Friday, February 20, 2009

The Uniqueness of Christianity – Part 3

III. Are All Religions Alike?

Are all religions pretty much alike? I think by now we know the answer: all religions have some basic principles in common, but they are significantly different from each other in many ways. The differences between Christianity and other religions can be summarized in this quote from Billy Graham: “World religions attempt to reach up to God; Christianity is God reaching down to man.” God reaching down to us is clearly seen by Jesus coming to earth, and by the imagery we see in Revelation 3:20 (NRSV) where Jesus says:

“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”

Here is a nice summary of the differences among the various religions: “Not only are the roads extremely different, but the destinations don’t look anything alike either.” That’s because all religions differ in their understanding of God; their view of the afterlife and the end times; our responsibilities; and their definition of salvation. Because of these large differences, not all religions can be true despite their superficial similarities.

What about Mormons and JWs?

We often talk about the major world religions, but there are smaller religions that we commonly see in this country. I thinking of such religions as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, Scientology, the Moonies, and the Unity School of Christianity. We should be aware that there are significant differences between these religions and mainstream Christianity. Some of these American-born religions claim to be Christian or leaning towards Christianity, but they differ significantly from orthodox Christianity. They may talk about Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and use Christian terminology, but their understanding is significantly different from what mainstream Christians believe. Their values and practices are often very commendable and their followers are devout, but their theology is unorthodox and they can’t really be called “Christian.”

More on this in a future post.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Uniqueness of Christianity – Part 2

II. Christ Is Unique

Simply put, what makes Christianity so unique is Jesus Christ, what he claimed about himself, and what we believe about him.

1. Divinity of Christ

We see these unique claims about Jesus throughout the New Testament and prophesied in the Old. None of the founders of any other religion made such claims as Jesus did. Others said they heard from God in some way or they became enlightened. But Jesus claimed to be divine: “I and the Father are one… When you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Because of this and similar statements, Christians believe that in Jesus we have seen God because God became flesh and lived among us.

2. Jesus as Savior

The second unique claim we have is that not only was Jesus divine, but salvation is only through him. Most other religions are performance-based – they have no Savior. You have to accomplish something to get into Paradise, achieve Nirvana, get good karma, or whatever that religion believes is its ultimate reward. No religion except for Christianity has a Savior who guarantees you eternal life based only on your faith. We read in Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” NLT

3. Grace and Mercy

Thirdly, in no other religion, philosophy or belief system do we see God’s grace and mercy to the extent we see them in Christianity. As I just mentioned, in most other religions you are pretty much on your own. But in Christianity, God promises to be with you always, as Jesus said in Matthew 28:20: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (NRSV) God’s grace and mercy are extended to us based on the following:

(1) The human race is separated from God because of Adam’s fall and the sin we do – God can’t have fellowship with sinful people.

(2) Because of all the wrong we have done throughout our lives, God’s perfect justice demands that a penalty must be paid.

(3) In God’s mercy, Jesus came to earth to pay that penalty so that people can get back into the right relationship with God that we were created to have.

(4) For those who accept God’s gift, God forgives us, restores us to rightful relationship with him, transforms us by his grace, and is with us always.

(5) God equips us for service which prepares us for eternal life in the hereafter.

All of this is summarized in Ephesians 2:8-10:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. NIV

One way of saying that is: “In Christianity, instead of asking us to make the effort, God makes the effort for us.”

4. Relationship vs. System

Finally, Christianity is unique in that more than anything else, it is a relationship with God through Jesus.
Yes, Christianity has a moral code like many other religions, but Christianity is much more than a system of morals and ethics.
Yes, Christianity has doctrines, but it is much more than just a belief system.
Yes, Christianity has sacred Scriptures, but those Scriptures are more than just stories or rules: they reveal God to us in ways you won’t find anywhere else.
Yes, Christianity has religious observances, but they are more for worship and thanksgiving for our salvation than to find favor with God. As a matter of fact, the sacrament of communion is an observance of, and thanksgiving for, the gift of salvation we have through Jesus. (“Eucharist” means thanksgiving)

Yes, Christianity has a deity, but God is not distant, harsh, disconnected, unmerciful, or uncaring, but loves us and is with us. While most other religions are more systems of morals, ethics, and religious practices, Christianity is most importantly a relationship with the Living God. Morals, ethics, doctrine, and religious practices, while important, are secondary in Christianity – the relationship is primary.

By the way, we see God’s grace in Judaism, because the God of the Old Testament is of course the same God that we worship. However, we now have the fullest revelation of God in Jesus Christ, because in him we see God’s grace, mercy, and closeness to us most clearly.

More on this in a future post.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Uniqueness of Christianity – Part 1

I. Introduction

There are some aspects of Christianity that are controversial, not politically correct, and troublesome for some. I want to address some of those items that contribute to the uniqueness of Christianity. Bear in mind that I am writing this from a Christian viewpoint.

We are all products of the culture in which we live and were raised. Of course the culture has changed significantly since many of us were growing up, so there is a tension between today’s and yesterday’s cultures. Today our culture is dominated by political correctness, which influences, at least to a certain extent, what we say and do.

One area that affects us is that political correctness dictates that Christians shouldn’t say Jesus is the only way to the Father. That is considered elitist and not inclusive, not to mention offensive to some. It is not politically correct to say that Christianity is superior to other religions. That is considered to be arrogant and discriminatory.

Never mind that every religion and philosophy claims to be superior to any other. Never mind that anybody who subscribes to any belief system sincerely believes it is has distinct advantages over any other religion, philosophy, or worldview. If you didn’t believe it was superior or had the best answers, you wouldn’t follow it, would you? Yet we Christians aren’t supposed to make such claims – it’s considered intolerant. After all, the reasoning goes, aren’t all religions pretty much the same? Don’t all religions provide a valid path to God?

More on this subject in a future post.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Responsible Companies?

I don’t know what can be done to give companies the incentive to:
(1) Produce goods in the US rather than overseas;
(2) Produce quality goods rather than the shoddy stuff we’re getting.
I believe that in order for this country to recover from this economic depression and become economically viable again, we must increase our manufacturing base.

Companies move production overseas to reduce the cost of production, and avoid environmental laws. Our high cost of labor and associated benefits, our higher other costs (utilities, taxes), and the cost of compliance with environmental laws discourage companies from producing goods in the US, especially in states such as California and New York, whose labor and environmental laws discourage businesses from operating there.

Although the US is losing jobs because production is moving overseas, we’re supposed to benefit from less expensive goods. Of course you can’t afford to buy much of anything if you’re out of work or underemployed, so cheaper goods really don’t help.

Moreover, some of the products manufactured overseas are of inferior quality, and occasionally even dangerous. We’ve seen the problem with tainted Chinese-made products. Chinese-made hair dryers and other small appliances don’t last very long. Some of the clothes made overseas, even the brand names, are of inferior quality. So how is it less expensive when you have to replace items much sooner than you would otherwise have to if the quality were there? The consumer may be losing money, not saving.

I also ask the question: are the high-end products such as HDTVs and home theater systems really less expensive if manufactured overseas? I doubt it. I suspect if we made them in the US, the cost would be only modestly higher, if at all.

So who really benefits from all this? American workers lose jobs. Foreign workers are exploited. Foreign countries’ environments are being ruined by sloppy waste disposal and pollution. American consumers are forced to buy inferior goods. The US continues to have an unfavorable balance of trade, and is in debt to foreign countries. So who benefits? The multinational companies. Sure, we consumers can buy some products more cheaply, but the companies are reaping big profits (at least they used to when the economy was good). You pay big bucks for brand name clothing, and look where they are made! All that profit is going to the companies, and you’re stuck with inferior goods.

Unfortunately we often don’t have the choice of buying American – there just aren’t any American-made goods on the shelves. Very few items of clothing are made here. Very few small appliances are made here. Most TVs and electronics are made overseas. Fortunately we can buy American-made cars, yet 50% or more of a car has foreign-made components because the American automobile industry went to multinational sourcing decades ago to save money.

I’m hoping that the economic depression we’re in will remedy the situation to a certain extent. There may be pressure from Congress and the buying public to bring production back into the US to stimulate the economy. If enough people boycott foreign-made products (whenever possible), that might help. Maybe the government can provide tax incentives to create jobs in the US, and penalize companies for moving jobs overseas. Maybe we need to increase tariffs on imported goods, although there is a serious risk of retaliation by other countries.

I’m not sure how we as a country can bring manufacturing back to the US, but I would contact my Senators and representative and tell them to do something. We can’t continue like this if we want to survive as an economic power. We’re fast becoming a nation of shopkeepers, no longer an industrial power. Something must be done now!

Monday, February 16, 2009


Repentance means to turn your life around, to stop doing the wrong things you have been doing and start doing the right things you should be doing. It also has the sense of turning back to God, from whom you have grown distant.

As we read throughout the Old Testament, a major aspect of the Jewish faith was repentance. We see it in the prophets, when thru them God pleaded with the people time and time again to turn from their wicked ways and return to their God. When they did turn to him in repentance, they had peace. Certainly an inner peace, but even an external peace in that God would protect them from their enemies.

Just as the Jews had to repent to get back into relationship with God, we Christians often have to do the same thing. Sinful acts creep into our lives, we slowly grow distant from God, we neglect our spiritual lives, and pretty soon we have no peace. That’s why we, even as believers, are encouraged to repent – it’s too easy to fall away. When we do turn back to God, we will have the inner peace that Paul described in Philippians 4:7:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. NRSV

Jesus himself promised his followers his peace (John 14:27):

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” NRSV

With all of the unethical and immoral behavior we’ve been seeing among our politicians (see earlier post), sports figures, and entertainers, I think we need repentance in this country. We have to stop conforming to the world’s ways, and begin to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we become conformed to God’s ways. Think of how better our country would be!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ethics in America

We have seen quite a few situations recently in which those in powerful and influential positions have abused the trust given to them. They have, at best, used poor judgment, and at worst, have committed criminal acts. I believe this is symptomatic of the attitude that many people have these days: “It’s all right as long as I don’t get caught.”

A few examples just off the top of my head:

Gov. Blagojevich of Illinois trying to “sell” a senate seat to the highest bidder.

Bernard Madoff and others like him whose Ponzi Schemes have hurt thousands of individuals and many charities.

The CEO of Peanut Company of America knowingly allowing tainted products to enter the food chain, then invoking The Fifth so he wouldn’t have to cooperate with a congressional inquiry.

All of the bank and other financial institution executives who used extremely poor judgment and excessive risk-taking that resulted in a collapse of the financial system, then rewarding themselves with big bonuses. And they’re still not in jail! Money talks – the criminal walks.

The various nominees for cabinet positions in President Obama’s administration who had tax “problems.” Is there an honest man or woman in Washington?

Former NY Gov. Spitzer’s indiscretions during his brief time in office. What an idiot!

The list goes on, and there are many more ethics violations that we don’t know about.
Kids cheat more than ever in school, from what I’ve been told.
People want to get paid “under the table” to avoid paying taxes. (I even had a guy interview for the custodian job at the church who wanted to be paid under the table! Hello!?)
People who work long enough to qualify for unemployment, get themselves fired, and then take a government-paid “vacation” until the money runs out.

What does all this mean? First, these transgressions demonstrate the innate sinfulness of mankind. We aren’t born “good” and then corrupted by a sinful culture, but we are born with a propensity to sin, and are further influenced by a sinful culture.

Second, it indicates that our society continues to deteriorate. As we push God to the margins of our society and regard church-going and religious education as irrelevant, this is what we get. Is this the kind of society we want our children to inherit?

Third, it is symptomatic of a society that hasn’t been trained in ethics, morals, and the Golden Rule. I don’t know if any of these people had much of a religious background, but I suspect they did not. If they did, it was weak, and they became easily influenced by the prevailing attitudes of our declining culture.

We need, in my opinion, to return to our Judeo-Christian roots when it comes to morals, ethics, and religious practice. Obviously society wouldn’t become perfect, but it would certainly be better than what we’re experiencing now. I fear for the future if current trends continue.

If you aren’t part of a church and your children aren’t receiving some sort of religious education, I encourage you to rethink your position. You’ll be helping yourself, giving your children the great gift of a moral compass, and you’ll be participating in the creation of a better society. As a parent, you can’t do it alone. Let the church come alongside to help reinforce what I hope you are teaching your kids.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thoughts about the Current Situation

We recently experienced an historical event, the election and subsequent inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. The recent financial and economic disasters and the first African-American elected President show these to be historical and unusual times, not unlike 1933 when Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated in the midst of the Great Depression. I have a few thoughts on the current situation.

First of all, we should pray for the members of the new administration and the new congress, that they will be guided by God’s wisdom and work in the best interests of the people. These times call for our leaders and representatives on both sides of the aisle to rise to the occasion, to put aside petty differ­ences, to relearn the art of compromise, and to work for the good of the country as a whole, not the spe­cial interests (I encourage you to keep your representative and senators accountable). However, these times also call for us to put our faith in God, to seek out and follow his wisdom, and to live out our lives according to biblical principles. A quote I recently read says: “Our behaviour in times of need and crisis proclaims what we really are.” (by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones).

We also have to realize that the President is not our Savior – Jesus Christ is. We need to pray for and sup­port the President, but we should put our trust in God to work through him and other leaders. If we put our faith in people and human institutions, we will surely be disappointed. Let us take seriously what is says on our money: “In God We Trust.”

Despite the terrible economic situation, I believe good can come out of all that is going on. The elec­tion of an African-American and the involvement of younger people in the election process indicate to me that good things are happening in this country.

I pray that barriers between races, ethnic groups, religions, and socio-economic groups will continue to come down.
I pray that true “tolerance” will be practiced in this country, not just “tolerance” towards those groups which are politically correct; that we will have true tolerance and mutual respect for all.
I pray that our leaders will not make bad long-term decisions in order to fix short-term problems.
I pray that this country will emerge with a stronger economy, the people will be closer to God, our lifestyles will be greener and less wasteful, and that we as a nation will have a stronger and more ethical character.
I pray for peace in the Middle East, a stable and peaceful Iraq, total defeat of the Taliban, the com­plete suppression of terrorism wherever it rears its ugly head, improved relations with Russia and other countries, the return of jobs from overseas back to the U.S., and a more equitable health care system in this country.
Most of all, I pray that more people will turn to Jesus Christ, and the drift away from God will be re­versed. I pray that if you have drifted away that you will return to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Seek first his kingdom and all these other things will be added unto you.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Daschle Doesn’t Deserve to Serve

I wrote in an earlier post about all the “mistakes” politicians have made when it comes to conveniently forgetting to pay taxes. I was especially happy when Daschle went down in flames. The reason is that in my opinion he didn’t really serve the county while in Congress, but rather often served his party at the expense of his country. He was so bad that the Republicans spent millions to defeat him.

As minority and majority leader for the Democrats, he was an obstructionist when it came to Republican initiatives. If the Republicans wanted to get a bill passed, he would try to kill it, even if it was a bill Democrats would generally favor. The reason? It appeared to me that he didn’t want to have the Republicans get credit, even if it benefited the nation. Daschle is a political hack of the worst kind, and I don’t believe he should have been in President Obama’s cabinet. I hope the president selects somebody to lead HHS that is a true administrator with the good of the country in mind, not a political hack who is ethically challenged to boot.

The moral of this story is that if you serve somewhere, whether it is in the workforce, volunteering at a church or charitable organization, in the military or in government, you should strive for the highest ends, not just to further your career or benefit something other than what you were hired or volunteered to do. Not only should you and I operate that way, but we should expect that in our leaders and representatives.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Above the Law?

I am amazed at all of the high level people who have made “mistakes” when it comes to paying their taxes. Former Senator Daschle is the latest. I don’t believe these otherwise intelligent people could make such “mistakes” in not paying taxes. I suspect they feel they are above the law, and if caught, will get off easily because of their position. Yet they do get caught, and it usually costs them more than just interest and penalties. They are publicly humiliated by the revelation, and they have to withdraw their name from consideration for an important position in government.

While politicians have been less than honest since time began, one would think they might have learned something by now. With aggressive press investigations and other investigatory methods, the deepest, darkest secrets of politicians end up being revealed. Ethically-challenged people should either reconsider going into politics or clean up their act.

Civilizations are based on trust, people doing the right thing (at all levels), and everybody taking responsibility for their actions and caring for others. If we get to the point where we can’t find an honest man (or woman) in Washington, what is going to happen to us as a nation? Pray for our leaders, and pray that God will guide them to make the right decisions for the good of the nation. Pray for our state and local leaders as well, because their challenges are many.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Congress Doesn’t Get It

Here we are, in the midst of an ever-deteriorating economic climate, the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, and what does Congress do? It plays games, business as usual. We voted in the Democrats because we wanted change, but it obviously isn’t happening.

I’m talking, of course, about the stimulus package. The Democrats have loaded it up with spending that won’t stimulate the economy, but instead, with programs that have more to do with social changes. This is an economic package – let’s do social change in a separate bill. I believe what Congress is doing is irresponsible, and morally and ethically wrong. This is not the time for agendas, but for appropriate action to get the economy moving again.

Moreover, by their actions they are doing damage two other ways in addition to not working on behalf of the people:

(1) They are losing even more respect. Their approval ratings are already low – are they trying for a record? They are going to make former President George W. Bush look popular by comparison.

(2) They are hurting their President, a fellow Democrat, who ran on a platform of change. Do they want to lose the White House in four years?

Write, phone, or email your senators and representative to get them to shape up, or they will be shipped out in the next election. Let’s make them accountable!