‡ Christianity 2000 ‡

 
To the Glory of my Creator
May my Word be a Light to those who Seek

THE THINKING MAN'S GUIDE TO CHRISTIANITY , TIME AND SPACE,  THE MILLENNIUM AND EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE TEMPLARS AND THE GRAAL
and now... including everything from Dan Brown to Richard Dawkins ...

OR
THE TRUE MEANING OF THE MILLENNIUM AND HOW CHRISTIAN UNITY SHOULD BE PART OF ITS CELEBRATION.

"I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." - 1 Corinthians 1:10  

© FRANZ von HABSBURG 1977
REVISED EDITIONS 1997 and 2010

Temporary Note - This website is still under construction, so do please re-visit from time to time as new chapters and hyperlinks are being added regularly.

FINDING GOD

Some wonder how they can contact God.  In this age of modern communications perhaps it may go something like this:

If God has a telephone then you'd dial 463 but you may get:

“Hello - This is Heaven.  If you have a touch phone, please press the Hash Key now.
Thank you.  Please note that for training purposes your call may be monitored and recorded, and you may be asked for your mother's maiden name.
Your prayer is important to us, so we will try to connect you as quickly as possible.

BEEP

Please press 1 for God, 2 for the Son or 3 for the Holy Spirit.  If you are Jewish , please note that option 2 is not available without separate subscription.  To activate this you may apply for a conversion pack by pressing 9 and talking to one of our representatives.  You will then be sent a FREE New Testament in a plain envelope, and no one will call at your home unless requested.  Water and Fire will be provided Free of Charge.  If you are Agnostic , you have 10 seconds to decide, after which you will be timed-out.  If you are Atheist , you have dialed a non-existent number.  Please hang up!

BEEP

If you are Orthodox , Press 1
If you are Catholic , Press 1
If you are Anglican , Press 1
If you are Non-Conformist , Press 1
Otherwise redial 666 for Hell .

BEEP

Press 1 for Prayer , 2 for Praise , 3 for Supplication , 4 for Thanksgiving , 5 for Devotions , 6 for Intercessions or 7 for reporting Visions .
For Extempore just think of any number between 1 and 10.

BEEP

Press 1 for advice on Births, Marriages and Deaths, 666 for diversion to Satan any FINALLY press 9 for questions on Eschatology .

BEEP

For Confessions , please speak slowly and clearly after the tone, spelling any difficult words.  Please remember that for Mortal Sins you may go directly to Hell without passing Go, otherwise you may purchase a Get-out-of-Hell card.

Your recording will then be placed on EBay and you can stop publication at any time by paying the appropriate fee which increases with passing time.  All major Credit Cards are accepted.
Please note that your Soul may be at risk if you fail to keep up payments.  Outstanding debts may, however, be redeemed through Jesus who will clear your balance FREE OF CHARGE  upon request, giving you a tabula rasa .

Please re-dial and select Option 2 for this service.

BEEP

I'm sorry but you've called at a busy time and all our Angels are helping others at the moment.
Please pray again later.  Thank you for calling.  Goodbye.”

No - It is not as simple (?) as that... BUT the ironical thing is that even if you are not looking for God, He is looking for you!  In fact, He is calling you right now, and once you answer His call and get to know Him you should never have to dial up ever again.  You become permanently online - rather like having a spiritual router working in the background - so that your spirit will be praying constantly.

  So - if you are interested in knowing more - please read on:

INDEX



   3   Introduction - Background to the Original Document and the Millennium

  9  The World in Which We Live

11  With Our Toys in Our Playpen

13  Tick-Tock

14  Have You Got the Time?

16  Let's Get Physical

18  In The Beginning - God reveals Himself to the Jews in The Old Testament

21  God's Plan - God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit and the Trinity

23  We Three

25  So Who Was Jesus - Did He Exist?

28  The Coming of Jesus - A rough précis of what He did

31  What a Christian Believes

33  What one has to do to become a Christian

36  It's Time for Action!

39  Becoming a Christian and Receiving Jesus into your Life

44  So now you are a Christian? What one then does as a Christian

46  Denominational Abominations - Old Heresies and New Aberrations

55  Catholics or Cathar-lics ?

57  Sin is a Sexually Transmitted Disease!

58  And Sa?? ( Sarx ) is a Four-Lettered Word

59  Poisonous Mushrooms and Opus Dei

61  The Templars and the Graal

62   A Shepherdess?

63  The choice of  Filioque or Per Filium Solum

66  A Vision

67  Does Jesus still exist?


MAIN INTRODUCTION TO THIS WEBSITE
and
Background of the Original Paper

In 1977 I met fellow film producer Michael Knuppfer who had just completed a documentary about the Turin Shroud.  My interest in film combined with my Christian faith drew me in and I was soon a founder member of the
British Society for the Turin Shroud and on its steering committee as Technical Research Officer.  Indeed my background in film was particularly useful as most of the study was via the interpretation of photographs.  Although many on the committee were Christians, it was deliberate policy to remain neutral, and our objectivity gained the help and respect of many eminent scientists and other experts in a rich variety of fields.
 
Then something interesting happened:  It soon became apparent that all the publicity we generated about this historic relic had an interesting effect apart from the obvious  - It had people talking about Jesus.  People who would not normally have taken an interest were suddenly writing to our society, and we felt that we had to reply to them in a responsible way.  I remember, for example, one man writing from prison. It had made a big impact upon him and he wanted to know more about Jesus.
Many committee members were Christians:  Our President was Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC who had been the British observer at Nagasaki, an experience which had converted him, and he had become a Catholic.  Another was Anglican  Bishop Hugh Montefiore , a Jew, converted to Christianity.  Sadly we lost him at London meetings after a short while when he was translated to Birmingham.  Yet another was The Right Rev Dr John Robinson , probably the best authority on ancient Greek and key translator of the New English Bible .  I remember many interesting conversations with this wonderful eccentric in his cord jacket, arty tie and green suede shoes, and learnt interesting things about some ancient Greek words and their subtle meanings which do not translate well into good English.

Despite the fact that many of us in the society were Christians, our strict policy was one of complete objectivity.  We existed to encourage research in all disciplines and then coordinate, analyse and disseminate the variety of findings - mostly scientific and historical - through conferences we organised and papers we published.  We were not affiliated to any church at all, and by remaining completely objective we were able to attract eminent scientists - some who were of other faiths or none at all, agnostic or atheist - from many disciplines to contribute valuable help.

Faced with this need from outsiders to know more about Jesus, my solution was to write a paper to mail out (this was before emails) which set out to explain, but not proselytise, the Christian faith in a simple way, with pointers should the reader wish to learn more, and the advantage of this now going online - not an option at the time of the first draft - is that I can pepper it with hyperlinks.

So that it remained objective in its approach (notwithstanding any effect it may eventually have upon the reader), I set certain criteria for myself, because I could foresee a few problems in maintaining objectivity.  It should also be noted that this document has been created by me, and not the BSTS, as the latter has no wish to express any theological opinions which may upset its objectivity, so the authority vested in me by a Higher One is solely responsible.

CRITERIA

Firstly, it had to be doctrinally sound yet widely acceptable and NOT weighted towards any particular denomination.  To this end I sent copies to all the main Christian denominations to get their feedback.

Personally I prefer the word “Tradition” rather than “Denomination” and regard the latter as an abomination and divisive, but, sadly, devisive it is - hence this paper.

Put simply - do you like pizza?  Of course you do!  The basic “Margherita” has only 3 parts - the bready base, upon which is put the blood red tomato purée and then the tasty cheese.

We all Trinitarians believe that this is the basic pizza.  There are those, however, who have liked to add different toppings.  What are your favourites?  Feta cheese?  Anchovy?  Garlic?  Prawns?  Ham?  Chicken?

What should be good is that we can enjoy a rich variety of different toppings provided they are all good ones.  Arsenic would not be a good addition!

Alas it goes wrong when one pizza house accuses another of adding mushrooms which, they claim, are poisonous, and declares that product as no longer a valid pizza.  They go further, and declare to the world that theirs is the only genuine pizza and all others are fake because they do not have the toppings which they have been inspired to add.

There were once two friends - old retired army colonels.  One belonged to the
Army and Navy Club (the “In and Out” in Piccadilly, London) whilst the other belonged to the Cavalry and Guards  (also in Piccadilly, nearer Park Lane).  They used to enjoy visiting each other in their respective clubs to wine and dine.  The Cavalry club has a cosy conservatory just off the bar where you can enjoy a spot of sunshine on a good day, and the In and Out has a lovely quad which is quite beautiful on a sunny day too.  Of course the old buffers would grumble sometimes in the bad weather and preferred to enjoy their drinks and cigars outside, but one day they started to argue when one claimed that the sun was better when they sat outside at his club.  “Warmer” he said - “Better quality”.  “Perhaps,” he added “Maybe your sunshine isn't even genuine - how do I know it isn't just a heat lamp?”.  They fell out, and the grumbler went across the road into the park where he came across a young couple sitting on a bench and enjoying soaking up the wonderful sunshine there.  Where it was free!  He made him think! 

So - stop there, I hear you say - how did you decide which are the "main denominations"?  As a starting point I reasoned that if one were seeking a good plumber or architect one would probably make a selection by looking at the membership list of the relevant trade association.  Fortunately Christian churches also have one - the
World Council of Churches .  In the UK the British Council of Churches is the "local" branch.  But what are the qualifying factors?  What are the differences which allow membership to some and not to others?  The two main dividing forces are to be found in differences in doctrine and discipline.

Differences in doctrine relate to essential beliefs, the main ones concerning the exact nature of Jesus and the Trinity.  Thus if a church claims to be "Christian" without accepting certain definitions they most certainly would not qualify for membership.  You know where you are when a church uses the
Creed (which is the subject of discussion in a later chapter) in their liturgy, but can't be certain when they don't, as is the case with most free churches.  Even worse is when it has been re-worded to suit their own particular "brand".

Differences in discipline concern the acceptance or otherwise of various authorities, such as bishops as part of the
Apostolic Succession mentioned below, but the effect of authority can vary from minor matters such as administrative decisions to dogma which when added to the essential doctrinal skeleton makes the whole unacceptable to others.  cf Pizza!

Thus I was faced with two groups of "Christians":  Members and non-members.  Sub-dividing these further, Members who are either full or observer members.

At this early point may I apologise to our Messianic Jewish friends, whom I include throughout this book when referring to "Christians" solely because it is linguistically easier.  They spurn this Greek-originated word on the grounds that they claim their roots pre-exist and therefore bypass the Constantine era, although ironically they are happy to use the post-Constantine structure of our bible which was compiled by a Greek Council (also omitting what is now published as the Apocryphal New Testament ) to create their own Jewish New Testament ...   But I'm sure they will understand and forgive me!  I also respect their spelling (or rather lack of it!) when referring to our Lord G-d, whose Name, they believe, should never be written, but I will keep to the more familiar “God” just as I will refer to “Jesus” and not “ Yeshua ”.

Nearly all members have differences over authority because they do not or will not share the same Apostolic Succession or even recognise the oversight it brings.  Whilst differences over the Apostolic Succession provides a singular issue between Rome and Canterbury , it's effect is multiple within the Orthodox Church - causing not only division between Greek and Russian but pre- and post-Tsarist within the latter. 

Some also have some "minor" differences in doctrine or lay stress upon one or two aspects of salvation instead of preaching a global view ( qv my colour spectrum above), but it is, however, the basic beliefs in the Holy Trinity they share which bring them together so as to provide a forum to discuss these differences.

Non-members can also be sub-divided into two groups.  The first would be those who don't share the same basic beliefs such as denying the Trinity.  These could obviously never become members.  The others would include many churches which would subscribe to the basic beliefs, but elect not to apply for membership for their own reasons:

These differences in discipline, a desire to remain totally independent, a belief that they are exclusive (which is why Rome is only an observer member) or that unity is unimportant, and, in some cases, because they are very small congregations who cannot afford it in either financial or administrative terms.

Faced with this variety, I decided therefore to address myself to members and non-members who would be accepted into membership were they to apply.

Secondly it was essential to define "Christian", because whilst this word means one thing to Christians, it had also moved into common parlance to mean something quite different - a "do-gooder" etc (and sadly there are many churchgoers who still think this because they are not receiving proper instruction) - and I felt strongly that those who don't play golf and don't belong to a golf club are not qualified to define the rules of the game!  More on this in a later chapter.

Thirdly I felt it important for the different denominations to present a common front to the non-Christian world, although not, of course, with any dishonesty.  Not only should some kind of unity be seen from the outside, but it is confusing at best and destructive at worst for an "outsider"' to see division.  If differences were seen between one denomination and another, it mustn't be assumed that one is "right" and the other is "wrong".  The differences should be explained objectively.  Thus I would try to explain what soccer and rugby have in common - they are both played with balls and have goals.  The fact that both balls and goals are a different shape should not be a point of argument but of understanding, and, indeed, enjoyment.  Both are valid games in their own right.

The reader must then decide if he prefers soccer or rugby.   He may not like either and prefer cricket!  I would also explain that Christianity is not a spectator "sport" - it is meant only for players!  Thus with these parameters in mind I wrote my original paper.  And paper it was, because it only ran to some fifteen pages.

So - twenty years after the founding of the BSTS in 1977 - another phenomenon had people talking - the then coming millennium.  The year 2000 was three years away, and yet the press was already full of it.  At that time of writing there was, for example, much concern over the ability of computers to change their inbuilt dates correctly without causing chaos.  This alone took up half a page in The Times, and so it went on.  Yes, the secular world was getting really wound up over it.

There were many, however, who took a different view - a Christian one.   Many were angry that it had been hijacked by the secular world and believed that it should be seen as a celebration of Christ's birth 2,000 years ago, although this was about 4 years out as He was probably born in the summer of c. 4BC but the church believes that it's still good to have a special day set side (which is the meaning of the word "consecrated") for this celebration, rather like the sovereign having an official birthday in June regardless of who is regnant at the time even though different ones obviously have their actual birthdays whenever.

As I write, there is apparently a move now by the church to apply for copyright on the word "
Christmas " to stop it being used by the high streets indiscriminately and many churches now use the spelling "Christmass” - Christ's Mass - to mark this difference.

The other problem with the then coming millennium was that others saw it as the predicted "End Times" - a concept shared by some Christians and non-Christians, especially the sinister
New Age Movement .

I would hasten, at this point, to say that I don't believe there is anything particularly special about the millennium per se .  It is only an arbitrary numbering system, and not terribly accurate at that.  We now know that there are 365.24199 days in a year, which is why we add a day every 4 years to get the 365 up to 385.25 but then don't add an extra day on the century to knock it back to 365.24 then every thousand years...oh you can work out the rest yourself!  Yes, very arbitrary!  The calendar was last altered in 1582 and lost us 10 days when the 5th October suddenly became 15th October.  Perhaps another change is due?  Having said that, it is useful to have a target at which to aim, so that may just as well be it.  May it be used as a timely reminder of the world's need to reconsider where it is going and Jesus makes the ideal travelling companion for this journey into the future.

Following closely on the heels of books about the
Turin Shroud have been a plethora of tomes on the Holy Grail and Rennes-!e-Château .  The latest even claims that Jesus is buried there!  It obviously hasn't dawned upon that writer that a shepherdess could possibly be the wife of a shepherd!  This is a shame because many of the Shroud books were serious studies, and these newer ones appear to have been written by unqualified chefs, albeit with some correct ingredients, but the wrong recipe, and we all know what too many cooks achieve, especially ones like Dan Brown!

Against this "literary'' background the churches are constantly in the news, and the media love stirring it all up:  Women priests, gay clergy, non-gay Catholic bishops who want to marry, charismatic leaders who are too fond of the women in their congregation, the move by Rome to make Mary our co-redeemer, the continuing debate on abortion, gay marriages, birth control, celibacy, and so on and on...

But despite the secular world taking an interest in the coming millennium, there was also great religious interest in what it all meant.  And one of the results was that people were talking about Jesus, maybe for the first time in their lives.

It is with this in mind that I feel the urge to write again, and have blown the cobwebs off my original paper to use it as a cornerstone for this new book.

What is my aim?  Firstly I am still targeting the Millennium because I believe passionately that it should not be hijacked by the secular world.  It supposed to be 2000AD - Anno Domini - and not CE (Common Era, the "politically correct" form), because it is and must remain a celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ which occurred approximately 2,000 years ago.

Secondly I also feel passionately about Christian Unity  - or rather the lack of it.  Christ founded One Church.  At His death the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom(Mark15:38) but ever since man has erected barriers within the Church.

The best "Birthday Present" we could offer Jesus is a United Church.  Not an easy task, but not impossible either.

This then is the ultimate aim of my book, in which I try to explain what Christianity is all about, and what it means.  This book is not intended to give a full account of Jesus' life, which can be found in the Gospels and many commentaries upon them, nor a book on deep theology, as there are many far more authoritative on that subject too.  I am attempting rather to explain what it means to be a Christian and why we respond the way we do.

Christian Unity and the Millennium are thus the two pillars of this book, but along the way I pick up many related subjects because they deal either with science and the creation and thus a stumbling block to people who cannot see any point in a religion (and this written before Richard Dawkins) or because they deal with a parallel subject such the Templars and the Graal which others have written a great deal about lately in the hope of explaining that which they hope to explain.

I want my reader to think, so hope this stimulates you into having your own thoughts.  Some may say that science is not part of the same subject, but my contention is that Christianity embraces all.  The Revd Dr John Polkinghorne KBE FRS , physicist, Cambridge don and Anglican priest, is probably the finest authority on kinship between science and religion, and “baffled” Richard Dawkins , which must be a good thing!

Like John Bunyan's Pilgrim , however, I try to remain on target so that you, dear reader, can share in my thoughts and. I pray, find a true path.  I may also pick up a lot of dust on the way, but with God's help will also shake it off my sandals as I go.

You will soon discover that my style includes the use of analogies (as did Jesus), so I would like to point out at this early stage that they are only valid for the point for which they are created.  Many try to extend their application and get confused as a result.  This never works, so don't do it.

Naturally I cannot claim to be objective and neither will I pretend to be.  I attempt an explanation of denominational differences, but again will not be protectively objective but will expose differences which I consider to be wrong and destructive to the One True Church.  Jesus said "I am the Light".  Light exposes truth in dark places and pure light is white.  You may recall from your school physics that white light is made up of all the colours of the rainbow:

Red  Orange  Yellow  Green  Blue  Indigo  Violet

Being man-made, no one denomination is perfect and only occupies one part of the spectrum.  For example, one could imagine Charismatic and Evangelicals occupying the Violet to Blue end, whilst the Roman Catholics and Orthodox would be found at the Orange and Red, with the Anglicans sitting comfortably (?) in the middle.

A convenient picture, but not necessarily a true one because generalisations are risky.  For a start, as in the political spectrum, extreme left and right are often similar were they only to admit it, as if one imagines the spectrum to be circular and not linear, they tend to meet around the back.  Not much difference then between communism and fascism.  Both are totalitarian dictatorships suppressing all their peoples with deified leaders. 

An evangelical may criticise the concept of Papal infallibility yet in the next breath say "But I know so-and-so is right because the Lord has told me!" or condemn genuflection yet happily sing "At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow".

One of my saddest moments was during a visit to the Roman Catholic Slipper Chapel at Walsingham .  On a plaque is a prayer for "Our Anglican Brothers and Sisters...that they will one day return to the One True Fold" (ie the Church of Rome).  Yet now Rome is being pressured into canonising the murdered non-Roman Catholic Brother Roger of Taizé , a place loved dearly by Pope John XXIII, and Cardinal Hume (then Cardinal Archbishop of England), when referring to Diana, Princess of Wales, during the week of her death - another non-Roman Catholic - said that he was sure she was now in heaven.

For years the Church of Rome has been claiming that membership of that Church was the only way to salvation - and now - words from these two sweep that claim away!

More recently, however, Pope Benedict referred to the Anglican Church as not being a "Proper Church"!!!

What is required, therefore, is a little understanding of each other.  It is not our place to judge.  That is God's work - and yet so many Christians take this upon themselves.  One cannot possibly know what is in the mind of others.

We all noticed Prince Charles cross himself during Diana's funeral service, and no doubt he will be criticised by the evangelical wing of the church, but what he actually did was most interesting, for he crossed himself in the Orthodox way! 

But what he actually had in mind I'm not sure; either it's something he doesn't normally do but felt moved to do it at that emotional moment possibly having seen Charles Spencer do it earlier, and got it wrong, or crossed himself deliberately in the Orthodox way - that is, forehead, down, then right shoulder to left, instead of left to right so that no one could accuse him of making a Romish gesture, or possibly an influence by The Right Revd and Right Hon Dr Richard Chartres - then Bishop of London - who is very pro-Orthodox and, apparently, a close adviser to Prince Charles.

One of my main gripes is that not enough is taught from the pulpit, so that even many regular church-goers don't understand the teaching of their own church, and, more importantly, others.  The result is prejudice born out of ignorance.  Indeed the success of the Alpha Course , which I wholly support, is because the right things are not always being taught in the churches.  Perhaps this is why many clergy don't like it, because it's very existence is criticising them for not doing a proper job!  Perhaps a little unfair, as many do a fine job, and the Alpha Course reaches out to many who find “churches” difficult places.  There is some truth in that simply because many people go to church for lots of different reasons, so visiting a church for the first time may not result in getting the right impression.  

One man to whom I must raise my hat is Monsignor Ronald Knox ,  (Roman Catholic son of an Anglican bishop!)  who published his sermons (made whilst a school chaplain) under the titles of The Mass in Slow Motion , The Creed in Slow Motion and The Gospel in Slow Motion , resulting in a genuine attempt to explain what things were all about.  Wonderful reading.

Within my spectrum analogy where a "Blue" may say "I am right and 'Reds' are wrong", I believe that a true Christian will acknowledge that the entire spectrum makes up the pure white light of the One True Church, although some of the colours may have faded with time and need a polish.  Or maybe it just appears like that to us:  Sin provides a filter.  We would be blinded if we were to gaze upon the pure white light of God.  Just consider the Transfiguration of Abraham after descending from the mountain.

I will, therefore, try to step back as far as I can from this amazing canvas in order to see as much as possible and describe to you, my reader, what I see.  It is an ancient, creased, crumbling and dusty canvas, with a few tears (and tears...) here and some mildew there, but then I catch sight of the golden thread of truth running from top to bottom, holding it all in place - the remnant - strong, firm and true.  I then realise that there is hope.

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The World in Which we Live

I will at this early point in this book not apologise for not being "politically correct" (which expression, incidentally, is not "politically correct" as it is not inclusive of the opinions of those who are against political correctness!). Suffice it to say,  therefore, that any following reference in the masculine singular is intended to be inclusive to both genders, singular or plural, as may fit the particular point.

Gender is a biological necessity (unless you happen to be a snail), and is thus redundant outside the physical world.  Should you prefer "man" to mean "mankind" then so be it, but pray allow me to save four keystrokes plus the consequential additional pages as it is more ecologically sound, saving both my typing energy and the number of trees being cut down to provide you with this missal.  If you consider a "man" to be a "woman" without a "womb", the same applies.  Now please let me get on.

A look at the world around us makes many people think that there must be a creative mind behind it all, but there are also many people, however, who don't believe in any religion at all because they have dismissed the idea of the existence of a spiritual world and embraced the idea that science can explain everything, and furthermore, that science and religion are incompatible.  And yet many scientists believe in something, and are not all atheists.  On this note I would refer you to the work of John Polkinghorne in his work of reconciliation.  Perhaps Richard Dawkins should read it too...

Science has been successful in explaining some phenomena, ergo people assume that all phenomena can be explained by science.  This is not only prejudiced but simply irrational.  Science has still not fully explained fringe phenomena (ie non-physical forces) such as light, electricity and magnetism, gravity, fire, gyroscopic forces etc.  I recall meeting  Prof Eric Laithwaite at Loughborough University who spent most of his career studying the gyroscope and remained fascinated by its mystery.  People only believe what they can see for themselves, hence the power of television, but explain television to someone only a few hundred years ago and you would be burned for heresy!

Science can only explain some of what we see, so if we try to interpret from that into what we cannot see, we may be jumping to conclusions.

Take a series of numbers as representing the level of knowledge in our current age:

Start with 1, 2, 3, and then forecast the next number.  We may say the obvious “4” but be completely wrong as the next one may be “5” if it is the sum of the two preceding numbers or “6” if it is the sum of all the preceding numbers.  A study of number series proves that you cannot make assumptions based on what we know.  And if this logic holds good for a simple example, then it holds good for all.

Yet 2,000 years ago we have people writing about something which they didn't understand.  If somebody is making up a story they write within the parameters of their own language, and don't create ideas which exist outside their own thinking. They are bound by their own culture and linguistic capabilities, which is why science fiction writing could only take off in an age of scientific discovery when we began to learn that more was possible, and writers such as H G Wells were considered to be on the leading edge at that time.

Yet the Bible has many instances where the writer in describing an event has to use picture language to express things which he has witnessed but can neither explain nor find the appropriate words!  I believe this must be accepted as strong evidence of a factual account by an eye witness, and not a creation of a fertile mind.  So did that writer touch upon Truth?  For Truth would be too great for the finite mind to comprehend it completely.

But with science we are also faced with problems such as the proverbial "chicken and egg" question, and it has to be faced that Darwin couldn't explain everything, so it is annoying that his theory - and it is still a theory - is taught as fact in schools today and this is even causing legal problems in some American states.

Many books have also been written about Creationalism, so I will leave my reader to explore further, but when faced with the geologist who tells me that such-and-such rock is 5 million years old because it contains fossils which are 5 million years old, followed by the palaeontologist who claims that he knows his fossils to be 5 million years old because he found them inside rocks which were 5 million years old, I rest my case!

So what did God have in mind? He is the Creator but sees both joy and sorrow in His creation.  Imagine a classroom filled with children.  You give lots of Lego to them with which to play and sit back to see what they do.  Some make the most wonderful and useful things - maybe a special chair to help someone; others may make ordinary toys, whilst yet others make toy guns and other weapons with which to fight.  They have been given a "world", intelligence and free will.

What have we done with our world?  Our planet contains all the elements to stretch our imagination.  We can grow all the food we want on it and yet many are starving, manufacture every possible type of drink imaginable, throw elements together to create cars, televisions, boats, wheelchairs, computers and guns.  We are limited only by our imagination!

The world is self-supporting, but only if we use our Lego set with care.  Nothing we create is perfect, however, and we must strive to improve what we do.  Cars, for example, pollute the atmosphere and use up fossil fuels in the process.  We must always look for improvements.  Neither is what we make stable - the car will eventually rust and revert to its original component elements.  Only that which God has made is capable of being perfect - and that includes us and the world in which we live.  It is not ours to destroy, nor should we keep all the Lego bits up at one end of the classroom and not allow the poorer children to play with it.  There is enough to go around if we allow it to.  We are only stewards, and should pass it on to the next generation in the same state that we would wish to find it.

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With Our Toys in Our Playpen - "It's not Fair!!"

God wants us to share out our Lego, and use it in ways which will benefit all. Within those parameters he is more than happy for us to enjoy ourselves and live life to the full Life is to be enjoyed, but not at the expense of others.  He marvels at all the inventions we have devised, medical research and other developments, because it shows that we are using the resources He provided, which includes our intelligence.  But all must be applied with responsibility.

We seem to have been created with an inbuilt sense of fairness, but how real is this?  You often hear children when playing call out "That's not fair!" when things aren't going right in their game, but are they really fair?  Take two children and give five sweets to one and three to the other.  Which one cries out "That's not fair!"

Many socialists believe that they are practising Christianity, but here is the difference:  Socialism is where the child with three sweets cries “It's not fair!” and steals one from the child who has five, whereas Christianity is the child with five who, on seeing the child with three, cries "That's not fair" and gives one to the other because that is the love Christ taught, but how many of us do that?

So God gave us free choice.  We are a motley lot, us humans, and so unbelievably varied.  You will find amongst the human race the goodness of
Mother Teresa , the evil of Hitler, and every shade in between.  God wants us to respond to His love so that we can also love Him and each other, because by doing so we will look after each other and our world, thereby loving and honouring Him.

The rules He gave us to live by are there to point us in that direction. The "punishment" of breaking a rule is the natural consequence.  God doesn't want us to get cancer, for example.  It isn't a "punishment" but a consequence of smoking. If we put chemicals into our bodies which don't naturally belong there, damage will be caused.  You don't put sugar into your petrol tank, do you?  It doesn't belong, and will cause your car to break down.

Many question why "evil" has to exist.  It cannot without "good", and the laws of logic also demand that they exist in equal balance.   It would be otherwise illogical. If, for example I were to steal £1,000 from you, but as a result of that action you were only £500 worse off, it would be a nonsense.  Likewise if I have the freedom to move my arm and you have the ability to feel pain, then your pain will increase in direct proportion to the number of times I hit you.  If you need food to sustain your physical body, but I deprive you of food, you will starve.

Evil is not just the absence of good, but its opposite.  If neither existed we would live in a world of complete innocence.  In
H G Well's "The Time Machine" the innocent people are sitting beside the river when one of them falls in, and would have drowned if not rescued by our hero.  Because the people watching know neither "good" nor "evil" they are completely indifferent to her fate.  It is neither "good" that she is rescued nor would it have been "evil" had she drowned.  So to have "good" we have to accept the existence of "evil".

Even when the End Times come they will still be in balance, for where there is a New Heaven, there will also be a New Hell.  Human lives invariably contain both puzzlement and pain.  The call of God, then, is to walk through both in faith.  We may demand more, but more is not offered.  The call is to trust, and the choice is stark.  Without God, sorrow and suffering remain, and remain pointless.  With God there may at present be no clear answer, but there is at least hope.

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TICK-TOCK

God created a very complex world, like an intricate "clock".  It works perfectly and even keeps perfect time!  He set it in motion according to a very complex set of rules governing the elements, gravitational forces, chemical and atomic reactions, light, electrical energy and time, the study of which we call Science.  We cannot interfere with the "clock".  We can observe its effects and use it to our benefit or abuse it at our peril.  We can "play" with it - we have learnt that we can convert one type of energy into another, for example - mechanical energy into electrical energy into flight etc.  Yes, our Lego set comes with batteries!

This "clock" does not, however, determine our future as God gave us free will, so set within this "clock" world is our "cloud" - our ability to make choices, so that even God doesn't know our future.  If He did, then free will wouldn't be genuine, although, one could argue, He will know what we will probably do in certain circumstances.  (Which is why, incidentally, astrology and other types of fortune-telling are clearly illogical).

God gave us free will so that we may determine our own future, although our free will is necessarily restrained by the parameters set by the "clock".  I may, for example, want to walk up the wall, but the law of gravity will not allow it.  Scientific developments are allowing us to explore the "clock" and use it to our benefit.  The aeroplane allows us to travel to America in a matter of hours, but it is not breaking the "clock" laws - it is simply using them in a very sophisticated way.

But don't miracles break the "clock" laws?  How did Jesus walk on water?  Does God suspend his own laws when He performs miracles?  To answer that question would presuppose that we have all knowledge.  Science is the study of the "clock", and we only know a fraction of it.  Only God has all knowledge, so only God can move through his "clock" in ways which we will never understand.

Some have sought to explain miracles.  Speaking on the radio once Methodist leader the late
Lord Soper tried to explain the Feeding of the Five Thousand by suggesting that in fact many of the people had brought food but kept it hidden for fear of having to share it, but Jesus' charisma melted their hearts, resulting in a vast amount of food suddenly appearing as though from nowhere.  Maybe He just embarrassed them by sarcastically suggesting that they could all be fed with five loaves and two fishes!

Or when He turned water into wine:  Maybe the skinflint host kept his best vintage down in the cellar and gave cheap table wine to his guests.  When it ran out Jesus sarcastically said in a loud voice “We may as well be drinking water” whereupon the embarrassed host fetched his vintage from the cellar so they then enjoyed wine which was better than the previous one.

You could also argue that the many blind beggars restored to sight were fake and putting it on to beg, and that Jesus' miracle was nothing more that exposing them.

Oh yes - many of the miracles can be explained away if that is your wish.  The greatest of all, however, is the Glorious Resurrection which cannot be explained away, and if that is the greatest miracle of all, then why shouldn't the lesser ones be genuine?

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HAVE YOU GOT THE TIME?

Some say that the “Clock" will prevent us from travelling In time.  Our physical  bodies are set in time and space, and time is a measurement of physical movement.  If I ask you "How long have you had that television set?" what I am really asking is "When was that television moved from the shop where you bought it into your home?", ie a question of movement .  You use, in your reply a measurement of time as a unit - a fraction of a known constant - namely the length of time the earth goes around the sun - so many years etc - a measurement of physical movement.

The point I am trying to make is that time is only related to the physical, and outside the physical, time may not exist as we know it.  Still confused about time and movement?  Look up at the stars.  You do not see them where they are now but where they were millions of years ago because the light bearing their image reaching your eyes left them millions of years ago.

If there were people walking around on that distant planet and you had the most fantastic telescope imaginable to bring them into focus, you would actually be able to view their past!  Just look at Google Earth to see the potential!  You are, therefore, looking into the past by millions of years when you look up at the distant stars.  If you could now take that wonderful telescope (which hasn't yet been invented) aboard a spaceship and leave earth faster than the speed of light and then look back on it, you would be able to view the earth's past!

Unfortunately we cannot yet travel faster than light!  If you could, and you jumped several yards away from where you are standing now at faster than the speed of light, then you could see yourself where you were previously standing, until the last particle of light leaves your body where it was in the old position!  Similarly if you shouted and could then move away faster than the speed of sound, you could hear yourself!  Yet another reason to have the restraint of the "Clock".

Relative movement, however, can allow you to travel in time in a different way. Using this method you can actually travel from another person's future into his present and even warn him of impending doom!  How is that possible?

This thought came to me as I was driving along a motorway at the usual 70mph (well, you don't expect me to admit a faster speed in writing do you?).  My side of the road was quite clear, but on the other side was a long tail-back caused by some incident.  At the beginning of the tailback the traffic was stationary, and as I drove on the traffic opposite was driving slowly as it approached the jam.  We then went around a bend, and further on past a junction on the other side where the opposite traffic could not, of course, see around the bend and was driving normally towards a terrible jam.

I thought to myself  "If I could stop (which one cannot do on a motorway), I could actually flag down those drivers and warn them not to continue on, but leave at the next exit ".  I then analysed that thought and concluded that I had, in effect, travelled from their future into their present!  And all made possible by the fact we had both been moving in opposite directions!  No doubt I could have remained with the jam, ie remained stationary myself, and warned them by telephone, but it would then be the radio signal doing the moving for me so the result was the same.

All I know is that I am presently travelling Into the future at the terrifying speed of 360 seconds per hour!  Time, then, is only related to the physical and is a measurement of movement.  But God exists outside the physical and thus outside time,  But what do we mean by "Physical"?

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Let's Get Physical

We are aware of the physical through the five senses : sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.  In total humans seem to be able to sense at least eight forms of energy. What is being  sensed in each form however, is limited to fairly narrow bandwidth. The human senses also require sufficient amounts of energy to be able to function properly.

Smell and taste are very closely related internal abilities which detect the presence of foreign substances such as gases, spores etc - by examining the shape of their molecular structure when coming into contact with the sensitive parts of the body designed for this task.  Experience accumulated in the mental library then allows identification of these foreign substances.  An examination of the three external ones will reveal just how limited we are:

Sight

The known electro-magnetic spectrum which includes what we call “visible light" ranges in wavelength from some 10 -15 (where gamma rays reside) to 10 5 meters (the home of radio waves).  "Light" - that is, that part of the spectrum which our eyes can detect, lies sandwiched between ultraviolet and infra-red in the minute range of some 400 to 700 nanometers, 1 nanometer being 1 millionth of a metre.  Thus we can only detect a range of 300 millionths of a metre out of 10 20 .

 That is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 meters!!  And the reason why we can see others is because the molecular structure of their skin is such that it reflects visible light.

Although - when we go into the garden and look at beautiful flowers we don't see them as insects see them.  To us they are beautiful, but to the bee it is their place of work.   Bees' eyes are sensitive to ultra-violet and so see completely different colours.  Just try a roll of ultra-violet film and enjoy the result!   There's more out there than meets the eye!

Jesus said “I am the light” many times.  Light is associated with Jesus in so many ways.  We pray “Lighten our darkness we beseech Thee” .  1 John says “God is light” .  Genesis begins “Let there be light” .  Ephesians:  “We are Children of Light” .

“Walk in the light” .  Psalms - “In the light of Thy countenance” .  We could go on and on.  Moses was blinded by the light of God.  My electronic concordance almost had a power failure when I keyed in “Light” ...!!  Too many countless sources - of light.

So maybe - just maybe - Jesus wasn't talking figuratively when He said “I am the light.”   Maybe he meant it literally...  Far beyond the understanding of his contemporaries but we in our time may just begin to grasp something...

Furthermore, When He said "I am..." His contemporaries would also know what He meant by those words.   "I am"  is the Name of God Himself!

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Sound

Again we are extremely limited in the range within which we can speak and hear. For a start, sound can only exist in the physical world as it cannot travel through a vacuum, which is the absence of matter (although even in space there is about one hydrogen atom per so many cubic meters, thus not a perfect vacuum) and is, therefore, a secondary sense like taste and smell.  It needs a medium such as air or water through which to travel as it comprises waves within that medium such as those created by a pebble dropped into a pond.  The human listening range is approximately from 20 to 20000 cycles per second, whilst the human speaking range is only about 50 to 8,000 cycles per second, compared with a piano which goes from just under 30 to just over 4,000.

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Touch

The physical is made up of atoms and molecules which are vibrating at different velocities and forming into solids, liquids or gases depending upon their molecular velocity and the surrounding pressure and temperature.  The nerves in the body sensing devices can thus be aware if the surface of the body comes into contact with something else which has a different molecular velocity to the surroundings.  For example one can fee! a brick wall because it is denser than the surrounding air.  Release another gas into the surrounding air, however, and one could not detect it by touch - its molecular velocity is too similar to the air.

The physical, therefore, provides a very restricted existence when one considers even the known parameters!   We are but a speck in the cosmos!

How do I know, for example, that there isn't somebody sitting in the same room as me now, whose body has a molecular structure which does not reflect light within my visible range, whose molecular velocity is too similar to the surrounding air such that I could not touch it, and who speaks at a frequency which I cannot detect?  And what would "time" mean to such a being?  Yes, there could be more out there than meets the eye - literally!!

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Relative Size

Which is the larger - 1 meter or 3 meters?  The answer is simple because the difference is very noticeable.

Now take those two rods and look at them from a distance of 1,000 meters.  Both are tiny compared with the 1,000 meters and the two will look similar in size.

We must, therefore, come to terms with a world greater than ourselves.  We must not make the egotistical error of putting mankind at the centre of the universe.  As I said - we are a mere speck, and must acknowledge that there is something out there which is beyond our comprehension,

Yet mathematicians still cannot resolve the absolute value of Pi .  Even 22/7 (which in itself is the approximation we all used at school) doesn't work out in decimal.  The latest computers have now calculated its value to 51,539,607,552 digits, and still can't get to the end!  And all because we have ten fingers!  They should try using another base.  In octal it becomes 3.111* and using base 7 it's obviously easier still: 3.1, whilst in binary it becomes 11.001*001*, so if circular geometry and engineering was based on a different unit, it would become easier.  Perhaps working to base Pi is the easiest route!  The point I'm making is that it isn't God who's illogical, but us for not fitting in with His system!

As I've already said, there are certain non-physical phenomenon which we still cannot explain fully - Fire, Electricity, Magnetism, Gravity, Gyroscopic Forces and Light.

It is with this humility, therefore, that we must allow our thoughts to accept a greater intellect out there - a Creator who put us into a physical world so that through our senses we may experience our surroundings.  He gave us the ability to feel the warmth and softness of each other, to see each others beauty and to hear each others words.  If our sole existence was as thoughts floating in the ether, how could we enjoy the same experiences?  As the physical can be damaged, however, he also gave us a warning system which we call pain.

The physical also needs fuel in the form of food and air, and is best maintained within the bounds of certain temperatures.  Thus if we are well fed and watered, neither too hot nor too cold and in no pain we should be physically content.  Contrary conditions we call suffering, which if acute leads to illness, and in severity to death.

The "clock" includes the food chain of which we are a part.  This and the nitrogen cycle make our world one of perpetual motion.  The life chain can go on and on If we let it.  Unfortunately we interfere.  Both with each other and with nature.

Vegetarians - note that Jesus wasn't one, being on record as having eaten both lamb and fish - now have to be catered for with a copious supply of Soya, and so many rain forests are being cleared to make way for its growth to meet the demand...  I blame Walt Disney for creating the false illusion that animals are nice and soft and fluffy to be cuddled by children.  They're not - they are wild and don't think the way we think and their motivation is different.  Animals have three functions:  to eat, procreate, and avoid being eaten.  They are part of creation yes, so should not be abused, but some are food for us.  I remember one vegetarian saying that he preferred to see cows in the field.  Not logical:  If we didn't eat them we wouldn't breed them so you'd only see the odd one in a zoo...

God created us "good" - that is, He wants us to work with Him, and not against Him, but He also allows us free will to choose.  Thus whilst He doesn't know exactly what we will do next, from our general behaviour He has probably got a very good idea of what we are likely to do!

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IN THE BEGINNING

The story of Christianity begins not 2,000 years ago, but some 4,000 years before then, for the roots of Christianity are found in the relationship between the Hebrews and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the founding fathers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

All nations at that time had their different gods.  It is said that if God didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent Him, and indeed nearly all social groups did invent a god, the earliest probably being the sun.  The Christian would say that because men are made in His image, man has within him an instinct to seek Him.

Thus ignorant primitive men would, quite naturally, seek a god and at first find him in the powerful things of nature which they did not understand.  Hence one could, for example, sympathise with primitives seeing a god in the sun - it gave them light, warmth, and made the crops grow.  As man became more sophisticated, so did his religion.  Unfortunately as religions also became more advanced, so they were used by the politicians and priests of the day to keep the people in order. They became tools of the state and instruments of punishment.  Their "gods" often had to be appeased (cv the film Apocalypto ) - great sacrifices had to be made by the people, both as human sacrifices in those days and often financial more recently, providing both profit and power to those in control.  Sadly the latter can be seen in certain Christian churches today.

Nobody with any real intelligence could possibly believe that a golden statue which you had made yourself could possibly be a god, yet this they did!

Against this background the True Living God made himself known to the ancient Hebrews.  He was not a god which they had made:  To the contrary - He disclosed himself as the Creator God who had made not only them but also the whole world in which they lived.  God had created man perfect, but with free will, and man had chosen to disobey God, so sin became a chasm between them.  Man has tried to bridge that gulf ever since with good works, religions, ail kinds of philosophy and morality.  But if man still feels distant from God, guess who moved!

The story of their relationship is told in the Old Testament.  He was a jealous God, and would not tolerate their following of false gods.  Many times he demonstrated that he could destroy other "gods"  [qv Aaron and his rod turned serpent (Exodus 7:12) and the altar drenched in water and yet burned by God (1 Kings 18:38), so God was always having to use the "carrot and stick" approach with the Hebrews, rewarding them when they obeyed him, and punishing them when they did not.

The Children of Israel were indeed children in matters spiritual.

Many think that this God wasn't particularly nice, and indeed this is a view popularly levelled at the God of the Old Testament.  It is important here, therefore, to state the Christian view:  That quite clearly this is not what God was really like, but what the ancient Hebrews thought he was like and they didn't appreciate that their actions resulted in consequences.

The Christian believes that one of the reasons Jesus came was to reveal the true nature of God, which is why Jesus is sometimes called the Revelation of God .

"But what about all those animal sacrifices?" I hear you ask.  Some years ago we were staying at a farm, when at tea the farmer started talking about the muck-spreading he had to do in the morning.  After he had gone, we mentioned to his wife that he could have used a more civilised word such as manure or fertiliser. "My dears" she said, "it's taken me 30 years to get him to say ‘Muck'!" .

Yes - animal sacrifices are not in our twenty-first century thinking.  Very unpleasant by our standards, but God had to change their thinking, so animal sacrifices were simply Stage One in His plan - to wean them off human sacrifices.  Abraham - although pained at the thought - didn't consider it unnatural to sacrifice his son.  It was normal in other contemporary religions.  It was all around him.  They were the children of Israel in every way.  Spiritually childlike, so had to be told what to do.  When Jesus arrived on the scene they were well into animal sacrifices so His eventual personal sacrifice would have been a symbol they understood. 

Jesus was also making a statement to the Greeks upon His entry into Jerusalem:  In the Greek religion it was the custom for the sacrifice to be brought into the city on the back on a donkey , so the symbolism wouldn't have been lost on them.

So God had to get them to obey him - it was a matter of discipline.  The long-term plan was not a continuation of animal sacrifices, but the laying down of discipline. If they could learn to obey Him in this command then they would begin to obey Him in other ways. They would then be ready to obey the important things - the Ten Commandments.

All good parents know that they have to begin by giving rules to their children.  The children in turn, know the boundaries ("I want you in by 10pm!") and it has been said that one of the reasons for unruly children today is that parents no longer give them ground rules.  The children push the boundaries, only to find there aren't any, so go over the top and misbehave.

Sacrifice also involves going without and giving away things which you value.  They were going to have to learn that unless you understood sacrifice, you would not understand love, because love is sacrificial, and it is love which God wanted them to understand, for those who truly love will willingly make sacrifices - including their own lives!  The way of sacrifice was thus only a path to the understanding of love, of which fasting is an existing remnant.  

But isn't it wrong to have to obey commandments?  And to be punished?  What kind of God is this?

You've missed the point.  The name of the game is "Consequences".  If you've robbed a bank and get 20 years, who's to blame?  The court?  No.  Yourself - because you are responsible for your own actions.  You have brought the punishment upon yourself.

God wanted to have a loving relationship with His people.  He was their Maker, and therefore their Father.  If you go to the beginning of the Old Testament you will find that He originally made man in His own image - perfect.  He did not, however, want a world peopled by obedient robots - he gave us free will and, initially, innocence.

The innocent "Eloi" in H G Wells' "The Time Machine" had a wonderful library which would have given them all knowledge, but they chose not to look at it, and the books rotted.  Thus they remained innocent and did not care when one of them accidentally  fell into the river, so it was neither “good” when she was rescued nor would it have been “bad” had she drowned.  Adam and Eve were also in a beautiful garden with choices, and they chose to disobey God by acquiring the knowledge which allowed them to know the difference between good and evil.

Thus mankind now has that choice.  Any student of logic will know that every proposition has, by virtue of its own existence - its opposite.  Light cannot exist without darkness, for darkness is simply the absence of light.  Thus good and evil also have to co-exist.

And so God built up His relationship with the Hebrews over a period of some 1,800 years, realising during that time that they still weren't “getting it right" - they   still didn't have a proper understanding despite the fact that He had rescued them from slavery in Egypt and had led them to a fertile land!  Maybe they just got disappointed after realising that after crossing the Red Sea they should have turned right and got oil.  By turning left all they got was oranges...

But He was showing them that He loved them.  To give them guidance He had given them laws by which to live, but they had become bogged down with the laws without realising that it was the consequences which mattered, not the laws themselves.  The laws had become like a millstone around their necks.  They were following the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law, like not working on the Sabbath.  Fair enough.  We now regard working as in what we get paid for Monday to Friday 9-5, and yet Orthodox Jews today will not even wind up a clock after sunset on Friday.  Jesus has a lot to say about that, and words like ditch and mule spring to mind...

It was going to be necessary to explain everything personally.  God decided he was going to bridge that chasm Himself and become one of them!

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GOD'S PLAN - God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, and everything you wanted to know about the Trinity but were afraid to ask.

Over a long period through the prophets God began to prepare them for His coming how It would happen, where, and even through which family, so in the Old Testament we will find many clues to the coming of the Messiah, as Jesus was to be known.  God had always wanted a loving relationship with His people.  What better way than to take on human form, become one of them so that they would get to know Him better.  They would also think (unnecessarily, of course) that He would get to understand them better too.

To humans "gods" were distant. They were all-powerful and indestructible. They could not be hurt.  It was alright for them, we thought, all nice and cosy up in heaven sitting on a soft cloud.  What did they know about suffering?

God wanted to change that view.  If he could become one of them and get them to understand Him then perhaps they would listen and return to Him.  Over the centuries He had spoken to them through the prophets. They had listened for a short while, then returned to their old ways.  He had given them laws to discipline them so that they would understand the reasons for them.   Instead they would debate about the laws themselves to the point of pedancy and not take on board the real meaning and purpose of those laws.  They had been told to "sweep the house clean", and this they did literally instead of cleansing their inner selves and repenting their ways.  God decided to go in person to explain what He really meant.

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Jesus - God Incarnate (made Flesh)

Imagine a bee-keeper who wanted to get to know his bees, and, more importantly, wanted the bees to know what he was like.  So He turned himself into a bee and went into the hive to live with them.  The bee was just a physical extension of Himself, so He was not harmed, but the bee nevertheless could feel pain because that part of Him was in the real physical world.

Or consider a fish in a tank.  The fish cannot see you beyond the surface of the water because of total internal reflection, but we can see the fish.  You can allow the fish to see you, however, if you put your hand into the water. To the fish you have suddenly become "incarnate"!

But surely God would not feel pain and suffering even if He took on human form?  He would if He chose to take upon himself all the restraints of the "Cloud".  A man who wants to go deep-sea diving has to don a diving suit.  He becomes weighed down by the restrictions it imposes.  He becomes slow and vulnerable in the water.  He can maintain contact with the ship on the surface through his cables which supply oxygen and pressure, but if those are severed he will die.

Stand behind a friend.  He knows you're there, but cannot see you.  Say something.  He hears your Word.  Touch him and he feels your Action.  Walk in front of him and now he can see you.  Then walk behind him again.  He knows you are there but cannot see you.  He can communicate with you, receive your Word and feel your power if you touch him, but knows you are only one person.

Jesus then is the physical manifestation of God - His "Word" who had been there since the beginning of time.  God had created the world through his Word", had spoken through the "Word" to His prophets many times in the past.  Perhaps through a burning bush, and Jacob had even wrestled with Him (Theologians mostly agree that the man was God incarnate, ie Jesus - Gen 32:24 etc).  Jesus was the "Word", and was God "Incarnate" - that is, the "Word" made flesh.

Jesus was to reveal what God was really like, compared with what they thought he was like. Thus Jesus is the Revelation of God in the flesh.

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God The Holy Spirit

The Third Person - The Holy Spirit - is that aspect of God which acts as the link between the Christian's Spirit and God.  He is the Communicator, the Guider, the Comforter and the Adviser.  He is not simply God's Messenger, but God himself in Action just as Jesus is the Word, and therefore has all the authority which goes with that role.  The Holy Spirit was very active in the Old Testament in inspiring the prophets and giving them the gifts they needed for their work.  Consider all the events in Egypt and afterwards when Moses parted the Red Sea.  What power!

It was the force which provided Jesus the man in His physical form to do all His miracles,  It was the force which raised Him from the dead.  It was the force which He gave to His disciples to enable them to carry on His work, and it is the force which today all Christians can have for His good if they but ask for it!

So God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are not three Gods, but One God - collectively known as The Trinity.

The concept of the Trinity has been one of the main stumbling blocks in understanding Christianity , so it is essential that a better understanding should be taught.  It is, in particular, a point of issue with Jehovah Witnesses because they find the idea of a Trinity confusing.  They argue that God is not a God of confusion, ergo no Trinity.   But God's ways are not our ways...

It also gave birth to the Unitarian Church, and many outsiders level the accusation that Christians worship three gods, so we really must clarify this.

To a Christian then, God has three "Faces" - God the Father; Jesus, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But these three - the Trinity - are one God, an idea that is sometimes difficult to grasp, but then consider:

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WE THREE

We are also a "Trinity":

"We" have a soul, or, to be more correct - We don't have souls - we are souls -which is our spirit This is our "real self" which has the feelings and emotions and makes the decisions.

We also have a mind - basically like a very advanced computer, providing a link between soul and physical body.  The brain and the nervous system controls and monitors the "motor" parts of the body - passing on instructions and providing feedback all quite automatically as well as allowing the soul to think logically and consulting its memory bank of experience which it has built up since birth.

Our body allows us to experience the physical world through the senses.  Thus we can feel, smell, taste, see and hear. The brain stores all this data in its memory so that it can be used to build experience, which is how we learn.  This data also provides feedback to the soul, allowing it to experience and so learn.

But our bodily functions exist only for the survival of the physical, and do not, in themselves, justify its own existence.  Our legs provide transport, lungs process oxygen from the air to provide fuel together with food intake through our stomachs. It is true that we can enjoy food, but that is only to ensure that we eat. If eating was not pleasurable, we would avoid it and starve.

Consider the car.  Does it exist for its own sake?  No.  By itself it has no purpose. Add a passenger, and all becomes clear - it has a function.  So with our bodies.  Add the Soul and you have the complete person.  The difference is, of course, that the car has no feelings because it has no soul, thus in itself derives no pleasure by being filled with petrol.  We have to provide the dashboard with a fuel warning light otherwise the car won't tell us it's running empty!

The Holy Trinity is thus the "complete" Deity -

God the Father who has the thoughts and feelings.  God is the loving Creator.

God the Son who was God incarnate - God made flesh - who took on physical form, thus allowing Himself to experience His world exactly as we can experience through the senses and, more importantly, letting us know that He is doing this.

God the Holy Spirit is God in Action - like a mighty rushing wind .

Still difficult?

Similarly, all the material world can take one of three forms - Solid, Liquid or Gas. Thus Ice, Water or Steam is still water, although in different forms.

Boil water and it becomes full of energy in the form of powerful steam.  Strong enough to drive turbines.  Pour some water into a container and put it into the fridge.  It freezes and becomes a solid - separate from the original water in the jug,   Part of the original water from the jug, and yet now separate.  Almost incarnate...  Drop the block of ice back into the jug of water and it will melt and return to being part of the original water.   It is absorbed back into the original - now inseparable.

Once, when I was trying to get across to a pagan friend of mine, who also happens to be a film producer.  I thought of an analogy which he could understand.  Because he worships the creation, and not the Creator, (Whoops - see Romans 1:25 ) I said "Look - you are getting too involved in the film you are watching.  We all enjoy the excitement of a good Bond film, but must remember that it is just a film - they are not real people you are watching.  Come backstage and meet the three makers - God the Producer, who has overall control, Jesus the Writer (or Word) and The Holy Spirit, the Director, who controls the Action!  What's more, they're all the same person!  The auteur, like Orson Welles, who can write, produce and direct.  He laughed, and said there was only one thing wrong with the idea.  "What's that?” I asked,  "You thought of it, not me!"  He replied.  I hadn't, of course, because I believe that the Gift of Wisdom comes into action when needed, and it was needed then, but I had made my point and had him thinking.

Get used to the Holy Trinity - there's more to come!

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SO WHO WAS JESUS?

And - Did He exist?

Despite denials By so-called "experts” ("Ex" meaning "out of” and (s)pert being a "drip under pressure"), it is made quite clear in the New Testament that He was the "Son of God" (And we will discuss the problem of this exact choice of words later).

When Jesus was baptised by John (Matt 3:17) a voice from Heaven said “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” .

And looking more directly at Jesus' own claims:  He asked Peter “Who do you say that I am?”   (Matt 16:15,16) and Peter replied “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” to which Jesus replied “...this was only revealed to you by My Father in Heaven.”   A statement with which Jesus not only clearly does not correct Peter, as in “Whoa there, Peter, that's a bit over the top!” but actually confirms the words “You are the Son” by saying “and God is my Father”.  A substantial claim.

Another interesting, and often overlooked example, is when Jesus is being tempted in the wilderness.  Overlooked for this purpose because analysts tend to discuss the implications of the temptations themselves.  In reply to the temptations, Jesus replies "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." ( Luke 4:12 ).  Although the devil is addressing Jesus directly, the latter doesn't reply "Do not tempt me" but "Do not tempt God".  In other words, Jesus is not just identifing Himself with God, but actually implying that He and God are one.

At Jesus' trial Pilate asked him if He was a king (Luke 23:3).  Jesus later replied that “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

After the Resurrection Jesus appeared to them when Thomas was not there. When Thomas did eventually see Jesus, he declared “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28), a statement which again Jesus did not correct.

Yet many still deny that although this is in the New Testament, they say that He was a very good man or even a prophet who did and said good things, but was still just an ordinary human.  This is not logically acceptable.  He was either who He claimed to be, or at best totally deluded, at worst a complete liar - thus not a good man, and deserved to die according to their law.

Intelligent people can see this argument, and Dorothy Smoker, the militant atheist Chairman of the British Secular Society at that time found a simple way of avoiding this dilemma during a conversation with the writer when discussing the Turin Shroud some years ago:  She denied Jesus' historical existence!  A neat trick if you can get away with it.  I asked her if she believed in the existence of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra.  Of course she did, but she was just being selective to suit her own opinions.  She simply didn't want Jesus to exist because He didn't fit in with her agenda, but obviously didn't realise that there is probably more historical and secular evidence for His existence over the others:

So did Jesus, in fact, exist?

There are many historical references to Jesus outside the Bible.  Firstly there is this unique description of Him through Roman eyes.  The following is the only pen picture of Christ in actual life, and is a most exquisite piece of word-painting.  It is copied from an original letter (Vatican Archives) of Publius Lentulus (supposed Governor of Judea) at Rome to the Senate:

"There appeared in these days a man of Great Virtue named Jesus Christ who is yet living amongst us, and of the Gentiles is received as a prophet of truth.  He raises the dead and cures all manner of disease.  A man of stature, somewhat comely, much as the beholder may both love and fear.  His hair is of the colour of chestnut full ripe plain to the ears whence downward it is more orient and curling, waving about his shoulders.  In the midst of His Head is a seam or partition of the hair, after the manner of the Nazarites.  His forehead plain and delicate.

"His face without spot or wrinkle, beautiful, with a lovely red [sic] (complexion?).  His nose and mouth so formed that nothing can be reprehended.  His beard is the colour of His hair, not very long but forked.  His look is innocent and mature.  His eyes grey, clear and quick and luminous, in reproving He is terrible.  His eyes piercing as with a two-edged sword the greedy, the selfish and the oppressor;  but look with tenderest pity on the weak, the erring, the sinful.  Courteous and fair spoken, pleasant in conversation mixed with gravity.  It cannot be remembered that any have seen Him weep.  In proportion of body most excellent a man, for His singular beauty surpassing the children of men."

Secondly, we have the writing of Flavius Josephus , a 1st Century Jewish historian.    He was born in the first year of the reign of Caius (Gaius or Caliguia) Caesar (ie 38 AD), and wrote the following sometime after the birth of his third son Agrippa, who was born in the 9th year of Vespasian (ie 78 AD and thus after the fall of Jerusalem):

“It was about this time (ie shortly after the Jews had demonstrated against Pilate over his plan to divert water through Jerusalem), Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.  He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles.  He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, [3rd April 33AD] those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, [5th April] as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians so named from him, are not extinct at this day." [ Antiquities XVIII, Ch III, Vs 3 ]

This from an historian of great learning.  It is interesting that he says "He was the Christ" and not "They claimed he was the Christ".  He seems to have made up his own mind!  Also note:  This from a Jewish historian using the Greek word “Christ”.

To these two independent historical sources we can add the many others found in what is known as the Apocryphal New Testament . Some of these may have been canonical prior to the 27 of Athanasius so may not be considered sufficiently objective, but the following extract from the Acts of Pilate [Part 1, Reclension A] provides an interesting third quote:

[NOTE:  The Apocryphal New Testament contains many writings considered not canonical (ie only written by those under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) and therefore excluded from what we know as the Holy Bible.  This will be discussed in more depth later, but the point here is that although some of the writings may have been excluded because they were considered to be doctrinally incorrect, there is no reason to suppose that the records of Pilate's scribe should by historically inaccurate.  The Romans were indeed meticulous in keeping records for their own archives, and the scribe would have been very busy during a trial.  What follows does not contradict the Gospel version of the events, but adds to it, so the only reason for exclusion would be on the grounds of it being secular history and therefore not canonical.]  Thus Pilate's scribe (allegedly) writes of the event:

"And Pilate called a messenger and said to him:  Let Jesus be brought hither, but with gentleness.  And the messenger went forth, and when he perceived Jesus he worshipped him and took the kerchief that was on his hand and spread it upon the earth and saith to him: Lord, walk hereon and enter in, for the governor calleth thee.  And when the Jews saw what the messenger had done, they cried out against Pilate saying: Wherefore didst thou not summon him by an herald to enter in, but by a messenger?  For the messenger when he saw him worshipped him and spread out his kerchief upon the ground and hath made him walk upon it like a king!

“Then Pilate called for the messenger and said unto him: Wherefore hast thou done this, and hast spread thy kerchief upon the ground and made Jesus to walk upon it?  The messenger saith unto him: Lord governor, when thou sentest me to Jerusalem unto Alexander, I saw Jesus sitting upon an ass, and the children of the Hebrews held branches in their hands and cried out, and others spread their garments beneath him, saying Save now, thou that art in the highest blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.  The Jews cried out and said unto the messenger:  The children of the Hebrews cried out in Hebrew:  How then hast thou it in the Greek?  The messenger saith to them;  I did ask one of the Jews and said:  What is it that they cry out in Hebrew? And he interpreted it unto me.

“Piiate saith unto them:  And how cried they in Hebrew? The Jews say unto him: ‘Hosanna membrome barouchamma adonai.'  Pilate saith unto them:  And the Hosanna and the rest, how is it interpreted? The Jews say unto him:  Save now, thou that art in the highest: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Piiate saith unto them if you yourselves bear witness of the words which were said of the children, wherein hath the messenger sinned?  And they held their peace. The governor saith unto the messenger: Go forth and bring him in after what manner thou wilt".  Reclension 8 has Pilate giving his own mantle to the messenger for the purpose.

Even the most critical historian, therefore, has no problem with the existence of Jesus.  As a final quote, here is a description of Jesus given by
Longinus , the legendary Centurion in charge of the crucifixion.  It was he who was supposed to have pierced His side, and his spear is today in the Hofburg in Vienna .  He was supposed to have been a secret follower so would have wanted to put Jesus out of His misery as soon as he was able, as some say it was Longinus who came to ask Jesus to heal his sick servant, and showed great faith by telling Jesus that he was not worthy that He entered his house, but asked Him only to say the word and his servant would be healed, so it may have been Longinus who said, after Jesus died. "Surely, this was the Son of God."   Maybe it was also he who took possession of the Robe.

John Masefield ends his “The Trial of Jesus” with the following dialogue between Longinus and Procula, Pilate's wife:

Longinus begins:  "He was a fine man, my lady.  Not past the middle age.  And He was all alone and defied all the Jews and all the Romans.  And when we had done with him He was a poor broken down thing, dead on the cross."  "Do you think he is dead?"  "No, lady, I don't"  "Then where is he?"  "Let loose in the world, lady, where neither Roman nor Jew can stop his truth."


(NB The Apocryphal New Testament is explained fully in the chapter on early church history)

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WHAT ONE DOES TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN

Whilst it is possible to describe what a Christian believes from an academic point of view as I have just done the previous Chapter, one cannot "Learn" how to become a Christian. 

Indeed, we say that Christianity is “Caught” not “Taught”.  To those who seek, however, signposts can be most useful. 

Rather like a computer program, therefore, this chapter will be found under "HELP".  If you have bought the programme then you have already made a degree of commitment.  All you have to do now is load it and type "Run".  When you have made the changes necessary, you then type "SAVE".

Can you catch it even if you're not looking for it?  Well that has been known.  For some reason we cannot fathom, some want it, and other don't.  Some have their eyes and ears permanently closed, as it were.  (Mark 4:23).

There is a famous picture by the artist Holman Hunt “ I Stand at the Door and Knock ” (Rev 3:20) depicting Jesus knocking at a closed door - the door to your heart.  If you look at the picture closely, you will notice that the door does not have a handle on the outside.  In other words, whilst Jesus will knock, it is up to you whether or not you will open it and let him in, that is, let  Him into your life and change it.  You will then be “Saved”.

“Save”.  An interesting word.  Ever had anybody ask you “Have you been saved?” and you're thinking “Uh...?? What on earth do they mean by THAT???”

You know, Christians are their own worse enemy.  They use terminology - their own Christian jargon - to talk to non-Christians, and wonder why they don't get through.  So - let's run that again.

You're computer literate, I'm sure.  Nearly everyone is these days, and I know you are, otherwise you wouldn't have found this website.  Imagine you've written a document on your computer.  You open it the next day and check it for errors, go over it and correct them.  You then hit “SAVE” and what does that do?  Yes, that action overwrites the old document with the new correct version.  Got it? Of course you have.  So - when Jesus “Saves” you, it means that the old “wrong” you with all your errors and faults have now been replaced with a “New” you.

That sounds as though you are now perfect.  Not quite, but is does mean that you have been forgiven for your past because Jesus has “Paid the Price” for you.

Still a problem?  Imagine you're in the supermarket and you've put loads of goodies into your trolley.  They represent all the bad things you've done in the past.  You get to the checkout (the Pearly Gates...) and expect to pay the price, as in punishment, and get sent down to the horned one.  If you go to the checkout where Jesus is the cashier, He just waves you through without charging you, because He's paid it for you.  That is what the crucifixion is all about.  “He has destroyed what  was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in degrees opposed to us.  He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14) or, put simply, the bill was nailed to the cross.  There is no invoice for you to pay, because He has cleared your debt.  Also - because Jesus was without sin, it means He died for others:  If He was guilty of anything himself, then the punishment would have been for His own sins.  The perfect sacrifice He made had to be the sacrifice of the innocent.

The Anglican Book of Common Worship sums this up ( Eucharistic Prayer C of Order 1 ) with the words  “[His was] ...a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice. ” which echoes back to Hebrews 10:10/11 - “By His will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all .  And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again - sacrifices that can never take away sins .”

Looking at the bits I've underlined - ”Once for all” means that's it.  Once.  No more.  Jesus' sacrifice was full, perfect and sufficient, so cannot be repeated.  It was finite and complete.  Once was enough.

My second bit of underlining reiterates this.  Any other sacrifices you try to make are completely superfluous and will not do a better job.  They will be useless.

If all this sounds rather strange, well then yes, it is, to our 21st century minds, but you must remember that Jesus was addressing a different culture, so all His words and actions had to be in a form which they would understand.  I've already mentioned, for example, the way in which His entry into Jerusalem made a statement.

We are looking back at a culture which, for reasons already explained, accepted animal sacrifices as normal, so Jesus had to explain Himself at this level.

In ancient Hebrew lore it had been the custom to take a young goat, representing innocence, and laying their hands upon it (transferring their sins) and then chasing it out into the desert for it to die (Leviticus 16:21), so this “ scapegoat ” bore their sins away and died in their place .  [In actual fact William Tyndale mistranslated the Hebrew azazel as  ez ozel in his 1530 Bible.  It was the innocent goat which (es)scaped, not the guilty one, but the point is still made and this also depends upon to what extent you want to delve into deep theology!!!].   So to mirror this image which they understood, Jesus became, in their eyes, the new scapegoat.

An interesting question to set the class today would be “How would Jesus explain His mission now if addressing 21st century people, taking into account the current culture and their level of knowledge?”.

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CHRISTIAN FAITH - Belief in ACTION

So having explained what the Christian believes, it is now essential to understand that it is of no value unless it is put into action.  A car you are driving may run out of petrol - you may be sorry that it has happened, and you may well believe that it will go again if you fill it up.  Nothing will happen, however, unless you take action and actually put in petrol.  This is a simple scientific law which governs how petrol engines work - they need petrol.

If you accept the fact that it will work if you put in petrol - in other words, if you know that you will get results by putting your belief into action - then you have faith that the engine will go.  We know this because we are familiar with the scientific law involved, and we know that we cannot break the law and still get results.

God has laws which also cannot get broken without consequences.  If a law gets broken there are consequences - there is a cause and effect.  With the car, the cause is lack of petrol, and the result is that the car will not go.  Of course, science is the study of natural laws - God's laws - and we know how they work because God made an orderly world.  The law of gravity is another example: you could jump off a cliff and hope to break the law of gravity, but you won't succeed - you will only break your body on the rocks below.

You cannot break a law of God without consequences - you can only break yourself on that law, and it is not difficult to have faith in the belief that you will probably kill yourself if you jump off a cliff!

For our physical survival we already have faith in God's laws which apply to our physical bodies.  There is a law that we must eat food, and we know that if we break that law then we will starve to death.  What the Christian must understand is that there are also laws which apply lo our spiritual bodies - our souls, as well as to our minds and physical bodies.  We see many things wrong with people in the world - crime, war, unhappiness, divorce - the list is endless, and all is the consequence of breaking God's law.

Here I must repeat - The results are consequences, NOT punishments.

It is sad to see so many trying to solve problems through other ways.  Imagine a box representing all the people of the world.  Place into this area two overlapping circles.  The first represents Christians and the second are those who suffer.  The area within the box but not in either circle represent those who are neither Christian nor suffer, and where the circles overlap, these are Christians who do suffer.

Those who suffer without God are really poor - for they have no direction.  Without God, suffering remains - and remains pointless.  With God there is a sharing.  To Christians, God does not always take suffering away, but the Christian knows that God shares in that suffering through Jesus.   A rabbi who survived Belsen was asked where God was in all this.  He replied that he could hear God, sobbing in the background.

Followers of other religions or new-fangled philosophies such as New Age (repackaged Hinduism) or aromatherapy etc, can never reach the truth because either they are incomplete at best or based on lies at worst.

I recollect a time when I was taken to a meeting on colour therapy by a friend (who has since become a Christian).  The evening session had been organised by a charity for their members who needed their morale boosting because they had all been bereaved.  Thus they were very all susceptible.  The speaker began by describing the way in which she could advise her clients on the best colour coordinations of clothes to suit the wearer, taking into account such attributes as complexion, colour of hair and eyes etc.  All very logical and acceptable to those interested in aesthetics.  No sin in taking a pride in one's appearance providing it doesn't turn into destructive vanity.

So far, so good.  However, the speaker then produced a display of small glass bottles.  Each contained a mixture of coloured water and coloured oil, and the oil and water remained separate, so did the colours.  Thus one bottle might, for example, contain pink oil in the top half, and yellow water in the bottom half. 

There were probably some 30 bottles being displayed on a stand which was back-lit so that the colours could be seen brightly.

The speaker then explained that some of us would be attracted by certain colour combinations but not others, and our tastes would naturally vary.  She then went on to say that if we had an affinity for a certain colour, it could be beneficial to us, and then launched into quoting cases where these bottles had been therapeutic in cases of rheumatism etc, and that the bottle of your choice was available TODAY for only £25!!

Isn't it marvellous when sales reps always say “only available at this price TODAY!”

The speaker then asked individuals in the group if they found any particular bottle attractive.  One woman pointed to a particular bottle because she liked the unusual bluey-green colour.  The speaker then lifted the bottle from the display case and, holding it up, asked if this was the one she meant,
"Oh, I'm not sure now - it looks a little different now that you've moved it" .

Much to the annoyance of the friend who had taken me, as she worked for this charity.  I found it necessary to expose this speaker.  She obviously knew nothing of basic physics, and I pointed out that the colours would not be "true" if back-lit by ordinary bulbs, and went on to explain to the now-bewildered fraudster that "blue" would only show up as "blue" if back-lit by a light source with a very high colour temperature - say 10,000° Kelvin or higher.  The tungsten bulbs were probably no higher than 5,000° Kelvin, and probably only around 3,000°, so would transmit a lot of yellow light.  I then explained that yellow light is negative blue,
viz made up of red and green.  Hence the confusion.  I hope I spoilt things enough to prevent too many of these old dears parting with £25!!  My friend was very annoyed with me, but I trust I have now been forgiven as she has become a Christian since!

Yet another example of going a way which is not God's way.  God's laws do work, and if one believes that is so, then obeying a law by putting that belief into action through having faith, these consequences would not arise.

We abuse our bodies and become ill.  There is always a cause and effect - if we overeat, we may get heart trouble; if we smoke, we may get cancer.  Why should God suspend His laws for someone who has broken them?  Of course He is merciful to those who truly repent, and many Christians will testify that miracles do happen.  Sometimes, for His own purpose He will even cure an unbeliever through the faith of another.  God wants us to be whole in body, mind and spirit - not just one of them, and we cannot pick and choose just to suit ourselves - God will not be used.

If we obey His laws, we will get results.  Ask, and it shall be given, BUT always qualify that with
“Thy will be done” because only God what is best for us, and we may not be asking for the right thing.  Remember - God's ways are not our ways.

Have faith then - believe in God and put that belief into action by obeying His laws. THERE IS NO PART OF YOUR LIFE - BODY, MIND OR SPIRIT - WHICH IS NOT SUBJECT TO GOD'S LAWS.  IF THESE LAWS ARE BROKEN, ONLY ONE PERSON IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CONSEQUENCES - YOURSELF.

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IT'S TIME FOR ACTION

The initial act is to be willingly receptive.  The Christian believes that God gave man the free will to accept or reject Him.  People often ask why God doesn't make all people good, and I have already said that He wants people to make a free choice - he doesn't want a world of puppets with Him pulling the strings.  So there has to be the willingness to meet God half way.  God has already made the first move by sending Jesus, who said that He stands at the door and knocks (qv Holman Hunt).  It is up to us to open the door and let him in.  In Holman Hunt's picture there is no handle on the outside...   

If when at home we are going to open the door to welcome a guest, it is usual to make sure that the house is clean and tidy first!  We should have the same attitude with our spiritual home.  So how do we make our souls clean and tidy?  The first obvious move is to clear out all the rubbish which has accumulated, i.e. past sins. This requires a willingness firstly to admit that there is a lot of clearing out to do, and then do it AND HAVING DONE IT, BELIEVE THAT IT HAS BEEN DONE.  In your real home the evidence is obvious and visible, but in your spiritual home you cannot see it, so you have to BELIEVE that it has gone, and this means you need FAITH, which is belief in ACTION.  The ridding of sins we call confession, and this needs to be followed by a belief they have been forgiven.

So - PHONE GOD - YOUR CALL HAS BEEN PREPAID!

Stage 1 then is REPENTANCE

This is the willingness to admit that there is a lot of clearing out to do, but to be valid this has to be accompanied by a genuine intention to keep the place clean and tidy from then on.  Unfortunately we all fall behind, in the same way that we can fall behind with other work, but we must just accept that this will happen, so we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start out again with a refreshed resolution.  The attitude you must not have is to not bother in the first place in the knowledge that it will happen again.  You repaint your house because it needs doing:  You don't not bother at all just because you know it will need re-doing again in the future.

A genuine desire for repentance is an inward feeling which takes the following outward form:

Stage 2 - CONFESSION

A repentant person has to confess his past sins.  We are told to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16), and in the early church this was done in front of the whole congregation.  Some sins were embarrassing to confess in public, however, so it became the custom to confess in private to the priest, who is bound to secrecy. Thus today confession can take many forms depending upon the denomination concerned: in private, during a service where this is provided for, or in the presence of a priest or minister.

Historically Jesus authorised the disciples to forgive sins after he had gone, and this is what they would have done for new converts.  This saw the inherited tradition of priests having this authority through what we call the apostolic succession through the laying-on of hands down the centuries.  Indeed it must be a wonderful feeling for any new priest to know that the bishop who lays hands on him during his ordination was himself ordained in the same way and so on back through the past centuries.

Jesus' intention in this regard was two-fold:

Firstly, the apostles (and their successors) were authorised to forgive the sins of new converts.

Secondly, those new converts should then, amongst other things, be taught the Lord's Prayer which includes the words “... and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us...” thereby giving them direct access to God for forgiveness, so from then on, forgiveness from another is no longer necessary.

That is the ideal, but having said that, God also knows our human failings, and human nature being what it is, those who lack sufficient faith to believe that they have received forgiveness directly from God may need reassurance.  As a “back up” we are also told to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16).

Thus in the case of a repentant convert making a first confession, confessing in a private prayer to God is more than acceptable, but it can be helpful to some to confess in the presence of a fellow Christian or a priest if reassurance is required. The latter represents the whole congregation, being trained for the task, experienced in giving advice, and professionally bound by secrecy.  Some Christians like to continue this habit throughout their lives as they like the continued reassurance it brings.  It also has the advantage of focusing the mind on particular sins, whereas at a general confession during a service one may think more about one's general sinfulness rather than any specific sins.

Confessing in the presence of a priest receives so much criticism that it must be explained that one is not confessing to the priest - one is confessing to God in the presence of a priest, who is representing the congregation.  Likewise, the priest is not forgiving you - he is also there to represent God and to reassure you that God is forgiving you.

People sometimes say "I don't go around killing and stealing, so what are all these sins I have?"  Well, if we accept that Jesus was perfect sinless man, and then compare our lives with His, then anything which causes the shortfall is sin.  In fact, the word "sin" comes from archery where it means to miss the bull's eye, ie to fail short of the target, which in the Christian sense means perfection.  It will then be obvious that it includes everything from having a tiff with the man next door to trying to fiddle the parking meter!

This is also why before praying to God or confession in another form it is useful to try to think of one's specific sins, rather than one's general sinfulness so that "regular'' sinful habits can be identified, for once identified, something can be done about them.  In fact, imagine in your mind writing a list up on a blackboard.  A good analogy, because once forgiven, the slate will be wiped clean!!!

Here again, the presence of a priest is useful, because advice can be given.  If one has difficulty in thinking of specific sins, again this is where he can help, and there are many books available on the subject which provide a "check-list" which many find useful.  Spiritual guidance should also be sought.  One should ask the Holy Spirit to open one's heart.  I have noticed lately that confessional boxes in both Roman and Anglican churches are now sometimes called "Reconciliation Rooms".  A interesting change for the better, perhaps?

A popular prayer is "Heavenly Father, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your Holy Name".

So it is not necessary to get neurotic about omitting, by genuine oversight, some sins lest they will not be forgiven.  Those that are recalled must be taken as being representative of all.  It must be repeated, however, that a confession is worse than useless if it is not accompanied by a genuine intention "not to do it again",
genuine intention being the operative words, because it's no good either saying to oneself "Well, there's no point in confessing that, because I know I'll do it again tomorrow."  The point is that you must be prepared to make a genuine effort not to do it again tomorrow.

To sum up then, confession is no different to a child saying to its father "I admit I did so and so, I am very sorry, and I promise that I will try not to do it again".  In fact, it is exactly that!

Stage 3 - Your Response

Confession has to have a response - a loving father of a child who has said "Sorry" will say  "That's all right, I forgive you, Now do try not to do it again."  An essential part of Christian belief is that God the Father is all-forgiving to the repentant sinner AND  IT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT THEREFORE FOR THE REPENTANT SINNER WHO HAS SINCERELY CONFESSED HIS SINS TO BELIEVE THAT THEY HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN.

At this point read the story of “
The Prodigal Son ” (Luke 15: 11-32) if you wish.  Then read the end of it again, but this time rename the story “The Forgiving Father” as this different view will give you a deeper understanding of God.  There is NOTHING the Father will not forgive.  Jesus even forgave those who crucified him, and the whole real tragedy of Judas is that he would have been forgiven if he only knew it.

We must also ACCEPT forgiveness.  We all like giving to others, but can sometimes be embarrassed about receiving.  Being able to Accept is just as important as being able to Give.  In the story of the Good Samaritan the wounded man had to receive aid.  Had he been too proud and said "I'm alright thanks" when clearly he was not, wouldn't have allowed the Samaritan to help him.  If one has to give, it is essential for the other to receive.  Never be too shy or proud to receive, therefore.  In your relationship with God, who offers you forgiveness through Grace - that is, undeserved forgiveness - you are in a situation where you could never ever do enough to repay that love.  Not to accept His love is to spurn Jesus, which makes the crucifixion a waste of time!

Even so, some do have difficulty in accepting that God has forgiven this or that particular sin, and needs some reassurance.  This is why a priest or minister will give "Absolution” that is - giving reassurance that God has forgiven the sins confessed.

Here then is sometimes a difference of opinion.  Some Christians believe that the priest is forgiving, whilst others simply take it as the priest's reassurance of God's forgiveness.  It is not the priest personally forgiving you.  He is under authority and is representing God in his role.

With regard to the former view, remember Jesus' words to Peter (Matt 16:19), giving him authority to forgive or not.  To those who believe that the apostolic succession descends from this given authority, then this is what is accepted.  We must not, however, allow ourselves to get bogged down in argument.  This is exactly what the devil wants.  To get us to fight each other over such issues which are not really that important.  If we do that, he wins.  What IS important is that one must accept that sins ARE forgiven if one is genuinely contrite.  What one must NOT do is to withdraw into a state of belief with the attitude that my sins are so terrible that God will never forgive me.  There is NOTHING which God will not forgive.  That is the important issue.

And don't forget - all this is Free!  A word, however, about penances.  These must never be seen as a punishment, otherwise it shows an inability to receive God's grace, which logically follows that you deem the crucifixion to be insufficient, which is wrong.  View them rather as a discipline and aid towards shedding a remitting sin.  In writing in The Times (28th December 1998) Dom Antony Sutch, then Headmaster of Downside School, sadly said that penance is important, and that the punishment must fit the crime, quoting Gilbert and Sullivan.  Since when were they purveyors of Christianity?  Jesus has taken the punishment upon Himself, and that is sufficient.  All we have to do is to acknowledge this and welcome Him into our lives.

When you have effectively repented then, you are now ready to receive Jesus - that is - becoming a Christian.

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 RECEIVING JESUS

Well now that the house has been made clean and tidy it is possible to open the door to let Jesus in.  That is, you ask Him to come into your life so that through the power of the Holy Spirit it can be changed for the better.  Put simply, this means that you want to live His way, not the world's way.  All Christian churches have a form of baptism and some also have confirmation, both of which are the outward signs that you are asking Jesus to change your life.

In the Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican churches (that is, those which follow the episcopal tradition) being both baptised and confirmed are pre-requisite qualifications for receiving Holy Communion, although some churches are now allowing pre-confirmation children to receive if they think they are ready, and are taking it seriously.
 
Although the baptism ceremony usually takes place in a church, any Christian can baptise (in the event of a birth taking place on board a plane, cabin crew have been known to do this), but the confirmation service is usually only found in churches which have bishops, who, through the laying-on of hands confirm (strengthen) the gift of the Spirit to those who have already been baptised as children and are now of age to make a free choice.

The form of baptism varies with different traditions, ranging from two quick “smudges” in the shape of the cross on the forehead through a small dousing of water from a scallop shell (the pilgrim's symbol)  to full immersion.  If the church is near the coast then this could well happen in the sea or local river which is how Jesus received his baptism from John the Baptist.  An Anglo-Catholic church in Torquay (Devon, UK) has a beautiful marble bath with steps down and no visible signs of heating...  and Holy Trinity  Brompton (the home of the Alpha Course) has a full immersion bath.  All forms are baptism with WATER.

Apart from the differences in method, there are also differences over the age of the person to be baptised.  Most episcopal churches actively encourage new born babies to be baptised as soon as practicable, whilst some free churches (notably the Baptists) argue that a person should be of mature years so that they can make that decision for themselves whilst episcopal churches explain that this is the purpose of confirmation, enabling the person baptised at birth to CONFIRM that they want to commit themselves.

Various traditions exist side by side then.  In the episcopal churches where the laying-on of hands by a bishop is considered important, those who have been baptised as adults still undergo confirmation in order to complete their action in becoming a full member of the Church, that is, the Body of Christ.  There are a few exceptions to this, and in the Orthodox Church, for example, children are baptised and confirmed in the one ceremony (so that the young can receive communion along with adults), and whilst a bishop may not be present, the priest can anoint with oil which has previously been blessed by the bishop.

Many other examples can be given but it is intended to discuss the differences between denominations later, although whilst on the subject another interesting example to note is the Salvation Army which has no form of baptism whatsoever, neither do they take communion.  That is because although they are now a separate denomination, it was their original intention for members to continue to attend a “proper” church.

So if Jesus has come into your life to change It, this means that you have been “born again” spiritually.

So Why Do Some Respond and Not Others?

This is a most difficult question.  In Chapter One I explained why many can't accept the idea of a god because they prefer to remain with science.  The human mind ranges from the certain atheist to the certain evangelical, travelling through the agnostic, the doubting, the searching-but-not-finding, and the completely-don't care-and-don't-even-think-about-it.

This still leaves many who are genuinely looking and are willing to listen.  Some of these have a potentially easy faith and others find it terribly hard, but at least they are looking.  Sadly those out there who just don't care seem to be in the majority in an ever-increasing secular world.  Why are people like chalk and cheese?  The secular world is so full of distractions that the thought of God does not even enter their heads.  Some, if asked, will even say they are "Christian” as if they are being asked what soap powder they use.

Only a few might have some thoughts on the subject and come out with a negative response, but at least you know where you stand with them.   Jesus said that He preferred us to be hot or cold!  (Rev 3: 15-16)  In other words you're either in or out: “with Me or against Me”.   This country - and I suspect, many others in the West - are nominally "Christian".  They don't play for either team but are mere observers, if that.  They may observe the Christian festivals - Christmas (excuse for a party) or Easter (for the chocolate eggs) but don't have any real idea (or even care) what they mean.

It is not for us to judge what is in the heart of others.  This is God's work, not ours.  The laws of the land, however, are based on the old laws such as the Ten Commandments, and morality has its roots there too, so we don't really know what has rubbed off onto the average person, and many have a sense of morality without any religious belief.

We are taught to "know them by their fruits", that is, by their actions, (Matt 7:16) but what does this mean?

Does this mean that we can get to Heaven by being good?

Well Yes and No...  At the one extreme you get the “happy-clappies” jumping up and down claiming to be saved without the need to do anything.  Well, yes, Jesus has done everything, but that doesn't let you off the hook!  He actually said “You call me Lord, Lord, but do not do what I say...” (Luke 6:46).  At the other extreme you will find people who do good in the world without claiming any particular faith.

A good tree is known by its good fruits (Luke 6:43):  Neither does a bad tree bear good fruit.  The analogy is plain.

We just need a better understanding, so let's put it all in perspective so we don't get a cart-before-horse situation.  For the Christian, motivation is the operative word.  It is up to God to judge those who do good works, not us, because not only must we not judge, but neither do we know their motivation.

According to Christian teaching the "fruits" are what a Christian does because he is a Christian - the "good" things - not so that he can become a Christian.   Unfortunately "fruits" have become the horse instead of the cart to many, and doing the right thing for the wrong reason leads to all kinds of problems.  If Jesus is put first then the right order is achieved, with the fruits following.  Unfortunately, to non-Christians the word "Christian" has come to mean, in common parlance, something different to what it means to Christians.  You know exactly what it means:  Someone will say of another who does good “He's a real Christian” without knowing if that person has faith or not.  To them it means "do-gooder" - the proverbial helping-the-old-lady-across-the-street and other charitable works.

Of course this is important to the Christian, but the motivation is totally different.  The non-Christian may do all these things, often out of genuine sincerity, and if he has a hazy belief in a god and a heaven, may believe that by doing good he is earning his place in that heaven, but if that were true, it would make the crucifixion unnecessary.  Worse - if we think we have to do something ourselves - that is saying that the crucifixion was not sufficient!  What we do is a loving response, and doing good things is the outward sign that we have accepted Jesus.

We also believe in a just God (Deut 32:4), however, so if a person is living a good life but has not had the opportunity to learn about Jesus so as to understand the true motivation, then we must believe that God will make just allowances.

The Christian will do good, therefore, not out of any sense of duty or belief that he has got to earn his place in Heaven, but out of a love for Jesus, who told us to love one another as He loved us.  It is to the Christian, therefore, a willing response, but he knows that however much he does would never be enough to buy a place in Heaven if that were to be the way in.

Jesus has already bought our way in through His sacrifice.  The price has been paid.  Imagine going into a supermarket and going to the cash desk with your full trolley only to be told "Off you go - there's no charge - that man in front has paid your bill in full for you"!!  The bill has been paid!!

This misunderstanding about "Salvation through Good Works” versus "The Fruits of the Spirit" is so widespread that the true difference needs driving home. "Salvation through Good Works" is WRONG!  True there is no difference between "Good Works" and "Fruit", but "Fruit" is the result of salvation, not its cause.  It's the Cart - not the Horse!  To put it another way - putting on a policeman's uniform doesn't make you a policeman.  You become a policeman first, then get given your uniform to wear.  "Salvation through Good Works" is a more simplistic view of a complex situation, which is why it arose in the minds of uneducated people.

Unfortunately, many churches now - and this is particularly noticeable in some charismatic ones - do not preach about Fruits because they have become terrified that they will be seen by others as preaching "Salvation through Good Works"!!  The result is that many of them don't do anything except leap up and down singing "Praise the Lord"!  I repeat:  Jesus said "You call me Lord, Lord, but do not do what I have told you"!

Furthermore, some can be very judgmental of others when they see "Good Works" and judge them as such, not realising that they may be "Fruits" they are seeing.   This is why it is also wrong for Christian leaders to exhort all - which includes non- and "nominal" Christians (I hate that expression - you either are or you're not!) to lead "moral" lives.  Thus we had Mary Whitehouse telling us what we shouldn't watch on television - or rather, what shouldn't be shown, and the Pope telling us that birth control is wrong (see my chapter on "Sin is a Sexually Transmitted Disease).  Clergy have also told us how we ought to vote in elections, with a list of guidelines upon which to ponder.

They're not necessarily wrong, but they're wrong to preach this to all, including those outside their own followers, for to do so is to encourage and foster the erroneous concept of salvation through “Good Works” (which would apply to non-Christians if they ran with it), which results in being judged by the Law.  So remember - "Good Works" must be the “Fruits”, not the means, for (and I don't apologise for repeating it) Salvation is a Gift, not a Reward.  It also follows, of course, that the absence of Good Works - ie no “Fruit” - does mean that the Spirit is lacking.  “Fruit” should follow Salvation whereas it is erroneously thought that “Good Works” result in Salvation.

REMEMBER:  SALVATION IS GOD'S GIFT - NOT OUR REWARD

I suppose it is hoped that by having laws and morals by which to live, people will eventually arrive at the right point, but they are wrong in their approach as that time has already been and gone - we are now in New Testament times, not the Old any more.  People must be told of the Good News first - that  Jesus was judged by the Law on our behalf (but my men, not God), and took the punishment upon himself.  Thus we are no longer judged by the Law, and we don't follow the Law out of fear of punishment, but rather cheerfully obey the Law out of a loving response to Jesus, which results in the Fruit of the Vine witnessing the message to others.

But it must be said that there is no compulsion to believe in God or Jesus. Christians believe that God gave man free choice to believe or not to believe.  He wants man to follow Him voluntarily - He does not want a world of robots. Christianity is not a religion - it is a relationship.  In the religions of the world man seeks a god who then has to be placated.  The God of Christianity made the first move towards wanting a relationship with His creation, and so Christianity is a response willingly made to God who made this first move and God even wants to forgive us for going the wrong way in choosing our own path.  And the wonderful thing is that this offer of forgiveness is free - there is no catch, no charge!  This is what we call "Grace" - the undeserved favour we are offered.
It is through Grace that we are Saved, and it is offered because God loves us so much that he cannot bear to be without us.  And it is offered to all freely - rich and poor - Jew and Gentile.  I cannot repeat it too often - Salvation is a Gift, not a Reward.  We are all now entitled to enter into His Kingdom as adopted Sons and Daughters.  He made us His children when He created us, and dearly wants us to return to His fold.

So what is being missed by those who don't believe?  If  I ask a Christian to sum up in one sentence what their relationship with Jesus means to them, the word which recurs is "Friend".  Jesus is, to a Christian, the only true friend to whom one can confide one's most innermost thoughts, share joys and sorrows, and He can give advice,  support and strength in times of trouble.

And how do you know what  Jesus would say to you?  He's not so difficult to get to know.  If you read just the Four Gospels as a start, you are reading the “diaries” of those who knew Him best - those who spoke with Him, ate and drank with Him, and travelled with Him.  St Paul may have got to know him spiritually, but never knew the man.  The clothes He wore, the way He spoke, the way He walked, sat and ate.  After reading just the Four Gospels as a start then, one gets a very clear picture of Jesus so that if you were to ask Him a question, it is not difficult to know what He would be likely to say in reply.

With Jesus, you are also never alone.  Through Him you are reconciled to God, who will do anything you ask in Jesus' name (Well, of course, only what He knows is good for you...).

Christians believe that God took on human form and came into the world physically as Jesus, who firstly told us how much God loved the world, secondly that we should respond by loving Him and each other, thirdly by showing us how much God loved us by sacrificing His own life and dying for us, and finally demonstrated by rising from the dead that God has power even over death, and that there is everlasting life for those who choose to follow Him.  If this idea of responding has difficulties, consider the following:

You are about to cross the road and do not see a heavy truck coming.  You step out and would be hit, but someone who sees what is about to happen rushes out and pushes you out of the way just in time.  Your life is saved, but unfortunately, the other person does not get out of the way in time and is struck down by the truck and maimed for life.  Consider how you are going to respond to that person.  So by dying on the cross Jesus saved our spiritual lives, and through the Resurrection showed that there is eternal life for those who accept Him.

Now look at that story from Jesus' point of view:  Imagine seeing someone you love suffering the most terrible pain.  Your love for them could have you asking that you take on that pain instead of them, and if you love them totally and completely would not hesitate.  In “The Prince and the Pauper” young Tom Canty is condemned to a public flogging, but Miles asks that he has it instead - a real sacrifice indeed.  This is exactly what God in Jesus did for us.  He wanted to take upon Himself our pain of sin.

So why be a Christian?  You don't have to be, but Christians believe that it is a natural response to Jesus' love - the same response that one would give to the person who pushed you out of the way of the truck.  This initial response is an emotion, and its presence is shown (or should be!) by Christians in the things that they do.  They know that if they want to please God they will do what He wants them to do.  This requires obedience, and to obey means to acknowledge God's superiority.  Christians acknowledge God's superiority by accepting Him as Lord and Master of all.  Jesus is to the Christian, then, both Saviour and Lord.

Whilst Jesus is God in human form (which we explain in another chapter), He is all that man has ever seen, so it is important to remember that Jesus said "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" meaning that we know what God is like by seeing what Jesus is like.  Another “part” or “aspect” of God (also explained in another chapter) - is His “Spirit” - the Holy Spirit - which is the force which moves men's hearts, encourages them, gives them strength, power and gifts from God so that they can do things in His Name, for man cannot do spiritual things in his own strength.  Once a man has accepted Jesus as Saviour and Lord, he can ask for the Holy Spirit to come and give the help he will need in living his new spiritual life.

Believing that Jesus is the “Son of God” (a somewhat unusual expression discussed elsewhere) does not make one a Christian, however.  A  republican MP may well believe de facto that Elizabeth II is the Queen of England, but that doesn't make him a royalist!

To continue the analogy: an active royalist (and a Christian has to be active) doesn't merely acknowledge a sovereign's existence, he follows and obeys that sovereign's wishes.  Here we come to an important point: "Belief” in common parlance usually means "to acknowledge the existence of", but the theological meaning of the word is different - it requires positive action - Faith - which is "Belief" in “Action".  To the Christian, Jesus is the King, and the "believer" follows and obeys - things requiring Action.

You may well believe that a parachute will work, but it takes faith to make that jump!
 
One may note, incidentally, that there is a direct connection between Christianity and royalty, and the terminology overlaps:  Royal Priesthood, King of Kings etc, going back to King David, antecedent of Jesus.  Just look at the wording in very many hymns.  This also explains why communists have to be atheists.

“Action” does not mean that the Christian merely lives by a list of rules.  It is more complex than that.  Emotions are involved, which is obvious if one says that a loved one - parent, spouse or child - is not loved by applying a list of rules.  True, a parent has to give rules to a very young child (”Don't play with the matches!”) who cannot understand the meaning behind them, but that child will grow to understand that those rules are there for its own and others protection.  A child also feels safer and more cared for if it knows the boundaries.

Unfortunately, many people try to define their own "Christianity" to suit their own needs and drift away from what it really means and make the unwitting mistake of imagining and inventing the sort of God and Christianity that they want, so many say "I think this" and "I think that" instead of saying "The Bible says this and that".   This issue is now becoming more relevant due to certain moral issues.  It is the Bible which says what God is like, and what Christianity is.  The Bible says that God made Man, yet man tries to turn the tables.

There are, then, things that the Christian believes, and things that the Christian does.  Some things he does so that he can believe, and others that he believes, so that he can do.


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SO NOW YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN? What one now does as a Christian.

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RECEIVING JESUS

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