World Religions: Judaism

Judaism is the smallest of the five major world religions: Christianity; Islam; Hinduism; Buddhism; Judaism (A World religion is an internationally widespread religion – Wikipedia).  It numbers almost 14 million (Largest Religions in the World, worldatlascom).  Most of these live in the U.S.A. and Israel (List of religious populations, Wikipedia).  There are more Jews in the U.S.A. than there are in Israel.  More than 6.5 million live in the U.S.A.

Origin

The origin of Judaism is found in the Bible.  The foundations of their law were laid at Sinai, c. 1491 B.C.

However, much has changed since then (example: animal sacrifices are no longer made by modern Jews).  This should be kept in mind.

What Is Believed?

A Jewish Rabbi in Spain, Moshe ben Maimon (c. 1135-1204 A.D.) – also known as Maimonides or Rambam – set forth a summary of basic Jewish beliefs.  This is known as the “Thirteen Fundamental Principles” of the Jewish faith.  “Although criticized afterward by some, his creed is still followed by the traditional forms of Judaism” (Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p. 367).  Here is the list:

  1. I believe… that the Creator… is the Creator and Guide for all created beings. He alone made, makes and will make all that is created.
  2. I believe… that the Creator… is one. He alone is our God, who was, who is, and who is to be.
  3. I believe… that the Creator… is not a body, and that He is free from all properties of matter…
  4. I believe… that the Creator… is the first and last (eternal).
  5. I believe… that the Creator… to Him alone is it fitting to make prayer (worship) and to another prayer (worship) shall not be made.
  6. I believe… that all the words of the prophets are true.
  7. I believe… the prophecy of Moses, our teacher… was true, and that he was the chief of the prophets, both of those who preceded and of those who followed him (primacy of Moses words, and the Torah)
  8. I believe… that the whole Torah, now found on our hands was the exact same one given to Moses… (Divine origin).
  9. I believe… that this Torah will not change, and that there will never be any other Law from the Creator…
  10. I believe… that the Creator… knows every action done by each human being as well as all of their thoughts.
  11. I believe… that the Creator… rewards all who keep His commandments and punishes all those who transgress His commandments.
  12. I believe… in the coming of the Messiah, and, though he tarry I will wait daily for his coming.
  13. I believe… that there will be a resurrection of the dead at the time that will be pleasing before the Creator…

(Wording compiled from different sources.  See: McDowell, pp. 367-368; Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Jewish Faith, oru.edu; Chabad.org; jewfaq.org).

Other Common Beliefs:

  1. Judaism does not accept the doctrine of original sin and Total Hereditary Depravity. “Jews do not believe that the body or its natural appetites are to be looked upon as sinful, since they were created by God” (Editor David Brown, Judaism – From God or Man?, p. 511).
  2. Some believe that when the Messiah does come, the sacrificial system will be reinstituted in Israel (Brown, p. 511).

Jesus

   Judaism rejects Jesus as the Messiah, and certainly as God in the flesh, for many reasons.  The reasons are far more than can be discussed in this writing.  Michael L. Brown has written 5 volumes entitled Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus.  However, here are several common ones:

  1. If Jesus were the Messiah, there would not be such widespread Jewish rejection. Answer: The truth is the Biblical record indicates that Israel time and again rejected God’s prophets (Exodus 17:4; Numbers 14:10; 1 Kings 18:4, 13; 19:2, 10, 14; 2 Kings 9:7; 2  Chronicles 24:17-22; Nehemiah 9:30; Jeremiah 2:30; 6:16-17; 11:21; 38:4; Ezekiel 2:1-8; Matthew 23:29-36; 23:37; Acts 7:51-53).
  2. If Jesus is the Messiah, then there should be peace on earth. Answer: It is true that the Messiah is described as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  He made    peace possible between God and man (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:11-13; Colossians 1:20).  He made peace possible between man and man (Ephesians 2:11-13).  A perfect peaceful existence is still to come (Revelation 21-22).

  What about Isaiah 2:1-4; Isaiah 11:6-9; and Micah 4:1-5?  The peace spoken of here exists in God’s holy mountain (Isaiah 11:9 cf. 2:1-2; 4:1-2).  I believe that this refers to man being changed in Christ (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11).  Others believe that this refers to that peace which is to come in heaven.

  1. Jews do not need a middleman. Answer:  the Law of Moses had a distinct priesthood.  “Uzzah learned the hard way that even kings needed a middle man to offer their incense to God (2 Chronicles 26:16-18)” (Brown, p. 342).
  2. God did not want a blood sacrifice. Answer: While some have so argued (based on Psalm 40:6; Isaiah 11:11-14; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Micah 6:6-8), the Law of Moses did instruct such (e.g. Leviticus 16).
  3. Isaiah 53 is about the nation of Israel, and not about the Messiah. Answer: Wayne Jackson points out: “(a) The context plainly deals with an individual (cf. verses 2, 3, 4, ff).  (b) The victim described in this section is innocent; He is not suffering as a result of His personal transgressions… (c) Isaiah’s suffering servant passively endures the abuse heaped upon Him… (d) The essence of the suffering depicted in Isaiah 53 is vicarious, i.e., substitutionary in nature (cf. 4-6).  The benefits of the servant’s death were passed on to others.  How in any sense, could such be applicable to the nation as a whole?  (e) The inspired writers of the New Testament clearly applied the prophecies to Jesus Christ… (f) Finally, it is admitted that the earliest Jewish writers accepted Isaiah 53 as having a Messianic thrust.  It was only when early Christian apologists began to press the case for the application to Jesus of Nazareth that a new ‘interpretation’ was sought” (Jackson, Isaiah, p. 106).   Many have a real problem with having a spiritual savior.  Wayne Jackson records the words of Joseph Klausner, who was a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, “Each man is responsible for himself, and through his good deeds he must find atonement for his sins.  He cannot lean upon the Messiah or upon the Messiah’s suffering and death (Jackson, p. 115 quoting The Messianic Idea in Israel by Joseph Klausner, p. 530).
  4. God is not man. Answer: B.J. Clark has written, “Jews point to Number 23:19 as proof for this objection.  This passage affirms that ‘God is not a man.’  The specific way in which God is not a man in this text is in the area of lying… Number 23:19 does not say that God would never dwell in the body of a man; it affirms that God does not behave like man, specifically in the area of lying… Even the Old Testament mentions occasions where in God appears in human form (Genesis 18-19; Joshua 5:13-15)” (Brown, pp. 336-337).

Types of Judaism

(1) Orthodox.  The name ‘Orthodox’ is a broad term which includes at least 13 sects of traditionalists Jews (Brown, p. 531).  “It was the modern ‘progressive’ Jews who first applied the name to ‘old , backward’ Jews as a derogatory term” (ucalgary.ca.elsegal/Rels369).  Orthodox Jews believe “the Torah, both written and oral, as literally revealed by God on Mount Sinai and faithfully transmitted ever since.  Other key doctrines include belief in a future resurrection of the dead, divine reward and punishment, the election of Israel and an eventual restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem under the Messiah (orthodoxjudaism, Wikipedia).  “The orthodox Jews observe most of the traditional Dietary and ceremonial laws of Judaism.  It adheres to the inspiration of the Old Testament [although greater authority is given to the Torah (Law), the first five books, than the rest]” (McDowell, p. 371).  “These Jews usually observe the Sabbath quite strictly… separate pews are maintained for the women in their synagogues, and only Hebrew is used in their prayer and ceremonial services.  A head or skullcap is worn by the men at all times during their worship, and often even when they are not at worship” (Brown, p. 503).

(2)  Conservative (or Masorti) conservative Jews have much in common with orthodox Jews.  They both believe in the inspiration of the Hebrew Bible (what we refer to as the Old Testament).  They both believe in an afterlife and in reward and punishment (Brown, p. 507-ff).  However, they differ on other points.  The conservative Jew believes, “The ideal of the Jew is not the establishment of a Jewish state… The mission of the Jew is to witness to God all over the world” (McDowell, p. 37).  Prayer is offered in English and languages other than Hebrew.  Males cover their heads usually only during acts of worship (Brown, p. 504).  Men and women are allowed to sit together; and Jews are permitted to drive a car on the Sabbath or holiday in order to attend synagogue (Doctrinal Differences, myjewishlearning.com).

(3) Reform (or Progressive or Liberal).  Reform Jews accept as binding only moral laws of the Old Testament (Brown, p. 556).  They tend to believe that things in Jewish law can be changed to meet the needs of modern man (Doctrinal Differences, myjewishlearning.com).  “They do not follow customs believed to not adapt to the views and habits of modern civilization.  There is complete equality of the sexes in the temple (Reform name for synagogue, B.H.).  Prayer is largely in English or the common vernacular.  Instrumental music is permitted in the temple and male worshippers usually do not wear a prayer shawl” (Brown, p. 504).  Many are very liberal on homosexuality and abortion (Brown, p. 558-561).  Neither the Sabbath nor kosher food are bound (Judaism, Wikipedia/, many are very liberal on homosexuality and abortion (Brown, p. 558-561).  Many no longer look for a Messiah but a Messianic age (Do Reformed Jews believe in the Messiah?, judaism.org)

(4) There are other smaller types of Judaism including: (a) Reconstructionalists.  They view the Jewish law as non-binding, but should be upheld unless there is reason to the contrary.  They reject the inspiration of scripture.  Many are deists (Reconstructionalist Judaism, Wikipedia).  (b) Karaite.  They accept the Hebrew Bible but reject the Mishnah and Talmud (Karaite Judaism, Wikipedia).

Final Thought

The Old Testament without the New seems incomplete.  If Jesus was not the Messiah then who was, is, or will be?

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“I resolve…”

The making of New Year’s resolutions is nothing new.  (a) The Babylonians were doing so 4,000 years ago.  On their new year, which occurred in mid-March, loyalty to their king was affirmed, and promises were made to their gods (Sarah Pruitt, The History of New Year’s Resolutions, history.com).  (b) The Romans did so more than 2,000 years ago.  Julius Caesar established January 1 as the beginning of the new year c 46 B.C.  January was named for Janus, the two-faced god.  Janus guarded arches, gates and doorways, looking ahead and behind.  The Romans also believed that Janus looked backward into the past, and forward into the future.  The Romans offered sacrifices to Janus, and made promises for the coming year (ibid; The New Book of Knowledge, Vol. 13, p. 208, 1985).  (c) “For early Christians, the first day of the new year became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do better in the future” (Sarah Pruitt, The History of New Year’s Resolutions, history.com).

God created this universe in such a way that man could keep track of time (Genesis 1:14-15).  Our time on earth is brief, and quickly passing away (Psalm 90:10, 12).

It is good to take time for self-examination.  “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the Faith.  Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  It is wise to take an honest look “into the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25).

It is good to make spiritually sound resolutions.  The lost son resolved, “I will arise and go to my father…” (Luke 15:18).  Paul said, “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Not all resolutions have the proper priority.  Jesus told a parable about a rich fool.  He said, “’I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater and there I will store all of my crops and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’  But God said to him, ‘Fool!  This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:18-21).

What will you resolve this year?  And what will you do?  Action should follow resolution.

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Christmas, Should We or Shouldn’t We?

Some people welcome Christmas, and go “all out” for it.  Trees are set up and decorated with lights, ornaments, and tinsel.  Lights and decorations are placed on the exterior of houses, and in lawns.  Christmas music is played.  Presents are purchased and wrapped in decorative paper and with bows.  Americans spend an average of $967 for items such as decorations, gifts and festive foodstuffs during the holiday season, not including travel expenses (2017 article: Here’s How Much Americans Spend on Christmas by Jodi Thornton – O’Connell, gobankingrates.com.cdn.ampproject.org).  In 2013 the Christmas shopping season accounted for 19.2% of the year’s retail sales total (U.S. Christmas Season – Statistics & Facts, Statista.com).  About 90% of Americans say that they celebrate Christmas (5 Facts About Christmas in America by Michael Lipka and David Masci, pewresearch-org.cdn.ammproject.org).

Some people do not.  Some of these avoid all signs of participation.  They do not decorate.  They do not exchange presents.  Some of these are motivated by religious conviction.  Some are motivated by atheism.

What is the origin of Christmas?  (1) Many believe that the origin of Christmas is from paganism.  The New Book of Knowledge says, “It is believed that the efforts of early Christians in Rome to change pagan customs into Christian rites led, in the 4th Century A.D., to the adoption of December 25 as the date… in honor of the birth of Christ.  This date was probably chosen because, according to the calendar then in use, December 25 was the winter solstice, the time when days begin to grow longer in the Northern Hemisphere.  The Sun-worshipping pagans had celebrated this day as the promise of spring” (1985, Vol. 3, pp. 290-ff).  “Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter.  Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight… In Rome… Saturnalia – a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture was celebrated.  Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time…” (History of Christmas, history – com.cdc.ampproject.org).

Many Christmas traditions seem to have been borrowed.  “Decorating evergreen trees had always been a part of the German winter solstice tradition” (Christmas Traditions Worldwide, history.com).  “The Druids gave the world the tradition of hanging in the mistletoe in the house.  There ancient Celtic priests believed the plant to be a sign of hope and peace.  When two enemies met under a sprig of mistletoe they would drop their weapons and embrace in friendship.  It is thought that the modern custom of the young men and women kissing under the mistletoe comes from this old ritual” (The New Book of Knowledge).

(2) Prior to the fourth century, there seems to have been many opinions, and no consensus, on the birthday of Jesus.  Clement of Alexandria (c. 200 A.D.) list various dates set-forth, including (by our calendar): March 21; April 15, 20, 21; and May 20 (How December 25 became Christmas by Andrew McGowan, bibicalarchaeology.org).

(3)  At some point, some decided to celebrate Jesus’ birthday on December 25.  It went from the Sun’s day to the Son’s day.  The History Channel says, “In fact, for the first three centuries of Christianity’s existence, Jesus Christ’s birth wasn’t celebrated at all… The first official mention of December 25 as a holiday honoring Jesus’ birthday appears in an early Roman calendar from 336 A.D. … When church officials settled on December 25… they likely wanted the date to coincide with existing pagan festivals honoring Saturn (the Roman god of agriculture) and Mithra (the Persian god of light)” (Why is Christmas Celebrated on December 25th by Sarah Pruitt, history.com).

 (4)  Christmas was banned in Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1659-1681.  It was thought to be an occasion for excessive behavior (The Surprising First Fighters in the War on Christmas by Jennifer Latsen, time.com; How the Puritans Banned Christmas by Heather Tourgee, newengland.com).

(5) Christmas became a federal holiday in 1870 (Christmas Day in the United States, timeanddate.com).  It was also in the 1800’s that Christmas began to be very commercial (YouTube, Who Started Giving Christmas Presents by Ryan Reeves).

How should the Christian view Christmas?  (1) As a pagan holiday?  I know of no one who is trying to worship the Sun, Saturn, Mithra, or a decorated tree on this day.   Intent matters.  Jeremiah 10:1-10 concerns idolatry.

(2) As a religious holiday?  (a) It is not a day set aside by God.  We should not leave the impression that it is.  There is a day, each week, that the disciples are to come together (Acts 20:7 cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Hebrews 10:24-25).  Alas, there are those who assemble only on “Special days” such as Christmas and Easter.  (b) The Bible does not teach explicitly or implicitly Jesus’ birthday.  It does not give a date.  Neither, should we.  Nativity scenes and singing songs about the birth of Jesus only at this time of year – will leave the impression that we teach this to be Jesus’ birthday.  We do not know the day of His birth.  We are thankful that He was born.

(3) Family time and a seasonal holiday?  (a) This seems to be how more and more people are viewing it.  While 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas, only 46% celebrate Christmas as primarily a religious holiday (5 Facts About Christmas in America by Michael Lipka and David Masci pewresearch-org.cdn.ammproject.org).  “Since the early 20th Century, Christmas has also been a secular family holiday, observed by Christians and non-Christians alike (Christmas, Britannica.com).  “Thousands of non-religious, atheistic and Jewish Americans observe the holiday season with all of the cultural trimmings (lights, trees, gifts, etc.)” Dave Miller, Article: Christmas and the Christian).  (b) I believe that this is permissible.  Consider the following items.  Is there anything wrong with spending time off with family and friends?  Certainly not.  Is there anything wrong with giving gifts to others?  No.  Therefore, I find nothing wrong with what many do at Christmas.  In my house we referred to it as “family day.”  We tried to leave no impression on others that this was a special holy day, or the birth of Jesus.

Is it wrong to think about Jesus on this day?  Absolutely not.  We should think about Him each day.

Is it wrong to personally meditate on the meaning of His birth, even on this day, and be grateful for it?  I do not see how it could be.

(4)  As something to avoid?  Perhaps so, for some.  One should not violate his own conscience (Romans 14:23).  However, be cautious not to bind this on others.  Not everyone treats this as a religious holy day.

 

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World Religions: Buddhism

Buddhism is the fourth largest of the world’s religions.  It numbers about 488 million (Largest Religions in the World, worldatlas.com).  Most of these live in Asia (List of religious populations, Wikipedia).  There are an estimated 1.2 million Buddhists living in the U.S.A. (Wikipedia).

Founder

The origin of Buddhism is found in 6th century Nepal/India.  Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 B.C.) was born in what is today Lumbini, Nepal.  His father, Suddhodana, was the ruler of the kingdom of the Sakyas (located is what is now Nepal and India).  The story goes that soon after Siddhartha’s birth a prophecy was delivered by a group of Hindu priests.  If the prince remained at home, he would become a universal monarch.  However, if he left home, he would become a Buddha (enlightened one).  [Note: There is no record of this prophecy until hundreds of years later.]

Siddhartha remained at home for many years.  He married a neighboring princess, his cousin, Yasodhara.  They were both 16 years old.  The marriage produced a son, Rahula.  He lived with his wife 13 years.  They lived a sheltered life.

When Siddhartha was 29 years old, he ventured out of the palace grounds.  He saw four disturbing things.  (1) He saw an old, feeble man.  (2) He saw a sick man, suffering in pain.  (3)  He saw a funeral procession, and a dead corpse.  (4) He saw a Hindu monk begging for bread.  Yet, the monk had a tranquil look upon his face.  Siddhartha had been sheltered from much of the suffering which was so common to man.  He wanted to understand how to have tranquility in the midst of so much misery.

The prince left his home and family, and roamed seeking enlightened.  “For six years the ascetic Gotama wondered about the valley of the Ganges, meeting with famous religious teachers, studying and following their systems and methods, and submitting himself to rigorous ascetic practices.  The did not satisfy him” (Walpola Rahula, What The Buddha Taught, p. XV).  He became thin.  He is self-described in one ancient text, “My back-bone protruding like a string of balls; my ribs like rafters of a dilapidated shed; the pupils of my eyes appeared deep in their sockets as water appears shining at the bottom of a deep well” (Britannica, 1979, Vol. 3, p. 370).

Then, while in meditation beneath a Bodhi tree – in modern-day Bihar, India – the prince supposedly found enlightenment.  He was 35 years old when he became a Buddha.

The prince never returned to live the palace life.  He spent the next 45 years teaching his doctrine.  He died at the age of 80, in modern-day Uttar Pradesh, India.

The Teaching

What did Buddha claim was the answer?  What do Buddhists believe?

(1) The Middle Path.  One should avoid two extremes.  “One extreme being the search for happiness through the pleasures of the senses… the other being the search for happiness through self-mortification in different forms of asceticism” (Rahula, p. 45).

Note, extremes do lead to strong temptations.  See: Proverbs 30:7-9.

(2) The Four Noble Truths.

(a) The truth of suffering (Dukkha).  Suffering exists.  “Birth is painful, and death is painful; disease and old age are painful.  Not having what we desire is painful, and having what we do not desire is also painful” (Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p. 307).

(b) The truth of the cause of suffering (Samudaya).  The cause of suffering is desire.  “It is the craving desire for the pleasures of the senses” (McDowell, p 307).  “The natural tendency is to blame our difficulties on things outside ourselves.  But the Buddha says that their actual root is in the mind itself” (Four Noble Truths, thebuddhistcentre.com).

(c) The truth of the end of suffering (Nirhodha).  “To be free of suffering one must give up, get rid of, extinguish the very craving, so that no passion and no desire remain” (McDowell, p. 307).  “We cannot change the things that happen to us, but we can change our response” (thebuddhistcentre.com).

Note, it is true that one can be content even with difficult circumstances surrounding him.  Consider: John 16:33; Philippians 4:11-12.

(d) The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (Magga).  The Eightfold Path is the way to free oneself of suffering.

(3) The Eightfold Path.

(a) Right Understanding (Samma Ditthi).  One must accept the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path (McDowell, p. 307).

(b)  Right Thought (Samma Sankappa).  “You must renounce the pleasures of the senses; you must harbor no ill will toward anyone and harm no living creature” (McDowell).

(c)  Right Speech (Samma Vaca).  “Do not lie; do not slander or abuse anyone.  Do not indulge in idle talk” (McDowell).

(d)  Right Action (Samma Kammanta).  “Do not destroy any living creature; take only what is given to you; do not commit any unlawful sexual act” (McDowell).  One should not “Kill, steal, lie, (he is) to avoid sexual misconduct, and not take drugs or other intoxicants” (buddha101.com).

(e)  Right occupation (Samma Ajiva).  “You must earn your livelihood in a way that will harm no one” (McDowell).

(f) Right Effort (Samma Vayama).  “You must resolve and strive heroically to prevent any evil qualities from arising in you and to abandon any evil qualities that you possess.  Strive to acquire good qualities, and encourage those you do possess to grow, increase, and be perfected (McDowell).

Note, effort is needed. Consider: 2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Peter 1:5-11.

(g) Right Mindfulness (Samma Sati).  “Be observant… alert” (McDowell).  “Right mindfulness means being aware of the moment, and being focused in the moment” (buddha101.com).

Note, we should live in the now. Consider: Matthew 6:34; Philippians 3:13; James 4:13-15.

(h) Right Meditation (Samma Samadhi).  Four stages of meditation are to occur.  “in the first stage… passionate desires, and unwholesome thoughts like sensuous lust, ill will, languor, worry, restlessness, and skeptical doubt are discarded… Then, in the second stage, all mental activities are suppressed… In the third stage, the feeling of joy… also disappears… Finally, in the fourth stage… all sensations, even of happiness and unhappiness… disappear” (The Noble Eightfold Path, tricycle.org).

Note, it is important that we think on the proper things. Consider: Psalm 1:2; 63:6; 77:12; 119:15, 23, 48, 78, 148; 143:5; 1 Timothy 4:15; Philippians 4:8.

(4) Buddhism compared with Hinduism.  Buddhism rejects the caste system. Buddhism has no animal sacrifices. Buddhism like Hinduism believes in karma and nirvana.  Many Buddhists believe in reincarnation.

(5)  Man is his own savior.  “Man’s emancipation depends on his own realization of truth, and not on the benevolent grace of a god or any external power as a reward for his obedient good behavior” (Rahula, What The Buddha Taught, p. 2).

This is very different from Christianity.  Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).  Again, “(I) not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).

As an ethical system Buddhism does set forth some good principles. Consider: (a) “Ones should not pry into the faults of others … one should rather consider what oneself has done and left undone.” (b) “As  beautiful flower that is full of hue but lacks fragrance, even so fruitless is the well-spoken word of one who does not practice it.” (c) “One may conquer in battle a thousand times a thousand men, yet he is the best of conquerors who conquers himself.” (d) “Conquer anger by love, evil by good; conquer the miser with liberty, and the liar with truth.”  ( This is from The Dhammapada, specifically verse 50, 51, 103, 223). We can find agreement in the Bible with such sayings (Matthew 7: 1-5; James 1:22;  Proverbs 16: 32; Romans 12:21). However, it is an ethical system without God, without grace in a Divine or cosmic sense, and without a Savior.

(6) Some Buddhist believe that truth is found within self.  Buddha reportedly told one of his followers, “You must be your own lamps… take refuge in nothing outside yourselves” (McDowell, p. 306).  Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki wrote, “If I am asked… what zen teaches, I would answer, zen teaches nothing.  Whatever teachings there are in zen, they come out of one’s own mind.  We teach ourselves; zen merely points the way” (Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, p. 264 – quoting Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, p. 38).

The Bible warns, “It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).  Our feet should be directed by the word of God (Psalm 119:105; John 12:48).

(7) God.  Buddha had little to say about God.  Nothing in Buddhism requires that one believe in God.

Christianity is different.  It is about seeking the Lord (Acts 17:27).  It is about coming to know Him (John 17:3).

Types of Buddhism

(1) Theravada (way of elders).  It is practiced mainly in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.  The goal is individual enlightenment.  Such is attained by renouncing the world and living as a monk.  (2) Mahayana (greater vehicle).  It is practiced throughout Asia, for example: Nepal, China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam.  The goal is to not only help self, but to help others achieve enlightenment.  Such is attainable by members of society.  One need not become a monk.  (3) Vajrayana (thunderbolt vehicle).  It is practiced in Bhutan, Tibet, and Mongolia.  It is similar to Mahayan Buddhism, but it adds emphasis to rituals and mantras.  (4) Zen Buddhism (meditation).  It is popular in Japan and America.  It is a form of Mahayana Buddhism.  It emphasizes meditation.

Things to Consider

The goal of extinguishing desire seems impossible.  Ravi Zacharias has pointed out that even the Dalai Lama desires the freedom of Tibet (Would You Compare Buddhism and Christianity? John Ankerberg Show, YouTube).

Is a lack of desire good? Even God has desire (Hosea 6:6; 1 Timothy 2:4). Not all desires are wrong; some are good (Psalm 19:10; 27:4; Proverbs 8:11; Romans 1:11; 10:1; 1 Corinthians 14:1; Philippians 1:23; Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 3:1; 2 Timothy 1:4; Hebrews 6:11; 11:16; 1 Peter 2:2, etc.).

I have never met the one who does not have to daily bring himself into subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27).  Have you?

One last point. Buddhists believe that Buddha’s cremated bones have been found (Have Archaeologists Found Buddha’s Remains? By Tim Collins, dailymail.co.uk).  No such remains are claimed by Christians.  In Buddhism, Buddha died and his bones are still with us.  In Christianity,  Jesus is risen.  What a difference!

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World Religions: Hinduism

Hinduism is the third largest of the world’s religions.  It numbers about 1.05 billion.  Most of these live in South Asia (Largest Religions in the World, worldatlas.com).  More than 3 million live in the U.S.A. (Wikipedia).

Origin

The word ‘Hindu’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Shindu’ which is the local name for the Indus River.  The Greeks used the word ‘Hindu’ or ‘Indu’ to denote the country and people who lived beyond the Indus River (wikibooks).  It appears the Greeks actually adopted the word from the Persians.  In time, the dominate religion of the sub-continent became known as Hinduism, and its adherents Hindus (This is how this article will use these words).

The origin of Hinduism is unknown.  Ron Clayton has written, “Hinduism is the only religion in the world without a definite founder… It has no clearly identifiable date as to its beginning, no geographic center as its starting point” (Editor Don Simpson, The Light Shineth In Darkness, 1998 Ft. Worth Lectures, p. 326).  “Most Scholars believe Hinduism formally started somewhere between 2300 B.C. and 1500 B.C. in the Indus Valley” (Hinduism – Facts & Summary, history.com).

Beliefs

What do Hindus believe?  This is difficult to answer.  The religious beliefs vary from individual to individual and village to village (Simpson, p. 326).  However, here are some major points of belief:

     (1) God.  Some claim to be mono-theistic.  The claim that there is one God, Brahman.  This God is personified in three forms (Trimurti): Brahma (creator); Vishnu (preserver); and Shiva (destroyer).  {This may have been borrowed from Christianity [See – God: One or Three (Part 5) by B.H.]}.  In reality, Hinduism is for most very poly-theistic.  There are wives and offspring to the three forms.  There are many avatars – (or incarnations) of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva – and their wives.  There is the worship of ancestors.  There is worship of animals (e.g. the holy cow, The Temple of Rats – where it is considered a blessing to eat food which was first gnawed on by a rat, Nag Panchami or Cobra Festival).  Some say that there are as many as 300 million gods in Hinduism.

    (2) The Caste System.  The Hindu word is ‘Varna,’ meaning ‘color.’  The Hindu caste system appears to have been originally based on skin color (Simpson, p. 327).  Ron Clayton has written, “According to Hindu mythology, Brahma… issued from himself four groups (classes) of offspring.  From his head came those who would be most in his image… These were Brahmins.  These became priests, the teachers of Hindu practice, and the scribes.  Next, came the Kshatriyas, the rulers and warriors, fashioned from the shoulders and upper arms of Brahma.  The third caste was called Vyshyas, from the thighs of Brahma, and destined to become merchants and tradesmen.  The last caste was from the feet of Brahma – these were the common laborers, called Sudras… But beneath the feet of Brahma were those without caste, who had no standing – the untouchables.  These outcasts were left to do the filthy and ‘unclean’ tasks of society such as sweeping streets and cleaning latrines” (Simpson, pp. 327-328; Also see: What is India’s Caste System? bbc.com).  Other teach that these caste were created by Brahma from the head, hands, thighs, and feet of the first man, Manu (Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, pp. 289-290).

     (3) Karma (actions) and Samsara (reincarnation).  The atman (soul) is eternal.  What one’s standing is in the next life depends on the balance of good and bad karma (not only in this life, but the sum total from all lives previously lived).  One may improve his standing (e.g. attain a higher caste).  One may worsen his standing (e.g. attain a lower level caste, or even become an animal, or a plant).  If one accumulates enough good karma, reincarnation ceases.  Moksha (liberation) and nirvana (blowing out) is achieved.

     (4) Salvation.  In Hinduism man “saves” himself.  Salvation can be attained in one of the following ways: (a) Karma Marga (the path of action).  “In Karma Marga, a person is expected to avoid nisiddha karma (sinful actions) and perform nitya karma    (obligatory daily actions) without selfish motives” (hindupedia.com).  (b) Gyana Marga or Jnana Marga (the path of knowledge).  “It is Hindu asceticism” (hindupedia.com).       It involves coming to know “one is actually a part of the ultimate Brahman and not a separate entity” (McDowell, p. 293).  It involves “the use of meditative concentration preceded by a long and systematic ethical and contemplative training – to gain a supra – intellectual insight into one’s identity with Brahman” (Britannica, 1979).  (c) Bhakti Marga (the path of devotion).  It involves love and obedience to a particular deity” (McDowell, p. 293).  “The act of Bhakti or devotion can take on several forms such as listening and singing the glories of God, ritualistic worship, repetition of the divine name” (hindupedia.com).

This love of God is to manifest itself in love for others.  “If one has supreme love for God and also loves his master as God, then the light of this teaching shines in a great soul” (Svetasuatara Upanished, Part 6).  It also affects behavior.  “Let the lover of God attain renounciation” (Mundaka Upanished, Part 1, Chapter 2).

Note, our love for God should affect our behavior (John 14:15, 21, 23-24; 1 John 2:5; 5:3), and our relationship with others ( Matthew 25:31-46; John 13:34;  1 John 4:7-9, 20).

Things to Consider

It must be difficult.  It takes many reincarnations for most, is the general thinking.  One source says that one receives a human body only after his soul has traveled through 8,400,000 species (Reincarnation, hindufacts.org).  I have yet to meet the person without sin.  I have not met the one with consistently perfect actions, the perfect mind of God, or consistently perfect devotion to God.

How different Christianity is.  It is by God’s grace and mercy – and not our own perfect works, perfect thoughts, or perfect devotion – that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-5).  There are no do overs after this life (Hebrews 9:27; Luke 16:25-26).  God is distinct from creation (Romans 1:25; Ecclesiastes 5:2; Isaiah 14:13-15; Ezekiel 28:1-2; Acts 12:21-23).

 

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The Investment of Time

Have you head of the “10,000 hour rule”?  The theory is that to excel in a thing (e.g. sports, music, technology, business, etc.) 10,000 hours need to be invested in that thing (e.g. study, experimentation, practice).  This theory was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers.  He wrote of a study by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson at Berlin’s Academy of Music saying, “The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any ‘naturals,’ musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did.  Nor could they find any ‘grinders,’ people who worked harder than anyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks.  Their research suggests that once a musician had enough ability to get into a top school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works” (Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, p. 39).  He offered up life stories of Mozart, the Beatles, Bill Joy, and Bill Gates as evidence of the 10,000 hour rule.

    This theory is not without its critics.  First, the number 10,000 is totally arbitrary.  Ericsson’s study had 10,000 as an average not a threshold.  Second, the 10,000 hour rule focuses solely on the quantity of time spent and not the quality of time.  (The Great Practice Myth, Debunking the 10,000 Rule, 6seconds.org).  Johnny Ramsey used to say, “Practice does not make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect performance.”  The quality of practice matters.

Few will deny that to excel in a thing, usually an investment of time is needed.  This is not to say that all who invest time will excel; but it is to say that time is needed to excel in most things.  This is why individual athletes and sports teams practice.  This is why performers in plays rehearse.  This is why SWAT teams train.

The exceptional have usually invested a great deal of time honing their skills.  If you see an outstanding gymnast or golfer, you are no doubt seeing someone who has invested a great deal of time.  Experts in a field (e.g. law, medicine, engineering, mechanics) have invested time.

How are we using our time?  The number of hours in a day is the same for all of us; likewise, the number of days in a week.  Are we using our time to do good?  We are the salt and light of this world (Matthew 5:13-16).  Are we using our time to become more knowledgeable in God’s word?  He wants us to grow in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18).  Are we using our time to become better proclaimers and teachers of God’s Word?  We all have this responsibility (Hebrews 5:12; Acts 8:4; 1 Peter 2:9).

We cannot be experts in everything and excel in everything.  There is not enough time.  This is one of the reasons that there are specialists (physicians, veterinarians, engineers, lawyers, etc.).

However, we all should be investing our time in the work of the church and spiritual matters.  We should each seek to become more and more proficient in the use of God’s word.  We should live it.  We should strive to reach others with it.  Redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5; John 9:4).

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Give Thanks This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving celebrations, on American soil, predate the Pilgrims.  Spanish explorers celebrated a day of thanksgiving in 1541 (Palo Duro Canyon, Texas), and again, in 1598 (El Paso, Texas).  French Huguenot colonists did so in 1564 (Saint Augustine, Florida).  English settlers did so in 1607 (near Jamestown, Virginia) and in 1619 (Berkeley Plantation, Virginia).  Other celebrations could be mentioned (David Barton, Celebrating Thanksgiving in America).

However, the first Thanksgiving, we usually learn of, is of Pilgrim’s celebration in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, in 1621.  This harvest festival/thanksgiving lasted three days.  It was observed by 53 pilgrims (survivor of the original 102 Mayflower pilgrims).  They were joined by 90 Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribe (The History of The First Thanksgiving, historyofmassachusetts.org).

Other thanksgivings occurred.  Make no mistake; thanksgiving was offered to God.  In 1623, William Bradford, Governor of Massachusetts declared, “render thanksgiving to… Almighty God for all His blessings” (The History and Legacy of Thanksgiving, patriotpost.us).

President George Washington proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving in 1789.  He wrote, “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God… I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next be devoted by the people of these states to the service of the great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.  That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks…” (William J. Bennett, Our Sacred Honor, pp. 386-387).

President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving in 1863.  He wrote, “I do invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States… to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” (Thanksgiving Proclamation, abrahamlincolnonline.org).  Thanksgiving became an annual day of Thanksgiving, an official national holiday, beginning with Lincoln.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1939, moved the observance of Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday (there were five Thursdays that year).  This was done to give merchants a longer Christmas shopping season (Thanksgiving and Black Friday: Why FDR changed the Holiday, time.com).  He made the change official by law in 1941 (ibid).

Is it acceptable for nations to have such a day set aside for giving thanks to God?  I believe that it is.  Consider: (1) In the Old Testament, the King of Nineveh called for the city’s residents to fast, pray, and repent (Jonah 3:6-9).  God accepted this (Jonah 3:10).  (2) Some kings, and leaders among the Jews, did similar things.  Here are a few examples.  (a) Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast (2 Chronicles 20:2-4).  (b) Josiah called a special assembly for the reading of the Book of the Covenant (2 Chronicles 34:29-30).  (c) Ezra proclaimed a fast, and the people fasted and prayed.  Moreover, God answered their prayer (Ezra 8:21-23).  Other such examples could be given.  (3) Jesus seems to at least tolerate the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah (John 10:22-23).  There is no indication that He was displeased.  Remember that this national holiday was instituted after the close of the Old Testament canon, during the period of prophetic silence.  (4) Is it ever wrong to be thankful?  I find nothing to indicate that it is.  We are to “be thankful” (Colossian 3:15).  We are to give thanks “in everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Whatever we go through in this life, should not stop our thanksgiving to God.  He makes possible a peace which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7; John 16:33; Romans 8:18, 35-39; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1).  We are to give thanks “for all things” (Ephesians 5:20).  This does not mean that we should be thankful for everything done (e.g. sins against self, sins against others, sins against God).  It means that we should be thankful for everything, for which it is appropriate to be thankful.  However, let us remember that even difficulties and hardships can be used for good (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; James 1:2-4; Romans 5:1-5; Genesis 50:20).  Let us remember: “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  The Christian, especially, has reason to be thankful – and should ever be.

Do not forget to be thankful this Thanksgiving.  Enjoy the family, friends, food, and maybe some football; but, remember to be thankful.  Moreover, take time to give thanks to God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, do not stop there.  Live each day in thanksgiving to God.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).

 

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