Sunday, December 2, 2007


Many years ago I preached my way around the world and visited this great image of Buddha in Kamakura Japan. It was the beginning of a trip that allowed me to see many of the worlds religions up close and personal. To talk about this subject we need a common definition of both religion and Christianity.

Religion involves having a belief in a divinely created world, faith in a creed - a formal statement of religious belief, obedience to a moral code set down in sacred scriptures and participation in community religious life.

I soon discovered that a large number of Japanese didn't have a religion that fit my definition. Shinto has no system of doctrine, no creed, and no formulated religious ideas. It is fundamentally concerned with expressing wonder, respect, and awe for everything that exists. This concern involves treating everything as if it were a person. In other words, having an independent life of its own. This must never be taken for granted. In a walk up a mountain trail I saw this Shinto shrine.

I was curious about the white paper strips tied to the branches of this tree. I discovered that they were prayers placed there by people who believe that the wind would blow them away and somehow....their prayers might be answered.

Shinto as practiced in Japan is not a religion. The Japanese word shin is spirit only in the most vague meaning. In the view of Shinto, every rock, tree, animal, and stream has its own shin or kami. (God or Goddess) The kami [divine] + kaze [wind] came from the legendary name of a typhoon that in 1281 saved Japan by destroying the invasion of the Mongol navy. Kamikaze “divine wind” was bad for Japan’s enemies. So, during the Second World War it became the name of young Japanese suicide pilots who crashed their bomb loaded planes into U.S. Navy ships.

Before I made this trip I studied every major religion in the world, and many of the thousands of variations of the Christian faith in America. I wanted to know the truth and was willing to accept it wherever I found it. On this trip I saw Buddhist priest spinning prayer wheels that were keep spinning night and day for years. I also saw many people apparently praying in the world's largest and most famous Buddhist temple in the world - the Shwee DaGong in Rangoon Burma.

The great question was: "Who were they praying to?" No, it couldn't be Siddhartha Gautama, the first Buddha who reached Nirvana after 533 reincarnations. Nirvana means "to cease to escape the endless cycle of "Birth, pain, suffering, sorrow and death." The concept is like blowing out a candle. "Poof" it's gone. Having reached Nirvana Siddhartha Gautama couldn't hear or answer their prayers.

Just outside one of the four entrance ways to the top of the worship area I noticed this small pond and a vendor selling popcorn balls. People would buy one and throw it into the pond near the small pagoda where they were eaten by "catfish." Perhaps they believed that everything may be a god or sacred?

Years ago when I would show these pictures people would talk about how weird, strange and foolish these people were. Yet here in America we've got a huge number of churches where all kinds of foolish, unscriptural and false concepts are preached and believed by people who know very little about true Christianity.

My mother took me to one of those kind of churches when I was a little boy. When I was eleven years old I was totally uninterested in the church. I loved airplanes and wanted to be a pilot. God had other plans for me and for three long weeks I struggled with an encounter with the Lord. No one knew about my struggle....I cried, prayed, and tried to avoid him, but finally I couldn't bear the overwhelming presence and made a covenant with God on a Wednesday night at home in the bed by myself. I would give up my ambitions and be a minister of the Gospel. I found peace, plenty of hard times, and rest for my soul.

I've had some spectacular and totally unexpected encounters with God all through my life. I have first hand knowledge that God is the Divine creator and can do anything that pleases him. I feel sad that I can't tell anyone how to have that experience. I see many good people who want to experience God's presence but have to walk by faith. I can only tell them that we are all part of the body of Christ.

First, the church is seen as the body of Christ; and a cluster of images exists in this context as emphasis falls on the head (Eph. 4:15-16), the members (1 Cor. 6:12-20), the body (1 Cor. 12:12-27), or the bride (Eph. 5:22-31). The church is also seen as God's new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), the new persons (Eph. 2:14-15), fighters against Satan (Eph. 6:10-20), or bearers of light (Eph. 5:7-9). Thirdly, the church is quite often described as a fellowship of faith with its members described as the saints (1 Cor. 1:2), the faithful (Col. 1:2), the witnesses (John 15:26-27), or the household
of God (1 Pet. 4:17).

The preeminent characteristic of the church in the New Testament is devotion to Jesus Christ as Lord. He established the church under His authority (Matt. 16:13-20) and created the foundation for its existence in His redeeming death and demonstration of God's power in His resurrection. Christ's position as the Lord evoked, sustained, and governed the major characteristics of the life of the church in the way members were admitted, treated one another, witnessed to His power, worshiped, and lived in hope of His return.

The only way to understand this is to diligently study the Bible and especially the New Testament. I've been doing that for over 60 years, and find that I'm still growing in the Knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord. It bothers me that Pastors, Church board members, denominations and all the people who love power and authority proudly boast that "this is my church, my denomination, my ministry".

The night I surrendered my life to the Lord I got up and found an old Bible. I opened it and read: "(John 17:20-23 NIV) "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, {21} that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. {22} I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: {23} I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

I wonder how that great prayer of Jesus can ever be answered?