If you live a moral life, deny yourself pleasure,follow the prescribed rituals and give us enough money,you'll have a decent shot at being accepted by God.~~~
Remember that scene near the end of the Wizard of Oz,when Toto is pulling back the curtain? The sound system is bellowing, 'Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. THE GREAT AND POWERFUL OZ HAS SPOKEN!' And There's a little man behind the controls, talking into a microphone.
Kind of reminds you of certain religious institutions,doesn't it? Short little insecure men, hiding behindnames and titles, sending everyone on Mission Impossiblewhile they themselves indulge in secret sin. Thepreacher stands in front of thousands and shakes hisfinger. Nobody else knows that he had a stripper in his hotel room last night.
Somebody tells you, 'Here, follow all these rules and be the best person you possibly can, and you might have a shot at being accepted by God someday.' Then they string you along and get you under their thumb.
No wonder people are cynical.
Well it's no accident that Jesus' own biggest enemies 2000 years ago were precisely those same self-righteous hypocrites. When Jesus showed up, they were terrified of losing their cushy jobs and political clout. Eventually they murdered him for exposing their racket.
True spirituality had been buried in a big pile of bureaucracy, and the religious establishment used it to gain leverage – to have power over people, to get priority seating in expensive restaurants, and to line their pockets with cash.
They had everyone thinking that pleasing God was a never-ending performance marathon.
Well Jesus painted a totally different picture. He told this story:
'Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a holy man and the other a tax collector.
The holy man stood and prayed, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this lousy tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.'
But the tax collector, standing far away, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'
Jesus explains: 'I tell you, this tax collector went home forgiven, rather than the holy man; for every one who praises himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be praised.'
Beware of the proud holy man who hangs a bunch of rules around your neck.
That humble tax collector had it right. He was doing the only thing you and I can do to be accepted by God. He just asked – with humility.
God is huge and unapproachable, and He wants you to labor, struggle and live in guilt.~~~
2000 years ago, they wouldn't even dare say the word 'God.' God was distant, remote, and terrible.
But Jesus had his own words for God, and he used them freely. They were controversial, even scandalous.
His words for God:
And 'Your heavenly father.'
So when the Religious Gestapo condemned him for hanging out with ruffians and women of ill-repute, he told an even more scandalous story:
'There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Dad, I wish you were dead. Why don't we pretend you are dead, and give me my share of the family estate.' So the father divided his property between them.
A few days later, the disrespectful son packed his bags and headed for a distant land. He squandered his inheritance on wine, women and song. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he got hungry.
So he got a job feeding pigs. (Jews considered pigs to be repulsive.)
This young man would gladly have eaten the pods that the swine ate; but no one gave him anything.
But when he came to his senses, he said to himself, `How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I'm here starving! He went back to his father. But while he was still far away, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
The son said, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
But the father said to his servants, `Go get the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and have a huge party; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.'
Jesus sums it all up like this: 'I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who comes back than over ninety-nine people who are already good.'
The father in the Prodigal Son story was not concerned with his dignity. He was not concerned with what was 'fair.' When his son wanted to go his own way, he let him go. But he was watching out the window the whole time, hoping he would come back.
That's Jesus' picture of God – just like the father in this story. Loving. Forgiving. Approachable. Not distant and condemning.
You are not smart enough or good enough to think for yourself. We will do your thinking for you.~~~
Do you know what the most important invention in the history of the world was?
It wasn't the computer. And it sure wasn't the light bulb or the telephone. (Or even the electronic voting machine.)
It was the printing press.
In 1445, Johannes Gutenburg invented the world's first movable type printing press. He didn't know it, but he was unleashing a revolution that continues to this day. Even the mighty Internet in 2004 is just an extension of Gutenberg's original, revolutionary machine.
The first book he printed was the Bible. And that ledto controversy, too, because Luther translated it intoGerman, the people's language, instead of Latin, the lingo of the religious elite.
Suddenly, ordinary folks could not only afford a copy, but they could read it for themselves instead of getting some guy's self-serving interpretation. Soon the cat wasout of the bag--there were copies scattered all over Europe.
When people started to read it, they were alarmed at what they saw, because between the covers of this book was an amazing story that had seemingly little to do with the politics and shell games he saw in the church.
Luther wrote a list of 95 accusations against the church -- priests taking bribes and granting 'indulgences', the institution setting itself up as a 'middleman' between man and God.
He argued was that God didn't need a middleman,or a distributor, or an agent, or a bureaucracy. People could go direct to the source.
This little 'schism' in Wurms, Germany unleashed a firestorm of protest and permanently changed the way people approached education. No longer was a big, faceless institution responsible for your spiritual progress -- YOU were. Now that you had the knowledge in your hands, you were accountable before God to do something about it.
It's no coincidence that the scientific enlightenment and industrial revolution began within 50 years of this reformation. Now that ordinary folks had access to knowledge and the freedom to pursue it, the possiblities were limitless.
The printing press took the handcuffs off of knowledge and spirituality, and the world has never been the same. Equal access to knowledge empowered people everywhere, and it was only natural that the rennaisance, and in time, democracy too would follow.
What's troubling now is that most people still don't do anything with the knowledge that's available to them. Why would you accept a 'canned' answer or empty platitude when you can open the book and read about it for yourself?
People have debates about Jesus, but most have never read the real story--they just believe what they're told. How sad.
If you want a 'Just the facts ma'am' version of what really happened, grab a Bible (please -- a modern English version that's easy to read, not something from the 1600's) and read the book of Luke. A truly fascinating story will unfold.
I dare you to read for one hour and then stop!
And you know what? Nobody will need to tell you what it means. You'll be quite able to figure it out for yourself.
You can download the book of Luke free online by clicking here:
Print it out and take it with you.
Or, you can listen in MP3 by clicking this link:
You might like to burn the MP3 onto a CD and listen to it in your car.
Women are spiritually inferior and must submit to the authority of men.~~~
In the religious bureaucracy of the ancient world, women were basically property. If she burned his toast, he could divorce her and send her away destitute. If she saw a crime in progress and reported it to the police, her testimony in court would be thrown out--simply because she was a woman.
Women weren't considered smart enough to recount what really happened.
Isn't that special?
Get this. Jesus gets crucified. His body is taken down and put in a guarded tomb.
Three days later, some of his female friends come to the tomb, the door is wide open, and nobody's inside. They're shocked. But they're even more shocked when Jesus shows up. He talks to them. These women are the first people to see this astonishing event and report it. The men don't believe it until they see for themselves.
Well here's the kicker: Had somebody invented this resurrection story out of thin air, they would *never* have said that women found the empty tomb--because women in that culture were considered inferior and unreliable anyway.
So what this proves is:
1) This story can't possibly be made up, because no person who invents such a hoax would ever put women in this role. The fact that women are the first witnesses to the fact virtually proves that Jesus DID actually rise from the dead. A conclusion that has staggering implications.
2) This also shows that Christianity considers women to be equal to men. Jesus had many women in his inner circle, and there were female leaders and prophetesses in the early church.
When religion runs amok, it's always in the interest of one of three things:
Don't you agree?
And what could be more convenient than for selfish men to shove women around and say it's the will of God?
You know, the thing about genuine spirituality is that it isn't used as a weapon to control people. Yes, Jesus gave some pretty stern warnings and he talked about some heavy subjects. But how often do you see him bossing his followers around?
He didn't do that. Instead, he took off their shoes and washed their dirty feet to show them how they should serve each other. His life and death are the deep irony of God engaged in the humble service of mankind.
There is no single truth. Everyone needs to explore and find a truth that works for them.~~~
This one's a real hot potato. And it's not something you hear so much from ancient religious institutions... rather, it's simply the 'politically correct' way to talk about spirituality these days.
It tends to be expressed something like this: 'You've got your truth, and I've got my truth. You find a faith that works for you, and I'll find a faith that works for me.'
Well here's my question:
How many conflicting versions of the truth can actually be true?
I'm not going to use this space to promote an agenda today -- or to push any specific claim of Ultimate Truth. I'm just going to highlight a very simple, logical reality that each of us, in our search for Truth, must recognize. Pardon me if I offend you, but I'm going to put it bluntly.
It's impossible for all religions to be true.
In other words, if Islam is essentially true, then Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity are not. If Buddhism is essentially true, then Islam, Christianity and Hinduism are not. And so on.
How can I say such a thing? Because if you *really* study these religions, it will become clear that each makes bold, fundamental assertions about reality that are not compatible with the others.
For example, Hinduism states that divinity is present in everything.Christianity, Judaism and Islam all assert that God is distinctly separate from what he has created. The implications of these different views run very deep, and they are fundamentally incompatible. It's logically impossible for both views to be true.
So why bring this up, anyway?
Well first I have to make a confession. I would *like* to believe that all religions could be true. I would personally *like* to believe that all paths lead to God. It feels good. It's a kinder view of the world. It puts everyone on equal footing.
But it just doesn't make sense.
Truth is, by nature, exclusive. There are always more wrong ways to do just about anything than right ways. There are always more wrong answers to any given question than right ones.
And you know what? This really raises the stakes. It puts a real sense of urgency in our search for truth, because it shows that if we're not careful, we can fall for a half-truth.
On the other hand, if you diligently search, seek out the facts, and your spiritual journey brings you to a place where the pieces fit in place - if everything makes logical sense and it feels right in your heart - then you should not hesitate to share your joy with others.
OK... now let's stop right now and make something very clear:
If we possess the truth, it doesn't give us the right to be unkind to those who disagree. It didn't give Bin Laden the right to declare Jihad, hijack airplanes and fly them into the World Trade Center. It didn't give so-called 'Christians' the right to kill people in the Crusades. It doesn't give us the right to be disrespectful or violent.
What it does give us is the right - and the confidence -to go out into the marketplace of ideas and *see* if our Truth stands up to hard scrutiny.
C.S. Lewis was talking about this very thing when he said, 'You don't need to defend a Lion. You just need to let him out of his cage.'
If you really do have the truth, then you have nothing to fear. You don't need to burn books or censor speech. Truth is its own best defense.
In our modern, sophisticated culture, spirituality getslocked up in a cage. It's a taboo subject. Discussions about religion are not considered 'polite conversation.' So nobody talks about it.
The result? People don't talk to each other. They live in fear and isolation.
Some folks harbor ideas and notions that make absolutely no sense, but because those ideas are never brought out into the light of day, they're never questioned.
Others have great wisdom, but they're afraid to share it with others!
In your search for the truth, then, know that you're not just looking for something that sounds good. As with any other kind of truth, it may *not* feel good all the time. Know that you're looking for something definite, something that will by nature make some pretty bold claims.
Also, please understand that if someone tells you they possess the truth, they're not being arrogant. Fact is, they're either sadly deceived or else they're right. You can't put someone down for being deceived, and you can't fault someone for being right!
The real challenge is to discern the difference.
The Bible is out of date, inaccurate and over-rated. Peoplein the 21st century are way too smart for that.~~~
At first blush this doesn't seem like an 'Organized Religion' thing. The reason I include it here is that many large religious organizations do teach it today.
Let me ask you something: Don't you think it's a lot easier for a leader to sneak in his own agenda when there's no outside authority to compare it to?
Mortimer Adler, one of the greatest living literary scholars, spent decades researching a book called 'The Great Ideas.' He read every single major piece of literature in Western history, and his book explores the 102 most influential ideas that have defined Western culture.
In the first chapter, he talks about 'The Twentieth Century Delusion.' What's that? It's the fact modern people *think* that we are more enlightened about all subjects than people were 1000 years ago.
Are we more enlightened about science and technology?
Are we more enlightened about morality, philosophy and politics?
In college I took a class called 'English Authors Before 1800.' I was amazed at how sharp those writers were. Once you get past the 'old English' language, you discover that Shakespeare's characters are just like the people you talk to every day.
The book of Proverbs in the Bible was written 3000 years ago, but its advice has saved my butt many, many times.
'A soft answer defuses anger, but harsh words stir up evil.'
'A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.'
'The fool hates to be corrected by his father, but a wise son listens to advice.'
Are we really wiser in the 21st century than people were thousands of years ago?
Solomon, the author of Proverbs, said 'There is nothing new under the sun.' Many people have laughed at that statement. But he wasn't talking about technology. He was talking about the issues of the human heart. Malcolm Muggeridge said, 'News is old things happening to new people.'
So is the Bible a translation of a translation of a translation? Could it be reliable? Is it worth taking seriously?
For centuries, the oldest existing copies of the Old Testament were from 1100 AD. Because so many prophesies in the O.T. had come true, many scholars declared that it was written after the fact.
For example, Isaiah described the cruicifixion of Jesus with remarkable precision, 700 years before it happened. Daniel predicted the rise and fall of the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires, in sequence, including remarkable details - in 550 BC.
The skeptics had the upper hand in this debate until a boy threw rocks into a cave in the Qumran valley in 1947 and discovered what are now known as the 'Dead Sea Scrolls.'
Not only did these scrolls date back to 200BC, proving that these astonishing predictions were written BEFORE the events took place, but the text was virtually identical to the later versions.
Similarly, we have 5,000 ancient manuscripts of the NewTestament, some of them dating back to ~60 A.D. The text is unquestionably solid.
There are plenty of people who say that the Bible is flaky and full of holes, but honestly, the facts simply don't support that conclusion.
Take the 'Gospels' -- same-generation accounts of Jesus' life in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. There are *no* other events in ancient history that are documented as well as Jesus' life. If we can't believe those history books, how can we believe any other ones?
Of course the only reason anybody doubts this stuff is that it talks about miracles. Jesus feeds 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fishes. He heals the blind and the lame. He himself rises from the dead.
Can this be believed? Or was it just a big conspiracy?
Well, that is THE question.
Chuck Colson, a former US Government official who went to jail for his involvement in the Watergate scandal, tells this story:
“Watergate was a conspiracy to cover up, perpetuated by the closest aids to the President of the United States.
But one of them, John Dean, testified against Nixon, to save his own skin - only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on. Two weeks!
The real cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks, and then everybody else jumped ship in order to save themselves. What's more, nobody's life was at stake.'
Why do I bring this up? Because conspiracies planned bybig groups of people always fall apart. Somebody always narks.
Well in the case of Jesus, eleven disciples were crucified, tortured, stoned to death and burned to the stake because they stuck to their story.
They were all ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED that Jesus rose from the dead.
The historical narrative reports that the first witnesses to the resurreciton were women. Given the legal standing of women at that time, nobody would have written the story that way had it been made up.
What do you think?
Well, you really can't make an informed decision until you read the story.
Fortunately there are four versions of that story -- Matthew's, Mark's, Luke's and John's. Read one or all and decide for yourself.
If you don't read the story, you're not in any kind of position to decide. Examine the evidence so you can make an educated decision.
If God was really powerful and good, he wouldn't allow so muchevil and suffering to go on.~~~
This is raised by just about everyone: Priests and ministers, college students and housewives, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.
It's one of the hardest questions anybody ever asks.
Just a few days ago, a close friend of mine, Laurin, passed away after a fierce 18 month battle with cancer. What a horrible experience this was for him and his wife Diana.
I've visited the slums of Sao Paulo Brazil, where 500,000homeless street kids sniff glue and steal for a living. Sometimes the police hunt them down and kill them, just to reduce the crime rate.
Last year my wife spent a week in Mozambique where she saw an infant in her mother's arms, dying of pneumonia in a hospital waiting room. She met hundreds of other kids with malaria and malnutrition. We've given some money for a medical clinic, and every bit helps. But the problems are so huge, what little you try to do still seems like a teardrop in the ocean.
If you took all the parties, the humor, the success and happiness in the world, and put it side by side with the suffering and pain, the comparison would be almost absurd.
There's a lot of sickness and sadness in this world.
How can God let it go on?
Well, I can't give you an answer. I can only tell you a true story.
A certain man threatened the Religious Gestapo, who inturn convinced the Roman government that He was a threat to them, too.
His followers were disappointed that He didn't overthrowthe Romans and declare himself King, like the Messiah wassupposed to do. So they abandoned Him.
The ancient Romans pioneered what was possibly the most cruel form of torture ever devised by man: Crucifixion. They would drive spikes into their victim's ankles and wrists, smashing his nerves. He would hang there in blinding sheets of pain, slowly suffocating and dehydrating for days, until he finally expired.
Jesus was whipped and beaten, literally beyond recognition, then nailed to a cross between two common criminals.
One of these criminals was cursing and shouting at Him in a fit of rage: 'HEY! If you're the KING, why don't you get yourself down from there! And US, TOO!!!'
The other guy went along with this... for a little while.
But he saw that Jesus wasn't hurling insults at his torturers. Instead He was asking God to forgive them (?!).
He sobered up. He said to the other criminal, 'Hey dude, you and I are here because we deserve it. But this man Jesus has done nothing wrong.'
Then he said to Jesus, 'Remember me when you take charge of your Kingdom.'
Jesus simply replied, 'Today you'll be with me in Paradise.'
Stop the camera.
What you have here, in this brief conversation, is a snapshot of the entire world.
You have two criminals who have gotten themselves into a horrendous, awful mess. And you have the Son of God, who has not only chosen to live with us in our world of pain and suffering, but has personally taken all of it upon his own shoulders. Even though he is completely innocent.
One thief refuses to accept any responsibility for his actions. He's unwilling to admit that he created the very mess that he's in.
He lives in denial until the bitter end. He grits his teeth and dies in his sin.
The other thief comes clean. He recognizes that Jesus possesses divine authority. He admits his guilt. He is required to do nothing, other than to let go of his pride.
He asks for forgiveness.
Jesus' pardon doesn't make the cross or the agony go away. But finally the struggle ceases and this man crosses the Great Divide. The intense pain dissolves and he steps into a New World, designed by God Himself -- with renewed body and soul.
That's a picture of the entire world, right there. You and I are in this mess together, and we've all contributed to it.
We've all rejected God in some way or another, we've allcommitted some kind of crime, and we all experience suffering.
The situation is what it is.
So we have a simple choice: Accept that fact that God has suffered with us -- or mock him and be furious because the suffering exists in the first place.
Which way do you want it???
The decision is yours. You and I will never get a true 'answer' about the pain and suffering we experience in this life. But in the midst of our pain, we have a companion. You and I can have the same conversation with Jesus that this criminal had, and we can experience the same forgiveness. All we have to do is ask, just like the thief on the cross did on that sad day.
This is the last of the Seven Great Lies of Organized Religion about God. I pray that I've helped to strip away all the baggage that the Religious Gestapo adds to the story and reduce it to the bare essentials. I hope this has stirred your mind and your heart.