Friday, April 27, 2012

Religion vs. Christianity

The Premise

Depending on the church and the people, we often hear different pop phrases these days.  “I got saved.”  “I’m a believer.”  “I’m a Christian.”  “I have inherited salvation.”  “I’m going to heaven because I’m a good person.”  “God is love.”  “I’ll pray for you.”  “The Lord is calling / leading me.”  “This is God’s will.”  “Ask Jesus to come into your life.  You will be saved.” “I believe in the power of prayer.”  What does all of this mean?  Where did these phrases come from?  Do we find them in a religious handbook?  Is it part of the requirements for belonging to a church? 
Let me ask you a very personal question.  If I (being someone you do not know) were to speak in detail about the content of your life to others that know you well, what would they tell me?  What would my perception be, about who you are as a person?  How would that perception then, differ from the perception I had on the first day I met you?
Would you believe me if I told you I loved you, but deliberately neglected you when you needed me most? What if I presented my PhD in Psychology, but had ten lawsuits against my own practice?  Would you hire me as your therapist?  What if my wife spent two hours telling you how great of a husband I was but you later discovered that I was having an affair?  Would I still be the husband my wife described?

There are often two sides to people – the side they want you to see and the side they are afraid for you to see.  What tends to be the most intriguing are the methods we use to disguise the parts we don’t want others to see.  These are also often the same methods that get us into trouble in relationships, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  We say things that make us look good on the outside but isn’t what’s going on the inside more important?  Is the appearance on the outside always an accurate reflection of what’s on the inside?
We all know the truths that exist in our own lives, even if we want to deny it within ourselves, but we build walls, make our own rules, establish boundaries, smile when we deem appropriate, stand our ground when necessary, and we demand justice.  But upon what truths do we base these principles for how we live our lives?  What happens when we don’t like the truth?  Are we honest when it hurts?  Does doing the right thing come first, before our own feelings of vulnerability?  Do we only do what feels good and is what feels good always right?  How do we even define “right”?  Is it really your opinion vs. others, or is there some source of absolute truth that applies to all people?
What is Religion?

When we view reality solely though the filter of our own personal thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, we give birth to our own personal “religion.”  What is religion?  Here is how defines it: “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”  Notice that the first three words of the definition state “a set of beliefs.”  What/whose beliefs? Mine?  Yours? His? Hers?  Which set of beliefs is the right set?  We can’t all be right at the same time, can we, especially if our own version of “right” also varies from person to person.  It’s just plain confusing!
James 1:26 (NASB) states: “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”  When we view reality through our own personal filter, we deceive our own hearts.  This makes our personal set of beliefs worthless in the big picture.  Religion is just a word when there is no absolute truth to support it.

What is Christianity?

I know you are thinking it so I will just go ahead and say it!  Yes!  Christianity is also a set of beliefs (a.k.a. religion) but there is one major difference.  It is one belief system, with no variances from person to person.  It is the same and always has been whether we believe it or not, no matter how much we try to twist it.  The world does not view Christian religion as absolute truth; it views it as an option among many.  When someone asks you if you’re religious, do they also then have to ask, “What religion are you?”  To a true Christian, their beliefs are the same as the next one and those beliefs are not their own.
Simply put, to be a Christian is to follow Jesus Christ and His teachings, nothing more, nothing less.  We do not add to what He taught and we don’t take away from what He taught.  We simply put our faith in what we do not always understand.  Proverbs 3:5-6 (NASB) states: “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 your paths straight.”  You see, it’s not about us and it never was.  Christianity is about Christ and what He did for us.  All we have to do is follow Him.
This might also make you wonder why we have what are called denominations.  Which denomination is right?  The short answer is that although many may be mostly right, none of them are right in their entirety.  Philippians 2:2 (NASB) states: “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”  If we were meant to be of the same mind, why would we divide and segregate ourselves?  Was this what Jesus intended?  There is only one right way but mankind has trouble submitting to it because they want to go their own way.  Proverbs 14:12 (NASB) states: “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”  We must turn away from our own beliefs and look to The One who provides absolute truth!

Conversation Starters.

·       Do you think that your daily actions and the words that you use accurately reflect the person that you intend to be? Do you convey the message of Christ to others through your own words and actions or do you convey a different message?

·       Are you remembered more for what you did or how you did it?

·       What does it look like when we put the needs of others above our own?  How much impact would our own personal beliefs have then?
Things to try.

·       Ask someone that knows you if they think you convey the message of Christ through your daily words and actions.  Don’t talk back either; just listen to their answer.
·       Pick a person and share something about you that you feel uncomfortable telling them.  You might be surprised with their response and the personal feeling of freedom that comes with it.

·       Make a list of all your fears and ask God to take them from you.

·       Read one chapter per day in your Bible to help you understand God’s absolute truth.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What to wear to Church?

If you are ever shopping around for a church you are generally looking for somewhere that you would fit in.  One common issue among people is how they are dressed, and maybe wondering if there is a proper way to bring yourself before the lord for worship.

With most things in the Bible I believe there are black and white answers to the question, however in researching clothing it seems to vary depending on the role you are in as far as clothing is concerned.  But lets start at the beginning.

Can I goto church naked?
I know you may be thinking ok this is a little to far right?  Well there is a little merit to the madness and that is do you know why you wear clothes at all?  Why not be like the animals and be who you are?  Clothing started out in Genesis as a way to cover the sin and shame that was induced by eating the forbidden fruit.  Genesis 3:7 says "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves."  When Adam and Eve had done this they immediately new sin and desperately wanted clothing to hide their shame and fashioned clothing out of fig trees.  So then God comes walking through the garden and is looking for Adam and Eve and explains how what they did was wrong and how it would effect the world for the rest of time.  God then also fashioned Adam and Eve some new clothes out of the skins from animals.  So as you can see from the beginning some clothing is required.

Different clothing for man and woman
The next piece of the puzzle is the type of clothing based on gender. A man or woman should wear clothing that is meant for their gender. There are many obvious reason for this despite the fact that the utility of the others clothing doesn't match. Deuteronomy 22:5, “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God." One of the common questions is can women wear pants since men do.  As the times go on fashions change, and pants on women have become a very popular item.  The idea is still the same.  Women wear womens pants and men please wear something manly.

Wear clothing that is not deceiving of who you are.
Genesis 27 is the beginning for deceitful clothing. If you have been around a church for a while you may remember the story Jacob and Esau.  These two brothers had different skills and looks.  Esau was a rugged hunter who had lots of hair and was promised by his father to inherit the blessing.  Jacob and his mother devised the plan and made clothing from goat skins to have fake hair so that the blind father Issac would feel the hair and think that Jacob was Esau.  By doing this Jacob was able to steal the blessing from Esau.

Matthew 7:15 is another example of deceitful clothing.  He is telling us to be wary of those who are like wolves dressed as sheep.  This is really speaking to be wary of false prophets and people who take advantage of you.  But at the same time do you really want to put yourself in the possible opportunity to take advantage of someone else at their misfortune?

Dress with humility.
In worship and anytime that we come to the Lord he wants us to show humility and be humble in the sight of the Lord.  In the story of Jonah we learn about the town of Nineveh.  Nineveh at this time evidently had great wickedness happening and it was to the point that the Lord asked his servant Jonah to go and preach about the wickedness.  After a whale of a time and Jonah stopped running from God, he went to Nineveh and said in 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown.  Amazingly the Ninevites believed God and put on sack cloths and went on a fast while praising the Lord.  By showing humility to God for the things that they had done he spared the town from being overthrown.  Wearing a sack cloths back in biblical times wasn't much different than wearing one today.  That is what a poor man would wear because he couldn't afford real clothes.  Does that mean you need to wear a beggars clothing?  Do you still need to wear the finest of linens to goto church?

Clothing for the Clergy.
Do you happen to be a leader in the church? The bible has many scriptures on being a leader and it does have some scripture pertaining to clothing as well. Titus 2:7 says " In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness."  This is telling us that we need to be good examples to those around us and by that we need to wear the proper attire too.  A priest back in the day wore very elaborate clothing that is described in Exodus 28.  As we know times and fashions have changed and I don't see many people wearing those, however there are some interesting principles that can be used today.  The first is they are to look beautiful or I suppose I should say handsome since we are probably talking about a male in the church.  Why beautiful you may ask?  First impressions are everything.  You want the people to know that being with the Lord is a beautiful thing.  You want to be an example of the Lord brilliance and shine.  The second is purpose.  Clothing should be functional and have pockets for pens, the scripture, or notes so that the sermon goes smoothly.  The last is symbolic to the faith.  In the Old Testament the priests would have 12 stones on their wardrobe to signify the 12 tribes of Israel.  I can't say that I have seen any clergy wearing 12 stones nor have they had any other symbol on their attire.  The idea here though is to show that the outward appearance matches the inner appearance.  Maybe adding a cross as a lapel pin or cuff links.

Conversation Starters.
  • Do you think that part of giving God your best means that you wear the finest clothes?
  • Are you a member of a Church? If so do you feel the calling to teach to others? If so how would you dress to present yourself to the person to project the best image in Gods eyes?
  • How would you react if someone did come into church wearing rags?
Things to try.
  • Show up to Church how you normally are.  Get an idea how people perceive you in the church.
  • Search the bible for more evidence to why you dress the way you do. 
  • If you try these please comment below and tell your finding.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ancient Copiers - Talmudists 100 AD - 500 AD

One of the many blocks in Christian faith is that of the accuracy of the bible.  Over the past few thousand years there have been many hands that have touched the bible and without the use of photo copiers the amount of work to get a successful product is tremendous.  But the part that is killer for believers is the exercise that I am sure many of you have tried in school as a kid.  Lets say there are 20 people in a circle. The first person whispers something to the person on the right. Then that person whispers what he thinks was what the first person said to the person on his right, and so on..  By the time the story makes it around the room is the story exactly the same.  Most of the time it is not.  By looking at this it really makes it hard to believe that after all these years Bible is accurate.  Guess what after all odds it is remarkably accurate.  Here is just a small piece of the puzzle that helped keep the accuracy.

The Talmudists were a group of Hebrews that cataloged Hebrew Law from around 100 AD to 500 AD.  They were known to have the strictness and quality required to produce accurate documents for the people of the times.  If any kind of copies were to be made these were the individuals who would do the work and the document had to be certified.  If a document was not of successful quality it would be destroyed.  Here were the rules that they had to follow.

Synagogue Scroll

  1. Must be written on the skins of clean animals
  2. A Jew must prepare for the particular use of the synagogue.
  3. Skin must be fastened together with the strings taken from clean animals;
  4. Every skin must contain a certain number of columns, equal throughout the entire codex.
  5. A column must not extend over less than 48 or more than 60 lines
  6. Breadth must consist of thirty letters
  7. The whole copy must be first lined; and if three words be written without a line, it is worthless.
  8. The ink should be black, neither red, green, nor any other color, 
  9. Ink must be prepared according to a definite recipe
  10. An authentic copy must be the exemplar, from which the transcriber ought not in the least deviate.
  11. Nothing is to be written from memory the scribe must look at the codex before him.
  12. Between every consonant the space of a hair or thread must intervene.
  13. Between every new parashah, or section, the breadth of nine consonants.
  14. Between every book, three lines.
  15. The fifth book of Moses must terminate exactly with a line; but the rest need not do so.
  16. The copyist must sit in full Jewish dress.
  17. Wash his whole body.
  18. Not begin to write the name of God with a pen newly dipped in ink.
  19. And should a king address him while writing that name, he must take no notice of him.
As you can see from the rules they had they were very strict.  But here is the cool part, a little validation.  This is only a small time period of 400 years in the life of the world that the text was copied.  Throughout time the books of Bible have always been a document that people have taken and gone great links to protect.  In today's time we have uncovered numerous copies of the scrolls made.  The oldest known up until 1947 was a Massoretic copy of the bible that was estimated for 916 AD.  In 1947 a brilliant discovery in some Qumran caves happened.  Archaeologists found The Dead Sea Scrolls.  This was the find of a lifetime for christian believers.  Within these clay pots were scrolls of the bible that dated to around 125 BC. That is a little over 1000 years before the latest copy of the bible previously found.  You can probably guess whats next, scholars immediately compare the scrolls to the others and the accuracy is phenomenal.   There was only 1 word of 3 letters in question.  

Conversation Starters
  • Have you ever tried the experiment to pass a story around to see how it changed?
  • Do you see evidence that God provides Truth, and Truth will always resound over time?
Things to Try
  • Research into the Massoretic period, and see what all they did in keeping accuracy in the bible.
  • Look at the evidence for the New Testament.
  • Take a look at other old documents that scholars consider accurate, from authors like Homer and Plato.  Use those metrics and see how the bible holds up for old documents.