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All Religions Are Alike!

Are all religions alike? Are there many ways to get to heaven? Do all religions essentially believe in the same God? This summer our pastor is taking us through a series on “Getting to Know God.” This last Sunday he covered the doctrine of the Trinity — the wonderfully mysterious fact that God is One God yet three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. I’m not going to go into this doctrine here, but focus on one thing that probably hits home for a lot of Americans who call themselves Christian: What differentiates a Christian from a person of another religion, and does it matter?

Christianity is the only religion that has, at the very core of its doctrine, the belief in the Triune God, and especially that Jesus Christ is God and the Son of God. That He came to earth as a human, lived a perfect (“sinless”) life, died a horrific death specifically for the purpose of taking our place, sacrificing His own blood so that a relationship can be restored between us and God, rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father, acting as our Mediator. To my knowledge, the God of the Christian faith is the only God who seeks out a relationship with the people He created. This is very different from other religions.

In a nutshell, here are what other major religions believe:

  • Mormonism: Sees God as the Supreme Being of the universe. However, He gradually acquired that position over a long period of time by living a perfect and righteous life. God the Father has a body (flesh and bones). Views Jesus and Satan as spirit brothers and sons of God. Every male can eventually become a god.
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses: God is a single being, not a Trinity. He is not all-knowing or present everywhere. Jesus was created; He is a lesser God. He is Michael, the Arch-Angel.
  • Islam: God (Allah) is one and indivisible. They believe in a strict monotheism. Jesus is not God, He was just a messenger, second to Muhammad in importance.
  • Hinduism: Recognize a single deity, and view other gods and goddesses as manifestations or aspects of that supreme God. There are 330 million of these gods (give or take a few).
  • Buddhism: There is no God. By following specific paths, and through reincarnation, one can eventually reach “Nirvana.”
  • Bahai: Believe in a single God who has repeatedly sent prophets into the world through whom he has revealed the “Word of God.” Prophets include Adam, Krishna, Buddha, Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus), Mohammed, The Bab and Baha’u’llah.
  • Taoism: There is no God to hear prayers or to act upon them. They seek answers to life’s problems through inner meditation and outer observation. Tao is the first-cause of the universe. It is a force that flows through all life. A believer’s goal is to harmonize themselves with the Tao.
  • Shintoism: Believe in the “Kami” (many deities). All human life and human nature is sacred. Morality is based upon that which is of benefit to the group. Ancestors are deeply revered and worshipped.
The Trinity is what makes Christianity, Christianity.
The Trinity is what makes the Truth, the Truth.

 

If we cannot believe what the Bible says about Who God is, if we cannot believe that Jesus is the Son of God and very God Himself, then we cannot believe anything much in the Bible. Either Jesus is God, worked miracles (including raising the dead), was raised from the dead Himself, or He is not. Because Christians believe He is Who He says He is, we also believe His Words: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

There is but one way to God and that is through His Son. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are brought to this saving knowledge. This is what sets Christianity apart from any and all other religions. Faith in Christ is transforming and faith in anything else is alarming.

 

I truly love my Mormon, JW, Hindu and Muslim friends. I love my friends who don’t believe in anything, and those who believe in other things altogether. Because Christians believe the Bible tells the truth, they share this truth with those they love — it is not a “let me hit you over the head with this, you pagan!” message, but it IS a message that is often hard for people to hear. People don’t want an exclusive message. But we don’t get to make up our own religion and we don’t get to rewrite the Bible. So we share the truth in love and pray that eyes and hearts are opened and lives are transformed.

 

All religions are not alike. Dig deeper. Know what you believe.

 

(Here is what I believe.)

 

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Posted by on August 17, 2011 in Belief, God's Word, Jesus, Salvation

 

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The B.P. Club

Once I told a pastor friend of mine I thought he overtly favored “The Beautiful People.” You know, the athletes, successful professionals, the intellectuals, lovely women, handsome and fit men. I thought he went out of his way to befriend them. And I thought he had far less time and patience for those requiring a little extra grace, the folks not so pleasing to the eye, not so socially adept.

I still think I was right. And judgmental.

But that’s not the point.

In looking back I believe I was keen to this insight because I was in the latter group. I was not one of The Beautiful People. I was an “insider” because I was on staff. But if I walked in off the street I was sure I would not have received the same attention.

I grew up in a blue-collar family with an alcoholic father. I did not finish college, I’ve lived in a trailer park on welfare, and spent the first two-thirds of my life as a skinny, social misfit.

But over the years I have learned some things: I fell into a job I am good at. I learned what styles of clothing and hairstyles look decent on me, learned to speak to people and make friends. Now once in a while I find that I “qualify” as a member of the first group. Not all the time, it depends of course on who is doing the qualifying, doesn’t it?

When I find myself “qualified” it sort of feels good. Believing that even some people include me in The B.P. Club is both wonderful and disheartening.

And it feels wrong. Yet how common is this in American churches, among American Christians?

I am not so different from my old friend. He cultivated friendships with The B.P. perhaps to make his church more successful looking and more attractive to the surrounding upscale community. Perhaps he did it to validate himself. This strikes a chord (albeit, one played on an out-of-tune piano). It feels good to think others have placed you in The B.P. category. It feeds the ego, strokes the emotions. And builds bad character.

I think this happens in all kinds of communities. The qualifier is how alike you are to those doing the qualifying.

Regardless of the club in which you are qualified, it’s a relatively small club. It may seem kinda cool while you’re in it, but it’s shallow. Like the navel at which you’re staring, the benefits are questionable and you’ll probably find stuff there that’s really not that attractive.

And I wonder what people outside the club think.

Do they think, ‘Jesus’?

Do they think, ‘inclusive’?

Do they think, ‘welcoming’?

Or do they feel excluded, unwelcome, less valued? And when they learn you are Christ follower, what do they think of your Christ?

Don’t get me wrong: Having certain qualities—beauty, intelligence, financial acumen, professional savvy, athletic or musical talent—are good things, God-given gifts. It is the willing acceptance of, or seeking to gain entrance into, some kind of “better than others” group that is dark. It’s got satan’s fingerprints all over it.

My memory verse this week is Galations 6:2-3:

“Share each others’ burdens and in so doing, obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.”

I am reasonably sure Jesus wasn’t in The B.P. Club when He was here. He hung with the fringe. He lambasted the people who had their religion tight. He went out of his way to avoid those who thought they had it together and spend time with those who didn’t. I wonder, if he were in church this coming Easter Sunday, when people attend church once a year, with whom would He sit?

He would’ve visited me in the trailer park. He would’ve avoided me at The B.P Club.

If being in The B.P. Club means not being where Jesus is, I don’t want a membership after all.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Jesus, Relationships, Society, The Church

 

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I See That Hand

How does the typical American Christian “get saved”?

My first encounter with God was at the age of seven. Angela, my best friend from elementary school invited me to Vacation Bible School that summer. During the week the Pastor came into our little class and told us about Jesus. I was riveted. He asked if any of us would like to invite Jesus into our hearts. Even at that young age I was absolutely convinced Jesus was Someone I was drastically in need of. I raised my hand.

We went to the Pastor’s office and he told us about the decision we were about to make. Then we prayed a little prayer, repeating after him, and at that moment I became a member of the family of God.

Or did I?

Some would say it takes more than a simple prayer to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. They cite scriptures like, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” “The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls,” “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter,” and “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

But there is plenty of evidence for the simple act of humbling ourselves, confessing that we’re totally missing the mark and in need of a Savior, and acknowledging that Jesus Christ is the Son of God: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” “For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved,” and “All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.”

I believe there is the moment of stark realization of our state of affairs, our separation from God and heart-desperation for Jesus’s grace and mercy. I also believe that the act believing and confessing is just the beginning: “Faith without works is dead.” “You will know them by their fruit.” Only God knows the heart, but I question whether repeating a prayer after someone, raising your hand or walking the aisle of the church, then walking out the door to the same old life results in salvation. Do we see this practice modeled in the Bible? Do we see this modeled anywhere else on earth but “developed Christian nations”? Isn’t it rather about transformation?

Don’t get me wrong: I am not dissing the invitation to seekers in a church service — not at all! — I am asking if the American church has invented a short-cut to salvation. Do we “count the cost”? Do we talk about dying to self? Do we take up our cross and follow Him?

Here is the truth, Christ’s words from John chapter 15: “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. …. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. …. Apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. …. When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!”

I am convinced I received salvation that summer day as a young child. I haven’t always produced fruit, I have been pruned, and at times I may have even been in danger of being severed from the vine. Even now I question my effectiveness for the kingdom of God. But the sustaining theme and refrain of my life has been the enduring conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and He alone holds the keys to redemption.

Yet, as an American Christian I have to ask myself: Am I slow to produce fruit or quick today to obey His words? What about you?

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2011 in Belief, God's Word, Jesus, Salvation, The Heart

 

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And I Will Give You Rest

Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

When He walked on this earth people did come to Him. They crowded Him, followed Him wherever He went and took up a lot of His time. He could reach a lot of people by standing on a hillside or standing in a boat just off shore. Today, I don’t know, maybe He would blog. Maybe not. But I can blog about Him and about His words. About what He did two thousand years ago and what He continues to do today.

Today is a rainy day. Quiet. Lots of time to think about what’s important. What matters. Not work, not errands, not the leak above the window. I think reminding each other about God’s grace, mercy and sacrifice are what matter. And so this blog. A way to remind myself, anyone else who cares to read, about what is really important in this life.

“Man’s chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2011 in Purpose

 

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