China trip – 1. Introduction

In the last year or so I had a real interest in China, a nation both ancient and modern on a large chunk of Asia with over a billion people.   I have heard stories about how China has the largest number of people coming to Christ, good relations with Israel, although a nation with restrictions and still officially Communist.   Today, although China is manufacturing capital of the world by a long stretch, everyone wants to do business with the Chinese as the economy is booming and folks there want to buy British and European made products.

I got offered to go on a 9 day mission trip in April 2017 to teach the Bible to current believers there in Beijing, and after a while trying to get my work to get me the time off which took me weeks, I had 16 days to use.    Later on, I found that the trip was full.   I was disappointed but as I already got a flight with Alitalia to fly Gatwick to Beijing via Rome for a real good deal of £395, I decided to make my own plans.

Getting a visa is tricky.  I left it a bit late and most sources online were recommending me get one from a Chinese travel shop in China town area of London.   This was frustrating as I had to get two lots of photos from a nearby post office, as the first ones were the wrong size.   The visa is £180.

This isn’t China, but I do like this part of London.  There are 2 maybe 3 churches of Chinese believers round here.   It would be really interesting to see what its like for Christian to live or work in this district.   I’m also keen to see how Chinese people respond to the life of Jesus.    My trip is purely a holiday and to see and document this fascinating place.

2. Beijing’s industrial aftertaste

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Universalism – today’s modern enemy of the Gospel

(I’ll talk more on Morocco shortly)

I was talking to someone the other day who isn’t a church goer but has had some Christian upbringing.  He told me he thought it was possible that all religions follows a mostly similar set of rules and framework, and its ok to mix them together.

Here’s why this idea is a bad one, if I look at quotes from three of the most well known faiths.

Judaism has The Shema;
ְׁשמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יהוה אֶחָד
“Shmai Y’Israel Adonai Elohinu Adonai Echad”
Hear oh Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is one

Islam has the Shahada
لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله
“lā ʾilāha ʾillā-llāh, muḥammadun rasūlu-llāh”
There is no god but god, Muhammad is the messenger of god

Christianity has Jesus’ proclamation of no other way;
λέγει αὐτῷ ‹ὁ› Ἰησοῦς Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή• οὐδεὶς ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸν Πατέρα εἰ μὴ δι’ ἐμοῦ.
I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me – John 14:6

These three quotes as you can see are mutually incompatible!   You can’t build a one-fits-all faith any more than you can make a cake out of cement!

Christianity uses the foundation parts of Judaism with many of the laws fulfilled by Jesus, Islam mimics some elements of Judaism and is considered to be a ‘Abrahamic’ faith, but its only through Jesus we have salvation.

The message of the gospel requires love but also courage to tell the truth.   If we tell people that its fine to follow another religious system then the sacrifice on the cross Jesus did means nothing.

Other religions don’t accept the trinity, and many psuedo-Christian (7th day adventists, Jehovah’s witnesses, some hyper-Hebrew Roots) groups don’t either, the trinity isn’t explicitly mentioned in the bible but it is there if you get a closer look.   I’ll blog on this soon.

Nazareth – 12. The Basilica church of Annunciation

This is the famous Basilica church, it stands a centre point in the city, as one of the biggest buildings in Nazareth.

I didn’t see many Nazarenes on horses, only this one!  You can see the church more or less anywhere in the city, this tall turret is quite distinctive.
Built in 1969, the give away signs of the modern construction of this place is these odd dimples in the concrete structural support beams.   Other than that there are usual pews and decorations you would find in any church here.  I didn’t get to the dome up the top, I think this may be possible with this paid tours that happen on week days here.

Although Catholic, this place also attracts Christian visitors from Orthodox and Anglican backgrounds

On two floors, this place is huge!!   This floor contains the Grotto of annunciation, ie: what’s thought to be the home of Mary.
Underneath one of the walkways in the yard are more signs of ancient history under these support beams.

There’s no doubt the the Basilica is a fertile place for photographers!Here there are muriels dedicated to other countries, there are dozens of them all around the insides of the perimeter outside wall of the church,  like I mentioned a few articles ago, this is a kind of peace initiave I think, although seems to be mostly Catholic (ie: Ireland, France, Poland, Brazil etc) countries.

Lastly, as it was Easter whilst I was in Nazareth I thought I would check out to see all the crowds heading towards the Baslica, and I got several surprises there…

1. Arrival at the city2. Staying in the old city3. The modern day Nazarene carpenter4. Where Jesus first preached5. Religious vehicles in Nazareth6. Mary’s Well and the Bath house7. The precipice8. On top of the Precipice hill9. More old city streets and market10. The spice shop11. Churches from A to Z or Alpha to Omega12. The Basilica church13. Easter service at the Basilica

Nazareth – 11. Churches from A to Z or Alpha to Omega

I am very out of touch with UK at the moment, but I have read the Professor Richard Dawkins is on the telly again, proof that atheists can be just as opinionated and annoying than any religious people.

I am reluctant to believe any figures in the mainstream media the church attendance is declining, when you have some churches like in my home city which have repurposed old buildings that were used (or share with another organisation) for something different, ie: a snooker hall.  I know in Israel there are some secret churches where ex-Muslim people go to in Arab areas which could put them in danger if they got discovered.

There is a lot of different religious buildings in Nazareth.   Churches can be current places of worship or dusty buildings of history.

Monastry ontop of the hill of the city.  This one is called ‘Ecole Jesus the Adolescent – Don Bosco’  I couldn’t go in because of this big electric gate which has no details if it was possible to visit from the public.

Greek church, this one is the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, its close to the Mary’s well I mentioned previously.

Yes those black clouds turned into rain a few minutes later :o)

I am not sure if this stage outside of the Greek church is for a wedding or Easter service.

One of the tours I was on showed us some churches more hidden away from the main roads:

 

These places have a lot of highly decorative pictures and fittings here.  These are not everyone’s taste, but I wonder how synagogues where in the time of King Solomon as he built the biggest most grandest places for worshipping God as he was very wealthy.

For me, church is the body of people that there, the fabric part of the building isn’t too important.  After a while the churches do get a bit samey in their styles and decoration.  The old ones in Jerusalem are pretty similar, with the main differences being writing which can be in Russian, Armenian or Greek.

Although obscured by a bus, and I can only really see this poster which made me smile, I would really liked to visit this one, but I didn’t spot it until I was on a bus on my way home back to Jerusalem.

I left out the main church in Nazareth, the Basilica church of the Annuciation, for a good reason, next I show this huge church and a few pleasant surprises I saw there…

1. Arrival at the city2. Staying in the old city3. The modern day Nazarene carpenter4. Where Jesus first preached5. Religious vehicles in Nazareth6. Mary’s Well and the Bath house7. The precipice8. On top of the Precipice hill9. More old city streets and market10. The spice shop11. Churches from A to Z or Alpha to Omega12. The Basilica church13. Easter service at the Basilica


St Peter’s church in Gallicantu

After visiting the possible location of the last supper, me and my friend Dave took a look around this section of the old city.

This is the famous French Catholic church St Peter of Gallicantu, its at the south west section of the old city, close to the walls.   Like most of Jerusalem, this place has been destroyed and rebuild many  times over, so the building you are seeing now was built in the 1920s and repaired quite a few times since then.

The images set into the walls of the inside of the church are certainly striking and beautiful as well as the outside and pictures set into the windows.  There is Jesus at the last supper and there is Peter and Jesus on the other picture, if you look closely you can see Roman soldiers warming themselves around a fire.  The text is in French.

There is three main floors to the church, you can get to another hall below, and a basement underneath that.

This plaque hints at that visions have been seen in the natural pattern on the stone here, I didn’t go looking around to see if this claims have any truth to them though.

There is large amounts of archeological remains in the yard outside.

Left: under this canopy there is a complete model of the old city you can see.  Right: St Peter’s from a distance with an interesting block of flats overlooking it and the Arab part of the city and the Mount of Olives.

Atop of the church is a symbol of a cock, a sign of when Peter denied Jesus three times, because of the cock that crowed, as told in Matthew 26.

In Sepia: Holyland pictures collection part 3

Part 1234 5 6 7

Cafe with hand operated orange squeezer with plenty of stocks of citrus fruits.

Tourist shops in the old city.

Street path in Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerualem.

Greek graffiti in the Church of the holy Sepulchre

Part 1234 5 6 7

‘fake’ Christians

Seen this article in the news lately.

http://edition.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/08/27/almost.christian/index.html

I think its deeply wrong to label anyone as a fake Christian, and certainly there is often cases were people make hurtful assumptions which may or may not be true.  Here in Jerusalem, I know of Jews and Arabs that are believers in Jesus but often in secret because of being put in danger or being cut off by their families and communities or in more extreme cases with Arab believers, killed.  Often as Christians we avoid sharing our faith with non-believing friends, neighbours and work colleagues because of fear of ridicule or rejection.   This is something I had struggled with for a while, this is something that got easier over time, through encouragement from other people and just getting older and wiser.

There is confusion over what defines a Christian.  Often people may label themselves as Christians because of:

1/ They were brought up that way, 2/ They come from a country which this is assumed to be the ‘default’ faith is part of their identity, 3/Once went to church or sunday school, or went to an educational establishment affiliated with a church, 4/ Got baptised as a child.

I personally think that a true Christian:-

1/ Has made a personal decision to accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, 2/ goes to a church regularly, 3/ lives a life of integrity to try and follow the examples of Jesus.

Fallen away.   Often I hear of people who are or were Christians but no longer have a current relationship with God.   This can happen by circumstances such as a relationship with a non-believer, a weekend work schedule that means no longer regularly attending a church, sadness or disappointment over a loss like bereavement or relationship that has ended.   I think its important for us as Christians who know people like to keep in touch with those who may be absent from church, not to be forceful in telling them to come back, more to be a friend to those, and demonstrate through our actions that they are missing out on the love of Jesus.

Just like someone told me, just because you go to a church it doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

The media especially the BBC loves to show Christians as being frumpy, old fashioned and irrelevant.   A particular case I can think of is a group of Christian teenagers being asked questions about sex, explained how they had a different attitude that what conventional thinking would be of that of their peers in school and college, you could tell the presenters of the program thought they were boring and prudish.

The scriptures do warn us against being ‘luke warm’ (Revelation 3 : 16) and real Christians are obliged to meet together and have fellowship and be accountable (Hebrews 10 : 25) as sin is inevitably going to happen in our lives.

I think articles like this are far from being helpful or a true picture of Christians, but as true believers we should aim to show Christ through our actions and words.

praying with a genuine heart or as a Pharisee

Read something interesting this week that asks Christians who are critical of Obama’s administration.  It may be about the Middle East conflict, the NY mosque or overhaul of the US healthcare system.

Obama has been rumoured to have Muslim background, as there is some uncertainty over his background and if he is even a US citizen or not.  To be honest I have seen all kinds of people in the media, even some of the British Royal family taking interest in Islam.

As a Christian I think this is more to do with a spiritual darkness that is blinding people from the true Messiah Jesus.

This week I read this very challenging article really drives it home if as Christians we are praying for our leaders who just wanting to be Pharisees wanting something to moan about.   The point about seeing  a wicked politician like Yasser Arafat changed really quite moved me.

http://www.ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/evangelical-essentials/18387-mind-your-prayer-language

In times of the bible, things happened to leaders of nations that changed their hearts, look at at Persian leader Cyrus the Great who took pity on the Jews, see Ezra 1 in the Bible.

I think our modern day leaders can easily change from good to bad or vice versa, for that reason prayer is needed for them whatever circumstances there could be.

Multifaith room in Heathrow Terminal 5

Just reading a friend Jon B’s visit to Turkey on Islamic culture, reminds me of something.  At Heathrow airport I had a long wait for my flight, and I saw a sign about a multifaith room, a kind of politically correct euphemism for a one size fits all church for any faith.

There is a church in at least one of the hospitals in Portsmouth, there is also a multi faith centre in the recently built £40m Lymington hospital in the New Forest I worked at sometimes about 18 months ago, when I visited this, I was pleased to see judging by the literature put out it was mostly had Christian books and bibles there.

Here is this one in the shiny new and hopefully post-problematic Heathrow Terminal 5, is one of these places, so I decided to take a look, as there’s only so long you can spend reading books and magazines you aren’t going to buy in WH Smiths. 🙂

Firstly apologies to the chap bending over, it was hard to get a quickie shot of this place without appearing to be disrespectful. 🙂  When I went in there and first of all unlike any religious establishment there is no symbol on the wall of any deity, or any centre point to make the room significant apart from the screen reminding passengers of upcoming departures.  There is a wooden cabinets with labels for Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and other holy books.  There are signs asking people to be respectful and not use it as a place to sleep or do baby changing.  The place also smells like a gym changing room as people take their shoes off at the door.   I didn’t bother at first, but there were five Islamic worshippers here at one point and one of the pointed out I should do the same to be respectful so I likewise decided to comply.

Out of the ten people I saw that went in and out of this place nine of them were Muslim, each borrowing a prayer mat from the cupboard, at least two of them were employees of the airport, one was an Indian gent (I think Hindu) with a piece of rope being held in both hands.   With some praying aloud in Arabic, it was a little hard to concentrate when I was reading a bible at one point, but it got me thinking.  There was a message from a Chaplin about that people should ask permission before leaving any literature in the cabinet to avoid causing offence.  I am not sure if the Chaplin has a sit-on-the-fence attitude to the Christian God to try and ‘not offend’,  just a general admin bod employed to keep the places clean and tidy, or someone with a real zeal and love for Christ but wants to be a servant to people not following the Lord.

Where as we could get alarmed at the number of worshippers of faiths other than Christianity being practised in the UK changes our culture, (and oh how the BNP and similar fascist groups and their ilk love to rub this in) but how many of us Christians actually make the effort to go to one of these places and maybe spend time in prayer before a journey or silently pray for the other users of the room for them to find the loving acceptance of Jesus?  Maybe if we did we would have very different faith landscape in the UK.

If anyone in church leadership is reading this, I would like to know what you think.  Is it a spiritually difficult to pray in a room with people with other beliefs or is worshipping Jesus here could be a good way to pray for others, or are these rooms pointless.  Those of you who are Christians travelling to other lands blogging on airport things too.  Please let me know your comments.

Church in a pub

On Sunday morning went to my usual church then went out for lunch, usual quite relaxing day.  The talk in the morning was part of a series on distractions which is something that causes more problems with things for me than I can think of.

In the evening I went to the Isambard Kingdom Brunel pub (a Wetherspoons pub named after the famous industrial engineer who lived in my city of Portsmouth, UK) and met up with Mark Rodel reverend of another church in Portsmouth who has a blog and in addition to running his own church likes to meet up with anyone in this pub most Sunday evenings for a chance to relax and have a beer and chat to another small crowd.   Something different from regular church or cell group, (which is a mid-week church meeting someone’s house in a informal closer knit group for regular church people) but this is different as provides a chance for people with casual questions about Christianity and church in a familiar public environment.

For me I think many Christians don’t always visualise the fact church can seem very scary place for many people that have never been before to church, have fallen away, or are just plain shy, and this is a good place to get to know people and get questions answered on many things on church life.  Jesus spent a lot of time in public places speaking, so its only natural that fellow believers could sometimes get together in a place most people are familiar with and invite people to come and chat about whatever they wish.  Mark uses a few unusual visual cues to illustrate things from the bible and this week he got us to make some paper boats to float on a washing up bowl of water he borrowed from the bar.

Anyway there was just about 7 of us from different churches around the city, it was nice getting to know different people from quite a few backgrounds.   Will try come along semi regularly while I am still here in the UK.