Posts Tagged 'false religion'

If Christianity is so great, why can’t I talk about it?

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At some point in the life of every Christian, they come to the stark realization that they’re supposed to be telling other people about their Christian faith. But how do they do that? Witnessing, the non-technical word for “personal evangelism,” terrifies many believers. They find out early in their evangelistic efforts that a lot of people aren’t nearly as excited about the Christian faith as they are. The witness, they face rejection, they feel deflated, and they decide to “live their faith” rather than talk about it. Sound familiar?

Fortunately for Christians like us – I say “us” because it’s happened to me, too – there is hope for recovery. We’re not failures. We’re not bad or lazy Christians. Witnessing doesn’t come easy for most of us. It’s really kind of funny when you think about it. We Christians have the cure for death, yet we have trouble sharing that cure with people who are dying. Imagine if you had the cure for cancer how easy it would be to share it!

Confidence

Like most endeavors in life, you need confidence to succeed in witnessing. If you aren’t sure you if you can play hockey, you’ll be falling down all over the ice. If you aren’t sure about what you believe, you’ll be tongue-tied, and even if you manage somehow to get the facts of your faith out, you’ll sound unsure and disingenuous. You need confidence that Christianity is what that person you’re talking to needs the most. You need to know beyond the shadow of any doubt that no matter what that person is going through, what you know is what they need to know; that your faith is what will help them.

But, how do you get that confidence? Where does it come from? Can you learn it? Can you practice enough to “gin it up?” The short answer NO, you can’t learn it; NO you can’t “gin it up.” That confidence is already inside you, all you have to do is tap into it.

While we’re asking questions, how about answering this one: Are you a confident breather? Seriously, do you think about each breath you take before you take it? Do you practice breathing to make sure you get it right? Of course not! You just do it. Sharing your faith should be like breathing. Your faith is simply part of who you are, like your lungs. Your faith – your beliefs – should animate you; they should be behind the way you talk, the way you work, the places you go, and so on. At any moment of any day, your beliefs should be so real to you; so much a part of who you are and what you are doing, that if somebody comes along and asks you about them, the words should just come naturally. This is what Peter was getting at when he wrote this:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

Maybe one simple reason why some of you find witnessing so difficult is that there isn’t enough revering go on. Maybe you just don’t think Christ is that big a deal, and therefore it’s not your faith or beliefs that animate you. Something else is. If this is the case, you have a much bigger problem than not being able to share your faith!

All things being equal, however, and if you are a true believer grappling with how to make the “Great Commission” part of your everyday life, reverence for Christ will motivate you to share Him with others. He is a big deal, and what He did when He saved you is a big deal. It’s a big story worth telling. But in order to do that, we need to know what we believe, why we believe it, and we need to be able to communicate it to people in a way that makes sense to them.

Essentially, we need to know why Christianity is so great.

What we think versus what is true

Here’s what a lot American Christians think: Christianity is on the decline; that nobody wants to hear about Jesus and the Bible. Christians think this way for a number of reasons. First, they think Christianity is on the decline because they attend churches that are, on a good Sunday, half full. Or half empty, depending on the church. A lot of these churches are old, with sanctuaries built to seat two or three hundred people, with names on a sign that include: Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran; words that to modern ears mean nothing. And herein lies the problem, which I’ll deal with shortly. While it certainly looks like Christianity is in decline, the facts tell a different story.

The overriding fact is Christianity is on the rise all over the world. Christianity is growing faster than any other religion. Generations ago, Nietzsche famously declared, “God is dead.” Well, today you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who believes that. In behind the growth of Christianity in places like China, India, and other Eastern countries, is the shocking growth of religion in general. People are very interested in God – or god – and the spiritual life. Even in materialistic America, and to a greater extent the materialistic West, more and more people are searching for spiritual answers to the problems of their lives. Two or three decades ago, secularism was seen as the “new religion,” but today secularism has largely fallen by the wayside as secularists have discovered it holds no answers. Secularism is nihilistic. What people want is some kind of hope; they want a belief system that helps them to make sense of their world. Even the rise of the so-called “new atheism” is marked by faith. Believe it or not, there are “churches” for atheists. What these people have discovered is that faith in something, even in atheism, is better than having no faith at all.

These “searchers” are looking for God – your God – whether they realize it or not. Of course, what they find in their search is more often than not something other than the God of the Bible. They find some wacky new age religion, some “family-friendly” cult, or even Allah, the god of Islam. Islam is growing fast; it’s second behind Christianity in much of the world. What people find so attractive about Islam, a dreadfully false religion, is that its teachings permeate every area of life. This is what people want – they want a faith that speaks to every area of their lives. The challenge before Christians is to tell people why Christianity, not Islam, is the only belief system that truly makes sense.

Another reason why so many of us see Christianity in decline is that we don’t see it anywhere. Think about what’s happening in America today. You’re not allowed to talk about God on government property. Crosses and symbols of Christianity are forbidden – you can’t wear them and you can’t display them because you might offend somebody. When you watch TV, do those TV families you see ever go to church? Fifty years ago, Sheriff Andy Taylor, Aunt Bea, Opie, Helen his girlfriend, and Barney his deputy all went to church together. They were seen singing in the choir and working in and around their church. Rarely, if ever, do you see characters on TV portrayed as sane Christians these days. When Christians are portrayed on TV, they are likely portrayed as wacky cult leaders or fundamentalists who have a stockpile of semi-automatic guns, making plans to shoot up an abortion clinic. Churches, if they are portrayed in a positive light at all, are seen as homeless shelters, food banks, or bingo halls, not as houses of worship where members praise God and fellowship together. Pastors, if they aren’t seen sleeping with secretaries or pilfering the collection box might be seen lobbying the government to clean up a local landfill or heading up a recycling project in their neighborhood. But he’s certainly never seen doing what pastors do: leading people to Christ or shepherding his flock.

These negative and false images take their toll on Christians, who often spend more time in front of the TV being brainwashed than they do reading their Bibles or going to church. We come to believe we are truly in the minority; that there really is no interest in Christ. But that’s not true. That’s a fantasy created by Hollywood and the entertainment world.

This leads us to another reason why it seems as though Christianity is decline. Because Christians are in retreat, they think Christianity is too. Nowadays, serious Christians have all but abandoned the non-Christian world. We have our own theme parks. We have our own TV stations and radio stations. We have our own schools. We associate almost exclusively with other Christians. None of those things are bad, by the way, but it’s very difficult to be “salt and light,” as Jesus said we were to be, when we never venture into the dark world.

In spite of all of the above, there is a resurgence of spiritualism and faith all over the world. If you don’t see it, you’re looking in the wrong places.

Religion versus Faith

So, if there is this resurgence is spiritualism and faith, why aren’t churches full? People have finally figured out what some Christians haven’t – churches are not synonymous with faith. Put another way, people think they can find God and faith without a church. They’re not all together wrong about that. A generation ago it was very common for a Christian to identify himself as a “Presbyterian” or a “Methodist.” Today those religious labels mean nothing. What people really want is the faith component, not the religious. They want God, not religion. That’s why we see without exception mainline denominations dying as the independent, non-denominational churches growing and thriving. Churches are not dying. Denominationalism is.

What that means is that when you go out to share your faith, you’d better share your faith, not your church. Don’t invite people to church, invite people to have faith in Christ. Before you freak out and stop reading, you really do need to get this person you’re witnessing to into your church eventually. But people are more sophisticated than they used to be. They can tell if you’re only interested in adding them to your church roll. They don’t want to just be a number; they want a new life. Only Jesus can give them that, not your church. Your church may be good at teaching people how to live their new life, but they have to have that new life first. So don’t put the cart before the horse. Care about that lost soul first, then care about your church. We Christians should be leading the lost to faith, not to religion.

The time is ripe

Given that people are trending toward the supernatural these days, there has never been a better time to share your faith with them. You as a Christian have the truth, and while there are many, many false religions for people to chose from, and while many lies are being told about the nature of faith and Christianity, the truth is powerful. God’s truth cannot be held back or covered up. It’s a force of nature that cannot be stopped or silenced. All you have to do, as a sincere Christian wanting to share your faith, is tell God’s truth. The lost need to know who Jesus is and what He has done for you.  Be confident. Christianity is winning. The church of Jesus Christ is not dying. Have confidence in your faith.

UNEASY LIES THE HEAD THAT WEARS THE CROWN

1 Kings 12:26—33

One of the things we notice as we study the historical books of Kings and Chronicles is the obvious connection between immorality and idolatry; where you find one you will eventually find the other for they go hand-in-hand.  Thanks to Solomon’s idolatry, caused by his immorality, the united kingdom of Israel was on the brink of splitting up.  Solomon’s sin would be repeated over and over in successive monarchies for generations in the remnants of his kingdom, both north and south.  While the southern kingdom of Judah had a series of very godly and strong kings, the evil and wicked ones led to its downfall.  The northern kingdom of Israel, on the other hand, had not one godly king and the kingdom suffered greatly until it was assimilated into the great Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.  The ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom of Israel literally vanished from the face of the earth.

God’s people, the Hebrews, struggled with both of these sins through most of their existence as a nation(s) because their kings, with few exceptions, were just like themselves.  Fortunately, some time in our future, the last Son of David will come and He will restore Israel to its former grandeur.

While Rehoboam, Solomon’s son had become king of the two tribes to the south, sitting on his father’s throne in Jerusalem, God’s choice to rule the ten tribes to the north was Jeroboam.  Jeroboam, the son of Nebat was a real piece of work; he had it all, including a stunning and surprising promise from God found in 1 Kings 11:27—39.  Essentially, Jehovah would rip ten tribes from Solomon’s son and give them—literally give them!—to Jeroboam in a covenant that sounded a lot like the Davidic Covenant—

If you (Jeroboam) do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you.  (verse 38)

Jeroboam’s kingdom—the ten tribes north of Judah—would endure forever, as would Jeroboam’s dynasty, if he would simply live in obedience to the Word of the Lord.  That is quite a promise!  However, despite the fact that Jeroboam had all this going for him, and despite the fact that Jeroboam was a descendant of Joshua, Jeroboam would fail because of religion.

1.  His problems began in his mind, verses 26, 27

Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.”

As Jeroboam set up his kingdom and his throne at city named Schecem, he soon took steps to provide for the religious needs of his people.  To his credit, he felt it vitally important to have a strong religious society. But, he had a problem:  the Temple where the people were to worship was in Jerusalem and Jerusalem was in the southern kingdom and Jeroboam concluded that if he let his people go south to worship, they may never come back.

So, in an effort to keep his people at home, the king overstepped his authority and went way beyond God’s plan for him.  It has been correctly observed that there are only two religions in the world:  one that has its origin in the “I will” of God, and the other has its source in the “I think” of a man’s mind.  Jeroboam saw what he thought would become a problem, and thought of a solution that was outside of God’s will.  Isaiah 55:8 makes it plain—

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.

Jeroboam seemed to forget that he had a promise from God!  There was no way he could fail if he remained faithful.  He had the promise of an everlasting kingdom and dynasty that depended on nothing he would plan and scheme; only on obedience to the Word of the Lord.

Sadly, because the heart of a man is deceitful and evil at its core, he is incapable of devising a religion on his own that meets the demands of God and the needs of man.  Only God can establish a religion that can do that.  Jeroboam is about ruin the future of his ten tribes almost before it begins, all in the name of religion.

2.  His religion was basically selfish, verses 28—30

After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”  One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there.

Jeroboam established what amounted to an alternate religion and a far more convenient religion for his people.  Jeroboam sought advice, though we are not told from whom, and the best he could come up with was the establishing of temples in Samaria and Bethel.  The despicable thing about this was that these temples housed golden calves!  Why golden calves?  Was he really wanting the people to worship them?  It seems almost inconceivable, but we have a small glimpse into this man’s heart.  Notice what the king told the people:  “Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”  What kind of man can hear from God, be given a promise from God, then turn around and betray that God?  He was a selfish man, and he was the king of selfish people.  He established a religion for his people that he created in his own mind, ostensibly for his people’s good, but really it was for his own good.

A religion that comes from a carnal heart and that appeals only to the flesh will produce only soulless hypocrites.  Jeroboam produced a religion of selfish expediency, not of sacrifice.

3.  His religion was godless

This is obvious, is it not?  Worshiping a golden calf cannot be a good thing and certainly God had no part in it.  God’s command was clear—

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  (Exodus 20:4)

Yet here is a king and whole nation of people on the cusp of establishing a religion exactly contrary to the Word of God!  How can that be possible?  One thing we learn, not only from Scripture, but from our own experience, is that the carnal mind wants to walk by sight, not by faith.   The carnal mind cannot come up with a system of worship acceptable to God because it will always be based on sight, not faith.  If you don’t like the word “sight,” we may substitute “feeling.”  A worldly worship will always be based on our senses, not on faith.  The Bible is replete with examples of men who “thought” they should do certain things but their minds were carnal and their plans godless.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 16:25)

Jeroboam didn’t know it, but his plan for an alternate, convenient religion would lead to the northern kingdom’s fall.  Verse 30 is so sad—“this thing became a sin.”  It started out as a thought, but it became a sin.  The golden calves, not evil in themselves, became a sin.  Have you noticed that human beings are always very likely to esteem the things they themselves create?   The products of man’s imagination always seem to be more interesting to people than Godly things.  The song, the praise band, the prayer book, the liturgy, all of these things come from the creative mind of man and sadly, far too many Christians feel that they need these things to worship.  But whenever anything takes the place of God, it “becomes a sin.”

4.  His religious leaders were lowlifes, verse 31

Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites.

Really, the people Jeroboam made priests came from the “lowest of the people.”  This is characteristic of all “man-made” religions; there is no premium placed on those who lead it.  In fact, some religions and even churches seem proud to be led by men or women “just like themselves.”  Jeroboam had no interest in choosing his priests as prescribed by God’s law, he picked the men he wanted, regardless of their qualifications or lack thereof.

To their credit, the Levites would have nothing to do with Jeroboam’s sham religion, and instead, they chose to leave their homes and journey south to Rehoboam’s southern kingdom where the true Jewish faith was retained and practiced.  In fact, many true believers from the north did exactly the same thing when it became apparent that the northern kingdom was going downhill fast, led by a godless and clueless king.

5.  His religion was deceptive, verses 32, 33

He instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made.  On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings.

Notice the phrase, “like the festival held in Judah.”  Jeroboam instituted many celebrations and feasts of his own invention, but he patterned his religion after the true religion; it had the appearances of being right, but it was a pale imitation; it was a mockery and lifeless image of the real thing.

What was really going on in the northern kingdom?

Jeroboam was nothing if not clever.  His golden calves (literally they were bulls), as well as many other features of his “religion” were all carefully crafted and instituted to remind his people of their past.  And this was very appealing to the Israelites who were now facing an uncertain future.  In reality, the golden bulls—an idea he probably imported from his time in exile in Egypt—were probably meant to be a representation of Jehovah, and not meant to be worshiped as gods themselves.

Jeroboam, in fact, took on the appearance of a religious reformer; basically using religion to further his political agenda.  In troubled times, people seem to crave two things:  they want more religion, true or false, and they want change.  Jeroboam delivered both.  He gave his people their religious fix and he turned his ten tribes upside down.  He completely gutted the nation as it was established by David and Solomon.

It was this idolatry or near-idolatry that gave rise to the severe condemnation of him in the repeated vindictive expression “the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat.”

May the Lord help Christians walk by faith, and not by sight.  May our “religion” be based on the objective Word of God, and not our feelings and certainly not on flowery words and promises made by religious charlatans and/or political leaders.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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