Welcome to tomthinking.com Thursday, November 22 2018 @ 11:08 AM UTC

The Seen and Unseen World of Merit and Rebirth

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Rebirth and Merit are two important concepts in the Buddhist way of life. The two are intimately attached. Under Buddhism a person tries to end the suffering of rebirth by attaining merit through good works. In Buddhism merit is “the fruit of good actions which can be devoted to the welfare of other beings.” (1) As one accumulates merit he or she expects to attain a higher state of enlightenment through a more desirable rebirth that gets him or her closer to the goal of nirvana.

This concept sounds simple enough. Do good works and be rewarded. Yet there is a catch that many Buddhist, perhaps even you have experienced. How do you know when your good thoughts, feelings, and actions outweigh your bad ones? How can you know if your merits toward rebirth really outweigh your demerits?
Many Buddhists have great private struggles with their merit and demerit, and for very practical reasons. They simply cannot remember all of their good deeds and bad deeds. The answer for many Buddhists has been to dedicate themselves more fully to the Buddhist way of life—meditations, visiting monasteries, making gifts, attending teachings, and performing rituals. Out of a fear of suffering and imperfection they try to do more in hopes of earning a better rebirth. Rebirth, in this sense, is a form of punishment—in other words, a form of justice.
But is the rebirth concept practical, possible, or even just?

For the Buddhist Seeker: The World Around Us

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If there is group of people that might be described as “seekers,” then Buddhists must be high on the list. Buddhism, as a system, requires its adherent to be devoted to exploring a set of principles that will earn him or her an enlightened state that they hope will lead to the end of suffering—a noble and worthwhile goal. Those who explore the Buddhist path are taught concepts such as: The Middle Way, Samsara, The Four Noble Truths, and others.
Yet on a practical, day-to-day level, many Buddhists inwardly struggle. They feel spiritually empty, as if the practices they engage in provide some temporary satisfaction or guidance, but when over, the emptiness or futility remains. While they pursue the path they are taught the Buddha has lain out, they secretly wonder about the reality of the Buddha’s teachings. Being taught that they will experience many rebirths until finally reaching their objective, they cannot help but wonder, “Will this truly end my suffering? How can I know that what I am doing really works?”
I want to explore together some key ideas in Buddhism. I attempt to compare Buddhist principles to the teachings of the Bible and Jesus Christ in hopes of helping the Buddhist seeker, discover a different kind of enlightenment—one that can be fully experienced and realized in this life, right now, without the need for what may seem like a tumultuous cycle of rebirth.

What To Look For In A Leader

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As you consider the future during the next election cycle, know that God has considered it as well. God has prepared guiding rules for us to use when selecting political leaders. When we think of government controversies and ethics problems, the rules of Deuteronomy 17 offer evidence that the Bible is relevant to all of the issues of modern life.
In Deuteronomy 17:15 God outlined what kind of leader He wanted for His chosen people:
    "You shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses."
How do we find out who God chooses for us? There are two simple ways: Study of the Word of God and prayer. Each of us must seek God in prayer for His choice of leadership. It was Israel that chose Saul as their king, but their process for selecting leadership didn't conform to God's desire for His people. The result was a nation that God's chosen leader, David, had to rebuild after Saul's death.

The Truth About Truth

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Originally I was going to write a paper about truth with the idea of helping journalists understand how important truth is to the pursuit of their craft. Too much journalism in Mongolia is predicated upon rumor and even outright propaganda that is bought and paid for as opposed to investigating the truth behind certain events. However two things changed my direction. First, Mongolian journalists have a great deal of training and information already available to them to help them discern the difference between truth and error in reporting the news. The procedures, policies, and practices necessary to make Mongolian journalism “truthful” already exist. It is therefore redundant for me to repeat them here. Beyond this, my objectives are much larger than the smaller world of journalism, which leads me to the second reason my direction changed.
The more I examined the topic of “truth” the more I came away with that first truth I have known since I began my walk with Jesus Christ more than 23 years ago. There can be no complete understanding of truth—any truth—without first understanding the Bible’s perspective on the topic. This is because, as theology professor Wayne Grudem points out, God in His very being and character is the highest standard of truth that exists. The Bible, as the primary record of God’s communication and acts on earth, is the highest standard-bearer of truth available to man. The Bible reveals and defines truth, exposing its origin, nature, and effect.

Heresy: The Fight For Truth

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A few years ago when I was working to re-establish the ministry of Eagle TV in Mongolia, I spent some time looking at the ministry of the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts.
While we often think of Paul as a great orator for the fundamental doctrines of the faith, in fact most of the speeches given by Paul as recorded in the book of Acts revolved around or touched on a single topic.

Truth + Love = Unity

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 For several weeks I’ve been thinking through the issue of Christian unity. In Mongolian culture the idea of unity is very important. In fact it may be the single most important value. I see this at virtually all levels, from politics to general society, and even in the Christian church. Most analysts consider that for a society to be healthy it must be unified around a set of principles or a history that defines what that unity looks like. Most importantly, unity is seen as agreement on important issues – especially controversial ones.
However, the idea of Christian unity as presented in the Bible is different from the secular unity that is often promoted in culture and politics. This is true not just in Mongolia but also worldwide. Most secular unity is achieved by reaching agreement on common ideas. Those who are not in agreement on those ideas not unified, or perhaps even viewed as divisive. Examples include business partnerships or political platforms. For some nations, such as those of the Islamic world, a common religious heritage is the driving force of perceived unity. For many in Mongolia, especially during this year’s 800th anniversary of the Great Mongolian State, unity often revolves around a history – Chinggis Khan, and the unity of the Mongolian tribes into one nation. These are all examples of a secular-focused unity.

The Wussification of Christianity

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I’m borrowing the headline for today’s entry from comedian Brad Stine who blames much of American Christianity’s lack of attraction for men on the “Wussification of America.” His Sunday rant on FOX News reminded me of a passage in Romans that my wife and I read in our morning devotions.
In our modern, democratic, “sensitive” age we have crafted a church that for many people emphasizes love, acceptance, grace, mercy, and the more “friendly” aspects of the Bible and Jesus’ character. We talk a great deal about receiving Jesus as our Savior but don’t usually emphasize what he saved us from or another all-important aspect of Christ’s identity.
In “modern” Christianity we want to be sensitive to perceptions of those outside the church. We take our cue from the Apostle Paul who instructed us to be “all things” to all men (I Corinthians 9:22) and to maintain a good reputation with those outside the church (I Timothy 3:7), and not to give offense, unnecessarily. Yet there is another side to Christianity that in our day of modern sensibilities we often overlook. It is the side that emphasizes the supremacy of Jesus Christ above all else. It is the side that emphatically and unquestionably stands for truth, righteousness, and authority. It is the side that sometimes in the midst of over-sensibilities must stand up and say without reservation that there is only one God, and one truth, and one authority that is over and above all others.
When beginning his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul began with a greeting that if written today by a missionary or pastor might seem foolish and even dangerous considering whom he was writing too.

Buddhism & Christianity: Fear vs. Passion

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I spoke at a brunch yesterday at Valley View Baptist Church in Snowflake, Arizona, at the morning service at First Southern in St. John’s, and the evening service at First Baptist in Overgaard. In addition to talking about the work of Eagle TV in Mongolia I taught on the subject of how Animism and Buddhism has influenced Mongolian culture, and the incredible openness of most Mongolians to discuss spiritual things. The Americans I speak with are fascinated by discussions about Mongolia and its Buddhist foundations. It comes as a great surprise for many to learn, through practical illustrations, how Animism and Buddhism have crafted the basic value system of Mongolia, which is very different from the value systems that most Americans subscribe too. In all of my talks I draw out the two most important differences between Buddhism, Islam (also in Mongolia), and Christianity—suffering and love.
  • Buddhism fears suffering,
  • Islam causes suffering,
  • Christianity redeems [through] suffering

Christ & Culture or Culture & Christ?

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It was with disappointment that I read this article from Thaindian News: Indianised Version of the Bible Hit Among Christians.
The new Catholic translation of the Bible, which apparently went on sale in India this month, has sold like hotcakes, with 15,000 grabbed up in just 10 days. Those are big numbers.
It’s also a big problem.
Apparently the new translation draws “references to other religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.” This means that the terms from these religions are used in the Bible’s text to explain Christianity. Actually, this is not an unusual concept. The same is done in Mongolia with one of two Bible translations called, in English, The Blue Bible. While the translation is popular here, for many it is also controversial.
But back to India…
According to one Indian believer, who is apparently a fan of the new translation, the translators “Have also drawn the Indian mythology into it. It’s not only based on [the] Biblelike you know foreign standards” (emphasis mine).

Hindsight & Foresight

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Now that I’m back into full swing in the office I want to provide some perspective about the effects of the Mongolian riots.
During the four day Sate of Emergency I read many comments from Mongolians, and even had a few discussions on the issue: Is Mongolia’s Democracy Dead?
In short, not by a long shot.
You may have read blogs or comments online that the MPRP (that handily won last week’s election) was intending to use the State of Emergency to take control of the country or reduce freedoms, democracy, the press, and so on. One person I talked with asked if this was a prelude to a declaration of martial law.
From where I sit, these kinds of verbal machinations are—and I want to be diplomatic when I say this—a great big fat load of fantasy crap. Mongolia’s democracy is not dead. I don’t see any telltale signs that the MPRP is going to seize power, restrict freedoms, or declare martial law. Nor do I think they want to. Claims such as this are just, just, just…crap. That’s about as diplomatic as I can be.
The MPRP may not be the favorite party of a lot of people, but I don’t think we can look at their activities of the last four years and credibly say they intend to return Mongolia to the days of communism or forced one-party rule. A smattering of my reasoning…