Introduction to my Christian Life…..

When I sat down at my computer to write this, I was worried about how others would react. What if they said “This bloke’s not a Bible scholar? Who does he think he is”? Well fortunately, unlike John Bunyan, who spent twelve years in jail for preaching the Gospel as an un-licensed preacher, there is nothing but my own conscience and the leading of the Holy Spirit to stop me. If my musings are rubbish, then I waste my own time. However, if my thoughts were considered acceptable and one person has a better understanding of some bible verses as a result, then all would not have been in vain. There used to be a programme on BBC Radio 4 called “The Tingle Factor”. In this programme, esteemed and distinguished guests, actors, writers, politicians and anyone else who could have some small claim to fame would be asked to discuss pieces of music, which, when played would evoke memories of days past, make the hairs on the back of their necks stand on end, or give them a feeling called “the tingle factor”. They would describe these events from the past and what the passage meant to them.  Some of these accounts were humorous, some moving, others tragic. Some of the people involved were humorous, some moving, others tragic. Some of the music was humorous, some moving, some tragic. But as I drove around the country on my numerous business trips, the radio would play out the misery of these peoples lives, another half hour would pass, and I would be nearer my journeys end. The music was key to many of these people’s lives and would often mark momentous events, life changing situations, great tragedy or huge catastrophes. There are many verses in the Bible that have a similar affect on people, some are well known, some less so. All are key in telling the story of the Bible. I know it can be wrong to take individual verses and try to use them to tell their own narrative. Here I hope I am not doing this, here I am taking some verses that will be examined in context, using the backbone of the adjacent verses and the chapters and books from which they are extracted. Looking at the structure in which they are set and not just using them as slogans or catchphases. It is important that any commentary, however short, amateurish or banal, should be scripturally and spiritually correct. After all a verse out of context is a pretext. Hopefully, what I say may be informative, sometimes humorous, sometimes moving but never tragic. Most importantly, I hope this is in plain English. I do not seek an award from the Plain English Society; I just hope that someone, by reading what is here, may get a glimpse of life. Why plain English? Well the problem is, many, well at least some of the commentaries written on various aspects of the Bible are written in a language alien to most people. All very well for the Christian or theologian, they both speak that hidden and most mysterious of all languages, Chritianese, the language which shrouds the simple message of the gospels into a deep and impenetrable vagueness. The most popular Bible, the King James Version is itself written in an archaic language which although beautiful, is not at all helpful to our understanding. I implore you therefore to beg, buy or borrow a modern translation such as the New International Version. Years ago, my own conversion was hindered by Chritianese. I was in my mid twenties and dating a “religious bird”. To help me in my carnal quest, I went along to church with her on Sunday evenings. She went to a small assembly, most of the people there were, very, very old, they sang hymns that were very, very old. They used the King James Version of the bible; all other translations were banned and probably burned at regular intervals. The evening service was supposed to be a “Gospel” meeting. The morning communion service being reserved for God fearing believers only. Week after week I went along to the “Gospel” meeting and I heard how “I was saved by Grace”. Problem was I didn’t know anyone called Grace. They told me “I was redeemed by the blood of the Lamb”. Ah hah! I thought, perhaps Grace was a butcher or a vet? “The Lamb who was slain and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God”? No, Grace worked at the abattoirs! They spoke in their very own language, Chritianese, and I had not the slightest idea what they were going on about. Unfortunately, this is still going on today. Churches communicate in their own “church speak” to the exclusion, alienation and ultimate damnation of outsiders. But, being a forward thinking little group, one day, they had a children’s outreach service. A chap called Jonathan Day, I believe he was from an organisation called Operation Mobilisation, was supposed to be the speaker. Except he didn’t say a word. Instead, a ventriloquist’s doll, sounding incredibly like Jonathan, upon whose knee he sat, was the speaker. Jonathan obviously found it hard to follow what the poor little chap was saying, because his mouth sometimes seemed to move in time with the dolls. But, he preached the gospel, but this time in words of one syllable; he spoke English, like what it should be spoke. There was a meeting of minds, not mine and Jonathans, but me and the vent! (We in the know, refer to ventriloquist’s dolls as vents). The thick, wooden empty skull met and communicated on equal terms with the vent. Result? I understood, I believed and was baptised. Not there and then, but some months later at the first available baptism, (there are procedures you understand).  Anyway, to get back to the plot, I have tried to keep to plain English, and having complained about the KJV, I quote it a lot, and I am and will be eternally grateful to that little and still thriving Brethren Assembly, Lee Street Church, Horley, Surrey, without whom I would be destined for the fires of hell. So, no letters of complaint about Brethren bashing. In case you were wondering what happened to the religious bird, well I married her in 1977 and as far as I know, she hasn’t regretted a moment.

Isaiah 9 vs 2

2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. [1] KJV

2* Those who walked in the dark have seen a bright light. And it shines upon everyone who lives in the land of darkest shadows. [2] CEV

What a superb verse to start with. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light!” Who are they? In the Hebrew, the people referred to are the nation of Israel. As far as they were concerned they were all that mattered. As far as prophecy was concerned, the people of Israel were the only people God had communication with. As far as the Old Testament and the writers of it were concerned, no one else existed. The people of Israel were a very elitist society. Although the world was populated with what the Jews disparagingly called “Gentiles”, from the far west of Portugal across to the ends of Russia, China and beyond, up to the Arctic Circle and down to the tip of Africa, and although no one knew at the time, all across the length and breadth of the Americas Australia and New Zealand as well, as far as the Jews were concerned, they were it! No one else was there. No one else mattered to God, no one else knew God, and as far as they believed, God cared even less for the “Gentiles” than they did. If the Jews had understood these prophecies, their most likely reaction would be; does he mean us? Surely not! The Jews truly believed that they walked not in darkness, but in the light of God. Consider this, the world then, geographically, was very similar to the world we know today, apart from the odd plate shift and a few volcanic bits that come and go occasionally. When we read the bible, especially the Old Testament, most people think of the Middle East as being “the world”. Because it is a written history that is very introspective and self-centred, we forget that there were many other civilisations spread across the globe, in China and Japan, there were an advanced and cultured people. Across Europe there was civilisation. All across America there would have been Native American Indians. Even in the Antipodes, aboriginal tribes were probably established and thriving. The whole world as we know it today was populated by many peoples of different races, all made in Gods image, all created from the same dust, all in need of salvation. All Gentiles, every one of them walking in darkness. But what is this darkness and what is this light? Before looking at the darkness, it might be easier to see what is the light referenced here. Jesus called himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12), John the apostle referred to Jesus as the light (John 1:9), in a passage that comes up later. Those who receive the gospel, receive the light. Those who live in Christ live in the light.  What we are talking about, in plain English is good & bad. The light is the good, the darkness is the bad. Jesus is light. Satan is darkness. Heaven is light; hell is darkness, the dark pit of hell, as it is sometimes referred to. So to look at this in a contemporary setting, and this is very much aimed at the non-Christian.  In the “Lord of the Rings, written by Tolkien, a devout Catholic, what was the dark side? The bad guys! In Star Wars, The evil empire and Darth Vader were “on the dark side”. Even in Harry Potter, they spoke of the dark side. (“He who cannot be named went to the dark side”) So basically, Light = Good and Darkness = Evil. Enough of novels, back to the bible again. So what is this light and dark? Christ said, in Acts 26:16-18, as an instruction to Saul on the Damascus Road, 16 “I have appeared to you, because I have chosen you to be my servant. You are to tell others what you have learned about me and what I will show you later.” Then Jesus went on to say, 17 “I will protect you from the Jews and from the Gentiles that I am sending you to. 18 I want you to open their eyes, so that they will turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then their sins will be forgiven, and by faith in me they will become part of God’s holy people.”[3] (Another great passage, worthy of mention later.) Jesus, the risen Lord spoke directly to Saul and gave a commission that would take him to the end of his mortal life and beyond. Why beyond? Because we still have the letters or Epistles of Paul (the apostle formally know as Saul) to teach us, as Christians, how to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Turn from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the love of God. How plain can the message be? Here the Bible is quite simply equating the power of Satan to darkness and overwhelming power of God to light.

“On those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” Sounds a bit like the well know Crimea poem, “Into the valley of death rode the five thousand…..” Well that is exactly it. Without the light of Jesus, death is the only thing on the agenda. What is meant by death, well apart from physical death, which like tax is unavoidable; there is also spiritual death. Now that is a little trickier to understand! Physical death is very easy, your heart stops beating, you stop breathing and your brain cells stop functioning, all three will happen, but not necessarily in that order. Death is a fact of life, or death is a fact of death, depending on your viewpoint. Your lights go out and there is no one in. You are an ex-person, to paraphrase Monty Python. Spiritual death is a much more serious business. It is the one thing that Jesus despaired of on the cross. He did not complain about the excruciating agony, an agony which we could not comprehend, the agony caused by his very flesh being ripped away by the scourge of whipping, the agony made worse by a crown made of thorns, long needle like thorns being forced down on the head, the agony of having nails driven through your wrists and feet, nails which would be driven through your flesh, trough your bone, splintering it on the way, the searing agony as the cross was dropped into the post hole, your entire weight being taken by three rusty nails, the humiliation of being hung naked for all to see. No he despaired, when the sin of the world was placed on His shoulders and God, His Father, who could not look upon sin, turned away. Jesus then and only then cried out, “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me”. Spiritual death is like that, when the Father turns away from you. That is the Heavenly Father, who is light; you are then left in the darkness, the impenetrable darkness of spiritual death.

The other thing I didn’t mention, if you are not heaven bound, then physical death is still not the end, you still have eternal life, but you spend it in agony in the fires of hell.  The choice is yours, heaven or hell. So choose wisely.

God however has given us this choice, of our own free will. He has given all mankind a way out, a free ticket to heaven. A completely free entry to paradise.

[1]The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 . Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Oak Harbor, WA
* 9:2 Mt 4:16; Lk 1:79.
[2] Contemporary English Version
[3] The Holy Bible: Contemporary English Version