A BOUT WITH DOUBT
Global Doubt 1
December 3, 2000
Before I moved to the Metroplex, I worked as a staff member for a very large congregation. I will never forget what happened one Sunday morning. I was walking in the lobby right before the service was cranking up, and people were rushing in trying to get a good seat. I noticed a woman emerge from the ladies’ room as she walked right in front of me. She was dressed to the hilt: perfect hair, designer clothing. Everything was in place except for one thing. When she turned and walked in front of me, she had inadvertently tucked her dress into the back of her pantyhose.
Here I watched a 45-year old, Houstonian woman parading through the lobby. I had some choices, didn’t I? Three, to be exact. Number one, I could have done nothing. I could have said to myself, “Well….” Number two, I could have rolled my eyes and said to myself, “How stupid. I mean, come on, check your outfit before you leave the restroom, you know?” Or number three, I could have walked up to her and in love said, “I want to tell you something true about your condition.” Jesus said, “Love your neighbor like you love yourself.” But it’s impossible to love someone if we don’t understand them.
Our globe is shrinking. It’s shrinking due to the advancements in technology and travel. Thus, we find ourselves rubbing shoulders with a lot of people from different faiths. This has ushered in global doubt. Basically, as we look around our globe, and as we think about the various world religions, we have the same options that I had about a decade ago in that church lobby. We can either do nothing. We can roll our eyes and say, “Oh, how ridiculous. How stupid to believe that.” Or we can speak the truth in love.
It’s so vogue. It’s so politically correct and so modern, these days, to say there are many different paths that lead to the same destination. You know, when you strip down an automobile and a world religion, basically, they are the same thing. It sounds so cool to say that. I ask you, could it be that many of the major world religions have their skirts tucked in their hose without even knowing it? Could it be that they are parading through the lobby of life with no one saying a word? I don’t know about you, but if I were in that condition, I would want someone to come up to me and, in love, speak the truth. This weekend, that is what we are going to do. We are going to talk about some of these major faiths.
The first one I want to talk about is probably one of the oldest and most complex religions known to man: Hinduism. Hinduism is difficult to grasp because there is no real founder. 1400 B.C. is where it began. It has its roots pretty much in the Indo-European people and their love for folklore and mythology grounded in the gods and goddesses of fertility. If we are going to really understand a little about Hinduism, we have to, right up front, know that it is kind of like trying to tackle Dion Sanders. You think you’ve got him, and he’s gone.
As I studied, over the last several weeks, Hinduism—folks, this stuff is complex. It’s not easy. Tethered to Hinduism are some significant terms that we must get a working definition on. Let’s look at the first one. The first one is called “Brahma.” Brahma is the impersonal force. It is defined by the Hindu as the ultimate absolute. The one who cannot be expressed. That’s Brahma.
The next one you’ll see is a concept that most of us are sort of familiar with, “karma.” Karma is the law of reaping and sowing. Years ago, John Lennon did a song and he said, “Karma’s gonna get you.” Hindu faith says that we all bring certain amounts of karma into different lives. If we do good deeds, we might be recycled back as a wealthier yuppie or something like that. That’s a joke. If we do bad deeds, if we have bad karma, we might be recycled as something very low, like a lawyer. Now, no letters. Some of my closest friends are lawyers. I joke around—lawyers, pastors, whatever. It’s all kind of funny.
Another term is “atman.” This is a big one. This is sort of like our soul. It’s not a Biblical definition of a soul; but it is kind of that presence. Basically, atman begins in a low life form. The Hindu faith says it begins in like a bug or a worm. Then it transmigrates into higher life forms. One day—here’s the kicker—infiltrating a human being, but on the low end of the totem pole. I’m talking about the bottom of the castee system. It works its way from a peasant, hopefully, to lower class, to middle class, to upper class. Hopefully, you can keep moving up.
This next term you see is “samsara.” Samsara is like the spin cycle of reincarnation. You have life after life. You take in certain amounts and certain loads of karma. Hopefully, you transmigrate to a higher life form. That is what Hinduism teaches. It’s a very complex and deep thing.
Now, the goal of Hinduism, to put the ball through the net so to speak, is to experience moksha, or you could say nirvana. I’m not talking about the rock band, Nirvana. Moksha, or nirvana, is complete detachment from everything and everyone. So when you experience moksha, nirvana, you have arrived. As you study Hinduism, you see that moksha, or nirvana, is just reserved for a very small group.
How do you do this? There are several ways. Moksha, or nirvana, is attained in one of three ways. The way of knowledge is the first way. How do you do the way of knowledge? You basically listen to the sages, you read the Vedas, things like that.
The second way is the way of devotion. It’s kind of like a multiple choice deity system. You choose Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; maybe Sheba, the destroyer; or maybe you decide to worship an incarnation of one of these dieties, like Krishna. One sect in Hinduism believes there are 330 million gods. I told you it was complex. Another sect has pinpointed 3 million. Still another says there is a god for every day; and certain aspects of Hinduism say, “You know, just choose whatever God you want and go for it.”
It’s astounding how ingrained Hinduism is in India. It’s a cultural thing and a religious thing. It’s more or less a religion. So if you want to be a Hindu, just do the way of knowledge, the way of devotion, and the way of works. Understand those terms and you can achieve moksha, or nirvana, if you are lucky.
I’ll never forget…about a year ago, I was on a flight from Miami, Florida, to Dallas/Ft. Worth, and I was seated beside a very attractive young Hindu woman. She shared with me a little bit about her life and her struggles. She told me she was going to Dallas/Ft. Worth to meet her husband. I said, “To meet your husband?” She began to roll her eyes and almost cry. She began to share with me the frustration that she felt in Hinduism—literally being in prison. Because, friends, if you are a Hindu born over in India or into a very strict Hindu household—you talk about doubt, expressing questions or issues, don’t even go there. You could be taken out, shunned, disowned. That’s Hinduism. Hinduism is very popular.
You hear a lot of talk these days about the New Age Movement. Basically, the New Age Movement is Hinduism on MetRx. Those of you who laugh work out a lot. If you didn’t laugh, just ask someone, “What did he say? MetRx?” Basically, the New Age Movement is repackaged Hinduism for western consumption. Oprah Winfrey—very New Age, very Hindu. Anthony Robbins—very New Age, very Hinduistic. It’s a very self-absorbing religion. It’s all about me, and I can be detached and one with Brahman.
Geographically, let’s move northeast on the map to Japan, China, and Korea. Let’s move specifically to this date: 525 B.C. Siddartha Gautama was born into a very strict Hindu household. His parents sheltered him. As I said, there wasn’t much room for doubt or questions or things like that unless Siddartha wanted to be killed or taken out or shunned or whatever. He became very disgruntled with the whole Hindu thing—the cultural aspects of it, the rigid castee system, the religious aspects of it.
Siddartha broke free of his parents, and when he walked into the real world, Siddartha said he saw an old man—a dying man, a sick man, and a monk. So Siddartha became an ascetic monk. He did this for about six years. Literally, in shear desperation, he decided to meditate under a bodi tree. He meditated for a long time. To be exact, forty days and forty nights. He received this, as Siddartha says, this enlightenment beneath the bodi tree. When he emerged, he called himself the enlightened one. He said, “I am the Buddha.” Buddhism is easier to grasp than Hinduism. It’s more practical, but it’s still very complex. Here is what Siddartha learned under his bodi tree. It’s called “the four noble truths of Buddhism.”
Number one: Suffering, Siddartha says, is universal. Suffering is universal. Now, I’m not sure it would have taken me forty days and forty nights to figure that one out, but that is the first one.
Number two: Craving is the root cause of suffering. In other words, Gautama says that—Let’s say your goal is comfort in life—once you achieve comfort, Gautama says, then it might not be ultimate comfort. So you still crave a deeper comfort and craving is the root cause of suffering.
Number three: The cure for suffering is to eliminate—you got it—craving. Totally take away your desire. Totally take away your want, and then you are on your way, remember, to that detachment, to that nirvana-like state—being separate from everyone and everything. Talk to a strict Buddhist. You talk about detached? You are talking about “out there.” You are talking about separate. You are talking about someone who has mailed it in. You see why.
The fourth one: All of this is accomplished, Gautama writes, by following the eight-fold path. Now, I am going to run through the eight-fold path. If you are a fast writer, you can write it. If you can’t write fast enough, don’t worry. The tape will be available in the lobby as you exit. Here we go. Here is the eight-fold path.
Number one: You’ve got to have the right view. What is the right view? Siddartha said to understand the four noble truths. I love that name Siddartha Gautama. Basket by Siddartha Gautama.
Number two: Have the right thought. You have to renounce all of your pleasures.
Number three: Right speech. You have to speak honestly.
Number four: right actions. You can never kill, steal, or commit adultery. Let me stop here, and press the pause button for one second. There is one thing that all major world religions have in common: they all say to abstain from sex outside the marriage bed. So if you think you are big and bad enough to turn your back on all of the wisdom of the world religions and have sex outside of marriage, go for it. I thought I would throw that in. That’s free.
Number five: right living. Some are saying, “Gosh, I thought he was going to talk about Hinduism and Buddhism. Ouch, that hurt. Stepped on my toes there.” Right living. You must have an honorable profession if you are a Buddhist. You cannot be a butcher. Why? Reincarnation. You could be butchering a relative or something like that. I’m not joking. Also, you could not be a tax collector. I really like that. Somebody said, “Amen.” You know the word “amen” means “so let it be,” if you’ve ever wondered. “Amen” means “so let it be.”
Okay. Right effort—you’ve got to strive to rid yourself of bad qualities; right thinking—you’ve got to be aware of yourself; right meditation…. Those are the Yoga techniques. When you do all that, what will happen? Nirvana—you’ll be detached.
Obviously, if you grow up in India, China, Japan, or Korea, you don’t have an option. I mean, you are going to be a Hindu or a Buddhist. But, Hinduism and Buddhism are very attractive to a lot of people outside the cultures, aren’t they? Very attractive. The Beatles really perpetuated and marketed Hinduism during their run.
Why are these religions so popular, so attractive to some of us who were not born in these cultures? I’ll tell you why. Some of us are what I call, relative-type people. I don’t mean relative like you are related to your mother, father, or grandmother. I mean you are like a relativist. You are attracted to something that is all-inclusive, that says, “I accept all world religions. They are all cool. They are all right.” You are really into things that don’t have any absolutes. There is not a real right. There’s not a real wrong. What’s truth is truth to you. You create your truth. I create my truth. That is very attractive to the relativist, the person who is just kind of floating on the seas of relativism.
Hinduism and Buddhism are also attractive to people who are real trendy. You know, the real cool people. Like, “I think it’s real cool to wear a turban and dress kind of strange and sit in the lotus position and hum.” “Hey, have you heard about Bill? Man, the guy is studying Hinduism and Buddhism. Man, he’s cool, you know. Richard Gere follows it too, you know.” You will see in Hinduism and Buddhism that there is no real concept of sin and rebellion or forgiveness. No wonder it is so popular in Hollywood.
It’s also attractive to the person who is stressed out—to the executive, to the homemaker. They find that by this meditation, by looking inside themselves and humming their mantra that, hey, that will do it. It will give them fast temporary relief to the aches and pains of life.
Obviously, Hinduism and Buddhism have some good qualities about them; but they are different from Christianity. Think about salvation. Salvation for a Hindu or a Buddhist is based on works. If you meditate harder, if you try harder, if you hum longer, if you do the four noble truths and the eight-fold path and understand Samsara and Brahman and Moksha, then you can experience Nirvana, a total detachment. But it is just reserved for a few people. Whereas, Christianity says our salvation is not based on our deeds, on works. After our best day, we are still sinners. We still fall miserably short. Our salvation is based on the works and deeds of Christ and Christ alone. Christ loved you and me so much he died on the cross for our sins and rose again. He offers us salvation. We receive it as we trust him, as we place our faith in him.
As I talked to that young, attractive Hindu girl on that flight from Miami to Dallas, you could just feel her struggle. She was trying to climb the ladder—do this better, do this longer, do this harder. There is a difference. As I said earlier, there is no real concept of sin. You know, suffering is not our problem. The Bible says that sin is our problem. Sin is what causes suffering. Not craving, not just our desire. Think about this whole thing of afterlife. The Bible says we don’t have 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, or 7,000 lives. None of this Atman stuff going on. We have one life. We have one opportunity; and at the end of our life, if we have trusted Christ, the Bible says we will go to heaven and spend it in eternity with the Lord.
Jesus says once he infiltrates our lives on this planet, life as we know it changes. We are not to check out or to detach, or to stray away from anything and everyone. What did Jesus say? “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” He said, “Don’t be of the world, be in the world.” That’s what he said. So it’s a real deal for us. We serve a real God, a personal God; not this person, this force, or this energy that new age talks about, or Hinduism perpetuates, or Buddhism boldly states. We serve something else.
Let’s now move from the eastern mindset, the eastern religion. Eastern religions are esoteric in nature. They are mystical. They are cyclical. They are nonlinear. The western religions are exoteric. They are historical. You have got a beginning and an end. They are based on fact. Let’s talk about the fastest growing world religion, the fastest growing faith around: Islam. Islam.
If you are keeping score here—622 A.D., to be specific, Muhammad came on the scene. Now Muhammad was a man who showed great spiritual potential at a very young age. He would spend a lot of time in prayer. He would spend a lot of time meditating in caves. When he was forty years of age, he made the best financial decision of his life. He said, “I do.” He married a wealthy, wealthy widow, fifteen years his senior. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Marrying somebody very wealthy. That’s an option that we have, singles. You can marry rich. I didn’t say “to” marry rich. You can do it, and Muhammad did it.
Muhammad continued his meditation and his cave-dwelling-type prayer life. One day, Muhammad told his wife, “Honey, you know, I’ve got this revelation, this thing, happening. I really feel like this force is talking to me. I’m not sure if it’s Satan or if it is some angel or what.” His wife said, “Oh, honey, that is an angel. That is an angel.” So Muhammad, over twenty years, began to write down some stuff that he heard about in visions in a cave.
The visions became what is now known as the Qur’an. Muhammad began to preach this stuff to Mecca. The people in Mecca didn’t dig it. They kicked him out to a city called Medina. Medina welcomed him.
Years later, Muhammad and some warriors got together and conquered Mecca. So now we have Mecca and Medina as some big-time strongholds in the Muslim/Islamic world. From there, they adopted the lunar calendar. The crescent moon is their symbol. The mosque was where Muhammad taught. It is where he talked about social, political, and economic issues. All these things have to do with Islam, the fastest growing religion in the world.
Now, I didn’t really understand Islam and didn’t really know about Islam until years ago when I was a little kid. I remember Cassius Clay changing his name to Muhammad Ali. I remember Kareem Abdul Jabar used to be Lou Alcendar. Now, more and more people have changed their names. I remember thinking, “Man, what is up with that?” They were becoming Muslims. Muslims. Islam is practical. It’s easy to understand. That is one of the reasons it is growing so fast.
Some people give kind of an unfair shake to Islam. When we think about Islam, what do we think about? Most of us think about the Ayatollah. We think about Saddam. We think about Kareem Abdul Jabar and Muhammad Ali. We think about Louis Farrakhan. We think about all these radical people. There are certain sects in Islam. We will talk about what is really messing up the international front as we talk about Islam in a few moments. I want you to understand that it is not really fair to say, “If you are a Muslim, if you are Islamic, then you are a weird fanatical right-wing person who wants to strap explosives on your back and blow yourself up.” That’s not it. That’s some; that’s not all.
Let’s talk about some pillars of Islam. What do the Islamic folks believe? This first pillar is creed. Have you ever heard of creed before? [Singing like the leader of the band Creed] “Can you take me higher to a place where blind men see?” What’s the creed? It’s not that to an Islam. The creed is the Shahada. You’ve got to state the Shahada passionately and publicly. It is this: “There is no other God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” You must do that.
The second pillar of Islam is prayer. Lisa and I talked to an Islamic lady on Friday at lunch. We had a long conversation with her. She was going through these five pillars of Islam for us. She said, “You know, I pray five times a day facing Mecca.”
She also talked about this third pillar: alms giving. She has to give 1/40 of her estate to the mosque.
Fasting—it was in the middle of Ramadan—she talked about the fact that she had to go without water, food, or sexual relations with her husband and all this stuff from sun up to sun down. I hear when the sun sets, it gets pretty wild.
The fifth one is pilgrimage. If you got the cash, you are supposed to go to Mecca at least once in your lifetime.
There are different sects of the Islamic faith. You have the Sunnites, the Sufis, and Shiite folks. They are all different. The radical group, the group I mentioned earlier, they have some really hard line ideas. They feel like every nation should be in subjection to Allah and the Qur’an. They are on a mission to make sure that happens either through conversion or by conquering the nation. That is why you have, for example, fundamentalist parents handing their children explosives and rifles to fight. It’s a win-win situation for them. If they get killed in the battle, they are ushered in—the Qur’an says—to paradise. If they win, they just conquer another nation. By the way, paradise for the Muslim is focused on sensuality; whereas, heaven for the Christian is focused on worship.
The Muslims do not believe the Bible is the true source. They believe the Qur’an. They do not believe in the trinity. If you want to really freak a Muslim out, you mention God the father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They don’t believe in the resurrection. A case in point about the crucifixion, the Qur’an states in Surah 4:157, “They slew him not, nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them.”
Most Muslims believe that Judas was put in the place of Christ, and Christ went to heaven. Let’s say you decide to become a Muslim. You can. It’s very easy. You just do the five pillars, and you are a Muslim. But here is the problem with it. Even though you do the five pillars, even though you are a good Muslim, it’s still a dice roll concerning paradise. You still might not get in. You still might not make it. It’s up to Allah.
Think about these religions now: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam. You’re telling me that they are the same? You’re telling me when you strip them down, that they are the same thing as Christianity? Not even close. Not even close. We have to love our neighbors enough to know what they believe, to know what they are into. Many of them don’t even know some of the details that I shared with you today.
What makes Christianity different? It’s very easy: the Christ factor. Jesus makes a difference. Jesus never won a war, unlike Muhammad. He never traveled more than 200 miles from his home. He never wrote a book. He never went to college. He only had three years of public ministry. But he said, “I am God.”
He didn’t say, “I’m a Guru. I’m a sage. I’m a good guy. I’m a teacher. I’m a prophet.” He said, “I’m God.” John 10:30, “’I and the father are one.’” That’s what Jesus said. John 8:58, he said, “’I tell you the truth. Before Abraham was born, I am.’” That’s the Tetragrammaton, the sacred name of God. An orthodox Jew would not even write it or say it. God used it when he described himself in this burning bush experience with Moses. He just said, “I am. I am God.”
John 14:6, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.’” In 1 Corinthians 15:17, here is what Paul said—basically, if you don’t believe the resurrection, and the resurrection didn’t happen, then just go ahead and mail it in—“If Christ has not been raised,” Paul said, “your faith is futile. You are still in your sins.”
A friend of mine is not a believer. He was walking me out to my car, and he said, “You know, Ed, I want to have a hand in all faiths. I think they are all good.” I said, “Yes, there are some good things about all the faiths. But you know what, (and I will call him John), I said, “John, there is a difference in Christianity. There is a difference. All the other world religions are spelled d-o. You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that. You can’t do this. You’ve got to do that. Christianity is spelled d-o-n-e. It’s been done. The price has been paid. The gift is out there for us. We either receive it or we don’t. Furthermore, you go to the tombs of the religious leaders of the world, they are occupied. When you go to Christ’s tomb, it’s empty. I’m basing my life on, I’m putting my money on, the guy who came back from the dead. Why don’t you do the same?”
So, to say that all world religions are the same, to say that we all got the same little path going to the same destination, that math doesn’t work.
The Christ factor. Think about grace. Galatians 2:16, Paul says, “Know that a man is not justified” (the word “justified” means forgiven and accepted, like just as I have not sinned) “by observing the law, but by faith in Christ Jesus. So we too have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law, no one will be justified.”
On these world religions, we can put a big old sign, a honking billboard in front of all of them, a billboard sign that we have all seen before, “Avis, We try harder. We try harder.”
There are over 900 million Hindus in the world. There are over 350 million Buddhists. There are over one billion Muslims. They all matter to God. Pray for them. Love them. Engage them in conversation. Show them the difference that Christ makes. Don’t sit back and do nothing. Don’t roll your eyes and say, “Oh, how stupid, the five pillars of four noble truths.” Speak the truth in love.
When Jesus was dying on the cross for your sins and mine, he was crucified, as you know, between two criminals. One of the criminals said, “Hey, man, just go ahead and jump down. Take us all down. You can do it if you are God, if you are the Christ.” The other one said, “Hey, don’t listen to him. We don’t deserve this, being taken care of in eternity and all this”—I’m paraphrasing here. Jesus turned to this one man, and he could feel his faith. He said, “From this day forward, you will spend eternity with me in paradise because of your faith, because of your love.”
I ask you, “What if, instead of Christ being crucified, a Hindu monk or Buddhist would have been hanging there?” The Hindu would have said, “Well, Moksha, and you have got to be at one with Brahman, Nirvana. You’ve got to do all those things. The Samsara cycle, and this is one of the thousands of lives in your Atman.” Or maybe the Buddhist would say, “the four noble truths—do the eight-fold path, and you might get into paradise.” The Muslim would say, “Well, you’ve got to do the Avis thing, the five pillars, and you’ve got to do the creed and the prayer, the alms giving and….”
What did Jesus say? It’s by faith. It’s a free gift. That’s what makes Christianity different.
“Now wait a minute, Ed, wait a minute. Are you telling me that Jesus is the only way to God? Ed, wait a minute, what about those people who have never heard of the Lord. How about the sincere Muslim, the sincere Hindu, the sincere Buddhist?” We’re going to answer those questions later in this series.