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Table of Contents

A very Short Course

Questions, Answers, and Issues:

Religion 101 comming soon.

  • Scientific Proof of a higher power

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Cross. Jesus was hung on a cross

Christianity for Beginners and the Curious

a Very Short Course

Sinners wanted. Perfect people need not apply.
Somebody loves you.

Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, was born a Jew. In his brief lifetime, he fulfilled 333 predictions and 456 items over hundreds of years of Jewish prophesy that predicted the coming and activities of the "Messiah" as recorded in the Torah and the Old Testament. Most Christians believe he is also God himself since Jesus dropped several clues to that end, one being when he said ". . . before the world began, I am." "I am" is one of the names of God. "Yahweh" literally means "He Is" in Hebrew.

"Jesus" is the Greek version of the Hebrew "Yeshua" (Joshua) which means "Yahweh Saves".

Christians believe that God exists as 3 entities: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. This is the so-called "Holy Trinity". In spite of this, they believe that the three entities are parts of just one God.

The basic principle of Christianity is that everyone sins at one time or another. Since God hates sin, a sinner can't get into heaven.

However Jesus, though sinless himself, redeemed us by taking on the sins of the world. For a brief time, he "became sin". During that time, he was crucified and died on a cross for a crime he didn't commit. You can learn the details of why this had to happen in the Q/A section.

Now, those who repent their sins and accept Jesus as their redeemer (or savior) can go to heaven in spite of their sins.

That's it in a nutshell. Told you it was short.

The details behind all this took God 700,000 words to tell and you can read all about it in the Bible. We'll get to that in the Q/A section which is next. Read on if you want to know more.

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Questions, Answers, and Issues

What's the difference between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam?

All three worship the same God. The differences revolve around attitudes and beliefs about the nature of God, about Jesus, and Mohammed.

The Jews were "God's chosen people". They started out as a family born to Jacob (later renamed Israel by God) by his two wives and their two maid servants. Jacob produced 12 boys who in turn became the heads of large, tribal, families. One, Joseph, was given a double portion of Jacob's blessing so that his two boys each became a tribe for a total of 13 tribes. For more information about this, see the first book of the Bible, Genesis chapters 29 through 48. The Jews read the Torah. The Old Testament portion of the Bible was all written by prophets of Israel before Jesus was born.

The Jews (Hebrews) went through many trying times and were sent many prophets by God who foretold of a Messiah (or savior) who they expected to make the nation of Israel great again.

Christians believe that Jesus is that Messiah and the son of God. Most Jews don't. There are, however, Jews who are also Christians. The other Jews are still waiting.

The Bible which is broken into two major sections, The "Old Testament" and the "New Testament" is the holy book of Christians. The New Testament covers the period from Jesus' birth until the final writings of John (Revelation).

Islam means "submission to God". The "nation of Islam" was started by Mohammed. The holy book is the Qur'an (Koran). To Muslims, Jesus is not the son of God (Allah), but is a prophet. They believe that there is just "one" God (not a trinity) and that Mohammed is His final prophet.

The upshot is that the three faiths have more in common than they have differences.

Why is the Bible full of contradictions?

Our modern Bible was started by Moses who wrote the first 5 books of the Old Testament, under the guidance of God, about 2,500 years ago. Throughout history, a large number of other works have been produced by prophets, biographers, and other writers and evangelists (such a Paul).

All of these works were hand written. There were no printed Bibles until Gutenberg invented the first western world movable type printing press in 1454 and subsequently created the first printed Bible. So, all of the books in the Bible were hand copied, often by feeble candle light, until the fifteenth century.

The Bible is actually a sub collection of thousands of works (that are still available, many of them preserved in the Vatican) that were incorporated into the "official" Bibles we see today. Many works were rejected for various reasons. Even today, the Catholic Bible differs in many ways from the various Protestant versions, most blatantly the 15 additional books in the Catholic Bible called the "Apocrypha".

There are a number of problems that created the apparent contradictions. The written form of the languages used have changed over time. The Hebrew alphabet has evolved considerably. The alphabet didn't even have vowels in Jesus' time which made words difficult to interpret ("Yahweh" was written "YHWH"). In some versions of the Hebrew alphabet, two different letters look almost the same and if a copyist misread a letter, the meaning of the word changed. Such errors in Hebrew and the other languages perpetuated themselves.

The Bible was written in three languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Those languages have changed. The meaning of words is often dependent upon the popular culture of the time. In a particular time period, certain stories and events may be widely known as an oral tradition, but forgotten after a few generations. Many references in the Bible to such things have made interpretation difficult. As an example, in today's culture "gay" means homosexual, but it used to mean "happy or carefree". Bible scholars often compare several conflicting versions of a passage in an attempt to get the "best" interpretation. If they can't come to a firm conclusion, they often print the most popular version with a footnote giving the "minority" interpretation. In spite of their efforts, some words don't transfer well from one language to another so the original meaning gets altered a bit or watered down.

To get an idea of the problems, try reading something written in 15th century English sometime. In just 5 centuries, our written language has changed dramatically as has spelling and meanings.

The real miracle is that there are so few contradictions in the Bible and most of them are only minor annoyances. The main message is consistent and clear to anyone who doesn't get distracted by details.

The evidence is against there being a God

The universe was either created by a higher power or is an accident (and no one knows what "accident" started the process).

Let's talk statistics. What are the odds against all the raw material being created by accident? On top of that, what are the odds against life being created out of that inert matter "by accident"? One in a billion? One in a trillion? One in a google? No one knows, but there has to be a lot of zeros involved.

Whatever the odds, believing the "accident" theory takes a huge amount of faith. Those with less faith believe in God or some other higher power.

The universe is very well ordered (ask any physicist), the kind of order that you'd expect from a "creator".

In addition, God is well-documented by the most reliable history books in existence. Most ancient history sources were written by kings and other rulers who made sure the "history" was well edited to make them look good. If they lost a battle, it wasn't recorded. If they messed up, it wasn't included in the "official" history.

Only one set of books tell the truth, even when it wasn't flattering. The Bible. When the rulers messed up or the country lost a war, it was recorded. The sins of Saul, David, Solomon, and others were reported in all their embarrassing details. So were the miracles of God. What better source can you come up with than one that even tells the negative stuff?

"Awe c'mon, any scientist knows the universe wasn't created in 6 days."

The first words of Genesis are:

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." -NIV

We're already into the first day of creation. The Universe and all the material is there and everything is dark. No day, no night. So, a "day" at that time was probably one of God's "days". How long is that? He's an eternal being, so it's probably pretty lllooooooooonnnnnnnngg. Was it equal to one of our years? A decade? A millennium? Longer? Again, no one knows except God Himself.

The word used for "time" in the Old Testament is often a word that translates to "epochs" of time. This is the case in Genesis.

What about evolution? There's a lot of evidence for that.

We've established that God had lots of time to create everything. Let's take a "what if" trip.

If you want to grow a crystal, you mix up a medium, put in a seed and let it grow. Kind of like evolution. Why should God go to all the trouble of creating everything molecule by molecule when he can amass a chunk of material and blow it up in such a manner that it will create everything you want (kind of a super pool break where all the balls go into the pockets)? Then on the fifth day, He could introduce "life" in the form of an amoebae and guide "evolution" to create all the creatures. On the sixth day, after most of the land animals have arrived, He could have made the final adjustment to create "man" (no one has found the missing link — at least not outside the Viking Waters offices).

That may not be the way it happened, but it could have been. After all, we're dealing with a perfect, omniscient being in God. A little thing like setting up a process that results in a complete Universe would be simple for Him. No conflict with Darwin's "evolution", just the reason for it.

However, the Cambrian Explosion pretty much debunks Darwin's evolutionary theory, so we're left with the action of an outside source (God?) as the only explanation left.

The Discovery Channel says that the religion of Israel was a conglomeration of other religions from surrounding tribes. They base this assumption upon similar writings from other cultures that have survived.

People of that time were very superstitious. Many believed in a pantheon of gods and often prayed to several in the hope that one of them would help them succeed. Now, the nation of Israel, with God's help, was very successful. As they entered the "Promised Land", they whipped every tribe that opposed them. The surrounding nations could see that Israel's God was stronger than the "gods" of the other nations, so they tried to mimic them in hopes that some of Israel's "luck" would rub off on them. They didn't get it right, but they probably adopted some of Israel's religious practices and the few writings they managed to be exposed to.

So, yes, some of the religious writings are similar, but Discovery, in their never-ending attempts to subtly debunk Christianity, seems to have gotten cause and effect backwards -- as usual.

Actually, there is less evidence that you exist ;-)

I won't believe until I see a miracle or see God Himself

Some people can't (or will not) be convinced, no matter what they see. You shouldn't be one of them.

The Hebrews were delivered out of Egyptian slavery because of a series of miracles from God. God even parted the waters of the Red Sea to allow them passage. He was with them as a very visible pillar of fire by night and smoke by day. He fed them in the desert and provided water. It was very hard to be an atheist in those times.

However, right after they had agreed to follow His commandments, standing beside a mountain stormy with God's presence, they made a golden calf and worshiped it instead of God.

Jesus said "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." -John 20:29 NIV

You are surrounded by miracles. The Universe and all its mechanics are a miracle. Your very existence is a miracle. You have 700,000 words of testimony available to you (the Bible).

If that isn't enough to convince you, then Jesus' words definitely apply: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." (-Luke 16:31 NIV) Not too long after that, Jesus did rise from the dead. What more should anyone need?

What evidence is there that Jesus ever existed?

In the world at that time, it took the eyewitness testimony of two witnesses to convict someone of murder.

The first four books of the New Testament are testimonies to Jesus and what he did and said. Two of those books were written by eye witnesses (Matthew and John) and the other two were compilations of interviews with eye witnesses. Add to that, the books written by Paul (who saw the spirit of the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus), Peter (an eye witness), the book of James (an eyewitness), and 3 more books by John plus his Revelation.

Pretty convincing evidence.

I'm a good person. Can I go to Heaven without becoming a Christian?

Jesus said "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6 -NIV). That's a pretty definitive statement. Why did he say this?

No one who sins can go to heaven. God the Father hates sin. Everyone sins at some time or another. Only those who believe in Jesus and accept him as their redeemer are washed clean of their sins. Therefore, no one comes to the Father (in Heaven) unless Jesus washes them clean (see why did Jesus have to die for more on this).

A lot of people think they can get into Heaven through "works". It's impossible. They only way is through "grace". Jesus' sacrifice made "grace" possible and bridged the gap between sinful man and God.

So the answer, at least for those of us living now, is "no, being good is not enough in itself". But it's nice to know you are a good person, congratulations!

Christianity is out of step with our culture. I do what "feels right"

We live in a fallen world. And all of us are infected by sin in one way or another. What "feels right" is not necessarily "right".

Popular culture, never completely in step with God's wishes, has degraded into something polluted by drugs, sex for sale, selfishness, convenient lies, a "me first" attitude, and hundreds of other perversions of what God really wants for us.

Our culture is out of step with Christianity and God, not the other way around. If you want a better quality of life, consider carefully what portions of our so-called "culture" you wish to adopt. And don't trust your feelings if you want to be "right", check with God first. He left an instruction manual; it's called the Bible.

Why should I become a Christian?

"It's not about you" (Rick Warren, the Purpose Driven Life).

According to Rick, you were created for God's pleasure. Not the other way around.

Okay, okay, you want to see some personal benefits. How about living forever in Heaven vs spending eternity in Hell? And yes, there is a place of eternal punishment called "Hell". Take your choice.

Of course, you may be too busy shaking hands with all your friends in Hell to notice the pain. Far better to make sure you know some people who will end up in Heaven (which as rumor has it is a really nice place), then you can shake hands with them when you arrive. So, if you become a Christian, do your friends and yourself a favor and convince them to join you. That way, you will fulfill the "great commission" given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19.

Then there's Pascal's Wager. Blaise Pascal was a 17th century mathematician. He made a proposition that boils down to:

If I believe in God and life after death and you do not, and if there is no God, we both lose when we die. However, if there is a God, you still lose and I gain everything.

Here on earth you can reap some more immediate benefits. Just a few are:

  • You get to join a church. In fact, you should join a church (see I don't need to go to church to be a Christian for more on this).
  • Since God is totally trustworthy, your stress level will go down because you will know when to offload your problems onto Him.
  • You can't be so messed up that you can't be healed by Jesus' love and the love of a good church family.
  • Most of your new friends will be more reliable, honest, friendlier, and easier to be around than the average.
  • There is almost no such thing as a church function without really good food (a problem if you're on a diet).
  • Once you really believe, you will no longer fear death (did we mention "lower stress levels"?).
  • You will receive help from God when you need it the most (don't forget to ask).
  • You get to do fun things with really nice people (like potlucks - yummm, there goes the diet again).
  • You'll have a place to take your kids where you know they won't get into trouble.
  • Once your kids start attending church, they have a better chance of avoiding drugs, booze, crime, and other pitfalls. So do you.
  • You'll have a whole church full of people who can help and support you when you need it the most.
  • And you get to help others when they need it the most (gives you the "warm fuzzies" inside).
  • Your life will have a purpose

"The one who dies with the most toys is still dead." -bumper sticker

But remember "It's not about you".

What Happens After I Die?

It all depends upon your "state of grace" when you die. If you believe in Jesus and accept his ransom sacrifice (or are perfect), you're Heaven-bound. Otherwise, you're out of luck. Here's what some Biblical scholars believe:

The "winners" go to "Paradise" until the Day of Judgment. At that point, they enter into Heaven to live forever in God's presence.

The "losers" (even if you're a "nice" person) go to "Hades", a place removed from God. In Hades, you can see the people in Paradise across an impassable gulf. They're eating and drinking and basically having a good time. You'd give anything for a drop of water on your tongue.

On Judgment Day, you get thrown into "The Lake of Fire" for eternal torment (or "the 2nd death" -- there's some confusion on this point).

Catholics believe a bit different. People who are less than perfect, but still Heaven-bound, must spend time in "Purgatory" (not a nice place) to pay for their sins before they get to go to Heaven. Protestants don't buy this version, believing that Christ has already paid for their sins.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

We live in a fallen world. This is not Heaven (no matter how comfortable your bed is after a hard day). Satan (the devil) is still lose in the world (but the Bible assures us that he'll get his in the end).

And just to make things tougher, God gave us free will. We can do anything we want while we're here. We just don't always do the right thing. So while we're being bad we often hurt good people. God doesn't like it, but he does allow it.

The important thing to remember is that it's what you do when bad things happen to you that counts in the long run. You can cry about it, ask God for help, complain that there is no God, retaliate, complain to God, pass the bad thing on to another innocent person, lock yourself in a room and become catatonic, carry a grudge, forgive, trust God that in the end you'll get your reward, and dozens of other things. Some of these things are appropriate and some will get you into more trouble. You have the freedom to react to bad things. God won't make you do anything.

Bad things often give you an opportunity to do something good with the problem. If it works out well, you can witness to other people who suffer similar problems (and even help them).

Remember the adage: Pressure makes diamonds. Do the right thing when a bad thing happens and you'll become a better person and get closer to eternal life.

When Paul complained to Jesus in prayer about his personal physical pains and problems, Jesus told Paul "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2Cor 12:9 )

I've been too bad to be accepted by God.

God will accept a repentant sinner, no matter how evil you've been up until now. You may have to pay an earthly penalty for your misdeeds ("To err is human, to forgive is against departmental policy" - sign on the wall of a TV show police office).

Consider Saul of Tarsus. He was a ringleader of a group of Jews who went around stoning Christians to death. One person he helped to murder was St. Steven, the first martyr after Jesus' death.

On the road to Damascus to hunt down some more Christians, he saw the resurrected Jesus who recruited him to spread His gospel.

Saul, the murderer of many Christians became Paul who spread the Gospel (literally, "good news") to the non-Jewish (gentile) world. His writings take up more space in the New Testament than those of any other person.

Now, if God can use someone as evil as Saul/Paul, why not you?

You can read Paul's story in Acts 7:54 - 8:3, 9:1 - 9:30, 13:1 - end of Acts. For more, read his letters from Romans through Titus.

There is no one who is so dysfunctional or messed up that s/he can't be healed by Jesus' love.

What do I have to do to become a Christian?

Nothing could be easier if you have the right attitude. There is no secret handshake or password to memorize.

  1. Admit to Jesus that you are a sinner (don't forget to admit it to yourself)
  2. Repent (turn away from) your sins
  3. Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and accept his sacrifice as payment for your sins (tell Him)
  4. Get baptized (some say it's optional, but read John 3:5).

This doesn't automatically mean that you'll be perfect after this. You'll sin again and again. The important thing is to try not to sin and to continue to accept Jesus and trust in God the Father. This can't be lip service. You have to really mean it. Your actions and attitudes will change because of your inner change.

I don't need to go to church to be a Christian.

True as far as it goes. But it's very hard. Successful "Lone Ranger" Christians are very rare. Even rarer is a new Christian who is successful on his own.

The New Testament clearly expects Christians to congregate. The writers of the New Testament wanted Christians to help and encourage each other. Attending church and related functions recharges your batteries and helps to keep you on track. Being around other Christians gives you other viewpoints and interpretations of scripture you might not discover on your own.

In summer sometime, at a camp fire, take a burning log out of the fire and place it by itself to one side. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the fire in the log goes out. The same often happens with Christians who try to "go it" alone.

Which church should I go to?

That's a matter of personal taste as well as doctrine.

You want a church that is strictly Bible-based. If the pastor/priest has a political or other ax to grind, s/he'll probably find parts of the Bible that need to be ignored or interpreted out of existence. Avoid such situations. Politics doesn't really belong in churches and you don't belong in a church that isn't devoted to ALL of the Bible.

Remember, the important thing is not what man thinks or wants, but what God says. If the people in a church don't agree with God, then that church is in big trouble. You don't need that kind of grief, especially if you are a new Christian.

Stay away from pastors that are consumed by hate. They are not full of the grace of God. You don't need to be caught up in their hate.

Avoid cults (explained in the next question).

As far as personal taste is concerned, you will find that there are churches with many different styles and sizes that are still Bible-based. Church styles range from very structured (as an example, Catholic churches) to very charismatic with a very boisterous and extroverted congregation.

Churches can be small and intimate (especially in small towns) up to large. In larger churches, intimacy is often achieved by forming small study groups that meet together on a regular basis.

Choose the size that suits you, but if you prefer small churches beware; Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California started out meeting in the pastor's home in 1980. Its attendance now exceeds 20,000 spread out over 6 services (2 Saturday, 4 on Sunday). Saddleback has over 80,000 names on its rolls and has spawned 34 daughter churches.

The best way to find out what appeals to you is to attend several churches in your area (not too far or you might find it more convenient to skip services when faced with a long drive on a Sabbath morning. Experience the entire service. Observe the congregation. Check out the content of the sermon.

No fair "attending" a church on television instead! You won't get the interaction you need. The only exceptions would be if you are physically unable to attend a church or you want to experience the TV church in addition to attending your regular church. Remember, there is no substitute for being with other believers on a regular basis.

When you find a church in which you feel comfortable, attend for several weeks. After that time, ask yourself some questions:

  • Are the sermons Bible-based? Does the pastor/priest offer doctrine that conflicts with the Bible?
  • Are you comfortable with the entire service (music, church business, announcements)?
  • Are you comfortable with the members of the congregation? Are there any cliques? Any factions that struggle with each other?
  • Does the church offer other programs or activities that you might enjoy and benefit from?
  • Does the church reach outside itself with programs for the community as well as missions to help those in need and to bring more people to Christ?

If you still feel good, then congratulations, you've found your church!

What's a cult?

Strictly speaking a cult is a movement that follows an often charismatic individual rather than God. Jews consider Christianity to be a "cult" because we follow Jesus (remember they don't believe that He is God).

Examples you may have heard of:

  • Jehovah's Witnesses ("Russellism"): Started by Charles Taze Russell in the 19th century. The movement has become large enough that it's hard to think of it as a cult any more, but since it's based upon a somewhat unusual interpretation of scripture by Russell, it qualifies (just barely).
  • The ill-fated Branch Davidians, started by David Koresh, still have a few active members after most of them were killed by FBI agents on April 19, 1993 during the Waco standoff.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) was started in 1830 by Joseph Smith who claimed God and Jesus visited him in a grove of trees near his home in Palmyra, N.Y. A few years later, he said an angel led him to gold plates on which were inscribed the history of ancient Hebrews who migrated to the American continent around 600 BC With God's help. Smith said he was able to translate the writings into a text he published as The Book of Mormon. Smith was killed in 1844 by an angry mob in Carthage, Ill. The thriving church is now headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Other cults range from rather mild departures from "accepted" doctrine to organizations that are very "over the edge" and often dangerous.

How should I read the Bible?

Don't be discouraged by the size of the Bible. It's about the same as reading 7 blockbuster novels and in many cases, more enjoyable. Just don't try to do it in a day.

Pick a version that you will understand. The King James version is a standard, but the language is somewhat archaic to modern readers. The New International Version is quite popular with Protestants. If you're Catholic, ask your Perish Priest for a recommendation. Get a good student Bible with extensive footnotes in the version you pick. The footnotes often clear up references you may not understand and can give you cultural background information pertinent to the passage you are reading.

The Bible is mainly a history book with hundreds of very interesting stories — and admittedly some pretty boring sections (so-and-so begat so-and-so, Jr. who begat someone-else-I-never-heard-of, and on and on). Rather than being organized on a strict chronological basis, the Bible's books are sometimes grouped by category.

  • The first 5 books (the "Pentateuch") were written by Moses and God as a team and present the early history of creation as well as giving the Law to the Israelites.
  • The next 12 books (Joshua through Esther) are mostly history. 1st and 2nd Chronicles duplicate a lot of the material in the preceding books in this group.
  • Job through Song of Songs is considered Wisdom Literature. Proverbs has a lot of good hardheaded advice for living.
  • Isaiah through Malachi (17 books) are all about the Prophets who brought the word of God to Israel. Actually, the books are more about God's messages than about the prophets themselves and there are some really neat stories about people and events.
  • If you are reading a Catholic Bible, the next 15 books make up the "Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical" books. Protestant leaders decided to leave these books out because they don't add to an understanding of God and some seem to be made up stories. Catholics, of course, disagree.
  • The New Testament starts with the four gospel accounts of Jesus' life on earth and His ministry.
  • Acts is an account of the early church immediately after Jesus' accession into Heaven.
  • Romans through Philimon are all letters from Paul to churches and people he worked with. They were meant to be copied and circulated.
  • Hebrews through Jude are letters from Apostles and prophets.
  • The last book of the Bible is Revelation which is a record of a vision given to the Apostle John late in his life and is mostly prophetic. It tells of the end times and the final battle between Satan and Jesus. It's probably the most difficult book to understand since much of it is symbolic rather than being clearly delineated.

There are many proposed reading plans. At least once, you should start at Genesis and read all of the books if only to have a feeling for what is in the Bible. This might take you a year depending upon your reading speed and comprehension level. Read it all. Yes, even the "begatting" stuff. You don't have to memorize the genealogies unless you think you're related to a particular person, but there are some interesting bits hidden within those lists. On subsequent readings you can skip the boring stuff that doesn't actually add to your knowledge of God and His plan for you.

Don't hurry it. Read what you can absorb in one sitting, then lay it aside until you've digested it. Your best plan is to set aside a block of time each day for reading. Some read the Bible after they get up in the morning to start the day off with God. Others read just before going to bed. A lot will depend upon your schedule and your personal "clock". Some people can't deal with anything first thing in the morning while others are worn out before bedtime. Pick a time when your brain is functioning well.

Pay particular attention to anything that looks like a prediction. You'll find much of it coming true as you read. A large number of Old Testament predictions pertained to Jesus and described His life and work hundreds of years before He was born. In the New Testament you'll find references to many of these bits of scripture as proof that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah (Savior).

After you've made it through the entire Bible once, you'll have much of the necessary background to study particular sections more deeply, perhaps with a Bible study group formed from within your church or a cross-denominational group from your community. This is where the real "meat" is. The lessons in the Bible often have more than one meaning. One passage may mean something different to several different people -- and all of them will be correct. God didn't waste too many words. The parables told by Jesus are particularly rich in multiple lessons.

After you are familiar with the Bible, you can adopt one of the many reading plans for study, pay particular attention to sections being used in current sermons, or wander into areas that are of particular interest to you at the time.

One thing you'll find is that each time you read, you will discover something new that you missed on previous readings.

Why did Jesus have to die?

It all started with the Law as laid down in the Old Testament. God gave the Israelites some rules to live by starting with the Ten Commandments (not "the Ten Suggestions"). He added some more rules after that, many of them procedural, but all in harmony with the Commandments. Many of the rules were to illustrate how holy God is and how clean you have to be to approach Him.

God knew that the Israelites were not perfect and would break some of the laws ("sin"), so he set up a way for them to "pay" for messing up. He set up a schedule of fines based upon the financial ability to pay and the size of the sin. The payment was usually in the form of an animal that was to be sacrificed upon the alter. Mess up a little and it would cost you a pigeon. Sin big time and it may cost you a prize bull (and no culls allowed, the sacrificial animal had to be perfect with no blemishes). Your sin was figuratively placed upon the animal and then killed along with the animal. Hopefully, the sinner would also mend his ways and not repeat his sin. That was the real goal. The forms were there to help the person live a better life.

Just to add to the burden, there were times when you sacrificed "just because" or just in case you messed up and didn't notice. You see, the game was rigged. You were guilty, even if you didn't know you sinned. For instance, if you touched an "unclean" animal, you were guilty and had to sacrifice something (what it was depended upon your financial abilities) to "pay" for your sin (Leviticus Chapter 4). The kicker was that you could accidentally, say, step on an unclean bug and never know it. You were still guilty.

There were a regular series of annual festivals and remembrances where sacrifices were required. Of course many of them were parties where you got to eat what you sacrificed, after all God isn't a dour party-pooper, he wanted His people to be happy.

In addition, the firstborn of every womb, including human beings, were to be sacrificed to God. However, God allowed a substituted animal in place of a woman's first child and a lamb in place of a donkey colt. Substitution is an important concept.

Unfortunately, when living under the Law, you were condemned by it. Even if a person tried, he couldn't catch all the times he sinned and haul a sacrifice several day's journey to the Temple to pay the fine. So, most people died "in sin" without being redeemed by a sacrifice. If you died "in sin" you were not acceptable to God and your chance of going to Heaven was greatly reduced. The only way into Heaven was by your "works" during your life.

Israel needed to be saved. They just didn't realize what form that would take. The Jews were looking for a military leader to throw off the Roman yoke and make the nation powerful again.

God sent a sacrifice instead.

Jesus, the only begotten son of God, grew up as the stepson of a poor carpenter. He only preached the last 3 years of his life, but during that time, He divulged a huge amount of information that clarified a lot of the teachings in the Old Testament and added some new insights about living together and about life after death. He also managed to hack off the leading theologians of that time. It got him killed.

He lead a sinless life and, although purportedly a plain looking man, was without physical blemish. He was the perfect sacrificial "animal".

As He was scourged and then nailed to a cross (or tree trunk depending upon what you believe) on Friday, He figuratively became all of the sins of the world. God, turned his back on Jesus at that time because God hates the sight of sin. When Jesus finally died, our sins died with him and at that point, His Father accepted His now sinless son and resurrected him on Sunday.

When Jesus died, all of our "fines" for sin were paid in full. We are no longer condemned by the Law. All of our sacrifices have been made once and for all. Jesus paid our "tickets".

And that's why He had to die, so that we who accept his sacrifice and have faith in Him can be free from sin and be acceptable to God the Father. The really neat thing is that we get to live forever. "Faith" has been substituted for "works".

He lived a perfect life to prove that it could be done. He died on the cross to save us from our sins. And He was brought back to life on the third day to prove that it was true.

How is the Trinity possible?

Have you ever wanted to clone yourself so you could finish all the work you need to do?

God is all powerful. If he wants to split himself into multiple parts for reasons of his own, I'm sure that the creator of the universe has no trouble doing that. So, he spoke a "Word" (which became Jesus and was called by God "my son") and gave the Word the job of creating the universe; and he created the Holy Spirit to aid and strengthen men (and women). All of the pieces are still parts of the one God.

Yes, we're made in His image, but we're not Him. Just because we can't do something doesn't mean it's impossible for Him.

Don't try to limit God. It can't be done.

When will the "end" come?

Tomorrow at 3:47 PM Greenwich Mean Time.

Actually, even Jesus doesn't know. Only God the Father knows and He isn't telling.

We do have some clues and you can read them in the New Testament. The most important one was given by Jesus

"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Matthew 24:36 NIV

In several places He says that He will come "like a thief in the night" with the explanation that no one knows when a thief will arrive.

So, always be ready. Have your spiritual house in order so that you will be able to face God on Judgment Day. Assume that Jesus' "Second coming" will happen in 10 seconds. If you do that you'll be prepared when the end does come.

Even if Jesus doesn't come in your lifetime, remember that you could die any second. That airliner overhead might drop a chunk of "blue ice" on your head, right through your roof. You could have a heart attack, or be hit by a car (remember the news story you saw of the car that drove into someone's living room). Life is uncertain, so live as if you could live a long life or die within several seconds.

The Basics

The Three Irreducible Ingredients as written in Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels (Zondervan Press):
  1. God Loves you
  2. Christ chose to pay for you
  3. The choice is now yours

Why can bad people go to Heaven and good people still go to Hell?

I thought God loved you no matter what, that he loves everyone in spite of our misgivings. If this is true does that mean that a religious rapist or murderer will get into heaven, and me for never taking a life in any way will go to hell? Because that seems a bit unfair. I believe bad things happen for a reason, whether that is due to God, fate, or a destiny I don't know. I doesn't make it hurt any less, or the crime ok in anyway. 

He does love you no matter what.

There is no such thing as a true Christian rapist.  A rapist may give "lip service" to Christ, but if he believed in his heart, he would mend his ways and pay for his crimes.  You often see television shows where the Mafia boss goes to church with his family as if doing so would give him "church credits" to expunge his sins during the rest of the week.  It doesn't work that way.

If someone truly accepts God and Christ, that individual will be changed by the experience.  No, not a thunderbolt from the sky into his brain.  True acceptance will always be accompanied by an attempt to sin no more.  "Lip service" acceptance is a sham and God knows it since He sees into everyone's heart.

God's grace is available to anyone, no matter how bad s/he's been in the past.  I know it's hard to grasp, but He really DOES love everyone that much.

Consider: Let's suppose you have a brother whom you love very much.  Somewhere along the line, your beloved brother, whom you grew up with, goes bad and starts robbing and stealing.  Not only that, but he gets violent and beats his victims while stealing their money and jewelry.  Men, women, it doesn't matter to him. You talk to him, you plead with him to mend his ways, but he just curses you and gets worse.  And its not drugs or booze, he's just gotten plain mean.  You lay awake at night crying because your previously wonderful brother is gone and this monster has taken his place.

Then one day, he meets someone who changes his life where you couldn't (maybe a policeman or a victim who turned out to be tougher than your brother).  For whatever reason, your brother mends his ways.

Will you take him back (possibly after he gets out of prison)?  Will you overflow with joy because your brother who was lost is now back?  Of course you will because deep down you still love him.

God loves every one even more than that.  According to one of  John's letters (1John), there is only one sin that you can't be forgiven.  He didn't say what it was, but I suspect it's blaspheming the Holy Spirit (don't take that as "the last word", I'm just guessing based on something Jesus said).

And that's why sinners can still make it into heaven.  If a sinner "mends his ways" and accepts Jesus' offer, s/he can be "washed clean" and be acceptable to God.  Just like the murderer of Christians, Saul/Paul of Tarsus, was.

Why do you have to have so many rules?

I never thought of it that way.  Yes, you're right.  There do seem to be a LOT of rules.  But when you get right down to it, there are only a few basics.

First of all, don't expect to be required to follow all the rules in the Old Testament.  Most of those rules were procedural (how to worship at the temple where the High Priest actually approached God IN PERSON once a year and represented the people to God the rest of the year).  The rules were designed to show the Hebrews how Holy God is and how far away they were from him.  It gets pretty messy so I won't bore you.

However, if you assemble all of the rules in the Bible, they would still pale next to the man-made rules you and I have to live under every day.  The Bible, including all the stories and such, is all in one volume.  The average law library hold thousands of books and just the laws of one county in the U.S. can't be contained in a single volume.  I suspect that it's similar in the UK.  So, in retrospect, the rules of God are far lighter a burden than the rules of man.  But it gets even better . . .

Most of the Old Testament rules went away when Christ died on the cross.  The Ten Commandments remain plus the command to "love your neighbor as yourself".  John (the only Apostle of Christ who wasn't martyred) considered this so-called "Eleventh Commandment" to be the most important rule for Christians.  In his very old age, he was constantly muttering "love one another" when being carried into his congregation.  When asked why he was always saying that, he replied "because it is the Lord's command, and if this only is done, it is enough."

Why can't he just let nice good, friendly people into heaven?

Normal people who have never done any harm? I know that you have to believe to get into heaven, but is believing and going to church and living by his rules the same thing? For example can I believe in God and live like I do now at still be ok when I die? Or do I have to believe and go to church and give myself to him?

I have good and bad news (it all depends on how you look at things).  Going to church won't get you into heaven.  Remember the Mafia Don I mentioned earlier?  In fact, going to church isn't a hard requirement (but review this discussion). The most important thing you have to do is:

  • Admit your sins to God and yourself
  • Believe in and accept Jesus as your "redeemer" (his payment for your sins)
  • Try your best not to sin any more (that's "giving yourself to Him")
  • Get baptized.

The writers of the Bible strongly suggest that Christians "congregate" with each other for the reasons mentioned on this website.  If you're uncomfortable in "church" you may be walking into the wrong church.  For instance, my wife grew up in a Lutheran church with a meddling pastor.  She dropped out because she didn't like the liturgy (very formal and similar to the Catholic and Anglican churches) and she definitely didn't like the pastor. 

I grew up Methodist which is pretty loose ("for people who don't know what they believe" according to one Methodist minister I talked to).  In college, I fell away and majored in girls (I eventually "recovered"). 

We now attend a small Presbyterian church (100 members) which is like one big loving family.  The pastor is a true Christian with a sly sense of humor.  Sue and I love just being together with this family.

The biggest problem we have is that almost all of our friends are Christians and we've lost touch with the secular world, so it's pretty difficult to fulfill Christ's "Great Commission" which is to go into the world and make believers of all men.  It's pretty difficult to do that when everyone you meet on a daily basis is already a believer.

As for living like you do now, I don't know how you live now, so I can't advise you.  You do have to believe and try to "sin no more" (you'll fail again and again, but you have to honestly TRY).  A good church will help you to do these things.  A bad one can destroy you, so be discerning (you sound like you have the intelligence to do so).  But if you are Superwoman and can keep the faith while not going to church, that lack won't keep you out of Heaven.

 

-Bible quotes are from the NIV, published by the International Bible Society (Zodervan Publishing House).

 

 

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