The Phone Call

I got a phone call from Matt yesterday.

“I’ve just read your blog,” he said.

“What do you think of it?” I asked.

He hesitated. “Well, it’s alright, I suppose … as far as it goes.”

“What do you mean, Matt?”

“Well, it only tells half the story. It’s true enough – what you said – but, taken by itself, it gives people the impression that Christians think that all you have to be is nice to go to heaven.”

“But don’t they, Matt?”

I heard a sharp intake of breath at the other end of the phone.

“Of course they don’t, Sami! I thought you knew that!”

“Sorry,” I said. “So, what do they believe?”

“Just what Jesus told us. You have to be born again – given a new life by the Holy Spirit – to enter the Kingdom of God. And I need to point out that it happens in this life, not the next. Anyone – anyone at all – can have a new life and start all over again with God.”

“How does it happen, Matt?”

“Ask. Just ask.”

“Come on,” I said. “There must be more to it than that?”

“Of course there is. But that’s God’s part. Ours is just to ask.”

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What Happens Next?

I’ve been doing a little investigating since we were last in touch. I wanted to find out what Christians believe happens after they die.

The first thing I discovered is that, based on one of Jesus’ parables, they think that people are divided into “sheep” and “goats”. The sheep are the good people who go to be with Allah in Paradise. (And this is perfectly logical, since Paradise wouldn’t be Paradise if anything bad could enter it!) The goats are the bad people whose destiny is Hell.

Most Christians, of course, think that they are sheep and everyone else is a goat, but they should be aware that Jesus defined “good” and “bad” by behaviour, not belief. He said that the sheep were good because they had treated others with kindness and in doing so had unknowingly treated Allah with kindness. The goats, however, had failed to treat others with kindness and consequently had failed to treat Allah with kindness.

What Jesus tells us in this parable he tells us again in another parable. This concerns a sick man called Lazarus who used to beg outside a rich man’s house, though the rich man took little notice of him. When they died, Lazarus was carried away to Paradise. The rich man, however, woke up to find himself in Hell. When he complained about this, demanding that Lazarus should be sent to wait upon him, Abraham explained that Lazarus was being compensated for all that he had suffered in his lifetime, whereas the rich man was suffering as a consequence of his own heartlessness.

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I’ve Been Neglecting You

I’ve been neglecting you. Sorry. There are two reasons for my neglect. Firstly, I’ve been very busy. Secondly, I had – until very recently – run out of inspiration. But now there’s something to report.

Last night I invited Matt and his girlfriend Holly round for coffee.

“How’s that blog of yours going, Sami?” asked Matt.

“Not very well, if I’m honest,” I admitted. “Actually, that’s one of the reasons I invited you round here. I want to pick your brains.”

Holly peered at me suspiciously over the rim of her coffee cup. “What about?”

“I’m still confused. Tell me again what Christians think about the Trinity.”

“The thing is,” she said, “Christians don’t think about the Trinity. They just accept the concept as a matter of course and wouldn’t dream of questioning it.”

“But it doesn’t make sense,” I complained. “It’s just not logical!”

“Maybe the concept doesn’t seem logical to us because of our human limitations,” said Matt, “but that’s really a factor in its favour. I mean, think about it – a God you could understand wouldn’t be a God at all.”

I thought about his statement for a while, but it still didn’t get any clearer. “I don’t know what you mean,” I said.

“Look at it this way. Here’s Mr Smith,” said Holly, placing her cup on the table. She put a teaspoon next to the cup. ” And here’s his dog, Fido.”

“Oh, really?” I groaned.

“Yes, Sami. Now Fido,” she said, pointing to the spoon, “loves Mr Smith. And why wouldn’t he? Mr Smith feeds him, gives him shelter, takes him for walks and throws sticks for him to fetch. He loves Mr Smith – but he doesn’t understand him. Fortunately, he doesn’t need to. On the other hand, Mr Smith loves Fido and understands him totally. Do you see what I’m trying to say?”

“Yes, I think so. . . er, actually, no, I don’t know what you mean at all.”

“What Holly’s saying,” said Matt, “is that we – the created beings – are not very likely to understand the Creator who made us and everything else there is. He, though, understands us perfectly.”

I sniffed.

“Would you like some more coffee?” I asked. “And I might even have some chocolate biscuits hidden away somewhere ….”

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Words and Music

I ought to mention the part that music plays in Christian services. Actually, it’s a very big part!

Sunday services in the average Christian church normally consist of a “hymn sandwich”.

You go in. You sit down – anywhere, because nobody minds. And then, at the start of the service, you stand up again and sing a hymn. It might be an ancient hymn in old-fashioned language, or it might be a modern worship song, complete with dancing and clapping. But it will almost certainly be sung in the local language.

Then will come a prayer – again, in the local language. There was a time when the more traditional churches would have said their prayers in Latin, but not any more. Some churches use prayer books, so that everyone reads out the written prayers in unison, but most churches have a man (or woman) at the front who makes up a prayer as he (or she)  goes along.

Then comes another hymn.

Then, perhaps, they’ll take a collection.

Another hymn. (You be thinking there’s a lot of hymns, but I like them because it means that everyone present is getting involved in worshipping Allah.)

More prayers, led from the front.

A passage from the Bible will be read. Again, it will in the local language.

Then the sermon, which will a talk based on the passage which has just been read.

And finally, another hymn.

Some points to note: the hymns are all accompanied by music. Traditionally, the music was provided by and organ. But things are changing and more popular instruments are being brought into the churches, like pianos or other keyboard instruments, guitars, trumpets and drums.

Looking now at the range of hymns available: some are very old. The following hymn is based on a psalm the David wrote while he was himself looking after his father’s sheep. That means that it dates back to about 1000 BCE.

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.

My soul He doth restore again,
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
E’en for His own name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear no ill;
For Thou art with me, and Thy rod
And staff my comfort still.

My table Thou hast furnished me
In presence of my foes;
My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me;
And in God’s house forevermore,
My dwelling place shall be.

A more modern hymn, written by Matt Redman, is:

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

Bless the Lord
Bless the Lord
Oh my soul, oh my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

You’re rich in love
And You’re slow to anger
Your name is great
And Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness
I will keep on singing
10, 000 Reasons for my heart to find

Bless the Lord
Oh my soul, oh my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

Sing my soul, sing my soul
Bless the Lord
Oh my soul, oh my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

So, that should give you some idea of what’s available.

 

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A Relationship

I went round to Matt’s place last night and asked him to tell me some more about his Christian religion. He gave me a strange look.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, a little nervously.

“Well,” he said, “the thing is … I don’t consider that I have a religion.”

I laughed.

“Of course you do, Matt. You go to church, don’t you?”

He nodded slowly.

“Yes, I do. But if by ‘religion’ you mean a set of rules, regulations and rituals – that’s not what my faith’s about.”

“Oh?” I said. “Then what is it all about?”

“I haven’t got a religion – I’ve got a relationship. It’s a relationship with God – Allah, in your terminolog.”

I was puzzled now.

“But the Christian Bible tells you what to do and what you mustn’t do, doesn’t it?”

“I think,” he said, “I need to explain a bit more about the Bible. You know already that it isn’t just one book – it’s sixty-six separate books, all bound up together. The first part’s the Old Testament. A lot of that is the rules and regulations which were given to the Israelites, but which they couldn’t keep. The second part – what we call the New Testament – is partly biography and partly good advice. Four books of the Bible cover the life of Jesus as recorded by four different men who were with him at the time. And it’s Jesus who gave us those two rules I told you about – love God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself.”

“And what about the good advice?” I asked.

Matt grinned.

“There’s plenty of that,” he said. “But we aren’t given instructions on what to do in every situation because, as you can imagine, Palestine two thousand years ago was culturally and socially a very different place to what Hoxton is today. So, instead, we’re given general principles which it’s our responsibility to apply to our own particular situation.”

“But doesn’t that lead to anarchy?”

“No,” said Matt, “because we’re also given the Holy Spirit to guide us. He’s holy, so he’ll only guide us in ways that are holy themselves. And he’s a spirit, so he can’t be seen or felt, except in our hearts. If we’re ever unsure whether it’s the Holy Spirit guiding us, or simply  our own ideas, we need remember that the Holy Spirit would never contradict those general principles laid down in the Bible.”

I thought for a minute.

“So how does the Holy Spirit come to people, Matt?”

“He’s Person – dealing with people. He treats each one of them as an individual. He comes to each person in the way that’s most appropriate for them. That’s why it’s different for everybody. But all they need to do is ask – and expect an answer.”

“Is the Holy Spirit God, Matt?”

“Yes,” he said, “but there is only one God and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God.”

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Divided Opinions

Here’s something I found while looking through one of the books of the Christian Bible. It surprised me so much when I read it that I thought you might like to see it too.

At dawn Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The Gospel of John, Chapter Eight

One half of me, after I’d read this, thought: this woman’s guilty and he’s let her get away with it!

The other half of me said: I rather like the style of this clever and compassionate man.

Was he right to let her go? Well, what do you think?

 

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It’s Not Us and Them

The more I look at things, the more I’m forced to the conclusion that I’ve been looking at things the wrong way.

I was born and brought up as a Muslim, so I’ve been looking at Muslims and Christians in terms of “us” and “them”. But now I’ve come to see that it’s not “us” and “them”, it’s “us” and “us”!

A Muslim is someone who submits to Allah. But Muslims aren’t the only people who submit to Allah.

And a Christian is someone who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. But Christians aren’t the only people who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.

So, it rather looks as though we’re all in the same boat, whether we appreciate it or not!

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