A Christmas Wish

If you have learned anything about me, I hope you see me as unconventional. Well at least sometimes. As you will see, my Christmas Wish is a bit different.

What do I mean, “a bit different”? I was thinking about Christmas Wishes and realized a lot of wishes are like this:

I wish we didn’t have to go to aunt betty’s this year.

or…

I wish wierd uncle bobby didn’t come to the party.

or…

i wish we didn’t have to go to both parent’s houses this year.

or…

i wish we hadn’t spent so much money on presents!

or…

i wish christmas was over already.

Is there any room left for “We wish you a merry Christmas”? Are these even “Happy Holidays”?

I remember Christmas as a child. Discovering the closet where the presents were hidden. Shaking the package and wondering what could possibly be making the noise. Pine trees (real ones for a time), lights, decorations all over the house. And plenty of cookies. My parents made it a happy time. I grew up with Santa Claus and the reindeer (can you name them all)? Elves, hot chocolate, peppermint candy canes, and gingerbread houses.

I was also taught that Jesus was born on Christmas day. I heard the story of Bethlehem, the manger, shepherds and wise men. Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.

Please allow me to break this down. Scholars conclude that Jesus of Nazareth was likely born in late September. Historians say the December celebration of Christmas is just a morphing of the Winter Solstice with Christian beliefs. The story of Jesus being the light of the world is stolen from the Sun god stories of the days beginning to get longer again. Oh, and of course, the wise men didn’t visit baby Jesus in the manger.

So we have Christmas and the Winter Solstice essentially coinciding. We also have Hanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, and Kwanzaa, a seven-day African-American holiday. For a list of 18 celebrations world-wide including Festivus see here.

Maybe we should just say Happy Holidays. But then there’s another problem. We had better know what a holiday really is. The first known use of holiday or haligdaeg is from the Old English before the 12 century. It literally means holy day. So what does holy mean? 1a) set apart and dedicated to the service or worship of God or a god; 1b) dedicated to or laying claim to being dedicated to a sacred or selfless purpose. Additional definitions revolve around perfection, virtue, God-like, and pure in heart. [Source]

Me thinks we have distorted the idea of holiday. We certainly aren’t selfless. The common definition of holiday is a day on which one is exempt from one’s usual labor or vocational activity. [Source] Now that we like. And to that end, the 18 world-wide celebrations are holidays. But if your focus is on receiving gifts and grading a friendship on the cost or size of the gift, then I don’t think our common view of Christmas falls under holy day.

Now for my Christmas wish: I wish you would see Christmas as I do. The essence of the original Christmas is this: God Almighty, who created the heaven’s and earth, entered a newly formed human body untouched by sin to reconcile a sinful, faltering, unrighteous people with a holy, perfect, righteous God.

Remember that the worship of an Almighty, Holy, Creator God began with the nation of Israel. (Granted, we can follow the worship of God all the way to the beginning, but stay with me.) The record is that Jehovah God chose Abraham to be the father of a nation that would be guided by the Creator. He would be their God and they would be His people.

But every story in the Jewish Bible shows that humans rebel against God simply because we want to be self-controlling. When we take control of our own path in life we often find ourselves in tumultuous situations. God asks us to let Him guide us down the best path for our life. But we are too proud to relinquish control. Because of their rebellion against Jehovah, the Jewish people demonstrated their need for a substitutionary atonement. Their imperfect offering was in the form of innocent, unblemished animals.

But God said through the prophet Hosea, “I’d rather for you to be faithful and to know me than to offer sacrifices.” [Hosea 6:6 CEV] The problem was, appeasing God was limited, imperfect, and could not continue forever. The problem of un-holiness had to be corrected once and for all.

Almighty God the Father (Jehovah) agreed with God the Son that an intermediary between God and humans must exist. This must be someone who is human AND God. God the Son became Jesus of Nazareth to be the perfect mediator between God and humans. This is what Christmas celebrates, the birth of the God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth.

To learn more about the nature of Jehovah God, please see my blog posting: World Religion – Christianity

As always, I appreciate your Likes and Comments. You are also welcome to email me at “info@JDRockel.com” Your email address will never be sold or used for mass marketing.

Mirror Mirror – Chapter 5 is coming up next. Stay tuned.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunset

What goes through your mind when you see a scene like this? I won’t even try to guess. I had the pleasure of taking these photos when leaving a box store. I was feeling a bit down when I left. This is a home improvement store and the Customer Service lady admitted she was the only one in the store who knew how to look up an item’s location.

Anyway, I was grumpy, though I smiled at the CSRs I encountered. As I walked out of the store (after using self-checkout, another pet peeve, I like interacting with humans at checkout) it took a moment for the view to register. Seeing the picture never impacts me as much as the initial view. I know I could adjust the colors and have it jump off the screen, but I’m too tired tonight. (Oops! I’m probably not supposed to admit that on a blog post.)

I won’t keep you long. For me, a view like this reminds me of my Creator God who I believe designed it all to be pleasing for us. I’ve thrown in an extra photo I took earlier today. It is of a cotton ball waiting to be harvested. (Yes, cotton comes from a plant.) I personally find it much harder to believe that plants like cotton and roses, and animals like sheep and horses all came about accidentally. The more I study science, the more I believe in an intelligent designer, a.k.a. God.

I know it’s obvious, but I changed my page design. I hope you like it and I trust I will have a little better flexibility in adding menu choices and categories. Next post, I will let you meet my friends Ella and Rosa; “The Twins”. I will then try to provide you with their exploits as my main feature for a while. Don’t worry, though, as interesting things enter my life, I will share them with you.

Please tell a friend to check out JDRockel.com. Thanks!

Hurricane Ian

As someone who lives in South Carolina, I’ve had some run ins with Hurricanes. The good news is that we live 90-100 miles from the coast. That distance does a lot to lessen the force of the winds. The rains depend on many factors but the chance of flooding is always worst at the coast.

My prayers go out to the Floridians who bore the brunt of Ian on the mainland. I honestly can’t imagine being a resident of storm-prone islands in the Caribbean. But I certainly understand the desire to live on those beautiful beaches.

My experience growing up was with storms that moved through Wisconsin. Bad storms often produced flooding but the greatest concern was tornadoes. I have not personally seen a tornado though I have seen powerful tornado spawning storms. There was strong damage around where I lived, but the devastation missed the homes my family lived in.

In that respect, you can certainly call me blessed. Having been a follower of Jesus and Jehovah God for most of my life, I believe the protection came from Him. I live my life 1) preparing; 2) trusting; 3) thanking.

To say you trust God but never prepare for storms indicates you don’t understand the world we live in. There are plenty of people who genuinely trust God and experience great devastation. The Bible addresses this and says plenty about preparation.

But once the preparation is completed (to what ever level you can accomplish it) and the storm comes, trust must take over. Jesus taught about trust. He said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” [Matthew 6:25 ESV]

It’s hard to get the big picture on trust from one verse, but the Bible is filled with such reassurances. After all, if God is almighty, all powerful, and can control the elements, then His love for us should give confidence that He will care and protect us.

The aftermath then leads to thanking. That is hard when your house is in rubble or the family photos have been drenched in a flooded basement. But if life is more than the stuff that we utilize, including food and clothing, simply being alive to see the rubble says you have reason to be thankful.

World Religions – Christianity

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Topping the world religions with 2.4 Billion adherents, it is time to look at the Christian faith. Except for Hinduism which has a wide range of beliefs, no other religion we have studied has variations in its beliefs like Christianity. I will present these variations without categorizing them by denomination or group – for the most part.

Holy Scripture:

The belief in the tenants of Christianity come from two primary sources: 1) The Jewish Bible referred to as the Old Testament and 2) the New Testament. The designation Old and New Testament come from the definition of Testament meaning “the written record of a compact: covenant, scripture” and “a tangible proof or tribute: evidence, witness”. [link]

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The Old Testament is believed to be the revelation of God to the Jewish people, and the New Testament is believed to be the revelation of God through Jesus to The Church, which can include all ethnic groups. Christians believe that the writers of these books were inspired by God and that the writings contain information to help mankind understand God, His nature, and beneficial ways of life.

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The name Christian is derived from Christ and the Greek Christos meaning anointed. Anointing with olive oil was a symbol of declaring the rightful position of someone. David was anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel to declare David as God’s choice for the next king of Israel after Saul. Places and objects were anointed to declare they were set aside for service to God, such as in the temple.

In Hebrew, the word we transliterate to messiah also means anointed. The Jews awaited the coming of the Messiah to save them from all righteousness and establish a safe kingdom to live in. The anticipation of the messiah was and still is a deeply held belief of a faithful Jew. The Messiah is expected to be a King from the family line of King David.

In the gospel of John, we read about Andrew who began to follow Jesus. Andrew went to his brother Simon-Peter. “He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ).” [John 1:41 ESV] 

Origin:

Christianity officially began on the day of Pentecost, late May AD 30 or 33. (The year of Jesus’s crucifixion is questioned.) Pentecost is the Jewish celebration of the early weeks of harvest in Palestine. It came about 50 days after the celebration of Passover. On this day, the record in the New Testament book of Acts, chapter 2, describes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples, marking the beginning of the Church.

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” [Act 2:1-4 ESV]

Nature of God:

Christians believe God is a self existent being. He had no creator or predecessor. He represents Himself in Scripture as male but may be gender-less or androgynous in human terms. He is all powerful. He sees all of human history from beginning to the future end. He is all knowing as he transcends our space-time environment.

He is a relational God, wanting to interact with His people. He is by nature holy and righteous. Holy means spiritually whole, sound or perfect; perfect in righteousness and divine love, infinitely good, worthy of complete devotion and trust. [link] Righteous means acting rightly or justly : conforming to the standard of the divine or the moral law : free from guilt or sin. [link]

Being holy also means that God will not abide with that which is unholy. “It is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one.’” [Rom 3:10 ESV  quoted from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53] (See The After Life and Eternity: below.)

The nature of God differs between various Christian groups. Some see God as the Jews and Muslims do, a single life force. Others interpret the Bible, especially the New Testament, to say God exists as two persons, The Father and The Son, whose roles display differences but who exist in perfect unity of purpose.

The preponderance of Christian groups believe in a three-fold Godhead, or trinity. Rather than the Holy Spirit being only the manifestation of the power of God, the Holy Spirit is seen as a person of equal authority and will as The Father and The Son. It is considered impossible to fully understand and explain a singular Godhead of three persons, but many attempt to offer explanations.

Regarding the trinity, J. Hampton Keathley III says, “Each Person is self-conscious and self-directing, yet never acting independently or in opposition.  When we say that God is a Unity we mean that, though God is in himself a threefold centre of life, his life is not split into three.  He is one in essence, in personality and in will.” [emphasis added; link]

To reinforce the point: Christians believe God is a single, unique entity. There is no other entity like Him. He has no equal. He has no counterpart. Regardless of any view on the nature of God’s person-hood, Christians believe in a singular, self-existent, eternal, all knowing, all powerful God.

Of the seven primary Christian denominations: Anglican/Episcopal, Assembly of God, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic, they all believe in a singular, Almighty God existing in three persons.

I recognize that humans want to explain what they believe. (Or to explain something before they believe it.) It is human nature to want to explain the amazing. But if God indeed transcends what we can understand about the nature of our universe, then how can we adequately explain His nature except to take what we read in the Bible, the writings Christians believe to be His message to humanity.

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An example of the difficulty some have with understanding the nature of God is the apparent dichotomy between love and justice. God is all loving vs. God is just and punishes the unrighteous. The following verses taken from the book of Psalms illustrate how both love and justice are applied to the same God. There are many more examples available.

Psa 52:8 ESV  But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
Psa 57:3 ESV  He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!

Psa 2:1-12 ESV Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,  “…You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.



God’s Name:

We saw that Muslims hold the name of God to be Allah, The One. Christians refer to God as Almighty God, The Creator, Lord, etc. However, in Exodus, when Moses meets God at the burning bush, we read the following interaction.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”  God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”  God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. [Exodus 3:13-15 ESV]

Two related Hebrew words are used for God’s name. When God says, “I AM WHO I AM”, the verb translated I AM is הָיָה , pronounced ha-yah’ (short English ‘a’ sound). This word occurs 3,576 times in the WLC Hebrew text and is used in verses such as Genesis 1:3, “And God said, Let there be light”. “Let there be”, or “Cause to be” is the basic use of הָיָה. This is not like Popeye saying, “I am what I am”, as Popeye speaks of his limited abilities, “and that’s all that I am”. God is rather saying, “I exist because I exist.” There is no reason given, He just exists and always has existed.

From these verses comes God’s proper name translated LORD in verse 15. This word consists of four Hebrew characters and is held sacred by Jews. I will render it YHVH (as written in English). The letters are, Yud, Hey, Vav, Hey. It is transliterated in some Bible translations as Jehovah.

Jesus:

Jesus is central to Christianity. He is seen as the fulfillment of the Jewish expectation of a Messiah. Jesus described himself as the Son of God and the Son of Man. The Son of God because he claimed to come from God the Father in heaven. The Son of Man because he would substitute His life for all of humanity. A fundamental doctrine is that God Himself, in the person of The Son, was born of the Virgin Mary to become a human. Birth by a virgin was a miraculous sign that Jesus was God incarnate.

According to The Bible, the conception was accomplished by the Holy Spirit. Meaning, as best as we can understand from what was written, the Holy Spirit either created a sperm cell or created the necessary DNA inside the ovum to fertilize it. It was a real, physical conception using the human ovum, leading to a human embryo. Hence, Jesus is seen as God living in a human body, fully God and fully man.

This also implies that Jesus was not just a biological entity. The God essence, what we may in human terms call the soul, took residence in a biological, human body. The Bible also states that all humans share this dual trait of biological and spiritual.

Genesis 2:7 ESV  “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

But having the breath of life is not unique to humans. “‘And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so.” [Genesis 1:30 ESV, emphasis mine, both verses]

Genesis 1:27 ESV  “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. ” It is this concept that humans exist as image bearers of God that sets humans apart from the animal kingdom. From this it is believed that humans are biological and spiritual beings. The biological is temporary and dies while the spiritual, the soul, is eternal.

Creation:

Christians believe that God created all we see in nature and in space. How God accomplished the creation is open to debate among Christians. The literal reading of Genesis chapter one says God spoke everything into existence out of nothing in six literal days. Some Christians try to harmonize creation with scientific evidence and theories and say God created all matter through the Big Bang, setting nature into motion. Too many other theories exist to delve into here.

Essence of Being:

Humans exist as an eternal soul that can reside in a physical human body. There is much debate about the makeup of a human, just as there is debate about the nature of God. Many Christians believe we are physical body, immaterial spirit, and eternal soul. The soul is what constitutes ones mind, emotion and will. There are counterparts in the physical brain that think, feel, and make choices. When the physical body dies, the spirit and conscious soul continue to exist in the spirit realm. (Some argue the spirit realm is another set of dimensions, separate from our space-time dimensions.)

Purpose of Life:

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty [purpose] of man.” [Ecclesiastes 12:13]

In other words, “Fear God”: acknowledge that Almighty God has dominion over the entire universe and over our existence and “keep His commandments”: Christians believe that God’s commandments were given to protect us and to guide us into right living (righteousness). Out of these two statements, comes Worship, obedience, love of God, and love for one another. Selflessness and humility, and all the other things we consider beneficial in society then follow.

In this respect, Christianity has the same purpose for life as other religions we have studied.

Character and Conduct:

Scripture is clear throughout that God wants humans to care for one another and never to take advantage for selfish gain. God’s commandments are largely an instructional means to that end.

Other Beings:

The Bible, both Old and New Testaments are filled with references to other beings created by God. They are commonly referred to as Angels and Demons. The term angel comes from the Greek and refers to a messenger. The term demon comes from Latin and refers to an attendant. The angels are portrayed as obeying God while the demons are portrayed as opposing God.

Angels are NOT described as the little cheribs we see in knickknacks. Only a few types are described as having wings. Some are described as having four faces, multiple sets of wings, and a multitude of eyes. (Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4)

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Many of the Biblical stories about angels tell of them bringing God’s message to individuals on earth. If you are familiar with the Bible’s Christmas story, you will recognize the following:

Luke 1:26-35 ESV “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’  And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.'”

In general terms, we can see the heavenly creations of God in a similar light as the creation of humans. (I use the term heavenly to refer to God’s realm as opposed to earthly which is the human realm.) They have roles and responsibilities. They worship God and obey Him as directed. The text infers that obedience comes from free will, just as it does with humans.

All of Scripture speaks of a relational God who wants to interact with all of His creation. God told the first humans, Adam and Eve, to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” [Genesis 1:28 ESV] and “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” [Genesis 2:15 ESV] This shows relationship and purpose given to Adam and Eve.

To have dominion over is the Hebrew râdâh and does mean to exercise control over. But combined with shâmar, translated keep in Genesis 2:15, the overall sense is to be a steward over the creation. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew lexicon defines shâmar as “to keep, guard, keep watch and ward, protect, save life”.

Similarly, we see scriptures that show God interacting with his heavenly (angelic) creation. “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD (Jehovah), and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” [Job 1:6-7 ESV] The sons of God are heavenly beings.

Also, “Bless the Lord, you His angels, mighty in strength, who perform His word, obeying the voice of His word!” [Psalm 103:20] and “The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” [Luke 1:19] And, “But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, ‘Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.’” [Act 5:19-20 ESV]

Many stories of demons and their negative influence on humans are seen in gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). The demons are described as recognizing Jesus, calling him the Son of God, and obeying his commands to stop influencing the human being possessed.

The Bible describes heavenly beings as having physical form. While the heavenly realm is separate from the earthly realm, movement between them is possible. The angel messengers manifested themselves visibly to humans.

Sacred Writings:

All Christians hold to the writings found in the Old and New Testaments. However, some denominations choose to put more or less emphasis on portions of Scripture. For example, some teachers disagree with the writings of the Apostle Paul, especially on moral and social issues. Some minimize the importance of the minor epistles. Some dispute sections of the Bible as being contradictory or untrustworthy.

Some denominations have added modern revelation to the Bible. For example, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, add the writings of founder Joseph Smith (1830) as revelation. Seventh Day Adventists hold the writings of Ellen G. White (1863) in high regard to properly interpret the Bible. Also, the Church of Christ (Scientist) used the philosophical writings of Mary Baker Eddy (1875) to interpret Scripture.

The mainstream Christian denominations mentioned previously reject these modern writings.

The After Life and Eternity:

The mainstream Christian denominations believe:

  • The essence of our being, the soul, is eternal.
  • Each human lives one life on earth ending in physical death.
  • The soul and spirit live on after physical death.
  • Each individual will be judged according to his/her obedience to the commands of God. God will review the lives of each human. The book of Revelation (20:12) speaks of books that will be referenced where the activities of each individual has been recorded. It also speaks of a singular book, The Book of Life within which are written the names of each individual that has established a trust relationship with Jesus. The standard against which the life activities of humans are judged is God’s own perfection.
  • Only individuals that have lived a 100% perfect life will be judged worthy to live with God. “Be holy, for I am holy.” [Leviticus 11:44]
  • Those whose names are found in The Book of Life will live for eternity with God on a newly created physical earth in perfectly re-created physical bodies.
  • Individuals who are judged unworthy will spend eternity separated from God in a place of suffering. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” [Romans 3:23) “But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. [Luke 13:27-28 ESV]
  • Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, lived a perfect, sinless human life, and offered himself as a substitutionary offering to fulfill the law and die for sinful [disobedient] mankind. “He himself [Jesus] bore our sins in his body on the tree [the cross], that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” [1Peter 2:24-25 ESV]
  • Jesus is the only way to eternal life. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” [John 14:6 ESV]
  • The gift of salvation is freely given by God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:8-10]

The idea of salvation through Jesus is the central concept of Christianity. Christians believe we can be saved from eternal hell, described many places by Jesus as a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, by believing God Himself, through Jesus, provides a substitution sacrifice. Some have described this substitution as having a friend of yours offer himself to the judge for punishment after you were convicted of life imprisonment.

Salvation is concisely described by the apostle Paul in Romans 3:21-26 ESV  “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law [Old Testament commandments], although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [something that appeases or conciliates a deity] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance [a delay in enforcing] he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

In Closing:

This completes the description of the most widely followed world religions. I will prepare one more post that summarizes and compares, in a concise manner, the religions we have studied.

I appreciate the attention given by each one of you. Please comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts.

World Religions – Islam

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Islam is the second largest religion in the world with 1.9 Billion adherents called Muslims. As with the other religions I have researched and shared, I will do my best to clearly and accurately represent Islam. I will use the name Allah as this name for God is unique, as far as I can tell, to Islam. Most of what I will share can be found in the booklet What is Islam? Who are the Muslims? by The Institute of Islamic Knowledge. Additional information can be found at many internet sources, both Islamic and non-sectarian. In my research, these varied sources support one another well.

Islam is considered the third and last of the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Based upon messages transmitted to the prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel, Islam is said to build upon the other two religions and correct mistakes that have come into the religious texts. Muhammad received these messages from AD 610 until he died in 632. These messages were first memorized and passed on orally. Later, they were written down by his followers and have been compiled into the Qur’an.

Along with the Qur’an, the books of Hadith (narrations), a collection of sayings, actions, and tacit approval of the prophet Muhammad(Sunnah), are used to help interpret and apply the Qur’an.

Allah – The God

‘Allah’ is the combination of two Arabic words ‘AL Ilâh’ meaning ‘The God’ or ‘The One’. It is used as the proper name of the Creator of all that exists. Allah is a singular, unique being Whom we can never fully comprehend. To a Muslim, Allah is the Almighty, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, Who is similar to nothing and nothing is comparable to Him. He is the First and the Last. He has the power to do whatever He wills. He is Ever-Living (eternal) and the Giver of life. The Love of God for His creatures is immense and beyond human imagination.

Islam rejects the notion of a personal God (One Who relates to His creation in a personal manner) because it is seen as demeaning to the transcendence of God. Anthropomorphism (characteristics similar to humans) and anthropopathism (emotions similar to humans) are strictly rejected. Therefore the Christian concept of the Incarnation is blasphemous. The love of Allah may appear to contradict the concept of anthropopathism, however, love is not necessarily a feeling. It was difficult to find a clear explanation in the literature. As best I can understand it, the love of Allah may be seen as the Greek word agapé emphasizing the self-sacrificing actions towards someone.

Quoting from the Qur’an, “Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves.” (Quran 2:222) “Within it [a mosque] are men who love to purify themselves; and Allah loves those who purify themselves.” (Quran 9:108) And Allah loves the doers of good.” (Quran 3:148) “Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.” (Quran 5:42) Many other verses indicate that the love of Allah toward mankind is based on the Muslim’s allegiance to Allah and their righteous actions towards others.

“According to mainstream Muslim theologians, God is described as Qadim (Eternal, timeless, and infinite, which literally means: “ancient”), having no first, without beginning or end; absolute, not limited by time or place or circumstance, nor is subject to any decree so as to be determined by any precise limits or set times, but is the First and the Last. He is not a formed body, nor a substance circumscribed with limits or determined by measure; neither does he resemble bodies as they are capable of being measured or divided. Neither do substances exist in him; neither is he an accident, nor do accidents exist in him. Neither is he like to anything that exists, nor is anything like to him; nor is he determinate in quantity, nor comprehended by bounds, nor circumscribed by differences of situation, nor contained in the heavens, and transcends spatial and temporal bounds, and remains beyond the bounds of human comprehension and perceptions.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_in_Islam]

Holy Books

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As mentioned above, the Qur’an is considered the final and correct revelation of Allah to mankind. As we will see, prophets recognized by Islam include Moses who wrote the Torah (the first five books of the Jewish Bible), King David who wrote most of the Psalms, and Jesus from whom the Christian gospels arose.

However, “Because of not preserving in original languages in written form and translating them in various languages from oral narrations through centuries, human words were mingled with Divine Words, therefore, they lost their pure forms.” [p. 8, What is Islam? Who are the Muslims?; The Institute of Islamic Knowledge]

Therefore, only parts of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures that agree with or are supported by the Qur’an are considered Divinely given. And since the Qur’an says, “Say, ˹O believers,˺ “We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us; and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and his descendants; and what was given to Moses, Jesus, and other prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them. And to Allah we all submit.” So if they believe in what you believe, then they will indeed be ˹rightly˺ guided. But if they turn away, they are simply opposed ˹to the truth˺. But Allah will spare you their evil. For He is the All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” [Al-Qur’an 2:136-137]

Six Articles of Faith

These beliefs are comparable to a religious creed. Quoting from alislam.org:

  • To believe in the Oneness of God: The word Allah is used in Islam in the personal name of God and literally means The One.
  • To believe in the Angels: Allah created the angels so that they could worship Him and follow His orders.
  • To believe in the Books of Allah: Muslims believe that Allah revealed His laws in stages to mankind through His prophets, and therefore accept the Torah of Moses (peace be upon them), the Psalms of David (pbuh) and the Gospel of Jesus (pbuh) as Holy books, as well as the sacred scriptures of all other messengers of Allah. However, Muslims believe that all such revelations were limited to a specific time and people and are not preserved in their original purity, but subject to distortions. All the Holy Scriptures culminated in, and were perfected in, the Holy Quran (just as all religions were perfected in Islam).
  • To believe in all the Prophets: The Prophets of Allah are chosen from among human beings. They set the best examples of moral and spiritual conduct.
  • To believe in the Day of Judgment: One of the most emphasized beliefs in the Holy Quran is the belief in the Day of Judgment. Islam teaches that physical death is not the end of man’s existence, rather it is the door to a higher form of life which can bring one closer to Allah, depending on one’s deeds in this life.
  • To believe in the Divine Decree: Divine Decree means the Will of Allah. Muslims believe that Divine Decree controls the eventual outcome of all actions in this universe. [https://www.alislam.org/question/six-articles-of-faith-islam/]

Life of Devotion

The Five Pillars of Islam (Hadith) These items are considered mandatory for each able-bodied Muslim.

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  • Profession of Faith (Shahada): “There is no God but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”
  • Prayer (Salat): These are prescribed five times a day as a duty towards God. Salat is the direct link between the worshiper and God.
  • Almsgiving (Zakat): “Wealth is purified through setting aside a specific portion [2.5% annually*] for the poor, needy, those who suffer losses from incidents beyond their control and the general welfare to establish economic balance and social justice in the society.” [p. 16, What is Islam?] * “a minimum of 2.5% of a person’s “extra” wealth.” [https://www.learnreligions.com/islamic-almsgiving-zakat-2004665]
  • Fasting (Sawm) “during the month of Ramadan: This means abstention from food, beverages, and sex from dawn to sunset and curbing evil intentions, desires and actions.” [p. 17, What is Islam?]
  • Pilgrimage (Hajj): to Makkah, once in a lifetime.

[Huda. “Five Pillars of Islam.” Learn Religions, Feb. 8, 2021, https://learnreligions.com/five-pillars-of-islam-4008936]

Character and Conduct

Muslims believe in a life of purity and justice for all people in submission to Allah. Unlike Christianity, the concept of ‘Original Sin’ is rejected. Instead sin, or evil thoughts and actions, is something that comes about through one’s cultural environment and by personal choice.

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The Prophet Muhammad once said, “Righteousness is good character, and sin is that which wavers in your heart and which you do not want people to know about.” In Islam, committing a sin doesn’t eternally separate a person from the Almighty. The Quran reassures us that Allah is prepared to forgive us. “Say: Oh, my servants who have transgressed against their own souls! Do not despair of Allah’s mercy. Indeed Allah forgives all sins, for Truly He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (Quran 39:53). [Huda. “What Islam Teaches About Sin.” Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, https://learnreligions.com/sin-in-islam-2004092.]

In Islam it’s difficult to know what is lawful, and even discerning between right and wrong is hard. As Samuel Zwemer states, “Nothing is right or wrong by nature, but becomes such by the fiat of the Almighty. What Allah forbids is sin, even should He forbid what seems to the human conscious right and lawful. What Allah allows is not sin and cannot be sin at the time he allows it, though it may have been before or after.” [Samuel Zwemer, The Moslem Doctrine of God, 51. from https://www.zwemercenter.com/guide/sin-according-to-muslims/]

Revelation / Prophets

While Muhammad is considered the final “Prophet of God appointed for the guidance of the whole of mankind”, throughout time, “in every known nation one or more Prophets were appointed”. The Prophets “help mankind realize the true purpose of their existence and to help them in living their lives in a purposeful way. It is on this basis that the Muslims make no distinction among any of the Prophets and accept their teachings as consistent and complementary to each other.”

The list of prophets that I found is not presented in any order: Adam, Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Elijah, Elisha, Dhul-Kifl [possibly Ezekiel], Lot, Jonah, Noah, Saleh [ca 720 BC prophet to Tamud – NW Arabian Peninsula along Red Sea], Solomon, Hud [prophet of Arabia prior to Muhammad], Jethro [Moses’ father-in-law], Moses, Aaron, David, Zachariah, John the Baptist, Jesus, Muhammad. [https://myislam.org/prophet-stories/ and Wikipedia for clarification of names and places.]

End Times & After Death

Islam views the end times in a similar way to Judaism and Christianity. “The dead will rise on the Day of Judgment to stand for their final and fair trial.” “Everything we do in this world, every intention we have, every move we make, every thought we entertain, and every word we say, are all counted and kept in accurate records. On the Day of Judgment, they will be brought forth. People with good records will be generously rewarded and warmly welcomed to the Paradise of God, and those with bad records will be punished and cast into Hell.”

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“It should be borne in mind that there will not be a nook or corner of life that will remain untouched with the effects of Imam Mahdi’s reappearance. Then, not only the earth, but the shape of the entire universe will undergo visible and tangible alteration. Everything will appear new.” [p. 17, https://www.islamicmobility.com//pdf/HE%20WILL%20COME%20FOR%20SURE.pdf]

“The Mahdi is a messianic figure in Islamic eschatology (study of end times) who is believed to appear at the end of times to rid the world of evil and injustice.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahdi]

The Way to Eternal Life

There are two requirements for a Muslim to attain eternal life. First, Faith (Iman), encompasses the immaterial, metaphysical beliefs of God’s existence and nature. Second, Deeds, specifically, faithfully keeping the Five Pillars of Faith and living for the benefit of all mankind.

A Final Thought

Because of certain world events, many people in the Western world believe Muslims are focused on taking over the world by force. Just as history tells us that Christians tried to retake the Holy Land from the Muslims during The Crusades, there are recent events that put intent and blame on all Muslims. At the same time, there are present-day Christian groups that engage in violent actions.

Based on my research I believe most Muslims are living their lives to peacefully demonstrate their faith to their neighbors. Muslims believe Islam is the one true religion just as devout Christians believe Christianity is the one true religion.

Additional references

https://www.al-quraan.org/product-p/ep-pdf-whatisislam.htm

https://islamicbulletin.org/free_downloads/new_muslim/what_everyone.pdf

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340117937_The_Religion_of_Islam

https://hwpi.harvard.edu/files/pluralism/files/islam_means_being_22muslim22_1.pdf

https://islamicmobility.com

World Religions – Buddhism and Hinduism

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The next two religions on our list are Buddhism and Hinduism. Buddhism has 520 million followers while Hinduism has 1.2 billion followers. I am not combining these religions because they are similar, but because they find themselves in Southeast Asia. Buddhism is heavily practiced in Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Cambodia. Hinduism is predominant in India. Both religions are practiced by varying percentages of the populations around the world.

While Buddhism is strongest in Southeast Asia, it originated in India between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. Hinduism is often stated to be the oldest religion dating to 3000 BCE with its earliest writings dating to 1500 BCE.

Because of the great differences between the two, I will give each religion it’s own section.

Buddhism

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According to buddhismzone.org, “Buddhism is a non-theistic system…and is beyond religion”. Buddhism explains life and is a way of life. This may be what attracts so many people worldwide to the belief. Buddhism’s core beliefs are:

  • Reincarnation – Soon after death one begins a new life in one of six realms, some good and some bad. The rebirth and the realms, while exhibiting a continuity of life, do not consist of the same “self” or soul. There is no eternal entity of self or soul in that regard.
    • Note: Buddhism has no concept of the soul. “In its denial of any real permanent Soul or Self, Buddhism stands alone… The Buddha is quite categorical in its exposition and would have no compromise. In a famous passage He declares, “Whether Buddhas arise in this world or not, it always remains a fact that the constituent parts of a being are lacking in a Soul,” [G. P. Malalasekera, The Buddha and His Teachings (Colombo, 1957), pp. 33–34]
  • Karma – Consider karma as good or bad actions, speech, or thought. Which realm the rebirth will occur in is determined by the accumulated karma. (Karma will be discussed in detail under Hinduism.)
  • Meditation – Focusing the mind on achieving an inner stillness that leads to a state of enlightenment. Most notably it is the practice of focusing on a particular object, practice, phrase or sound.
  • The Four Noble Truths
    • Life is made of suffering.
    • Suffering is caused by desire and attachment.
    • Suffering can be stopped.
    • The way to end suffering is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path.
  • Noble Eightfold Path
    • Have the Right View / Understanding
    • Have the Right Thinking
    • Right Speech
    • Right Conduct
    • Right Livelihood
    • Right Effort
    • Right Mindfulness
    • Right Concentration (meditation)
  • The Five Precepts – These are ethical guidelines or things to avoid
    • Murder
    • Alcoholism
    • Sexual Misconduct
    • Stealing
    • Evil-minded Thoughts

In summary, Buddhism is a way of life to reduce suffering and provide for a better in the next incarnation. While the continuity of life is taught through reincarnation, it is not the same individual as there is no belief in a soul. In that regard, Buddhism can be considered materialistic and a form of atheism.

Hinduism

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Hinduism is widely practiced worldwide with its epicenter in India. There are four major denominations of Hinduism: Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism. These differ in their sources of authority from Hindu texts as well as historical tradition. As there are so many beliefs compared to other religions, one can consider Hinduism complex in its structure.

Of paramount importance is the belief in the Soul or Atma. The atma exists inall living entities: plants, animals and humans. Vaishnava Seva Dasa affirms that bacteria have atma. This does not mean that every living thing is sentient or even individual. Hindus believe all souls are part of the Supreme Soul, Parmatma. This in turn is a manifestation of the Brahman, or life force. The atma is explained by some to be the same as the Hebrew nefesh or Arabic nafs.As the part of Parmatma that gives life to the organism progresses in its journey towards perfection, it is striving to be one with Parmatma. This is called Nirvana, Moksha.

According to hinduismfacts.org, the soul travels through 84 million species (Jahnu Dasa says 8.4 million) before gaining a human body. Once the soul has entered a human body and depending on the Karma accumulated in the current life, one may move on to a new human body or back to a lesser form.

Note: In contrast to Spiritism as we studied it, the Hindu soul is not an identifiable, individual entity that continually grows closer to perfection. It is a piece of a greater whole that may move forward or backwards.

Karma?

Karma is the consequence of good and bad thought and action in the current life. There are three types of Karma.

  • Good Karma
  • Bad Karma
  • Spiritual Karma

Good and Bad Karma do not cancel each other out. Instead, they pay forward with good and bad experiences in the next life. Unlike the illustration above, whether or not current karma affects future aspects of the current life is debated. “The working of karma cannot be proved conclusively as we cannot accurately establish the connection between our actions (causes) and their consequences (effects).” [hinduwebsite.com] This would especially be difficult from one life to the next. The chance of encountering documentation from a previous life and confirming it was your karma would be rare indeed. [IMHO]

Spiritual Karma is the energy you put out into the world. It is the non-physical interaction with others. Think in terms of the concept of good or bad vibrations. Ones life force affects those in close proximity in good or bad ways.

As I mentioned, there are four major denominations in Hinduism. The differences manifest themselves fundamentally in the concept of the Supreme Being and the relationship to the Supreme Soul. The complexity of these differences is described in the Wikipedia article on Paramatman. You may recognize the three gods in Vaishnavism, Vishnu, Shiva and Shakti. Another set of three gods are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. This raises the question is Shakti Brahma? Another trio is Brama, Vishnu and Mahesh. As I researched I kept seeing these variants, likely due to denominational differences. But in general, one creates, one sustains, and one destroys (for the next creation). Brahma is not to be confused with Brahman, who is the supreme god force present within all things. [factsanddetails.com]

  • Supreme Being: Brahman
  • Creator: Brahma
  • Protector: Vishnu
  • Destroyer: Shiva

In Shaivism, the main gods are Shiva, Parvati, Durga and Mahkali (the supreme being).

In Shaktism, the main goddesses are Shaktas (the supreme being) who creates, empowers and destroys. Under Shaktas there are many goddesses to worship.

In Vaishnavism, or Vishnuism, Vishnu is considered the supreme being. The denomination has many forms so that Krishna, Radha Krishna, Rama and twenty more avatars are personifications of the supreme being.

In the Smarta tradition, there are five primary deities, all treated as equal – Shiva, Vishnu, Surya, Ganesh, and Shakti.

This variation in belief can be traced to the many ancient Hindu writings. The list includes the Puranas, Itahasa, Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, Agamas, Bhagavata Purana, and Yajnavalkya Smriti. [Source] Each of these titles represents volumes of writings from many sources.

The Hindu beliefs can be summarized by saying there is a supreme creative force, fragments of the supreme soul live in all living creatures, the soul fragments traverse millions of beings before achieving human habitation, karma may influence the body and experience of the next incarnation, there are a plethora of gods and goddesses to worship, and ultimately we may become one with the supreme being.

I trust these posts are interesting to you. They are provided for educational purposes only. As I have stated before, if I misrepresent your religion, I would like to know so I can share your views with others. I can do this anonymously if you email me: info@jdrockel.com.

There are two more world religions I will present, Islam and Christianity. I also plan to provide a side trip when I present, “Build a God”. Your comments are always welcome below. I would love to hear from you.

Main internet references: Buddhism; Buddhism; Buddhism; Buddhism; Hinduism; Hindusim; Hinduism

World Religions – Spiritism

On par with Judaism with 14.7 million adherents, we move to Spiritism with 15 million. Estimates vary with up to 40 million in Brazil alone. This discrepancy can be due to how the localized beliefs and practices are defined by the tabulators.

There are many online sources describing Spiritism. There are many parallels to the New Age movement as well. A comparison of the two topics shows many identical concepts and teachings.

Spiritism was founded in 1850 by French educator Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail. He wrote under the pen name Allan Kardec about the nature, origin, and destiny of spirits. He also described their relationship to the corporeal world. This perspective was derived from his observations of seances. Rather than an originator of the concepts, he is considered the “codifier” of the concepts.

Is Spiritism a religion or a secular philosophy? When I question which word to use, I go to Merriam-Webster. From there we get a broad definition of religion: “the service and worship of a god, of multiple gods, or of the supernatural”, or “a system of beliefs”. [“Religion.” Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Link. Accessed 10 Jun. 2022.]

As before we will break this religion/philosophy down into its key points.

Not a Religion: Allen Kardec posthumously said, “Spiritism is a philosophical doctrine with religion effects, as is any spiritualist philosophy, because it inevitably reaches to the roots of all religions: God, soul, and future life. But it is not a constituted religion, since it has no services, no rituals, no temples, and no one among its adherents received the title of priest or high priest.” [Source 5. Is Spiritism a religion?]

According to Brazil Selection Travel, the true adherents to Spiritism numbers at 6 million while 20 million more call themselves sympathizers. This puts Spiritism in third place in the rankings of religions in Brazil following Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. [Source]

Essence of Being: Life consists of immortal spirits that temporarily inhabit physical bodies for several necessary incarnations. Life in the material world can communicate with the spiritual world. While everyone has some sense of this communication, it is primarily through gifted individuals called mediums that cogent communication occurs.

All spirits are created simple and ignorant, but they own the power to gradually perfect themselves. The disembodied spirits may influence embodied spirits in beneficent or malevolent ways. Spirits exert an incessant action upon the moral world, acting on both matter and thought. We are led to the right road by good spirits and to evil actions by the bad spirits.

The Human Soul: The soul is the essence of each being, spiritual or material. The soul possesses its own individuality before its incarnation into the material world. It also retains its individuality after separating from the body.

The Purpose of Life: Through numerous incarnations, the spirit learns how to face countless problems and obstacles. Dealing with these problems leads to moral and intellectual improvement. Unlike other religions that believe in successive incarnations of the spirit, Spiritism believes each incarnation is progressive and never retrograde. Each incarnation brings the individual closer to a state of ultimate perfection. All individuals are encouraged to express free will. Ideas and morals should never be imposed on people. Ideas and morals should be taught so each individual can freely choose to accept or reject them.

Devotion: This is a philosophical act in Spiritism. There is a constant need to investigate the world around us through science. Making sense of these findings is philosophy. Religion, then, is applying this understanding to everyday life in order to improve ourselves and the world around us.

Prayer is also seen as a “way of expressing adoration to God. Prayer makes us better human beings.” [Source]

Character and Conduct: The higher spirits possess a moral teaching like the gospel maxim, “Do unto others as you would have others do to you.” In each incarnation, we grow closer to this ideal.

God and His Creation: God is described as “the Supreme Intelligence and Primary Cause of everything.” Therefore, all souls were created by him as unique, immortal individuals. While God is the first cause of all things, Spiritism is an evolution-affirming religion. God created all matter in the universe but its organization occurred through evolution. They believe many planets in the universe are inhabited. Goodness, right living, and perfection come from God. The spirit must choose God’s ways to ultimately achieve its own perfection. Evil is the result of choosing actions contrary to the laws of God.

Revelation: While the concepts embedded in Spiritism were codified by Allan Kardec, the revelation of knowledge is from the disembodied spirits through spiritual mediums. This may be transmitted verbally or through automatic writing. [Source]

Spiritism relies on the information contained in five books written by Allan Kardec. He is purported to have used scientific methods to question the spirits through mediums throughout Europe. He provided questions to the mediums/spirits and compared the responses from various locations. It was this information, along with personal observations, that he organized into the books. [Source]

Spiritism also uses the moral code of the Christian Bible as a source of right living.

Nature: Plants and animals evolved as commonly asserted by evolutionary science.

The State of Civilization: We are all changing from simple and ignorant to intelligent and perfect. Spirits move towards perfection through life in a physical body. Therefore, we should choose to do good to aid in that growth process.

Life After Death: Life continues forever. Once the spirit attains perfection, it is able to commune perfectly with God.

Summary: Spiritism is the belief that our material world is a proving grounds for the spirit. Each spirit has a soul that defines the individuality of a person/spirit. We can be taught by spirits to do good or to do evil. It is our free will to choose how we live our life. We will continue to be reincarnated until we achieve the point of moral perfection.

Spiritism claims to be separate from occultism. However, it does this through definition, not experience. The “spiritist.us” website uses the verb definition of occult, “to hide from sight; to conceal”. The noun according to Merriam-Webster is “something mysterious or supernatural”. In this respect, to most of us, communicating with spirits is “something mysterious or supernatural”. Utilizing the power and help of these spirits is usually associated with occult practices. Spiritism believes we are influenced by spirits and, as mentioned before, have power over the material world.

Please comment. In WordPress, I can see how many people view my posts. And I appreciate your views. I suspect many of you have web sites of your own. Do you learn from comments how to best serve your audience? That is what I hope for from you. Keep reading.

Surprise!

Hello, all. Life is full of surprises. Am I right? Yes, that’s a snake stuck in my front door. Half in, half out. Fortunately, non of our pets found the business end and got hurt. It was quite a surprise to find on the way out the door for breakfast. I am horrible at identifying snakes, but I think this is an immature Cottonmouth.

Do any of you have predictable weeks that are free from surprises? If so, I feel sad for you AND I am envious.

Sad, because surprises make life interesting. True, some surprises, like a tree on top of your car after a storm, are icky, bad, aweful surprises. But some surprises are lovely, like confirmation of a hoped-for pregnancy. Or, for the guys, winning a low bid on an estate auction bass boat.

Envious, because some weeks there are just too many surprises. Am I right? I can see you nodding your heads in agreement. You just got your car back from brake repairs and now the alternator gives out, followed by the power steering pump, followed by a blown-out tire, followed by… you tracking with me?

So, I’m reminded of a Bible story. In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus talks about anxiety. Admit it, bad surprises produce anxiety. He just finished talking about laying up treasures in heaven rather than seeking treasures on earth. Then He said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious… Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Jesus goes right to the basics of life, food, and clothing. Then he gives examples of little things on earth that are cared for by God: the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. The birds don’t grow their own food. They don’t have barns built for them to gather in to be fed. Yet God provides food for them.

The flowers of the field are beautiful to behold. They don’t make clothing for themselves, yet, “I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Jesus emphatically states that we humans are exceedingly more important to God than the birds and the flowers. Therefore, if God supplies food and clothing to nature, we should trust Him to provide us with our food and clothing.

Jesus did not say, trust is easy. But he did say it is powerful. Do you have any stories of how God provided for you? Were you able to trust Him along the way? I would love to hear from you.

As always, you can Like, Comment, or Share below. If you would like to contact me directly, please e-mail “info@jdrockel.com”

Thanks!

World Religions – Judaism

https://urj.org/sites/default/files/reading_torah.jpg

From the 5 million adherents we learned about in the Baha’i faith, we jump to 14.7 million in Judaism. To those of you of the Jewish Faith, I wish to humbly apologize in advance if anything I say below misrepresents the faith. Should I do so, I would appreciate a comment to correct my misunderstanding. I also recognize that many Jews represent the Almighty as “G-d” to avoid disrespecting G-d’s name. Technically, this should be extended to “the Alm-ghty”, “I -m”, and others, IMHO. As a warning to those Jews who adhere to this rule, I do not. You will find G-d spelled out completely below. I do not use the tetragrammaton out of respect.

The founding of Judaism can be traced from Abraham (ca. 2,000 BCE) through his son Isaac to his son Jacob who was renamed Israel. The laws and guidelines for living were primarily written by Moses. These names may be very familiar to you as Abraham is accepted as the founding father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There are many connections in belief between these three world religions as we will learn in future blogs.

Unlike the Baha’i faith, Judaism has a number of sub-categories depending on the details of their belief. Just as there are Christians and Muslims with varying degrees of orthodoxy in their beliefs, so too Judaism in the west has the spectrum of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed. Some of the distinctions of these beliefs are:

  • Adherence to the Written Law of Moses and the Oral law as passed down through the Rabbis. VS. Interpretation of the Written and Oral laws to suit the culture.
  • Follow the Spiritual laws and rituals of God as written in the Torah (books of Moses). VS. Ethics, social justice, and a Connection to Jewish culture, identity, and roots.

In general terms, one can see the same spectrum of religious zealotry to universal acceptance that can be seen in Christianity and Islam today.

Comparing Judaism to points I laid out for Baha’i is difficult only because the terminology and source of the beliefs are different. Therefore, I have interpreted some of the information I found to make the comparison easier.

http://media.syracuse.com/news/photo/2012/05/052809rabbi1sdcjpg-1c3c934dad2cc597.jpg

Life of the Spirit: to know God who is revealed through the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and to worship Him.

The Human Soul: We are eternal, rational beings created by God. The human soul is non-corporeal, made in the image of God.

Devotion: Acts of devotion include prayer, obedience to the 613 laws found in the Torah (first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible), the Sabbath, and feast days (holy days of remembrance and celebration).

Character and Conduct: Through the Jewish nation, God wanted His ways to be declared to the nations. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV) [Emphasis mine.] Note: References to the Hebrew Scriptures are given in common Christian Bible locations.

God and His Creation: God is pictured as unique and perfect, free from all faults, deficiencies, defects, and evil. Put another way, faults, deficiencies, defects and evil are defined as those characteristics NOT found in the nature of God. God is further held to be omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and completely infinite in all of his attributes, who has no partner or equal, being the sole creator of everything in existence. The belief that God is a single entity comes primarily from Deuteronomy 6:4, called the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”

The belief that God created all things, material and immaterial, comes primarily from The Torah. It declares repeatedly that God created everything in the universe and that the culmination of His creation is human beings. God intended (and intends in the future) to live on earth with humans in a perfect environment void of evil, pain, and suffering.

Revelation: God revealed Himself and His divine, holy nature to His people through the writings of Moses and the prophets. The Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) is identical to the Christian Old Testament except for the order and grouping of the individual books. Some books, such as Samuel, Kings and Chronicles are divided in two in the Christian version. Most translations follow the Masoretic Text which dates from the 9th century buy is significantly supported by the Dead Sea Scrolls (ca. 150 BCE – 75 CE).

In addition to the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud is a centerpiece of Jewish study. It consists of the Mishna (the oral Torah) and the Gemara (clarification of the Mishna). Also used for study is the Midrash. This is similar to Christian Commentaries where sections of the Hebrew Bible are interpreted for life application.

The Talmud is considered to be directly given by God to Moses and passed down orally until it was written in 200-220 CE

Nature: There are many writings that declare nature as man’s first evidence of an almighty creator God. Here are three examples: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1 ESV) “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95:3-5) “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small.” (Psalm:24-25)

The State of Civilization: The Hebrew Scriptures are clear that human civilization is often evil, selfish and power grabbing. This is in contrast to God’s nature. “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” (Psalm 5:4-6 ESV)

This distinction between the righteousness of God and the evil of man is best told by the prophet Jeremiah, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.’ The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:5-9 ESV )

However, Jews do not believe this evil is inherent in humans but is a choice. Following God’s laws is a way to live in righteousness and not in wickedness.

Universal Peace:  Because of the nature of the human condition, universal peace will not be possible without the universal rule of God on earth. This peace extends to all a creation including the animal world. We see pictures of this coming peace through the words of the prophets. “He [the Messiah] shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4 ESV) “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9 ESV)

Life After Death: The world of universal peace is also the world of eternal life. God is repeatedly described as an eternal being. In Ecclesiastes 12:5, King Solomon writes of man’s eternal existence, “man is going to his eternal home”. The Mishnah states, “Every Jew has a share in the World to Come”. The prophetic writings above indicate that this life will be physical upon a perfect earth. This concept of physical eternal existence is also accepted by Muslims and Christians.

Attaining this perfect life is inherent in the Jewish belief. From a former synagogue president, Dennish Fischman, it is explained this way:

  • We trust God. We don’t believe that (with a few rare exceptions) God will exile anyone from the divine presence. God is always ready to forgive.
  • We don’t believe in an Original Sin that separates humanity from God. Nothing separates us.
  • We leave the matter of what happens after death in God’s hands.
  • We partner with God to repair and gradually perfect this world we live in, which God created.

https://www.quora.com/Is-Judaism-a-works-based-religion?share=1

Summary: Judaism is the founding faith in an almighty, holy and eternal God who created all things including humankind. We are created as eternal beings and will live with God forever.

Please comment and let me know if I am presenting this information clearly enough for you. Remember, this blog is for you.

Weeds

A quick note to those awaiting my next religion post: it is in process. Look for it this weekend.

Baby Carrots and Weeds

You have all experienced it one way or another: whether it is a flower garden, vegetable plot, or lawn, weeds appear without any effort by you. And they grow taller and more quickly than your baby plants. In the photo above, my babies are carrots. You can see their dainty, fern-like tops. But the taller and more vigorous grasses are choking them out.

You are not interested in a crab-grass salad, so you carefully pull them out. But as careful as you are, you will inevitably pull out one of the carrot babies also. How could that happen? You were so very careful!

So instead of pulling, you decide to cut the weeds out. And that works great. When you are done, your little patch of carrots is standing proud. As it turns out, the weather is rainy so you don’t have to go out and water for a week. When you return, to your horror, the weeds have returned.

I’m sure you know what happened. When you clip off the top but don’t pull out the roots, the weed will regrow. So it is vital that we get the root out of the ground. All you can do is try again to pull out the roots. Yes, there may be some loss, but hopefully, you will gain much more than you lose.

Can you see the parallel with your own life? We all have weeds that want to choke out the productive things in our life. Those weeds may be videos, internet shopping, a bag of chips, or even a person you call a friend. If anything is keeping you from living the life you want to live, you need to do some weeding.

Before you start screaming at your computer screen, not all videos, internet use, snacks, or friends are weeds. Some of them may be salad greens. But that is for you to carefully determine. When you do find a weed, however, it’s time to look under the ground.

Weed Roots

What is under the ground? Roots, of course. Maybe a couple worms too, but they are your good friends. The picture to the left shows two types of grass weeds. (I drew lines to help you see the soil level and the extent of the roots.) The short plant spreads out quite a bit above the ground. It consumes a lot of space for desirable plants. But it has very shallow roots. It is easy to pull out.

The tall plant has just four slender leaves. It takes up very little space, is dainty, and actually complements the baby carrots. But its root goes as deep into the soil as its leaves extend into the air. Trust me, if you don’t pull it out early it will grow out of control.

I have found the same to be true with life’s weeds. Some are easy to eliminate; some are deeply rooted. But in all cases, their roots have to be pulled out to keep the weeds from growing back. And when you find a weed with deep roots in your life, you may have to do some digging to find the bottom of the root. You must dig very carefully because there may be good things growing around it that you don’t want to uproot.

Baby Carrots After Weeding

After the weeding, my babies looked dreadful. This may be how you feel after you pull some weeds out of your life. Tired. Listless. Hurting. Thirsty.

Carrots a Week Later

But look at what happens with time. Like the carrots, your life will flourish. Sure a weed or two may grow back, but with time you will get better at removing them altogether. And there are two other intruders to note. The first is the mushroom. He’s not bad if you just let him alone. His “roots” actually help the soil of your life thrive. He will pop his head up from time to time but won’t hang around too long.

The last infiltrator is the seed. We don’t even realize they are planting themselves in our soil from distant weeds. Even though you have carefully removed all the weeds from your life, new ones will inevitably pop up. The process never ends in this life, but if you are attentive and pull them while the roots are still shallow, weeding will become easier and easier.

Do you have a weed story you would like to share? You can comment below or send a confidential e-mail to info@JDRockel.com. Happy weeding!