Friday, June 20, 2008

What Do You Believe?

I want you to meet a friend of mine.

For those of you who don't know him - this is Fluffy the Man-Cow. Our Youth Ministry is taking care of him this summer in conjunction with a series of lessons on religion and the church. Each day one of our youth come up and help feed and care for Fluffy. He is a bottle-fed calf, so we prepare a bottle and spend time with Fluffy and fill his water. All the little kids at church like to come and help and pet him while we are doing this care.

And then at the end of the summer we are going to decide if we need to sacrifice Fluffy in order to make ourselves right with God.

That sounds harsh, I know. And if PETA is reading my blog I am probably going to get in trouble. But I wanted a hands on project for our youth that is going to force them to wrestle with what they believe is true.

What do we believe about religion and faith? What do we believe it takes to make ourselves right with God? How do we determine truth in a world full of just about as many answers as there are people to the basic questions of life: purpose, God, salvation?

This past Wednesday (for those of you who weren't there or happened to doze off), our study was about three of the main world religions - Hinduism/Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. In our society today, there are a lot of people who want to say that all these religions, as well as many other religions, all say essentially the same thing and lead essentially to the same place. And if you poll most American youth today...for that matter poll most American youth who are actively involved in church...they would agree with that statement.

But let's recap what we learned on Wednesday:

Hinduism/Buddhism believe in 3.3 million "gods" who are all part of The Absolute - which is the energy force that makes up the universe. They believe that you can worship whichever "god" suits you best. The hold that all teachings hold equal authority even if they are contradictory. They believe that salvation comes from balancing out the good and bad acts (what they call "karma") you do in your multiple lives through a series of reincarnations. And the ultimate goal is to reach "nirvana" where you cease to exist but are absorbed into the energy force that is The Absolute.

Islam believes that there is only one God whose name is Allah and his prophet is Muhammed. They reject the concepts of the Holy Spirit and Jesus being one with God. They believe that the Koran is Allah's ultimate revelation to mankind and salvation is found through worshipping Allah, Praying five times a day, fasting, giving, and making a one-time pilgrimage to Mecca, their holy city. They do believe that Jesus existed but hold he was just a man who was also a prophet. They reject him as God and that he died on a cross and was resurrected.

Christianity believes that God is three-in-one in the forms of The Father, The Son (Jesus) and The Holy Spirit. Christians hold that God created everything from nothing and has spent the time since pursuing a relationship with mankind. That relationship came to a head when God showed up as a man in the form of Jesus Christ. He died on the cross to pay for our mistakes and then came back to life three days later so we could live with Him forever. Salvation comes from recognizing that Jesus is the Son of God and accepting his sacrifice as payment for your mistakes.

As we looked at these facts on Wednesday, our conclusion was these belief systems do not all believe the same thing. In fact, they are very different, even contradictory. So we have to make a choice.

But how do we know what is true? That is the question we will deal with this coming week. But in the meantime, I want to hear some of your thoughts.

How do we test the beliefs and doctrines and feelings that come at us each day? What is the test for truth? And maybe even more importantly, what is truth? Let me know what you think.

Let me leave you with Jesus's words: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8 ESV)

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