Archives For World Religions

Greek BibleA few weeks ago I preached a sermon called “You Can Trust the Bible.” Like I’ve always done in talks like this I laid out a simple path: 1) You can trust the Bible textually. 2) You can trust the Bible historically. 3) You can trust the Bible personally.

With the first point I showed how the copies of various books of the Bible are so plentiful and precise that we can know with nearly perfect confidence that the words in our Bibles are the words originally written by the authors. With the second point I showed how the Bible stands up to repeated attacks on its historical value, proving itself more accurate over and over. This makes sense because the authors have such an incredible advantage over modern people in terms of knowing what actually happened (i.e. they saw it happen).

After making those two points, I pulled in for the clincher, “That’s why you can trust the Bible and give your life to Jesus.” Christians in the audience loved it. I got lots of pats on the back from those in our family.

But then I got some texts from people who weren’t so convinced. “How can I believe a book that endorses slavery?” “How can I trust a book that is so backward about women?” “How can I trust a book that damns homosexuals?”

Nearly every book I read in college and seminary about how to “prove” the Bible took my two steps. But modern people expect another step. They have a different standard for evaluating a religion. They want to know if they can trust it morally.

Modern people expect to know if they can trust every moral claim about a religion or philosophy before they jump into it. Think about this for a minute. Why do they have this expectation? I’ll give two reasons, but I’ll only focus on the second.

1) Religions and philosophies aren’t chosen these days because they’re true but because you agree with them. People chose a religion as an endorsement of the philosophy they already hold. It’s like getting a historical, cultural stamp of approval that backs up what you already believe.

2) They want an answer to this question because this is how modern religions and philosophies are evaluated.

Buddha 1I’m finding that more and more of my non-Christian friends approach spirituality in a semi-Buddhist way, so I’ll use that religion to make my point.

Buddha was an agnostic. He didn’t make claims about God; in fact he said it was a waste of time to desire to know what God is like. In his opinion, caring about God too much hinders you from real enlightenment. What matters is living right, thinking right, and feeling right. The patterns of feeling, thinking, and living that you develop will give you personal peace. But Buddha didn’t claim that he got his stuff from God. No, he thought hard and came up with this philosophy. He then told people to follow him by thinking hard. The only test he offered people for evaluating whether or not Buddhism is “true” is personal experience. Huston Smith (the most famous professor of world religions) summarizes Buddha’s approach and includes a few quotes from the sage himself:

“On every question personal experience was the final test of truth. ‘Do not go by reasoning, nor by inferring, nor by argument.’ A true disciple must ‘know for himself.’”[1]

Not every person in the West thinks just like this. Not everyone connects their line of reasoning to Buddhism. But there are similarities among hard-working pragmatists, socially progressive secular humanists, well-meaning agnostics, generous atheists, and sweet and carefree New Agers. Ultimately they want to find a life-philosophy that helps them be good not bad, be good enough for ‘god’, or feel good today.

So, when I go on and on about historical arguments for the Bible and its factual nature, people yawn. Other people seem interested but unaffected on a spiritual level. The textual question doesn’t matter to them, nor does the historical question. They want the moral, life philosophy, personal peace, ‘be good’ question answered.

It’s an important question. And in the next post, I’ll explain how Christianity actually answers it.



[1]Huston Smith, World Religions, 98. Quotes from Woodward, Some Sayings, 283.

In John 7, the Jews go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. While this festival is going on, there is nonstop speculation about who Jesus is. Everyone is talking, whispering, and accusing with regard to Jesus’ identity and intentions.

Some are convinced that “he is a good man,” and others are saying exactly the opposite: “no, he is leading the people astray” (7:12). The question of whether or not Jesus is the Messiah gets raised a few times (7:26-27, 31, 41). Others speculate that perhaps Jesus is “the Prophet” (7:40), an Old Testament figure that would rise up to fill the shoes of Moses in leading God’s people.

CandleIt’s in this context that Jesus addresses the people in John 8:12, and says simply: “I am the light of the world.”

Light is a common metaphor. It speaks of purity rather than filth. Of truth rather than error. Of knowledge rather than ignorance.

As it happens, we have many candidates vying for the status of “light of the world.” In the 17th and 18th centuries, we had “The Enlightenment,” where the wisdom of the ancient Greeks was re-embraced. Some of these enlightenment philosophers were set on escaping the darkness in which the church had held the world (during a period that came to be referred to as “The Dark Ages”), and shining the light of true humanistic, autonomous, philosophical light around the world.

Those types of thoughts are still with us. Some would say that knowledge is the light of the world. All we need is better education and we will step out of darkness and into the light. Or perhaps we could argue that science is the light of the world. As we learn more about our universe through science, we will finally be able to become the type of superhuman race that can rid the world of its evils and enter into a golden age. Others would argue that deep religious knowledge is the light of the world. We need to look deeply within and gain the type of inward knowledge that leads to enlightenment (this is the mystical/eastern/new age approach).

But Jesus’ statement is unequivocal. I—and I alone—am the light of the world! It’s fascinating to consider that Jesus made this statement hundreds of years after Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle lived and spoke their profound philosophical teachings. As helpful as those insights may be—and some have said that all philosophy is simply footnotes to Plato, these guys still have a voice in the debates—there is only one light of the world.

The setting in which Jesus spoke these words is also significant. John 8:20 tells us that Jesus spoke these words in the treasury, which means that he was in the Court of the Women, which was the most public part of the temple. In this court were four golden candelabras. Each had four golden bowls that were filled with oil by the priests. On the first night of the Feast of Tabernacles, which was either still going on or newly ended at this point, these candelabras would be lit. These may have inspired Jesus’ statement.

Pillar of FireBeyond that, the Feast of Tabernacles is significant here. They were celebrating God having led his people out of slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness (hence the “tabernacles” or tents), and into the Promised Land. Remember that God led his people as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It was this unique light that guided the people out of slavery and into the Promised Land.

And here Jesus stands, at the conclusion of this feast, identifying himself as the light of the world. He is the one who will lead his people out of slavery and into the Promised Land. And he will lead not only his Jewish people, but the whole world. Jesus says, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” We won’t be lost, we will know where to go. We will know who to follow. We will have the light of life within us. And as we will see in the next post, this last statement is incredible.

 

Touch Nepal

Preston Sprinkle —  June 26, 2013 — Leave a comment

I’m thrilled to announce that Touch Nepal is now live! This ministry has been years in the making and it’s finally here. And I’m incredibly stoked to be a part of this ministry.

What is Touch Nepal? Here’s a short history.

Touch Nepal is a ministry led by myself, Mark Avery, and Adam Finlay (members of Anthem Church in Thousand Oaks) and we seek to nepal 1support indigenous (native) pastors and ministries in Nepal. We want to see the kingdom of God go forth in this predominately Hindu nation.

Our heart for Touch Nepal first started to beat back in 2005, when Adam took a YWAM trip to Nepal and met a couple Nepalese pastors—the same ones we now support. A couple years later, Adam went back to Nepal with several others from his church, including his pastor Mark Avery. After this second trip, Mark, Adam, and others continued to support these ministries through prayer, encouragement, and financial gifts.

I first met Mark and Adam in the Fall of 2012 and my heart was instantly kindled for what God was doing in Nepal. So in January 2013, we took another trip to Nepal to visit the ministries we have been supporting. During this third trip, God opened our eyes to the many grinding needs that the young Nepalese church has. As we visited ministry after ministry, church after church, we saw the same thing: miraculous conversions, contagious zeal—and lack of leadership.

The problem is not that there was a lack of able leaders, but that these leaders lacked either the theological training or financial means to be released to shepherd the church. We also were encouraged, perhaps discouraged, by the comically small percentage of financial help these leaders need to further the kingdom. Some pastors, for instance, make no more than $50 a month. A 25% increase in salary could enable them to share the gospel and raise up disciples in twice as many villages. $5,000 could help rebuild a crumbling sanctuary packed full of converts from Hinduism. A little help goes a very long way in Nepal.

Touch Nepal is committed to running as efficiently as possible. Our passion is to see all donations contribute to the growth of the gospel in Nepal. Therefore, none of us takes an ounce of salary from your donations. We all have full-time jobs. We will never spend your money on attending conferences, buying office supplies, or working lunches (“I’ll take my steak medium-rare, thank you”). We won’t spend your money on us. We’ll spend it on Nepalese ministries. While every ministry has some operational expenses, such as wiring fees and website costs, we are committed to using all donations for the direct advancement of the kingdom of God in Nepal.

That’s Touch Nepal. We support indigenous ministries to further the kingdom of Christ in this Hindu nation. Find out more at www.touchnepal.org.

But before you go, please watch this video. It’ll put dirt under your nails. And if you desire to partner with us in this ministry, please visit our website.

 

 

If I had a nickel for every time an angel lied to a person and led them to start a false religion, I’d have at least 10 cents. I’m thinking here of Joseph Smith and Muhammad, both of whom started their religions (Mormonism and Islam) after receiving revelation from a bright and shining angel.

In reality, angels lie to people far more often than this. John had to warn his readers:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

The Angel Moroni (atop a Mormon Temple), who gave further revelation to Joseph Smith.

The Angel Moroni (atop a Mormon Temple), who gave further revelation to Joseph Smith.

Just because an angel says it doesn’t make it true. Many false prophets, John says, have gone out into the world on this account. John calls us to have discernment in light of this grim reality.

But the scariest angel warnings actually come from Paul. He says:

“Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8-9)

He says it twice for emphasis. It doesn’t matter who is teaching the false gospel. Even if an angel from heaven stands before you and tells you something that contradicts biblical teaching, you tell that angel to go straight to hell! (This is the literal meaning of “let him be accursed.”)

But what if the angel is really bright and shiny? Paul addresses that question too. He talks about those who are teaching false doctrine (the “false prophets” that John mentioned), and says:

“Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:13–15)

Surely if you see an angel of light, you can believe what it says. Right? No! Paul says that your shimmering angel may well be Satan himself.

The Angel Gabriel revealing the teachings of Islam to Muhammad.

The Angel Gabriel revealing the teachings of Islam to Muhammad.

These frequent warnings in Scripture show how dangerous it is to rely on our experiences alone, as if a word from an angel should be enough to direct us away from God’s truth. These warnings have been available for thousands of years, and both Joseph Smith and Muhammad claimed to have a reverence for the Bible. Why did they not pick up on these warnings?

At these two crucial moments in human history, Satan’s messengers (perhaps even Satan himself) appeared to these two men in angelic light and spoke soul-damning lies. And so many tragic souls have been swallowed in allegiance to what they believed to be truth.

Of course, this is a good reminder to stay away from false religions. But it’s more than that. It’s a reminder for all of us to stick to the bedrock truth of what God has revealed in Scripture. This is what Paul was calling for in Galatians 1:8-9. Know God’s truth intimately. Know it so well that when an angel, a kindly person, a church leader, or whomever, shows up speaking ideas that contradict Scripture, you will recognize those lies for what they are.

Behind Enemy Lines

Preston Sprinkle —  January 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

We saw two worlds collide in our last couple days in Kathmandu.

on moterbike

Me and Beki, ready to fly!

On Thursday, we visited a small village up in the mountains between Kathmandu and Mt. Everest. The road wasn’t as deathly as our trip to Hetauda, but I was able to offset my safety by riding on the back of a motorcycle. The others guys piled in a clown car; I’m not sure who was more risky. The ride was exhilarating, though I choked down enough exhaust to take 5 years off my life. I now know why Beki’s pastor-mentor died a couple years ago of lung cancer, even though he didn’t smoke. After a 3-hour ride, we arrived in the village and Beki began to tell us about how the gospel had reached the city a year and a half ago.

Long story short, an old lady had a serious stomach problem, and after six months of unsuccessful medical treatment, she met a Christian who healed her and the word spread throughout the entire village. Shortly after, her daughter and son-in-law came to Christ, and they are now helping lead the church. Currently, there are about 40-50 converts in this small village: old people, young people, upper caste and lower caste. The gospel has scaled these remote mountains and reclaimed them for Christ. The scene reminded me of what Jesus told Paul in Acts 17: “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking…for I have many in this city who are my people.” God’s people were tucked away in those mountains, and the gospel found them.

I left the village with a bit of that “frustrated joy” I had when I left the jungle church. These zealous believers are living out their faith publicly for all the villagers to see. But they are without a pastor. The first converts help lead the people, but they need more oversight, someone who can nourish the people with wisdom, teaching, and encouragement. Beki hops on his motorbike to visit the village twice a month, but it’s a 6-hour journey round trip. Plus, Beki oversees 9 other such fellowships in and around Kathmandu. There’s a lot of work to be done, and the local pastors are doing it. But they are spread quite thin with financial resources.

old lady in village

A recent convert in the mountain village

To put it in perspective, there are over 50 pastors in training at Himalaya School of Theology—a master’s level theology program overseen by Beki in Kathmandu. Once these aspiring pastors graduate, they’ll be ready to go out into mountain fellowships like the one we visited. The problem is that many of the believers in these churches can’t afford to support a pastor, and finding work is already tough. Beki told us that some people in the village were selling their organs to buy food. Others are able to keep both kidneys, but still live far below the poverty line by any standard. So there remains a thick wedge between zealous pastors and needy young converts. Frustrated joy—I don’t know how else to put it.

The gospel was victorious in the mountain village. But this world collided with the one we saw the next day.

On Friday, we visited two significant religious sites: the main temple to Shiva (one of the three primary gods of Hinduism), and the Boudhanath (think: temple)—one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Kathmandu. Shiva’s temple was the most sobering. I don’t know if it was the smog, the cloud of incense, or the burning of dead bodies over the holy river, but there was a spiritual thickness in the air. Smoke from flesh mingled with incense filled the air. Shrines with phallic images filled the hills. Steady drumbeats filled my ears. Sadness and fear filled my heart. The trendy, hippie, coffee-shop Hinduism that Californians toy with doesn’t exist in Nepal. Satan still has a frightening foothold on this country.

Buddha Temple

On the balcony of a Buddhist monastery in a stare down with the Buddha.

The Boudhanath was a bit more serene. Bubbling with tourists and Buddhist monks, this beautiful temple has a seductive lure to it. The all-seeing eyes of the Buddha stare at you wherever you go, and the idols that fill the monastery radiate a placid glow. The hope that gleams from the believers in the village is absent here, however. Tourists and worshipers frantically spin prayer wheels, burn incense, and give money to local monks to pacify their guilt, grope for unattainable perfection, or just scratch a spiritual itch that never goes away. The façade of peace doesn’t produce many smiles in this temple. Only anxiety.

It’s now Saturday morning as I write this blog and we will be boarding the plane in just a few hours. Mark, Adam, and Dathan will head home to California, while I’m heading on to Zambia with a stop in Delhi to visit some friends. My heart is filled with so many thoughts. After I get my head above the smog I’ll write another blog summarizing my reflections. For now, pray for Beki, pray for Babu, pray for the local pastors who are joyfully furthering the kingdom of God here in Nepal—behind enemy lines.