Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A Hidden Message In The Lord’s Family Tree

I came across this fascinating article about the discovery of a hidden message in the Genesis 5 genealogy of Adam. Here is the passage followed by the explanation of the hidden message:

Genesis 5: The Family of Adam (New King James Version)
1 This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created. 3 And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. 4 After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughters. 5 So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died. 6 Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begot Enosh. 7 After he begot Enosh, Seth lived eight hundred and seven years, and had sons and daughters. 8 So all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years; and he died. 9 Enosh lived ninety years, and begot Cainan. 10 After he begot Cainan, Enosh lived eight hundred and fifteen years, and had sons and daughters. 11 So all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years; and he died. 12 Cainan lived seventy years, and begot Mahalalel. 13 After he begot Mahalalel, Cainan lived eight hundred and forty years, and had sons and daughters. 14 So all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years; and he died. 15 Mahalalel lived sixty-five years, and begot Jared. 16 After he begot Jared, Mahalalel lived eight hundred and thirty years, and had sons and daughters. 17 So all the days of Mahalalel were eight hundred and ninety-five years; and he died. 18 Jared lived one hundred and sixty-two years, and begot Enoch. 19 After he begot Enoch, Jared lived eight hundred years, and had sons and daughters. 20 So all the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years; and he died. 21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. 22 After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. 23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24 And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. 25 Methuselah lived one hundred and eighty-seven years, and begot Lamech. 26 After he begot Lamech, Methuselah lived seven hundred and eighty-two years, and had sons and daughters. 27 So all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years; and he died. 28 Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and had a son. 29 And he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed.” 30 After he begot Noah, Lamech lived five hundred and ninety-five years, and had sons and daughters. 31 So all the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy-seven years; and he died. 32 And Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah begot Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

When translating the names from Hebrew to English, you get the following:

HEBREW / English
Adam / Man
Seth / Appointed
Enosh / Mortal
Kenan / Sorrow
Mahalalel / The blessed God
Jared / Shall come down
Enoch / Teaching
Methuselah / His death shall bring
Lamech / Despairing
Noah / Rest or comfort.

Putting these names in translation into a sentence, it reads:
Man (is) appointed (to) mortal sorrow; (but) the blessed God shall come down teaching (that) his death shall bring (the) despairing rest.
Is this not the Gospel of our Lord!

John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Friday, 26 November 2010

Christmas Trees - Pagan or Christian?

I always thought that the Christmas Tree was a pagan symbol which the Church has tried to Christianize. Imagine my surprise when I discovered recently that actually the opposite is true. It first emerged in the context of the Liturgical Drama. In the Middle Ages liturgical plays or dramas were presented during or sometimes immediately after the services in the churches of Western Europe. The earliest of these plays were associated with the Mysteries of Holy Week and Easter. Initially they were dramatizations of the liturgical texts. The earliest recorded is the Quem quaeritis (“Whom do you seek?”) play of the Easter season. These plays later developed into the Miracle and Morality plays. Some were associated with events in the lives of well-known saints. The plays were presented on the porches of large churches. Although these liturgical dramas have now virtually disappeared, the Passion Play of Oberammergau, Germany is a recent revival of this dramatic form.

One mystery play was presented on Christmas Eve, the day which also commemorated the feast of Adam and Eve in the Western Church. The “Paradise Play” told the well-known story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Paradise. The central “prop” in the play was the Paradise Tree, or Tree of Knowledge. During the play this tree was brought in laden with apples.

The Paradise Tree became very popular with the German people. They soon began the practice of setting up a fir tree in their homes. Originally, the trees were decorated with bread wafers commemorating the Eucharist. Later, these were replaced with various kinds of sweets. Our Christmas tree is derived, not from the pagan yule tree, but from the paradise tree adorned with apples on December 24 in honor of Adam and Eve. The Christmas tree is completely biblical in origin.

The first Christmas tree dates from 1605 in Strasbourg. By the 1700s the custom of the Christmas tree was widespread among the German people. It was brought to America by early German immigrants, and it became popular in England through the influence of Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria.

The use of evergreens at Christmas may date from St. Boniface of the eighth century, who dedicated the fir tree to the Holy Child in order to replace the sacred oak tree of Odin; but the Christmas tree as we know it today does not appear to be so ancient a custom. It appears first in the Christian Mystery play commemorating the biblical story of Adam and Eve.

In one article I read recently the writer asks: "How legitimate is it to use a fir tree in the celebration of Christmas? From the very earliest days of the Church, Christians brought many things of God’s material creation into their life of faith and worship, e.g., water, bread, wine, oil, candles and incense. All these things are part of God’s creation. They are part of the world that Christ came to save. Man cannot reject the material creation without rejecting his own humanity. In Genesis man was given dominion over the material world.

Christmas celebrates the great mystery of the Incarnation. In that mystery God the Word became man. In order to redeem us, God became one of us. He became part of His own creation. The Incarnation affirms the importance of both man and the whole of creation. “For God so loved the world…”

A faith which would seek to divorce itself from all elements of the material world in search for an absolutely spiritual religion overlooks this most central mystery of Christmas, the mystery of God becoming man, the Incarnation."

So it is not a case of Christianizing the Christmas Tree so much as reclaiming it again for what it really is, a Christian symbol representing the tree from the Garden of Eden which itself is seen, in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, as a figure of the cross of Christ. Think of Adam and Eve, their fall from grace, and the Tree on which Jesus died to redeem us and the Christmas Tree is a wonderful Christian symbol which deserves centre place in our celebrations.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Happy Birthday King James Bible - or is it?

A recent survey has revealed that many under-35s have never heard of the King James Bible despite being one of the biggest selling books in history. It's been praised by some as the most beautiful book ever written and is set to celebrate its 400th anniversary next year, but many young people have never even heard of it.

According to this new survey out this week, 51 per cent of under-35s have never heard of the King James Bible. However awareness was far greater among the over-55s, with only 28 per cent saying they had never heard of it.

The poll was carried out for the King James Bible Trust, which is spearheading nationwide celebrations surrounding the translation’s anniversary. A spokesman for the Trust was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying: “There has been a dramatic drop in knowledge in a generation. Yet this is a work which was far more influential than Shakespeare in the development and spread of English.”

In fact Victor Hugo (1802 - 1885) - no friend of the Christian Faith - once wrote: “England has two books; the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England.”

I suppose the question that can therefore be asked is: "If the Bible made England (Britain) can the rejection of the Bible un-make it?" My answer - and it is my answer - is yes, in time. For as the Bible and its teachings begin to fade from our memories we will lapse into godlessness, where selfishness and self-interest will rise to new heights. It is up to us - the Church - to do all we can to stop this happening.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

John Lennon and the X Factor

Okay I confess. I watch X Factor. Usually it's over the top of my laptop, but I can't resist watching the unfolding drama as the public insist on voting in one of the worst singers in the whole competition each week, usually at the cost of more accomplished performers. But what caught my eye - or rather ear - last time was the perfomance of one of my least favourite songs 'Imagine' by John Lennon. Why don't I like it? It's because of what I have always perceived as it's anti-Christian lyrics:

"Imagine there's no heaven,
it's easy if you try,
no hell below us,
above us only sky".

For years I have struggled with the phenomenon which was John Lennon, and in particular his outspoken views on Christianity. But, as is often the case, I have been rather too quick to judge and I was interested to learn a few things about John Lennon that I did not know before and which have softened my view of him.

For example I learned recently that John, when a teenager, was banned by the local vicar from coming back to the Liverpool church where he had been baptized and confirmed, because he had laughed during a service.

Again John could be outspoken on various subjects, included Christianity. Take this quote originally published in an interview for the London Evening Standard in 1966:

"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ’n’ roll or Christianity."

Before judging Lennon harshly—especially those of you who have come across these words for the first time—note that Lennon also said, when asked about this, that he did not approve of that much popularity, and that he could as easily have said that television was more popular than Jesus as that the Beatles were. More importantly, he said repeatedly that he was talking only about his native country, England, and nowhere else.

Moreover, three years later he said, “I’m one of Christ’s biggest fans, and if I can turn the focus on the Beatles on to Christ’s message, then that’s what we’re here to do.” Sadly, Lennon’s understanding of that message may have amounted to little more than his own anti-war message of “peace and love.”

In a recent article from Touchstone magazine, Robert Hart who is rector of St. Benedict’s Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, wrote:

"That Lennon was naive, and honest to the point of genuine eccentricity, is also to be weighed among other factors, such as his having, in cognitive terms, an earliest memory of seeing German planes in the sky over Liverpool, and hearing the harsh whistle of falling bombs and ground-shaking explosions while his mother, in a state of panic, rushed him to the nearest bomb shelter. He had been abandoned by his father, and as a young boy was sent to be raised by an aunt even before the death of his mother.

Add to these factors an IQ known to have been above genius level and a lifetime of artistic endeavor, and it is clear that John Lennon was predestined not to be boring. This complicated man died, tragically murdered, on December 8, 1980, having said on the same day that he was, among other “Zen” things, a “Zen Christian.” He left us confused about his meaning, as always.

It was a sadly ironic death. Born during an air raid, having his earliest memory that of an air raid, and dying forty years later from gunshot wounds inflicted by an unprovoked madman, the self-appointed messenger of “peace and love” came into this world in violence and was taken from it in violence. Though his sins were not hidden, neither was his sincerity about what he thought to be the message of Christ, as he said plainly on various occasions."

Actually what John Lennon said in 1966 is not what so many were quick to assume and to decry in a knee-jerk reaction. The real problem is the element of truth in what he said. The Beatles were more popular than the Lord himself among youth in England at the time, as was Frank Sinatra among the older set in America—and as are television, video games, and many other things of this world to very many people today. Lennon, the eccentric artist, poet, and musician, spoke all too accurately."

And what was wrong with the performance? Oddly enough the fact that it was popped-up and not sung in a way that did the song justice. I may not have liked the song - and I am still not a huge fan - but like it or loathe it, it is still a good enough song to be sung properly and in a way that does justice to the words and sentiments. The young lady turned it into a pop song and ripped its heart out. John would not have approved and neither do I.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Emmanuel, God with us

One of my favourite titles for Jesus is 'Emmanuel' meaning 'God with us'. And one of my favourite hymns of all times is "O come, O come, Emmanuel" which I look forward to singing every Advent. Why is Emmanuel such a precious name to me for Jesus? Because it reassures me that Jesus is not just the person who WAS with us, but also the person who IS with us, now and everyday. That is why I love the Jesus Prayer because it is a daily reminder of that wonderful truth.

In T.S.Eliot's poem The Waste Land there are these wonderful lines towards the end:

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is alwasy another one walking beside you...

In his notes accompanying the poem Eliot explains that he had in mind the story that was told of Shackleton's Antartic expedition: how the party of explorers, when at the extremity of their strength, repeatedly felt that there was one more member than could actually be counted. It's also hard not to imagine that Eliot's Christian faith woudl also have dredged up his own memories of stories from the Bible where others had a similar experience. Like for example King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon who, looking into the burning fiery furnace into which Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had been caste for refusing to worship idols, saw an amazing sight:
"Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? Yet I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." (Daniel 3:24-25)

So for me, as for Eliot, the idea of God with us has come to mean a great deal. And as we continue this Nativity Fast - or in my case, prepare for Advent - it is with eager anticipation of the celebration of when Christ came among us and stayed.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Condoms and the Pope

Apparently Pope Benedict XVI has suggested that condoms may be justified in some situations to prevent the infection of HIV/AIDS. A new book, Light of the World, features excerpts of an interview with journalist Peter Seewald in which the Pope cites the example of a male prostitute and suggests that it would be acceptable for him to wear a condom.

The Pope says: “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.

"But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanisation of sexuality.”

The Pope indicates in the interview that the Catholic Church remains opposed to the use of condoms as a means of addressing the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

He says that the use of condoms are not in themselves a “real or moral” solution to HIV/AIDS but adds that the intention of reducing the risk of infection could be regarded as a “first step” towards a “more human way, of living sexuality”.

In response to media headlines reporting that the Pope had given the green light to condoms, the Catholic Church in England and Wales insisted that the Pope had not wanted to express a position on the problem of condoms in general but had rather wanted to "affirm strongly that the problem of AIDS cannot be resolved solely with the distribution of condoms".

Comment: Condoms may not be the way to deal with the problem of AIDS but in the light of the failure of people to understand the teachings of the Church/Christian Faith we must surely make allowances for people's sin, weakness and blindness to the truth. We surely have to agree with the use of something that can protect them and others from the spread of HIV/AIDS. I suppose the problem is that by saying condoms are okay we appear to be saying that sex outside marriage and/or with no sense of responsibility is okay when clearly it is not.

A parents love?

Just when you think you have heard it all along comes the following from America:

"A US couple’s decision to let the public vote on whether or not they should keep their baby has dismayed prolifers. Pete and Alisha Arnold, both 30, have set up the website, www.birthornot.com, to allow people to place their vote, as well as share their thoughts and see pictures of the foetus – nicknamed “Wiggles” by the pair.

Alisha is already 17 weeks pregnant, meaning that the unborn baby is entering the stage of growth where it is able to suck its thumb and hear voices. The couple have given the public until December 7 to vote, just two days before the couple reach the legal limit for an abortion in their home state of Minnesota – 20 weeks, a stage at which it is believed babies can experience pain.

The Arnolds say on their website that the public’s vote “will not go unheard”.
“The whole point here is to let people have a real way to voice your opinion on the topic of abortion and have it actually make a difference in the real world,” they say....

At one point, there were more votes for the pair to abort their baby but the last few days have seen a significant increase in the number of votes for the birth to go ahead after some prolifers began rallying people to vote against the abortion.

Out of more than 70,000 votes polled, 56,000 people want the couple to give birth – nearly 80 per cent of the votes so far."

If the prolife votes win the day you can only imagine what the child will think when it grows up and finds how his/her life hung in the balance due to the votes of people who cared more for them than their parents did.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Church

"The Church gives us not a system, but a key; not a plan of God's City, but the means of entering it. Perhaps someone will lose his way because he has no plan. But all that he will see, he will see without a mediator, he will see it directly, it will be real for him; while he who has studied only the plan risks remaining outside and not really finding anything."
Fr Georges Florovsky

To live is Christ, to die is gain

"I shall soon be far away from those I love. I shall soon be cut off from the brothers and sisters whom God has given me. I shall be driven by evil men from the place where God has called me to live and work. I confess that I am sad. I may even say that I am bitter. I will add that I am angry. But I do not despair. On the contrary I feel hope. The source of my hope is the knowledge that, though I shall be separated from my brothers and sisters in body, I shall not be separated in spirit. The proof of this is in Christ. The first apostles knew Him in body; and when He was crucified, theyr feared that they would be separated from Him for ever. But as He Himself had prophesied, the bodily separation brought them even closer in spirit. After His death they knew Him in the very depth of their hearts. Equally, when I am separated in body from my brothers and sisters, I shall be even closer in spirit; I shall know them even more deeply than I know them at present. In this knowledge my sadness will melt away, my bitter emotions will grow sweet again, and my anger will be soothed. Nothing can destroy love which is rooted and founded in Christ."
St. John Chrysostom

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Christians happier than atheists

There’s an interesting article in USA Today by David Campbell and Robert Putman, two political scientists who’ve just completed a magisterial, five-year study of the way in which religion affects American society. They try and present their findings in an even-handed, politically neutral way, but there’s no escaping the fact that religion and religious people emerge vey well. Their new book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us All, sounds like a definitive rebuttal to Christopher Hitchens’s assertion that “religion poisons everything”.

One of Campbell and Putman’s main discoveries is that religious people are “better neighbours” than their non-religious counterparts. By this, they mean that they’re more likely to volunteer to help out those less fortunate than themselves, as well as give to charity.

The rest of the article can be found by clicking here:

Friday, 19 November 2010

Happiness at all costs?

"When I worked as a headmaster, prospective parents would frequently say to me that above all they wanted their children to be happy. While this is a very reasonable aspiration for parents, part of me wanted to challenge them and say: what do you mean by happy? Do you really want your children to 'feel good' above all else, even if they have to compromise their integrity in order to carry on 'feeling good?' Why do you not want your children to be above all decent, just and honest? I suspect that for some parents, 'happy' does indeed involve virtue, but the atmosphere around the word nowadays means that this cannot be taken for granted. It seems some people are quite prepared to be vicious rather than virtuous in order to be what they call happy.

Recently, some schools have attempted what they call 'happiness education'; yet this easily becomes health education, where health has now been expanded to include mental health. To offer mental health education in schools is a welcome development, but health should not be confused with happiness. To teach happiness does not simply mean offering healthy lifestyle advice; it means teaching that goodness and virtue are integral parts of happiness.

The Christian monastic tradition, like all classic religious and monastic traditions, sees a profound link between happiness and virtue. While there is nothing morally wrong with feeling good, it is not in itself a moral guide to right and wrong. To find such a guide, we need a wider framework. The commonly used principle 'avoid harm to others' seems to be that guide for many people, but it has the unforeseen result of allowing people to neglect the interior, spiritual world from which all our actions spring....If we are to find happiness, we need to go beyond the world of simply feeling good and avoiding harm to enter the world of knowing good and doing good."
Abbot Christopher Jamison: Finding Happiness

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Too little Christianity

In a fiery address at the annual Christian Democratic Union conference at Karlsruhe on 15 November, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans to stand up for Christian values more resolutely. Chancellor Merkel said she was taking the debate on Muslim immigration in Germany, which has been in the headlines for weeks, very seriously. "It isn't that we have too much Islam, but rather too little Christianity. We have too few discussions about the Christian concept of humanity, about the values which guide us and about our Judaeo-Christian traditions. We must once again put them in first place and then we will achieve the consolidation that we need in our society."

Greater love

In 1921 there broke out a jungle fire in the Himalayas. While most of the people around were busy putting it out, I noticed several men standing and looking fixedly into a tree.

“What are you looking at?” I asked.

They, in reply, pointed to a nest full of young birds in a tree whose branches were already burning. Above it, a bird was flying about in great distress.

They said, “We wish we could save that nest, but we cannot go near because of the blazing fire.”

A few minutes later the nest caught fire, and I thought, “Now the mother bird will fly away.”

Instead, to my great astonishment, I saw her fly down and spread her wings over the young ones. In a few minutes the bird was burnt to ashes, along with her youngsters.

I had never seen anything like it before, and I said to those standing near: “Are we not astonished at this wonderful love? Think how much more wonderful must be the love of Him Who has created such an unselfish love in His, creatures.”

Hannah W. Smith wrote, “But now I began to see that if I took all the unselfish love of every mother’s heart the whole world