’t mean the people who are easy to love, like your family, your spouse, your kids, your friends.  I mean the people who make you boiling mad, who make you foam at the mouth, the stranger (or country or ethnicity or religion or political party … you fill in the blank) that you verbally abuse or berate via status updates.  It’s not enough to wait for them to change or extend the olive branch.  It must start with us.  It must start with you and it must start with me first.

As much as I detest admitting it, the Beatles (and John Lennon in particular) got something right with ‘All You Need is Love.’  Jesus, though, is a hard act to follow:

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence – and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

Luke 10:27 (The Message)

To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.

Luke 6:27 (The Message)

I never said it would be easy (and neither did He).  I can do my small bit to bring about peace and hope in my small corner of the world.

And as we approach the season where we celebrate the Greatest Gift ever given to such unworthy recipients, I would like to share two final quotes.  The first I consider my ‘life verse’ and refer to it frequently when I need a reminder of where to keep my thoughts and the second is an excerpt from the lyrics of a contemporary Christian hymn that often plays as a soundtrack of thanksgiving for my mindscape.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

Philippians 4:8 (The Message)

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks unto the Holy One
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son

And now let the weak say, “I am strong”
Let the poor say, “I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us”

Give thanks.

Give Thanks by Don Moen

* * *

And I wish to thank all of you who stayed with me through this month of blogging.  I assure you I will now return to my regularly scheduled programming, meaning the occasional book or movie review with an occasional odd tidbit tossed in for some added vim and vigor.  I sincerely appreciate that you took the time from your busy lives to peruse my musings.  I pray each and every one of you has a wonderful life and spreads good cheer to all you meet.

Oh, one final suggestion.  I thought I’d share our family tradition (since the mid 90s) of re-watching the Muppet Christmas Carol each year around Christmas time. How can you go wrong with Dicken‘s classic Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, and Muppets?  The music isn’t half bad (I even bought the songbook) and the narrators are always good for a few laughs.  Once Derek, Royna and Rachelle arrive (two before and one after Christmas), we’ll sit down one evening and re-live the ‘good old days’ with Scrooge and Bob Cratchit.

So I’ll close with the lyrics to my favorite Muppet Christmas Carol song, written by Paul Williams, called ‘A Thankful Heart‘:

With a thankful heart, with an endless joy
With a growing family, every girl and boy
Will be nephew and niece to me (Nephew and niece to me)
Will bring love, hope and peace to me (Love, hope and peace to me)
Yes and every night will end, and every day will start
With a grateful prayer and a thankful heart

With an open smile and with open doors
I will bid you welcome, what is mine is yours
With a glass raised to toast your health (With a glass raised to toast your health)
And a promise to share the wealth (Promise to share the wealth)
I will sail a friendly course, file a friendly chart
On A sea of love and a thankful heart

Life is like a journey, who knows when it ends?
Yes and if you need to know the measure of a man
You simply count his friends
Stop and look around you, the glory that you see
Is born again each day, don’t let is slip away
How precious life can be

With a thankful heart that is wide awake
I do make this promise, every breath I take
Will be used now to sing your praise (Used now to sing your praise)
And to beg you to share my days (Beg you to share my days)
With a loving guarantee that even if we part
I will hold you close in a thankful heart

I will hold you close in a thankful heart

God’s Gift

Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!

Ephesians 2:8 (The Message)

"Forgiven" by Thomas Blackshear

I am eternally grateful for God’s gift of grace, today and every day.  So I will pause and reflect on my thirteenth day of ‘Thirty Days of Thankfulness‘ upon faith and grace.

As I imparted a week ago in my post on John and Charles Wesley, I am a Methodist, born baptized and raised one.  Yet until I studied to be a local Lay Speaker for my local church that I fully understood what it meant to be a Methodist and showed me the path of discipleship.

Grace can be defined as the love and mercy given to us by God because God wants us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.

Our Wesleyan Theological Heritage,

Grace centers nearly all Christian sects and denominations.  To me, it boils down to love and compassion.  Keep it simple, please.  Less chance for me to mess up.

But Wesley, ever the scholar, took it one or two steps farther, defining grace in triplicate:

  • Previent Grace: God’s active presence in our lives; a gift always available, but that can be refused.
  • Justifying Grace: Reconciliation, pardon and restoration through the death of Jesus Christ.
  • Sanctifying Grace: The ongoing experience of God’s gracious presence transforming us into whom God intends us to be; we grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived.

Excerpts from Our Wesleyan Theological Heritage via

The journey, not the destination, and Wesley provided the map, charting a course that even I can follow, called the Means of Grace.  He broke his method down into two broad categories:  Works of Piety and Works of Mercy.  The former flows naturally out of my upbringing, Sunday school classes and worship service attendance.  The personal practices of prayer, Bible study, healthy living and fasting together with the communal ones of Holy Communion, Baptism and participation in the Christian community, flow and grow naturally with regular usage.  The latter stresses the outpouring of service to the sick, the poor, the imprisoned and seeking justice for the oppressed.

Yes, there was and is a method to Wesley’s ‘madness’ or rather his enthusiasm to follow God’s will and His vision for all of us, as His disciples, to bring His kingdom of mercy, peace and love to fruition here on Earth.