Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sunday Sermon: What the World Needs Now

Just for a change, I thought I would post a sermon instead of a devotional...especially for those of you who may be up late trying to craft a sermon on John 4.

There’s a new book coming out, called the “Third Jesus.” It’s written by Deepak Chopra who is this generation’s equivalent of Von Daniken. He writes a lot of best sellers about spirituality, especially of the New Age variety, and I have no doubt that this book will soon reach number one on the Times best sellers list.

It’s sad that this kind of junk theology can become so popular and soaked into the precious souls of millions of modern people. They lap up this kind of godless garbage and pore over its contents without opening up the Gospels to find the real Jesus. They would rather read the warped interpretations of a Hindu guru-author whose cosmology makes them feel special. Chopra is a bit like Oprah when it comes to the theological world – it’s all about feeling good about yourself and discovering the god within you, instead of feeling good about Christ and the God around us.

Here’s what Deepak has to say about Christ, or more precisely the Three Christ’s that we know:

First, there is the historical Jesus, the man who lived more than two thousand years ago and whose teachings are the foundation of Christian theology and thought. Next there is Jesus the Son of God, who has come to embody an institutional religion with specific dogma, a priesthood, and devout believers. And finally, there is the third Jesus, the cosmic Christ, the spiritual guide whose teaching embraces all humanity, not just the church built in his name. He speaks to the individual who wants to find God as a personal experience, to attain what some might call grace, or God-consciousness, or enlightenment.

In other words, all that the world needs now is a Hinduistic Cosmic Christ and jettison the Christ whose church embraces and engages the world in the midst of its poverty, brokenness, and sin. For those of you who don’t know, this is classical Hindu teaching where the poor and miserable are neglected, whilst the priestly and noble classes are worshipped and exalted.

Deepak is so far off the beaten track as far as real Christianity is concerned. He’s falling into the old trap of syncretism – trying to get Christ to fit his theories instead of trying to fit his life into Christ’s ways. Deepak may be successful at selling millions of books with his meaningless mumbo-jumbo, but as far as doing the work of God’s Kingdom – well, let’s put it this way: you’ve got to be in it, to spin it.

Let me show you how today’s scripture reveals to us the One Complete Christ, and not the Three Jesus’ that Chopra is promoting.

Look at verse 6:
6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

What does this tell us about Jesus historically? It reveals to us that Christ was a human being. He was tired and he was thirsty. He had walked for several miles, going from one town to the other. It was the sixth hour, which meant it was the middle of the day. Christ’s energy was sapped from the heat of the mid day sun. He needed to rest his weary feet. He needed to stop and relax for a while. And he desperately needed something to drink.

This is the historical Jesus. This is a man who is weary and exhausted; tired and thirsty; hungry and all alone. What Jesus needs now is a kind word and a smile, and a refreshing drink of cold water.

Now we didn’t need Deepak to tell us that – we didn’t need his convoluted book to let us know that Jesus existed and was a frail human being just like the rest of us. All we had to do was read the Gospel and, lo and behold, there He is! In fact, Jesus is so human, so much of a pathetic, weary man that He has to turn to a woman to help Him out! Just another typical guy, needing a woman to take care of Him.

But what about this Second Jesus that Deepak writes about? What about this Son of God who institutes a new religion for devout believers?

Well, let’s look at the passage again. Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for water. Jews were not supposed to ask Samaritans for anything. It was beneath their dignity. Samaritans were unclean, unwashed, unholy people who were thought of as disdainful idolaters by the orthodox Jews. Because Jesus was a Rabbi, He should never have associated Himself with this Samaritan woman. And even worse, her own people didn’t even associate with her, which must have meant that she was immoral and adulterous, shameless and sinful.

But tired and weary as Jesus was, He wanted to reach out to this woman spiritually. Instead of being annoyed at her, Jesus says this to her:

10 "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

What does this mean? What is Jesus trying to reveal to her? He’s letting the woman know that He is not just a Jewish man looking for a strange woman in a strange land to help Him out. He’s beginning to minister to her, to rouse her curiosity, and to attract her soul to Him. He’s reaching out to this woman, who has been abandoned by her own community, with kindness and compassion, respect and dignity that she hasn’t known in such a long time. He’s having a conversation with her; He’s connecting to her heart and soul, not her body and beauty. He’s helping her to confront her past in order to heal her. He’s intervening in her life, in order to save her from herself.

And this is what Christ does through the church, in the world, generation after generation. His words, His ways, His work continues every single day through the life, ministry, and mission of His church on earth. Our dogma reveals to us that Jesus is the Son of God and through Him alone salvation is found. He institutionalizes and sustains the Church, in order to make the world a better place, a loving place, a compassionate place. What the world needs now is this Jesus who reaches out to the outcasts and embraces sinners, in order to bring them in from the fields of sin to the compassionate Kingdom of God.

You know recently I was upset with an American Episcopal Bishop who apologized to the Hindus in India for the 200 years of Christian mission in Indian society. “There are enough Christians in the world and we are sorry for trying to convert your people to our faith.” What a load of Universalist baloney!

I am not sorry that 200 years ago missionaries went to India to try to convince people that worshipping trees and rivers, stone idols and thousands of god and goddesses was wrong. I am not sorry that Christian missionaries stopped the sacrificial slaughter of babies to appease vengeful gods. I am not sorry that Christians sought to stop the acts of ritual suicide that took place, where widows old or young had to cast themselves onto the burning remains of their dead husbands. And I am certainly not sorry that Christian missionaries worked with and helped the millions of people who lived in the gutters of cities like Bombay and Calcutta and were treated as human filth and manure just because they were born as pariahs – outcastes – who had no chance of changing their inhumane treatment by the other Hindu classes.

Jesus is the Son of God and we are His church in the world, which is called to reach out into the world to bring His Gospel of repentance and restoration, compassion and confrontation to all people. The Historical Jesus is the same as the Institutionalized Jesus - we just have to keep reading the real Gospels, instead of the book-marketing baloney that Deepak Chopra and his New Age, Prosperity Gospel cronies keep churning out.

Finally, we come to this Third Jesus of Chopra’s book – the New Age Cosmic Christ – the One who speaks to individuals who want to have a consciousness of God, but as Chopra said on CNN the other day – not necessarily as part of a personal relationship, more of a spiritual awareness that God exists. In other words, giving us the ability to know of God, but not to be influenced, guided, or even judged by God.

When Jesus speaks to this woman at the well to engage her in a conversation and to eventually confront her sinful ways, He does so in order to affect a godly change in her life. He’s not doing it to pass the time of day or to wile away the hours in small talk, Jesus speaks directly to this woman to get her reconnected to God, to redeem her from her foolish choices, and to restore her to God’s love and favor.

Christ doesn’t talk to her to make her aware that God merely exists; He talks to her because, although God is displeased with her sin, He has not stopped loving her. This isn’t about merrily co-existing in the universe as Creator and creatures; this all about the reason why God created us in the first place – to have a loving, caring, and everlasting relationship with Him. That’s why Jesus says He has Living Water – water sustains all life on this planet – but God’s Living water in Christ sustains all eternal life in the Universe!

13 Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

This is the Cosmic Christ that Deepak mentions, but not a Cosmic distant, uncaring, uninterested Christ – that’s Hindu theology – this is the One, True and Living Christ – who gets thirsty on a hot day, who preaches to lost souls, who offers eternal salvation to all who come and drink with Him! There is no such thing as a Third Jesus – just as there is no such thing as a third World, another false Hindu theology – we’re all part of One World and we all are called to believe in One Christ – historical, traditional, and cosmological – all Three in One!

The rest of John Chapter 4 deals with the confrontation and conversion of this Samaritan woman. In Christ, she finds what she truly needs – the love, mercy, and forgiveness of God. She takes this message back to her own people, who have shunned her and made her an outcast. Eventually, her own people are converted as well. They say to her: "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."

In other words, they make the connection with Jesus and place their lives and souls into His saving hands.

The challenge we face today is this: are we willing to do the same?

Stushie is the pastor at Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee and writes the daily devotional "Heaven's Highway."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday Devotions: Founding Faith - For Presidents' Day

Most Americans can quote Patrick Henry's famous statement, "Give me liberty or give me death," but I wonder how many of them would identify Henry as the originator of this statement: "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great Nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here."

People these days are very quick to point out Jefferson's wall of separation' letter to a Danbury Baptist Church meant that Christianity had no place in the heart of the writer of the Declaration , but are they aware of what is written in Jefferson's personal Bible: "I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our creator." To say that Christianity had no influence over his writing is to diminish Jefferson's personal faith.

And do people also realize that more than half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who founded the United States, received divinity school training from Christian denominations? We may want to rewrite history and revise the Founding Fathers' intentions to suit our modernistic, non-absolutist, secular morality, but the facts about their lives speak otherwise.

Most of the political giants who founded America were Christians, and their faith shaped their principles of fierce independence and rugged radicalism. In fact, in 1774 Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The God who gave us Life, also gave us Liberty." Indeed, the First Continental Congress during the War of Independence sent for an order from Holland for 20,000 Bibles to ensure that the people and troops could maintain their Christian faith. And during times of trouble and indecision in their meetings, the same Congress resorted to prayer, which the ‘non-believer' Benjamin Franklin also led.
Even George Washington, the Father of our Nation, wrote this in his personal journal in 1752: "Make me to know what is acceptable in Thy sight, and therein to delight, open the eyes of my understanding, and help me thoroughly to examine myself concerning my knowledge, faith, and repentance, increase my faith, and direct me to the true object, Jesus Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life." And when he addressed the Delaware Indian Chiefs in 1779, he said, "What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ."

These are but a few examples of the Christian beliefs that were held by our Founding Fathers. Those who seek to deny their faith and, subsequently, the founding of the United States of America as a Christian nation, are only imprinting upon the past their own present secular opinions and unhistorical misconceptions.

Finally, let us remember that the Constitution guarantees a freedom of religion, not from religion. It wasn't political secularism that established this clause: it was based on Christian tolerance of loving one another, and doing to others as you would have them do for you.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we thank You for being the major influence over our Founding Fathers’ lives. Without Your words and ways, we would not be here today. Help us to be grateful for the land that we live in and the liberties that we cherish, both of which have been granted to us from You. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
Stushie writes the daily devotional "Heaven's Highway" and is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Sunday Devotions: Finding God In Disasters

Sometimes the Old Testament gives us the impression that we worship a churlish, vindictive God who seeks to smite and destroy His people at the first sign of rebellion. It’s hard for us to comprehend living under such a divine tyrant, especially as we relate to God through the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus. I am so glad to be able to freely worship and adore God through Christ’s eyes; through Moses’ eyes, God must have seemed fierce and terrible.

Podcast version here

Bible Verse
Numbers 14:34 ‘For forty years--one year for each of the forty days you explored the land--you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.'

Our forty days of Lent began on a sad note. We learned that many people lost their homes and more than fifty lost their lives in the thunderous tornadoes that whipped through the South. Looking at the devastation on the news, I can only wonder what the people are feeling. Some are thankful to God for having their lives saved; others are distraught and angry with Him about losing loved ones, their homes, and livelihood. As usual, that same old question, which got the Israelites into so much trouble, will be voiced: Where is God during moments of disaster? Why doesn’t He protect people from such calamities?

Yesterday, I was listening to a report that partially answered those questions. Within hours of the devastations across the South, fire crews, police, and paramedics were quickly working with victims. The Red Cross had already mobilized its first responder teams. And then, tagged at the end of the report, came this news: people in church vans had turned up with food and hot drinks, blankets and supplies. God, through the grace of Jesus Christ, was already at work amongst the people. His love was being given to those who needed to be embraced.

We may never understand why natural disasters hurt, injure, and kill so many people, but at least we still live in a world where Christians compassionately respond to those most in need. And that’s where we both see and experience the caring Kingdom of God in our broken world.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray for those whose lives have been devastated by the recent spate of terrifying tornadoes. We pray for all of the families who are affected, and we ask that You surround them with caring, compassionate people. Help us to do what we can by offering support, supplies, and money to bring aid and comfort to the victims. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie is the writer of the daily devotional and religious news blog at Heaven's Highway

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Sunday Devotion for Feb 3: Four Chaplains Day

Today, February 3rd, is known as “Four Chaplains Day.” It was designated this title by Congress after a heroic act by four military chaplains who were serving on the S.S Dorchester during World War 2. Rev. Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed), Rev. George Lansing Fox (Methodist), Father John Washington (Roman Catholic priest) and Alexander David Goode (a Jewish Rabbi) sacrificed their lives as their ship went down.

The Dorchester, which was transporting 904 troops, was torpedoed by a U-Boat on Feb 3, 1943. The initial torpedo killed more than 100 young soldiers and the second plunged the ship into darkness. The survivors panicked and scrambled, trying to find life jackets. In the midst of all the disarray and chaos, the four chaplains worked with then men, bringing order with their words of assurance and prayers.

The chaplains gave up their own life jackets to save four others. As the Dorchester finally began to sink, the four chaplains were seen linking their arms together. They had all been friends since their days at Chaplain school at Harvard University. Witnesses said that they heard two prayers amid the screams of pain and horror that permeated the cold dark night. It was the strong voices of the Chaplains. "Shema Yisroel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echod." "Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done."

Looking back they saw the slanting deck of the Dorchester, its demise almost complete. Braced against the railings were the Four Chaplains...praying...singing, giving strength to others by their final valiant declaration of faith. Their arms were linked together as they braced against the railing and leaned into each other for support, Reverend Fox, Rabbi Goode, Reverend Poling, and Father Washington. Said one of the survivors, "It was the finest thing I have ever seen this side of heaven."

Today is also Transfiguration Sunday. The word ‘transfiguration’ means a remarkable display of God’s Glory, which illuminates the person, notably Moses, Jesus, and Stephen from the Bible. Perhaps, in the darkness of February 3rd 1943, God’s glory was also seen in the sacrifices of Rev. Clark Poling, Rev. George Lansing Fox, Father John Washington, and Rabbi Alexander David Goode.

You can read a full account of this story at

Stushie is the writer of the daily devotional blog, Heaven's Highway