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Jul 312015
 

poor in spiritBlessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Today we start looking at some absolutely amazing sayings by Jesus on his famous ‘Sermon on the mount’. It all starts with a list of sayings mostly starting with the phrase “Blessed are…” commonly called ‘The beatitudes’

I would love to have been on that mountain when Jesus said these words and looked at the faces of His listeners and said some totally unexpected things. You have to understand the context. Jesus has just started His ministry and there is a huge air of expectation. He has already performed some amazing miracles, demonstrating He is someone quite special and quite a crowd is gathering. He has chosen His disciples, but there are many more following on. “Could this at last be the messiah, the one who is finally going to overthrow the Romans and defeat them with the sword, to raise up a Jewish army which conquers all before it?” In many eyes (including His disciples) this is what Jesus was about to do and this is the expectation. That is why this message would have been such a shock then and it continues to still shock and surprise people today.

So Jesus sits down (which was the custom of a teacher in those days) and starts His sermon by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus was setting out the requirements for those who want to follow Him and He made no apology for it.

These are not just a collection of random sentences. I believe there is a reason why He begun his discourse talking about the poor in spirit, which we will look at in a minute. Let’s first consider what He means by being ‘poor in spirit’. I think it is clear that he is not talking about economic or material poverty but spiritual poverty. The Greek word He uses for poor here is ‘ptochos’ which is not just poor but extremely so. Someone with no resources whatsoever, entirely dependent on others and poverty stricken. It would be someone who was worthless, powerless and would have to resort to begging for their very existence. The word contains the feelings of crouching and cowering, the lowest one could be.

This is very important because that is the condition we need to be in to approach God – in total humility. We are nothing, we have nothing and we can do nothing in our own worth that contributes to our salvation, we are spiritually destitute. Our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) We crouch and cower on the floor in desperate need of His mercy.

The second and third verses of the famous hymn ‘rock of ages’ by Augustus Toplady explain our condition very well;

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

It is obvious why this Beatitude is the first, as it is the foundation upon which all the others are built. Without an understanding of his extreme spiritual poverty (i.e., a deep emotional understanding of one’s lack of righteousness,), man in his lost condition doesn’t recognize his great need to turn toward God. But when we do, how blessed (happy, fortunate) we are because in that condition God welcomes us into His kingdom. “kingdom of heaven” essentially refers to salvation. The kingdom of heaven is both eternity in heaven with God after death (Romans 6:23) and the eternal quality of life with God before death (John 10:10).

There are a number of ways we can live out this attitude in our walk with God;

1. Depend on God’s wisdom and not our own

The only way we can continue in this is to keep close to God by praying and reading His word. I would be so bold as to say that if you are not regularly doing these things you are relying on your own wisdom and not His.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.(Proverbs 14:12)

We can be quite convinced we are in the right and everything seems right but God knows all things and we need His wisdom.

Another great proverb in this regard is Proverbs 3:5-7

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

2. Depend on God’s strength not yours

Our strength is limited, His is unlimited

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.(Psalm 84:5)

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

3. Depend on God’s timing and not our own

God’s timing is always just right. A classic example of someone who couldn’t wait for God’s timing was Abraham who fathered an illegitimate child, the consequences of which are still being felt in the middle-east to this day.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:3)

There are many other examples in the bible of this sort of trust, not just; wisdom, strength and timing but God defending you, keeping, saving and providing for you. As you can see, being poor in spirit is a richness beyond anything you could dream of and an inheritance into the kingdom of heaven.

 July 31, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jul 242015
 

The beatitudesThe first part of the ‘sermon on the mount’ is called the ‘beatitudes’ and it is probably the most famous part of this sermon and the words that Jesus is most associated with. The famous Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi was so impressed with these teachings that he even wrote a whole book on the subject. Even though Ghandi wasn’t particularly impressed with Jesus’ followers, as he felt they were hypocritical, he was very impressed with Jesus himself and His teaching of love tolerance and acceptance.

But are the ‘beatitudes’ just a lovely bunch of sayings which everyone would naturally follow or are they actually counter cultural? If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you can get very familiar with these phrases and essentially lose the impact of what Jesus is saying and their radical nature. Culturally they are completely upside down. In fact people who have read them for the first time have actually been quite offended by them. When you think about it, why would anyone describe as blessed someone who is poor in spirit, crying, meek and picked on? We will look at each of these sayings in depth over the next few weeks, but to make my point about them being ‘upside down’ I’m going to turn them the right way up (In the world’s eyes) and show you how the opposite would be much more palatable to our society;

Blessed are the spiritually rich because they have inner contentment and have learned to love themselves. Blessed are the happy and cheerful because they have learned how to cheer others up by making them laugh. Blessed are the strong and assertive because they look after themselves and make things happen. Blessed are they who are full of righteousness. Blessed are those who ‘look after number one’ because unless you do, you will never be able to help anyone else. Blessed are those who refuse to get trodden on, because no-one wants to be a doormat. Blessed are those who avoid being persecuted by compromising, because no one likes an arrogant or intolerant person. If people try to pick on you, be assertive, refuse to let them put you down. Stand on your own two feet and give as good as you get.

That sounds more like something a modern self-help guru might say.

The word ‘blessed’ is used constantly in these sayings and it is important to realise what the word means. The Greek word is ‘Makarios’ and it can have three aspects to it; blessed, happy or fortunate (lucky). As Christians we don’t like to refer to ourselves as fortunate or lucky, so this aspect may cause us a little trouble, but in many ways we are fortunate but not through some random quirk of fate. As a Christian I often feel incredibly lucky that God should choose me when many of my friends are still floundering in their sin. It certainly wasn’t because I was any better than they.

Being blessed by God is the experience of hope and joy, independent of outside circumstances. That’s why we can also be happy. It’s not just a temporary state of mind, happy one minute, sad the next.

Every single one of us is in pursuit of happiness, that is our goal and our mission in life. For many, eating a lovely cake will make them happy but for those that don’t eat it, they are looking to their future happiness of looking thin. Whatever we do, the ultimate motivation will always be our happiness. Even to the extreme of those that commit suicide, they are looking for a release from their sadness and expect that death will be better than their current state.

The beatitudes are saying though that we will never be blessed or happy if we pursue those things in and of themselves. The beatitudes are not conditions of salvation and they are not saying that you should look to be in the state of mourning or poor in spirit etc for any length of time but they do suggest the qualities of the true children of God. True blessedness and lasting happiness is found in God alone and that is what these sayings are pointing to.

My hope is that this all becomes a lot clearer as we study each one in the following weeks. Next week we will start by looking at what it means to be poor in spirit.

 July 24, 2015  Posted by at 9:15 pm The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount 2 Responses »
Jul 172015
 

Sermon on the mountI’ve been wanting to do a series on the ‘sermon on the mount’ for quite some time and as I have not received any suggestions for any other subjects, I’m going to do quite a lengthy series on probably Jesus’ most famous sermon. I’ve been brought up on the tradition of expository preaching and so this series is going to be in that manner, nice and slow, covering these 3 chapters of Matthew ‘in depth’.

The ‘sermon on the mount’ was spoken on a mountain and not the back of a horse! It is the longest discourse by Jesus in the bible although I doubt it is word for word or He would only have taken about 10 minutes to say it! Hardly worth climbing a mountain for. I think that this message in Matthew chapters 5 to 7 are the main points of a sermon that Jesus preached regularly (most probably, knowing Him, with a lot of Illustrations). In fact we know of at least one other time He preached these ideas, which can be found in Luke 6 and is often referred to as ‘the sermon on the plain’.

These teachings have been described as the nearest thing to a ‘manifesto’ that Jesus required of His followers. In fact, if you look over His life, it is remarkable how closely He lived out these principles. As I write, I will bring out many examples from Jesus’ own life and ministry.

Jesus is recognised as one of the foremost preachers in the whole of history, even by non-Christians. In general it seems that people have a lot more problem with Christians and the church than they do with Jesus himself, but I can only assume they haven’t really comprehended what He is really talking about. I am amazed that there aren’t more people offended by His teaching than there are. On the surface it all sounds very lovely, Jesus is protecting the poor and downtrodden, what a nice man! But when you analyse it, his teachings are incredibly counter-cultural and ‘upside down’ to the way our culture thinks. Why on earth should the poor and meek be blessed? Why should just a lustful look at a woman be considered adultery? What reason could we possibly have to turn and offer the other cheek when someone slaps us? The world says get even, look after yourself and think about number one.

The sermon on the mount covers the ‘beatitudes’ (blessed are..) It covers being salt and light, loving your enemies, loving money, anxiety, the Lord’s prayer, taking logs out of your eye, building your house upon a rock and many other amazing sayings, which we will look at in depth.

As we investigate this sermon, we will very quickly discover that what Jesus is asking of us is impossible to do in our own strength, as is the Christian life in general. It can only be done by people who have had their hearts transformed and changed by an encounter with Jesus and are filled with His Holy Spirit. The more we follow our saviour and this incredible man of history, the more we will find out about Him and the easier we will find this way to live.

My prayer is that this study will be life changing as we go on this journey of discovery together. I hope you can join me

 July 17, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jul 102015
 

Gay marriageI’m not normally one to comment on current affairs, but following the recent US ruling allowing Gay marriage in all states and having read a number of articles and blogs I felt compelled to write. This is a big issue, which can cause a lot of consternation and argument, so I wanted to try to deal with it sensitively and as far as I am able, to bring a biblical perspective.

Firstly we need to decide if gay marriage is ‘right’ according to the bible and then we need to look at how we, as Christians should handle this thorny issue.

That we should be discussing whether gay marriage is right or not shows just how far our society has influenced the church. We are called to be a ‘light on a hill’ to proclaim God’s truth boldly, no matter what the reaction. But sadly the church (especially in England where I live) has remained largely silent.

Let’s look at what the bible says, which should be our plumb line for every matter. The first mention of homosexuality in the bible is in the context of God’s judgement against Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 and 19 where it appears that the main reason they were destroyed was because of their homosexual practices. Some people would take issue with this, but just a few books further on in the bible, the condemnation of homosexuality is more conclusive;

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)

A couple of chapters later in chapter 20:13 it even commands that two men sleeping together should be put to death!

You may say, that is just the Old Testament and things have changed since then, but moving into the New Testament the message is much the same. In Romans chapter 1 it describes the way mankind have continually rejected God and as a consequence “For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26-27)

Finally (and I could include a lot more) The Apostle Paul lists some sins that prevent someone from inheriting the Kingdom of God “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

It is clear then from an unbiased point of view that God considers homosexual practice a sin, which of course must include Gay marriage which by the biblical definition is not marriage at all. A strong and loving commitment maybe, but not marriage.

So how are we, as Christians, to proceed? I have a number of observations which I hope will help us negotiate this controversial issue;

· The first thing that occurs to me is to ask that well known question “what would Jesus do?” As followers of His, we should act in the same way that He did. A clear example of how He handled sexual sin is found in John 8:1-11 where the religious leaders bring to Him a woman caught in adultery. There is no question she is guilty, but Jesus exposes their hypocrisy and forgives her, but crucially tells her to “Go and sin no more.”

· Love should and must be our highest motivation. We are children of a loving God and we are called to love in every circumstance. All too often Christians have been known for their judgemental spirit and not for their love. However much we disagree, we must find a way to be consistently loving.

· Through this loving spirit, rather than avoid the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community, we should engage with them and find ways to bless them. There has traditionally been a lot of suspicion between each other, mainly due to a reluctance to engage. We as Christians must take the initiative.

· It is possible to have healthy, accepting, loving relationships with those you disagree with without compromise. Jesus was known as a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19) and yet he maintained His purity.

· When the time comes, we must stand for truth, whatever the world says and however much we are opposed. The world may hate us, but we owe it to them to show them the right way. We may suffer for it, but Jesus never promised it would be easy. That’s why he calls us to take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). This means we deny ourselves and prefer Him.

· We must remember that this is relatively easy for us. A homosexual who comes to Christ must be prepared to live a life of celibacy. This is, as you can imagine, incredibly hard and so we must be building communities that provide loving and emotional support, commitment, security and friendship to everyone who accepts Christ, whatever background they are from. Following Christ is the highest calling and the most fulfilling one there is. When everything else is stripped away and Jesus is all that you have, you will find that Jesus is all that you need.

If you want to read more about this and similar subjects, the ‘Gospel Coalition’ website has gathered 50 (yes 50!) articles on the subject. I have not read all of them, but it is a great resource for extra study. Click on this link http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/50-resources-for-equipping-the-church-on-homosexuality-and-same-sex-marriage

Have a good week.

 July 10, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Gay marriage No Responses »
Jul 032015
 

Apologetics reviewBelieve it or not, I’ve been looking at the subject of apologetics since the beginning of the year. I really hope you have found it useful. As I don’t like my blogs to be too long, some of the subjects have not been as ‘in depth’ as I would have liked. And believe it or not, I could have said a lot more.

I thought that this week I would finish the series by providing some links to some great resources on apologetics in case you fancy studying the subject further. I have also listed some of my favourite apologists.

One of the best sites with thousands of apologetics links is ‘Apologetics 315’ http://www.apologetics315.com/which has all sorts of resources, such as; Articles, blogs, podcasts and a whole page of excellent MP3 downloads. It can be a bit overwhelming when you first look at it, but it’s fun to explore.

Another great resource is ‘be thinking.org’ which is a student Christian union site with a lot of material for further study http://www.bethinking.org/apologetics

One of the first sites I discovered, when I first became interested in this subject is CARM which stands for Christian Apologetics Research Ministry https://carm.org/They have some great material on just about every ‘apparent’ contradiction in the bible giving a reasonable explanation for each one. They also have a lot of information about all sorts of religious groups and cults which I have found very useful.

If you are looking for more information on creationism, you won’t do much better than ‘Answers in Genesis’ which has a lot of good scientific material. The link is https://answersingenesis.org/

Some of my favourite Apologists who are my heroes at defending the faith are:

· Ravi Zacharias http://rzim.org/

· William Lane Craig http://www.reasonablefaith.org/william-lane-craig

· Michael Ramsden http://www.bethinking.org/author/michael-ramsden

· Lee Strobel – author of many great and accesible books such as “Case for Christ” http://www.leestrobel.com/

Another one I have discovered recently is Cliffe Knechtle (thanks Arthur) who has amazing conversations with college students. He has a YouTube channel called “askcliffe” In fact all of these people you can find on YouTube. Ravi and William Lane Craig have some great debates with Atheists such as Richard Dawkins.

If you know of any good websites that you have found useful, please put the links in the comments box below.

Next week I will be starting a new subject, but if you would like me to cover a subject, please let me know. God bless

 July 3, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Jun 262015
 

PostmodernismThere’s just one more subject I want to cover in this series on Apologetics before I wrap it all up next week.

This week I want to look at the whole subject of postmodernism.

Don’t be put off by the title as I will try as best as I can to explain it simply.

Post modernism is quite difficult to explain in detail but the basic concepts can be understood because they are such a part of our everyday culture. Put simply, postmodernism is a philosophy that affirms no objective or absolute truth. This viewpoint immediately puts it in opposition to Christianity, because we believe, with certainty the truths of the bible and what God says is the absolute truth.

Some Christians have attempted to combine post modernism with Christianity, but I’m afraid the results are so watered down that you can’t really tie anything down beyond ‘Jesus was a really nice guy and he just accepts everybody, no matter what they believe’ which is totally insipid!

The danger of post modernism is that everybody can believe what they want as long as it is true for them. That is why there is a picture of pick and mix at the top of this blog, because that is just what it is like. It is possible to choose beliefs that are mutually incompatible, however no-one can tell the chooser how preposterous that is, because their view is just as valid as anyone else.

All beliefs are given equal weight and are considered equally valid. This is called relativism. That is why people can state that ‘all paths lead to God’ (which is what I argued against a few weeks ago). It is plain to see how dangerous this thinking is when you consider the truth claims of Jesus, when He said things like “I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6) and many other definitive statements.

One comment you will encounter regularly is the comeback “That may be true for you, but it’s not true for me’ There are also other similar comments you will hear such as “You can’t know anything for sure” and “You shouldn’t judge”

So how do we answer that sort of comment?

Firstly, we have to step very carefully as we don’t want to appear intolerant. That is the biggest sin in many people’s eyes and I’m afraid that sort of statement made in an arrogant way can be totally off-putting to many people. Jesus was very direct, but dealt with people in just the right way. Most people haven’t got a problem with Jesus, so it is good to talk about Him as soon as you can. Jesus would look for some common ground, something that the person would agree with. That is a good place to start.

We need to show people that these kinds of statements are logically inconsistent (we dealt with logic right at the beginning of this series). People who say ”That’s true for you, but not for me” are referring to subjective truth, which is like favouring one chocolate bar over another. The truth claims of God cannot all be true, as different religions hold contradictory truths. When it comes to God there must be absolute truth.

Going back to the people who make these statements, you can carefully show them their own intolerance by turning their statements back to them. The conversations could go something like this;

Other person: “You can’t say that, you cannot know anything for sure”

You: “Really? Are you sure about that, are you sure you can’t know anything for sure?

Other person: “You shouldn’t judge”

You: “Is that your judgement? It sounds like you are judging my choice to judge!”

Other person: “What is true for you is not true for me.”

You: “That’s true and what is true for me is that you are wrong, so who is right?”

These examples show how illogical relativism is. What if I was to say that 2+2 = 5, does that make it right, because I sincerely believe it? Of course not. The answer is 4 whatever I feel, think or believe. This is what we need to get over and I must admit it is very difficult. It’s just as well it’s not just up to us or no-one would believe. We need the Holy Spirit to help us and He most certainly will, if you ask him.

Next week I am going to finish off this series by including lots of links to where you can find all sorts of materials about apologetics and talk about some of my favourite apologists. Until then, have a great week.

 June 26, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Jun 192015
 

Cults part 2Last week we looked at the definition of a cult and explored what a few of the more popular ones believed. This week we are going to look at two of the most popular cults in the world and certainly ones that are very active in my town and many other areas around the world.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

The JW’s were founded in the USA towards the end of the 19th century by Charles Taze Russell. The headquarters of the movement is in New York.There are about 6.9 million active Witnesses in 235 countries in the world, including 1 million in the USA and 130,000 in the UK. They are probably best known for their door to door evangelism, knocking on people’s doors and offering their literature such as the watchtower. They are also known for the fact that they don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter because they believe that these festivals are based on (or massively contaminated by) pagan customs and religions. They point out that Jesus did not ask his followers to mark his birthday and they don’t celebrate each other’s birthdays, presumably for the same reason. They refuse to vote and also refuse military service and any form of blood transfusions.

JW’s commonly refer to their beliefs as “the truth” and consider themselves to be “in the truth”. They consider secular society to be morally corrupt and under the influence of Satan, and so will limit their contact and social interaction with non-witnesses unless they are doing evangelism.

According to Jehovah’s Witness’ theology, God is a single person, not a Trinity, who does not know all things and is not everywhere.  He first created Michael the Archangel through whom He created all “other things,” including the universe, the earth, Adam and Eve, etc.  This creative work took God 42,000 years.  At one point, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society taught that God ruled the universe from somewhere in the Pleiades star system.  They have since modified this to say that the “Pleiades can no longer be considered the centre of the universe and it would be unwise for us to try to fix God’s throne as being at a particular spot in the universe.” Such changes and even contradictions in teaching are frequent in the Watchtower organization; and when a doctrine changes, they tell their followers that the light of truth is getting brighter.

After Adam sinned, the paradise which God had created for them was ruined.  So, God instituted a system of redemption which was revealed in the Bible and would ultimately lead to the crucifixion of Jesus the messiah.  But, in the meantime, God needed to have a visible, theocratic organization on earth to accurately represent Him.  Throughout history, this true organization had a remnant of faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc.,); JW’s believe that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is the continuation of that tradition and it alone can properly interpret God’s Word since it is the angel directed prophet of God on earth.

When it came time for the saviour to be born, Michael the Archangel became a human in the form of Jesus.  Jesus grew and kept all the laws of God and never sinned.  Finally, when Jesus died, it was not on a cross but on a torture stake where he bore the sins of mankind–but this did not include Adam’s sins.  Jesus rose from the dead as a spirit, not physically (his body was dissolved and taken by God); and during his visitations to people on earth, he manifested a temporary physical body for them to see and touch.

Throughout history there have been faithful Jehovah’s witnesses who have managed to keep The Truth in spite of the “demonic” doctrine of Trinitarianism (the trinity) that has permeated the Christian church.  They believe that Christianity has sold its soul to the devil and now support his earthly governments.  In other words, all of Christianity is false; and only the Jehovah’s Witness “theocratic” organization led by several men in Brooklyn, New York, is true.

Jehovah’s witnesses believe that Jesus returned invisibly in 1914 and is now reigning in heaven.  When Jesus finally returns physically to earth, which will happen at the time of the Battle of Armageddon, He will set up his earthly 1000-year kingdom.

During this 1000-year period, people will be resurrected and have a second chance to receive eternal salvation by following the principles of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.  After the millennium, those who reject God and His organization will be annihilated; that is, they will cease to exist.  The rest of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have faithfully followed God’s organization on earth will be saved from eternal annihilation and reside forever on Paradise earth.  Heaven, however, is a place for a special group of 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses–the only ones who are “born again” and who alone are allowed to take communion in their annual communion service.  These are the ones who have “immortal life”;  all other Witnesses have “everlasting life.”  Those with immortal life do not have resurrected bodies.  They have “spirit bodies.”  Those on Paradise Earth have everlasting life which consists of a resurrected body that must be maintained through eating, rest, etc.

In order to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you have to agree to attend five meetings a week where you are taught from Watchtower literature.  You cannot be baptized until you have studied their material for at least six months and have answered numerous questions before a panel of elders.  Men are not supposed to have long hair or wear beards, and women are to dress in modest apparel. A schedule of door-to-door canvassing is required where you distribute the Watchtower literature, acquire donations, and forward all monies to the headquarters. If you ever leave the Jehovah’s Witness organization, you are considered an apostate and are to be shunned.

Mormonism

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith in 19th century America and was then developed by Brigham Young who migrated with the new Mormons to Salt Lake City in 1847. Mormons believe their church is a restoration of the Church as conceived by Jesus and that the other Christian churches have gone astray. Mormons believe that God has a physical body, is married, and can have children. They also believe that humans can become gods in the afterlife. Mormons are strongly focused on traditional family life and values. They oppose abortion, homosexuality, unmarried sexual acts, pornography, gambling, tobacco, consuming alcohol, tea, coffee, and the use of drugs.

One of the more common misconceptions is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints advocates polygamy. However, this was discontinued over a century ago and the Church excommunicates anyone who practices it. There are roughly 13.5 million members world-wide.

Mormonism teaches that God used to be a man on another world and that he became a god by following the laws and ordinances of his god on his home world.  He brought his wife to this world, a woman he had married on the other world.  She is essentially a goddess.

In his present god-state, he rules our world. Since god and his wife are both exalted persons, they each possess physical bodies.  In their exalted states as deities, they produce spirit children that grow and mature in the spiritual realm.  The first spirit born was Jesus.  Afterwards, Lucifer was born along with the rest of us.  So, Mormonism teaches that we all pre-existed in the spirit realm–having been produced from the union of god and his goddess wife.  Therefore, we all existed in spirit form before coming down and entering the bodies of human babies that are being born on earth.  During this ‘compression’ into the infant state, the memories of our pre-existence is ‘veiled.’

God the father, who is called Elohim, was concerned for the future salvation of the people on earth. In the heavenly realm, the Father had a plan for the salvation of the world.  Jesus endorsed the Father’s plan.  Lucifer did not.  Lucifer became jealous and rebelled.  In his rebellion, he convinced a large portion of the spirits existing in heaven to side with him and oppose god.  God, being more powerful then they, cursed these rebellious spirits to become demons.  They can never be born in human bodies.

The remaining spirits sided with God.  Since they chose the better way, when it comes time for them to live on earth, they have the privilege of being born in races and locations that are relative to their condition and choice made in the spirit realm.

In the Mormon plan of salvation there needed to be a saviour: Jesus.  But Jesus was a spirit in heaven.  For him to be born on earth, Brigham Young, the second prophet of the Mormon church, said that instead of letting any other man do it, God the Father did it with Mary.  He said that the birth of our saviour was as natural as the birth of our parents.  Essentially, what this means is that Brigham Young taught that god the father came down and had relations with Mary, his spirit daughter, to produce the body of Jesus.  Though many Mormons will not entertain such incestuous thoughts about God and Mary, this is what Brigham Young taught; and as far as we know, this has not been denied by the Mormon church.

Nevertheless, Jesus was born, got married, and had children. He died on the cross and paid for sins–but not on the cross only.  According to Mormonism, the atonement of Christ was not only on the cross.  It began in the Garden of Gethsemane before he went to the cross.

In Mormonism, men and women have the potential of becoming gods.  President Lorenzo Snow said, “As god once was, man is. As God is, man may become.”  In order to reach this exalted state of godhood, a person must first become a good Mormon, pay a full ten percent tithe to the Mormon church, follow various laws and ordinances of the church, and be found worthy.  At this point, they receive a temple recommend, whereupon the Mormon is allowed to enter the sacred temples in order to go through a set of secret rituals: baptism for the dead, celestial marriage, and various oaths of secrecy and commitment.  Additionally, four secret handshakes are taught so the believing Mormon, upon entering the third level of Mormon heaven, can shake hands with god in a certain pattern.  This celestial ritual is for the purpose of permitting entrance into the highest level of heaven.  For those who achieve this highest of heavens, exaltation to godhood awaits them.  Then he or she will be permitted to have his or her own planet and be the god of his own world, and the Mormon system will be expanded to other planets.

As you can see, on the surface, these two dangerous cults can seem very similar to Christianity and for a Christian who is not well versed in the scriptures it would be possible to be drawn away. It is so important we know what the word of God says and get good biblical teaching. The most important thing to do with members of these cults is to show them grace, because their movements have no true grace in them. Mixed with love and acceptance, I believe it is possible to win them over. God’s word is stronger than any heresy and I believe He will win many over to Himself. Let’s continue to pray for that.

 June 19, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Jun 122015
 

Cults part 1We are coming to the end of our long running apologetics series, where I have covered all sorts of subjects to help us lead people to Jesus. We have looked at many of the questions that people will ask us as they seek to understand what Christianity is all about.

Over the last couple of weeks we have looked at the major world religions and briefly covered what they are about. It’s important to know where people are coming from. This week and next week we will look at some of the cults that we are perhaps even more likely to encounter, as many of them are very evangelistic.

A lot of them, upon first encounter, will seem very Christian. They use many of the same words as we do, but on further investigation, you realise they are a cult.

‘Cult’ is a very negative term (cults never use it to describe themselves) and so I think it is important to explain what I mean when I use the term.

Generally a cult is a group which is unorthodox, they would be devoted to a new teaching, theology or doctrine and they are usually associated with a very strong leader. They will often challenge the established church, calling them apostate and declaring that they (the cult) alone hold the truth. They also generally look to control their members physically, intellectually, financially and emotionally.They do this through fear, threatening loss of salvation if someone leaves the group or through indoctrination. A lot of their teachings that deviate from traditional Christianity cannot be substantiated, due to them being revealed by some special revelation to just one or a select few. These revelations can be quite outrageous involving; space ships, special glasses or special angelic visitation and weird dreams.

Next week I am going to look at the two which I encounter the most and certainly where I live are more prevalent; Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons, but let’s this week have a brief look at some of the others.

The Unification Church (aka the ‘Moonies’)

The Moonies were founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in 1954 in Korea. Moon claims that in 1935 Jesus appeared to him on a mountain in Korea and told him to finish the work of establishing God’s kingdom on earth. He believes he has since received many revelations from God. On May 1, 1954, in Seoul, Moon founded the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. In 1958 he sent missionaries to Japan and in 1959 to America. Moon moved to the United States in 1971.

They are well known for holding mass weddings. In August of 1992 in Seoul Korea, Moon presided over a mass wedding of 3,000 couples.

Moon claims to be the messiah of the Second Coming and his wife is the Holy Spirit. He and his wife, called The True Parents where he is the True Father and his wife the True Mother, are the first couple to be able to bring forth children with no original sin. “The cross is the symbol of the defeat of Christianity.” The Bible is considered scripture along with Moon’s work “Divine Principles.” Sin is genetically based. It is not a moral issue. Adam and Eve fell because of sexual sin. Eve had sexual relations with Satan. Jesus is a ‘true person’ though not God in flesh. The Holy Spirit is ‘the True Mother,’ or ‘the Second Eve.” The church denies the doctrine of the Trinity.

They believe that people determine their own future place in the spirit world after death through what they do here on earth.

Moon has his own worldwide empire of many different businesses and financial institutions to gain support and influence. His 536 page book called Divine principles he considers as inspired and equal to scripture. He has spent time in a US prison for tax evasion. He has been involved in seances and other occult practices like clairvoyance, trances, etc.

There are approximately 3 million Moonies worldwide.

Scientology

Scientology was founded in Los Angeles in the nineteen fifties by a science fiction author, L.Ron Hubbard.

He said human beings contained the souls of Thetans — immortal creatures responsible for making the universe.

However, the world has been invaded by dark forces — the Engrams — and individuals can be cleansed and enlightened only through intense therapy called Dianetics.

It is a costly process and the Scientologists expect their adherents to donate considerable sums.

In the United States, Scientology enjoys the full rights of a recognised religion and has attracted a number of Hollywood celebrities, probably the most famous being Tom Cruise.

In Europe, the business side of Scientology has prompted several governments to deprive it of tax exemptions enjoyed by other churches.

Christadelphianism

Christadelphianism is a relatively new religious system.  It claims, like many other non-Christian cults, to be the authentic Christian Church with authentic Christian doctrines.  However, it denies the Trinity doctrine as well as the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit.  In addition, it states that the Devil is not a real person but is, instead, our own natural tendency to sin.  They also says that Jesus was a created being who had a fallen nature who himself needed to be redeemed. There are certain disagreements as to the extent of Jesus fallen nature amongst some of them, but nevertheless, they all deny the deity of Christ and this is enough to put them outside the camp of Christianity.

Christian Science

This cult is a real misnomer; it is neither Christian or scientific. Christian Science is a set of beliefs and practices developed in 19th-century New England by Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910), who argued in her book Science and Health(1875) that sickness is an illusion that can be corrected by prayer alone.Science and health is meant to be a companion to the bible but many of its teachings are contradictory to the bible. Here are some of its teachings with the science and health references;

  • God is just a Universal Principle, S&H331:18-19.
  • God cannot indwell a person, S&H336:19-20.
  • God is the only intelligence in the universe, including man S&H330:11-12.
  • God is Mind, S&H 330:20-21; 469:13.
  • God is the Father-Mother, S&H l331:30; 332:4.
  • The Trinity is Life, Truth, and Love, S&H331:26.
  • Belief in the traditional doctrine of the Trinity is polytheism, S&H256:9-11.
  • Jesus was not the Christ, S&H333:3-15; 334:3.
  • “Jesus Christ is not God, as Jesus himself declared . . . ” S&H361:12-13.
  • Jesus did not reflect the fullness of God, S&H336:20-21.
  • Jesus did not die, S&H45:32-46:3.
  • The Holy Spirit is divine science, S&H331:31.
  • There is no devil, S&H469:13-17.
  • There is no sin, S&H447:24.
  • Evil and good are not real, S&H330:25-27; 470:9-14.
  • “Matter, sin, and sickness are not real, but only illusions,”  S&H335:7-15; 447:27-28.”The sacrifice of Jesus was not sufficient to cleanse from sin,” S&H25:6.
  • “True healings are the result of true belief,” S&H194:6.

Additionally, Christian Scientists prefer not to use doctors, medicine, or immunizations.  Christian Science Practitioners are used to help people through the false reality of illness.

Proper prayer and training are employed to battle the “non-reality” of illness.

They have no ordinances like the Lord’s Supper or baptism.

In the early 20th century Christian Science became the fastest growing religion in the United States, with nearly 270,000 members there by 1936. This has since declined somewhat.

 June 12, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics 1 Response »
Jun 052015
 

Other religions part 2Last week we started to look at some of the major world religions we may encounter as we talk to people about our own faith. It is important we understand what other people’s beliefs are and where they are coming from. As followers of Jesus we want to replicate his attitude of love and respect towards others.

Last week we looked at; Baha’i, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. This week we will look at 5 more.

JAINISM

Jainism is an ancient religion from India. It is similar in outlook to Hinduism and Buddhism. They believe in Karma and reincarnation but they believe that these things can only be achieved through asceticism and denial. The essence of Janism is a concern for every living thing and so they are strict vegetarians and seek to live in a way that minimises the use of the world’s resources.

The founder of the religion, Vardhamana, attained enlightenment after 13 years of deprivation, eventually fasting to death, in 420 BC

Janism has no god.

The 3 guiding principles (3 jewels) of Jainism are:

  1. right belief
  2. right knowledge
  3. right conduct.

The Jain religion has 5 great vows called mahavratas and these are:

  1. Non Violence
  2. non-attachment to possessions
  3. not lying
  4. not stealing
  5. sexual restraint (with celibacy as the ideal).

I guess if all Jain’s really took their religion seriously it would die out in one generation!

Jainism is divided into two major sects;

the Digambara (sky clad) sect

the Svetambara (white clad) sect.

Jainism has no priests, but the ‘professional’ people are monks and nuns.

JUDAISM

I’m not going to go into this in detail as most of the readers of this blog are familiar with the Old Testament. Judaism focuses on the first five books which they call the ‘Torah’.

The spiritual leaders are called Rabbi’s and the people worship in Synagogues. There are many nominal followers of Judaism who don’t necessarily believe in or observe Jewish law. They identify themselves with the religion simply because they are Jews

SHINTOISM

Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion, which is closely tied to nature (It means ‘way of the spirits’). It is devoted to various nature ‘deities’ called ‘Kami.’ The essence of Shintoism is performing various rituals that enable human beings to communicate with Kami. Kami are not gods but spirits that appreciate human interest and if treated properly will bring; health, wealth and happiness etc. Followers of Shinto desire peace and believe that all human life is sacred.

There are “Four Affirmations” in Shinto:

  1. Tradition and family – families are the main way that traditions are preserved.
  2. Love of nature – nature is sacred and natural objects are worshipped as sacred spirits.
  3. Physical cleanliness – bathing, washing of hands and mouth rinsing are performed constantly.
  4. “Matsuri” – is a festival which honours the spirits.

Shinto has no canonical scriptures. It teaches important ethical principles but has no commandments. It has no recognised founder or main god and in fact does not insist on believers following it exclusively as the only way.

SIKHISM

Sikhism was founded in the 15thcentury AD in the Punjab (now mostly Pakistan) by Guru Nanak. It is based on his teachings and the 9 Sikh guru’s who followed after him.

Sikhs believe in a single formless God with many names, who can be known through meditation. Sikhs pray many times each day and are prohibited from worshipping idols or icons. They believe in samsara, karma, and reincarnation as Hindus do but they reject the caste system believing everyone has equal status in the eyes of God.

Sikhism stresses the importance of doing good actions rather than just observing religious rituals. They believe that the way to lead a good life is to:

  1. keep God in heart and mind at all times
  2. live honestly and work hard
  3. treat everyone equally
  4. be generous to the less fortunate
  5. serve others

Sikh’s worship at a Gurdwara and they consider their scriptures to be a living Guru called ‘the Guru Granth Sahib’

The men wear distinctive turbans.

There are believed to be about 20 million Sikhs in the world, most of whom live in the Punjab province of India.

TAOISM

Taoism originated in China 2000 years ago and was founded by Lao-Tse, a contemporary of Confucius in China. His writings the Lao-te-ching are a combination of psychology and philosophy and were written in an attempt to help end the endless and bloody feudal system in China. They describe the nature of life, the way to peace and how a ruler should lead his life. ‘Tao’ is translated as ‘way’ or ‘path’ and they believe it is the ultimate creative principle of the universe, unifying and connecting all things.

Becoming one with the Tao involves ‘Tai-Chi’ which is that slow martial art type practice which you may have seen people performing in local parks etc.

Another concept is yin and yang which symbolise the balance of the dark side and light side. It is a balance of opposites; good and evil, male and female etc

Taoism includes many deities which are worshipped in Taoist temples.

Taoism promotes:

  • achieving harmony or union with nature
  • the pursuit of spiritual immortality
  • being ‘virtuous’ (but not ostentatiously so)
  • self-development

Taoist practices include:

  • meditation
  • feng shui
  • fortune telling (tea leaves etc)
  • reading and chanting of scriptures

It is difficult to tell how many followers of Taosim there are today as it was largely obliterated by the Communist revolution fifty years ago, although the practices above are still popular today.

Next week we will start to look at a few popular cults which you may encounter.

 June 5, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
May 292015
 

Other religions part 1We have been going through, for some while now, a series on the subject of apologetics. This is the defence of the Christian gospel. We meet all sorts of people in our daily lives and many have a problem with God or Christianity many times through ignorance of what true Christianity is. They reject God for all sorts of reasons, many of which we have already looked at and provided a defence for. Things such as; how can a good God allow evil, what about suffering, is science compatible, what about hell etc etc.

Last week I made quite a provocative statement that ‘Christianity is the only way to God’ and we looked at reasons why this statement was true. To make this statement confidently I think it is at least reasonable to have a general overview of what other religions believe so we can compare them to Christianity. So for a few weeks I’m going to look at the major world religions, covering each one very briefly and after that some of the most popular cults that you may encounter. When you understand where people are coming from and what their major belief system is, it should help you find a connecting point to introduce them to Christianity.

We have such good news to share and rather than preaching at people, I believe it is really important that we love them and walk with them and that will then hopefully give us an opportunity to bring them our life changing news and point them in the right direction. So without further ado, let’s look at some of the most popular religions you will encounter;

BAHA’I FAITH

The Bahá’í Faith is one of the youngest world religions. It arose out of Islam in the 1800s and is now a distinct faith. It is based on the teachings of Baha’u'llah (Name means ‘glory of God’ in Arabic) who Baha’is believe is the most recent manifestation of God’s messengers (following on from Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus, the Buddha and Muhammed). Recent because Baha’u’llah himself stated that he was not God’s final messenger. Bahá’í’s do not believe these prophets are all the same. The differences in the teachings of each prophet are due to the needs of the society they came to help and what mankind was ready to have revealed to it. They believe that God is transcendent and can’t be known directly, but he is known through the teachings of his prophets.

The Baha’i faith’s central idea is that of unity. It promotes gender and race equality, freedom of expression and assembly, world peace and world government, that people should work together for the common benefit of humanity. They believe that a single world government led by Bahá’ís will be established at some point in the future. Bahá’ís believe that every person has an immortal soul which cannot die but is freed to travel through the spirit world after death.

The Bahá’í religion may be unique in the way that it accepts all other faiths as true and valid despite their ‘apparent’ (I would say obvious) differences.

There are 6 million Bahá’ís in the world, in 235 countries

Their sacred Writings are: The Katab-I-Aqdas, The Katab-I-Iqan

BUDDHISM

Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the true nature of life. Buddhism developed out of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama who, in 535 BC, reached enlightenment and assumed the title Buddha. He promoted ‘The Middle Way’ as the path to enlightenment rather than the extremes of luxury or poverty. Long after his death the Buddha’s teachings were written down. This collection is called the Tripitaka. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and that one must go through cycles of birth, life, and death. After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana. The path to Enlightenment is through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom.

In general, Buddhists do not believe in any type of God, the need for a saviour, prayer, or eternal life after death. However, since the time of the Buddha, Buddhism has integrated many regional religious rituals, beliefs and customs into it as it has spread throughout Asia, so that this generalization is no longer true for all Buddhists. This has occurred with little conflict due to the philosophical nature of Buddhism.

There are around 376 million Buddhists throughout the world

HINDUISM

The origins of Hinduism can be traced to the Indus Valley civilization sometime between 4000 and 2500 BC. Though believed by many to be a polytheistic religion, the basis of Hinduism is the belief in the unity of everything. This totality is called Brahman. Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God, whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of deities which emanate from him. The purpose of life is to realise that we are part of God and by doing so we can leave this plane of existence and rejoin with God. This enlightenment can only be achieved by going through cycles of birth, life and death known as samsara.

One’s progress towards enlightenment is measured by karma. This is the accumulation of all one’s good and bad deeds and this determines the person’s next reincarnation. Selfless acts and thoughts as well as devotion to God help one to be reborn at a higher level. Bad acts and thoughts will cause one to be born at a lower level, as a person or even an animal. Hindus follow a strict caste system which determines the standing of each person. The caste one is born into is the result of the karma from their previous life. Only members of the highest caste, the brahmins, may perform the Hindu religious rituals and hold positions of authority within the temples. Hindus celebrate many holy days, but the Festival of Lights, Diwali is the best known. Unlike most other regions, Hinduism has no single founder, no single scripture (although the main Hindu texts are called the Vedas) and no commonly agreed set of teachings.

There are over 900 million Hindu’s worldwide.

ISLAM

Islam (which means ‘submission to the will of God’) was founded in 622 AD by Muhammad the Prophet, in Makkah (also spelled Mecca). Though it is one of the youngest of the world’s great religions, Muslims do not view it as a new religion. They believe that it is the same faith taught by the prophets, Abraham, David, Moses and Jesus. The role of Muhammad as the last prophet was to formalise and clarify the faith and purify it by removing ideas which were added in error. The two sacred texts of Islam are the Qur’an, which are the words of Allah (the Arabic word for God) as given to Muhammad and the Hadith, which is a collection of Muhammad’s sayings.

The duties of all Muslims are known as the Five Pillars of Islam and these are:

(1) Recite the shahadah at least once.

(2) Perform the salat (prayer) 5 times a day while facing the Kaaba in Makkah

(3) Donate regularly to charity via the zakat, a 2.5% charity tax, and through additional donations to the needy.

(4) Fast during the month of Ramadan, the month that Muhammad received the Qur’an from Allah.

(5) Make pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in life, if economically and physically possible.

Muslims follow a strict monotheism with one creator who is just, omnipotent and merciful. They also believe in Satan who drives people to sin, and that all unbelievers and sinners will spend eternity in Hell. Muslims who sincerely repent and submit to Allah will return to a state of sinlessness and go to Paradise after death. Alcohol, drugs , and gambling should be avoided and they reject racism. They respect the earlier prophets, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, but regard the concept of the divinity of Jesus as blasphemous and do not believe that he was executed on the cross.

Other aspects of Islam are ‘Sufism’ which is Islamic mysticism. There are 2 distinct divisions in Islam ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shi’a’ which are difficult to explain in this brief blog. With the risk of being simplistic their main disagreements are over who would succeed the prophet Muhammed. Shi’as believe it should have been Muhammed’s son in law and cousin Ali. Sunni’s believe it should be his close companion Abu Bakr. These disagreements have caused major rifts in the Islamic community.

Islam is the second largest religion in the world with over 1 billion followers.

Next week we will look at some more world religions.

 May 29, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »