Bible Study Notes: The Epistle of James

Those eagle-eyed among you might have noticed a new menu item appear at the top of this blog yesterday. The “Notes” menu is now going to be the place where I put the notes I make for Bible study sessions.

As you’ll hopefully see, my notes for the Epistle of James are already uploaded. I spent last night typing them up from my recent journey through that letter.

Over the coming weeks I’ll tidy them up a bit and hopefully make them a little more intelligible since, when I wrote them, I wasn’t expecting anyone else to see them and so they’re rather terse and inconsistent in format.

Sharing and Subscribing

I was busy getting my car serviced early this morning so I didn’t have time to write a proper blog entry. I’ve got few longer entries which should hopefully be appearing next week.

However, there were a couple of things I’ve been meaning to mention on this blog for a while so I thought I’d quickly address them now…

Sharing

The first thing I wanted to mention is that I’ve installed some widgets which appear at the bottom of each blog entry that allow readers to easily share the articles here with friends on Facebook, Twitter and email:

Sharing widgets

Please note, you have to be looking at a single blog entry in order to see these widgets

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Stuff I’ve Had To Learn: Sun Beats Wind

I’ve been thinking a lot about Aesop’s Fables recently, and one fable in particular which was read to me as a child. I remember the pictures in the book and the story vividly:

“The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said:

‘I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.’

So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last, the Wind had to give up.

Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on and took it off.”

I think there’s something intrinsic to human nature which makes us believe that the best way of bringing someone around to our way of thinking is through confrontation and force. Even though this rarely works, we persist in using this approach, probably because it looks like the most direct approach and therefore the most efficient means of achieving a favourable outcome.

However, as this fable teaches, gentleness, kindness and persuasion are often more effective tools than direct force. This is because when we try and force someone to do our will, that person will resist all the more. When we attack, that person will automatically get defensive and when we try to wrestle a belief away from someone, that person will usually only cling to it all the more.

The difficulty is that being “The Sun”, rather than the “The Wind”, is hard… Patience is required because results are often not immediately visible. When we feel someone has an incorrect opinion, our pride all too often gets in the way and we become harsh as we try to “fix” this person.  Finally, treating someone with gentleness is often costly, particularly when we feel we have been wronged or treated badly. Yet, if we are seeking a beneficial and peaceful end, gentleness is what is required:

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger…The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit…” – Proverbs 15:1, 4

Introduction to Islam (Part 5 of 5): The Catholic Response

Today I would like to conclude my introductory series to Islam. This series wasn’t intended to be an apologetic response to Islam, just an accurate and objective description of Islamic belief and practice. It is my hope that this will lead to a better understanding of Islam by Christians.

Over the course of this series we have looked at the origins of Islam, Muhammad, the teaching of the Qur’an, as well as the faith and obligations of Muslim life.  I would now like to conclude by looking at what the Catholic Church had to say about Islam at the Second Vatican Council.

The Catholic Church sets forth its binding teaching regarding Islam in the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions” (also known as “Nostra Aetate”, literally “In our time”):

#1 In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions. In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship.

One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. One also is their final goal, God…

The church says that she sees it her task to “promote unity and love”. This unity and love is fostered by considering what unites humankind and, in this “big picture” vision of the world, we are reminded that every single person comes from God and every single one will, some day, return to Him.

#2 … The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.

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Introduction to Islam (Part 4 of 5: Religion)

This blog entry continues the series I began a few days ago to provide a brief overview of Islam.

In Part 1, I began by looking at Muhammad and the origins of Islam.  Next, in Part 2, I looked at the message of Muhammad that is recorded in the Qur’an. Yesterday, in Part 3, I looked at what constitutes Islam’s core beliefs. Today I would like to look at the highly developed code of Islamic observance.

I have done my best to ensure factual accuracy in all these posts and have used Islamic sources as much as possible to ensure that I’m not propagating Christian misconceptions of Islam.  I did send this to some Muslim friends for comment, but I have yet to hear back. If you are a follower of Islam and believe that I have misrepresented your religion, please drop me an email and I will remedy the situation.

There are many obligations associated with Muslim.  For example, Muslims are not allowed to consume alcohol, pork, blood or carrion.  The most important aspects of “religion” in Sunni Islam are the “Five Pillars”:

1. Confessing the faith (shahada): This is the basic Muslim creed, similar to the Jewish Shema, but with the additional affirmation that Muhammad is a prophet:

“I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” – The Shahada

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Friday Frivolity: What would Jesus do?

Another show that many people here in the States haven’t come across is the absolutely superb “Outnumbered“.  In the clip below, the family are at a wedding reception and the children have a few questions for the vicar about theology…

Introduction to Islam (Part 3 of 5: Faith)

I began this series examining the founding of Islam and the person of Muhammad. Next, I took a very broad look at the Qur’an and some of its teachings and application to Islamic life.

Islam demands of its believers “faith” and “religion”.  In today’s entry I would like to look at the “faith” of Islam.  I will deal with the demands of “religion” tomorrow.

As I said yesterday, I have done my best to ensure factual accuracy in all these posts and have used Islamic sources as much as possible to ensure that I’m not propagating Christian misconceptions of Islam.  I did send this to some Muslim friends for comment, but I have yet to hear back. If you are a follower of Islam and believe that I have misrepresented your religion, please drop me an email and I will remedy the situation.

The Articles of Faith within Islam are thus:

1.  The existence and unity of Allah: Muslims are absolute monotheists and unitarians.  Even the suggestion of any kind of subdivision or plurality of God is utterly rejected. Islam explicitly rejects the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

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