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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Summit: Hinduism

In my last post I discussed how many people view all religions as different paths up the same mountain.  If you missed that post you catch up here.  If you read it, you might be left wondering what exactly those other religions believe and how it relates to us.  As a representative of Christ, it is good to have at least a basic understanding of those other accounts and know how to engage someone who believes in them.  So lets get down to it and start with our first world religion: Hinduism.

Hinduism is a fascinating and complex religion with growing interest.  The respect Hindus have for nature attracts attention in our society that is goring more environmentally conscious.  The spirituality of Hinduism also draws people seeking divinity within.  The freedom of Hinduism appeals to those who desire to chose beliefs that are fitting for them.  For these and many more reasons, Hinduism has been gaining a following in the United States.

That being said, Hinduism is hard to define.  There is no comprehensive orthodoxy in Hinduism.  It is truly a broad sweeping term for varying traditional practices and beliefs that developed out of an ancient fertility religion.  The best test for Hindu orthodoxy is the authority given to the Vedas.  The Vedas give Hinduism its mythology and are the source of the basic Hindu worldview.  As  Hinduism developed, however, another collection of writings was appended to the Vedas called the Upanishads.  The Upanishads are the last and greatest philosophical development in Hinduism and form Hinduism as we know it in the modern sense.

The Upanishads primarily concern themselves with the concept of Brahman.  Brahman is the supreme, infinite, impersonal Reality which stands behind everything.  It's true identity of everything that exists; Pure Being, Pure Consciousness, Pure Bliss.  They also are concerned with the true identity of man.  Our true identity is not in external things, but is found in our atman, our "inner self."  The dilemma then becomes how the atman relates to Brahman and the Brahman to the atman.  The final conclusion of the Upanishads is that the atman and Brahman were truly one in the same.  We are Brahman, and Brahman is us.  The metaphor goes that the atman is a wave on Brahman's ocean.

This realization is the aim of Hinduism.  To awaken to the ultimate reality that we are all one; there there is no true thing called "you" and no true thing called "me," but there is only Brahman.  Even the gods of Hinduism are not above or outside Brahman, but come from it in the same way that we all do.  When we come to this understanding, Hindus assert, then we arrive at salvation.  For until that time we are stuck in the wheel of Samsara, that is, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.  The wave of our atman is, in essence frozen and unable to return back into the depths of Brahman.  This is because the wave of our atman is brought into existence through the power of maya, or deception.  This deception produces in us advidya, or ignorance, which leads us to believe that we are individuals and separate from one another.  As long as we live in this ignorance we are trapped by selfish desire and this produces suffering.  The aim of Hinduism is to overcome this ignorance through the practice of different yogas, or spiritual disciplines, to obtain moksha, or the liberation of the atman from the wheel of Samsara so that it may return to Brahman.

Perhaps it is easy to see how Christianity stands into contrast from Hinduism.  You may be surprised, however, to find out that many Hindus have no qualms with Christianity.  In fact, there are many Hindus who even claim that Jesus is god incarnate.  What they mean by this is quite different, and in fact serves as the starting point of how Christians can respond to Hindus.

Who is God?  For a Hindu, there are a variety of gods.  Many worship several, while some focus on just some.  Others have condensed the plethora of gods by saying they are all manifestations of a handful of of supreme gods.  Regardless, all Hindu gods are still part of this thing we call "creation."  As said earlier, Hindu Gods are not above or outside of Brahman, and are even one with us.  This stands in stark contrast to what we call God.  For God is not part of creation.  There is God, and there is all else.  He is entirely other and separate from us.  He brought everything there is into existence.

Perhaps you can already see the problems of Hindus claiming that Christ is an incarnation of god.  When we speak of God, we are not even speaking of the same person(s).  However, the trouble gets more sticky when you start to look at what is meant by "incarnation."  For a Hindu, there are many incarnations, or avatars, that the gods take.  Incarnation here, however, would not be the taking on of human flesh but only the appearance of it.  Further, the gods appear in their avatar form to help humans on their path of enlightenment so that their atman can escape this illusion and return to the Brahman.

For the Christian, not only is creation real, but it is good.  Christ did not come in the flesh to help us escape it, but to establish us in it.  If He came to help us escape then would not have needed to come into the flesh at all.  That is why the Hindu meaning of incarnation is different, and contradictory, to the Christian.  The fact that Christ did actually come into the flesh puts us at odds with Hinduism and deepens our discussions with them.

After we establish who God is and that Christ, bring God, came into the flesh, we can move to the "for us" question, as in, "what does this mean for us?"  Hinduism answers the "for us" question by saying that all we need to do is overcome this illusion and we will be saved.  Once our atman escapes this cycle of birth, death, and rebirth and returns to Brahman we will no longer suffer and be in peace.  As Christians, we are not looking forward to Christ coming back to take us out of Creation (If you think the point of Christianity is to die and go to "heaven," I hate to break it to you, but you have been more influenced by Hinduism than the Bible...but that's another post) but to vindicate and restore Creation and to establish us in it forever.  Also, salvation for the Christian does not lay in escaping suffering, but is brought about through suffering.  Specifically the sufferings of Christ on a cross (which would be impossible for a Hindu avatar to do).  Our need as Christians first and foremost to be reconciled through God by the forgives of sins.  Once that is established as the center of our theology, only then we can address the problem of suffering and about Christ ending all suffering when He returns.

This post is far from comprehensive, but from it I hope you at least gained some knowledge of, and appreciation for, Hinduism and saw how the two are incompatable and aren't different paths to the same "summit."  I also hope you gained some talking points for if you ever have a chance to talk to a Hindu about their faith and yours.  If you have any questions, I'd love to discuss!  Peace be with you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

THE END OF TERROR


It’s March 22, 2016, today.  I was up late last night working on our missionary newsletter, so I rolled out of bed a little later than usual.  I wiped the sleep from my eyes and looked at my email to find a slew of emails from Missionaries in the region, “is everyone okay?”  “We have an Alliance Missionary” in Brussels, has anyone heard from him?”  “Has anyone heard from the Bishop of the church there?”

I immediately turned on the radio and started scouring the net to try to find out the latest.  There the pundits are blaming President Obama, the Democrats, the Republicans, the Belgians, and, of course, ISIS, who is taking credit for a coordinated bombing attack on the West.

I am soon to deploy to this region for the next five to seventeen years, I thought, “is this wise?”   “Am I putting my sweet Paula and myself in harms way?”  Then I remembered something that I said as I was teaching a Bible Class the other day, “the opposite of terror or fear, is faith.”

Faith always has an object and the object of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace who on Good Friday, swallowed up all fear as He took into Himself the death that we deserve.  He took the sins that we have committed onto and into Himself and exchanged it for His perfect, holy, righteous life which He credited to our bankrupt accounts.

As an aside, when you read the Bible, remember that faith always has an object, try replacing the word faith with Jesus and see how the text reads, it usually makes things pretty interesting.

So, we prepare to head off to Eurasia, with the backing of many saints who are upholding us in prayer.  We prepare to go and to proclaim the Gospel to over a billion people in over fifty countries, most of which were once devoutly Christian, but no more.  We go with no more and no less Divine protection than we have had in the states.

Let’s face it; life is unsure, it is scary at times, things rarely work ou the way that we expect, but with Christ, there is peace and confidence.  We also know that when the Lord requires us, we will go, not a moment before or after.

We pray that Jesus will return soon and put an end to the madness that sin brought into the world, but until then, we endure.

We also know that thousands and thousands of Muslims in our region of Eurasia are hearing the Gospel, being baptized and are rejoicing in the mercies of Christ Jesus!

So in the end, we have an eternal perspective, knowing that “He who is in you, is greater than He that is in the world.”  - 1John 4:4

As we draw near to the cross of Christ on this Good Friday, let us keep in mind that Christ has descended into our death so that He might raise us eternally in His life.  As He took the punishment for the sins of the world on the cross, with His last breath, He inhaled into Himself the death of our sin and exhaled His life for the World.

This is the message that which has defeated and is defeating those who would try to strike terror into our hearts.  May their invented, angry gods be met with the true God of mercy and peace.

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Craig can also be heard at www.godwhisperers.com
ALSO
Follow our mission work. www.craigandpaula.org

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"We Are All Beggars, This is True"


We Are Beggars. This is True
By Craig Donofrio

As I walked down the narrow cobblestone street in the Czech Republic, I almost tripped over him.  There he was in on his hands and knees, his face low to the ground, hands outstretched with an old and dirty Starbucks cup.  No eye contact, no pride, just total broken subservient begging. 

This isn’t the way that it happens in the States.  In the states, some guy walks up to you, looks into your eye and with a looming threat says something like, “I haven’t eaten for two days, do you have a couple of bucks, so I can get something?”  Then when you go into the store and bring him some chicken, he cusses at you because he wanted the cash, not food.  But in the Czech Republic, there is shame instead of pride (act or not). 

When I saw the beggars, I was reminded of what they found in Martin Luther’s pocket after he died, it was a scrap of paper that simply read, “We are beggars, this is true.” 

Before Almighty God, the one who made all things seen and unseen, who sees and knows the sins of your actions and of your heart, there is nothing of value that you or I could ever bring before Him that would merit His charity and mercy.  We are the stiff-necked jerk who thinks that we could dare to look God in the eye and say, “gimme something, or else.” 

We all have those sins of our youth, or maybe even those that we are currently engaged in on a regular basis.  You know what they are, those sins that you hope will never be found out or be brought back to light, ever!  You know, the things that would destroy you, or have destroyed you, the ones that you want to leave in the past, once and for all, yeah, those sins.   

Those who begin to know even a fraction of their sin, know what the proper posture is that we should take before the one true God.  Without even a filthy paper cup that we fished out of the trash, we are empty-handed and laid low.  When met eye to eye by our sin, with those nasty things that we don’t acknowledge or talk about, we are broken, humiliated, humbled and with terror, we beg for mercy, empty-handed beggars all.  

God in His mercy is a God for beggars.  He sent His son, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords into our meager, beggarly existence.  He laid aside His glory and His might to become a beggar who didn’t even have a pillow for His head.  He descended into our poverty when He submitted Himself to be baptized in the filthy waters of our sin and emerged for us breaking the bonds of sin and death. 

God isn’t interested in your sins.  He isn’t interested in keeping score, making sure that you keep at least one more good work than bad in your ledger. Instead, He is kind, gracious and whatever the superlative word for generous is – He’s that, to and for beggars, to and for you. 
 
Christ isn’t interested in keeping you in the gutter, but instead, Christ clothes you in His perfect righteousness through the baptismal washing of regeneration and in faith.  He credits the riches of His eternal kingdom to your empty hands and frees you to be generous with His wealth, which He freely entrusts into your care. 

It is an amazing thing to serve as a missionary in a foreign environment.  We see things that we would never see in the USA, but also in them, we see opportunities for the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We hear of the grace of Christ in new ways from converts from Islam.  We engage a society that has been religiously raped by decades of Communistic Atheism and secular rationalism.  In the face of all of this and more, we know and see that God’s Word, Jesus Christ and His extravagant, outrageous, free gift of grace prevails in all things. 

Soli Deo Gloria! 

Follow us on Twitter: @200proofgospel Also be our friend on Facebook 200 Proof Gospel!
FOLLOW THE 200 PROOF GOSPEL ON PODBEAN http://reverendme.podbean.com
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Craig can also be heard at www.godwhisperers.com
also 



Follow our missionary travels at www.craigandpaula.org 


Monday, March 7, 2016

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker...

Lutherans have always held that creeds and confessions are necessary for the well-being of the
Apostle's Creed Word Cloud
church. Just as Christ’s church and all Christians are called upon to confess their faith (Matt. 10:32Rom. 10:91 Peter 3:151 John 4:2), so must the church.

The church is called to proclaim the pure Gospel in season and out of season. Creeds and confessions are a way you and I explain what we mean. We have individual creeds that each parent hands down to their children.

Parental Creed, "As Long as You Live under my ______."


You can finish the sentence. Parents usually sum up the creeds of their home by way of - "as long as you live under my roof." That's how we raise our children to let them know what our parental expectations are. What this house stands for. What is right and wrong. You want to do it your way and we think it's wrong, then live where you can make the rules.

The Christian church has many ways that we make clear to the children of God what we believe and what we don't believe. They are permanent "symbols" or confessions. The Apostle's Creed is one of them.

Non-denominational - No Such Thing

You might have friends and relatives who claim to go to a church that is "nondenominational." However, a non-denom church is really a church that lacks the commitment to who they say they
are. It becomes a numbers ploy.

Non-denoms are afraid to confess the teachings of Christ, or, they are simply setting up a "bait and switch" scenario, which is a great marketing tool. What is really at stake here is the integrity of the Christian faith.

When they say that they are not denominational, what they really mean is that they don't want to advertise who and what confession they abide by. They don't want to let you know that their pastors were trained in the Lutheran, Reformed or Roman Catholic teachings. At best, they are purposely generic Christians. Whatever it takes to get people in the pews for Jesus.

But who is Jesus? How does that forgiveness get to you?

Every pastor and teacher in our church body are required to subscribe to the Lutheran confessions. This is why we believe there is no such thing as a nondenominational church. Every church believes something and the question is, "what?" They are either Lutheran, Reformed, or Roman Catholic (a simple summary). The difference is in the sacraments. Does baptismforgive sins? Does the Lord's Supper forgive sins? Can the body and blood of Jesus really be in the bread and wine? YES.

For WHAT Lutherans believe - Start with Luther's Small Catechism.

Follow us on Twitter: @200proofgospel Also be our friend on Facebook 200 Proof Gospel!
FOLLOW THE 200 PROOF GOSPEL ON PODBEAN http://reverendme.podbean.com
ALO ON TUNEIN RADIO   http://tunein.com/radio/200-Proof-Gospel-p905025/
Craig can also be heard at www.godwhisperers.com
also 
Follow our missionary travels at www.craigandpaula.org 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Summit

Have you heard the axiom, "all religions are
different paths to the same place," or "all religions worship the same god," and so on?  This sentiment has gained ground in society that has become all about acceptance.  The image most often associated with it is a majestic mountain, and we are supposed to imagine each religion as a different way to hike up to the summit.  Each trail up provides a different view along the way, but they all eventually lead to the same place.  Is this truly how God works though?  Has he given us multiple ways to climb to the summit of His holy mountain?

On a certain level there is truth to the idea of a common thread among most religions.  Most religions are a striving, a working to obtain.  The summit of Hinduism is moksha, the escape of suffering through breaking the cycle of birth and rebirth.  Buddhism's summit is nirvana when suffering is ends through overcoming desire.  Taoism and Confucianism both reach the satisfied with the deaths of the wicked and desires that all come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved, and what is that truth?  That Christ, the unblemished Lamb of God, untainted by sin, came into our world and took our flesh upon Himself in order to satisfy the Law of God.  In His life He fulfilled each and every commandment of the Father, never breaking a single one, and in His death on the cross He took the sin of the world upon His shoulders, swallowing up the wrath of God that was designated for each and every one of us.

No, we are not a people of a mountain, but people of a tomb.  For Christians, however, as our eyes turned from the grotesque scene of death and decay in the tomb within to the wondrous tomb of Christ without, something wonderful happened.  Those bitter grapes of God's wrath that Christ swallowed on our behalf were fermented into the sweet, precious wine of salvation that flows to us now.  For the tomb of Christ did not remain occupied as He rose again three days later, and after He rose He ascended.  When He ascended He became our high priest and intercessor before the Father and sent to us His Holy Spirit.

With our eyes fixed on Christ and His empty tomb, His grace has flowed to us through His Word and Sacrament.  In His grace the tomb within each of us was cleansed and transformed into a shrine, a temple of the Holy Spirit where God dwells as we await our own resurrection.  "For if you confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you too will be saved."  Christianity is not a religion of man about how we can do to climb the summit, but instead it is the religion of God that says that Christ has already climbed it for you.  That makes all the difference.