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James Merritt - The Faith Next Door

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    James Merritt - The Faith Next Door

My second favorite country on the planet, next to the United States is Israel. I've been to Israel over 20 times and I love the nation of Israel, I love to go over there. And you learn after you go, takes you about two trips to figure it out, that the two most important people on that trip are your guide and your bus driver. Those are big, big decisions. You want to make sure you get a good guide and you want to make sure you get a good bus driver. Second or third time I was over there, got a bus driver named Fazi. After I rode with him, and we were with him for a week I said to the person who puts our trips together, "Every time I go to Israel, I want Fazi to be my bus driver". He's a Muslim.

One of the finest, sweetest, gentlest men I've ever known in my life. He's like family. I've told him many times, if you are ever in America, my home is your home. And yet, every time I'm over there, I share the gospel. Always it ends the same way. He's never responded. He just smiles, nods his head. We hug. We kiss each other on the cheek as the Middle Eastern culture is, and then I get on a plane, and I leave. Why would you do everything you can to tell him what he believes is wrong and what you believe is right? Because the question that we're begging is this question. How can Christianity be right and all the other religions be wrong? And I realize that question, by itself, assumes that Christianity is even right, and I admit, I'm being transparent. The reason why I share with my Muslim friend about Christ is because I believe he's dead wrong in what he believes, and I believe I am dead right in what I believe.

Now, let me just tell you, I get it. I understand. Save the letters, emails, phone calls. I know that's a politically mega-incorrect statement to make in the day and age in which we live. I realize that, at best, for a lot of you that's very disconcerting for me to stand up and say that. And I realize that for some of you it's almost downright inflammatory. Because I realize that there's increasing disagreement with my perspective. I realize that I'm in an increasingly growing minority in what I have just said to you. And that opinion's out there everywhere. For example, no less than a great luminary and philosopher than Oprah Winfrey said this: "One of the biggest mistakes we make is to believe there is only one way to live. There are many ways, many paths to what you call God".

And for a lot of people, if Dr. Oprah says it, Dr. Oprah must be right. Well, there's another great religious thinker, Madonna. And Madonna said this. She said, "I do believe that all paths lead to God. It's a shame that we end up having religious wars because so many of the messages are the same". And look, they represent a growing consensus out there. Barnhart research firm recently did a survey of American adults and they found that two out of every three American adults now say, "All religions basically teach the same thing". Doesn't matter what you believe. Just believe whatever you believe with sincerity, and we're all good to go. Four out of ten said that when Christians and Jews and Buddhists and Muslims pray to their God, they're all praying to the same God. They just call their God different names.

Now, before I address the claim in this question that we're going to talk about this morning, I do want to make sure that you understand a couple of things that I'm not trying to say and that I don't believe, alright? Number one, there are certainly truths in other religions. And I certainly believe that. I have found that. For example, if you go to Buddhism, Buddha taught what is called the "eight-fold path". And Buddha said to the Buddhist followers You should not lie. You should not cheat. You should not steal. You should be charitable to the poor. You should be honest. You should serve others. You should not murder. You should not lust. I agree with all that, and I think all that's absolutely true. Orthodox Judaism and Islam believes there's a personal God and there's only one God. Totally agree with that. Absolutely true.

Most of the other religions in the world will tell you they believe Jesus was a great prophet. I believe that's true. He was a great teacher, no argument. He was a great moralist. He was a great ethicist. He was a great philosopher. Absolutely no objections to any of that whatsoever. So, I am not saying that we, as believers, we Christians have a monopoly on the truth. There are truths in other religions. The second thing I'm not saying is, I don't believe we should be intolerable of other religions. One of the reasons why I love living in this country is because we practice religious freedom. We believe that we ought to tolerate and respect the beliefs of other religions, so if you're a Buddhist or you're a Muslim, or you're a Hindu, you are welcome to this country. You have as much right to worship the way you want to worship as I do the way that I want to worship, and we ought to respect that. We ought to tolerate that. We ought to even encourage that, and we ought to embrace that.

Having said all of that, none of what I just said necessarily at all means that we ought to agree that all religions teach the same thing or that all religions are equally true. Tolerating a wrong belief by refusing to say it's wrong is wrong. I'm going to say that again. Tolerating a wrong belief by refusing to say it's wrong is wrong. If I go to my doctor, and my doctor examines me, and my doctor discovers I've got a deadly disease that will kill me if it's not treated, if my doctor refuses to tell me that I've got a problem that needs to be solved, I've got a disease that needs to be healed, that doctor has done me wrong. So, we should all, you know, the big buzzword today is tolerate. We ought to be tolerable. Don't be intolerant. I agree. I totally agree. We should all tolerate what is tolerable. We should all tolerate someone else's faith and their right to practice it.

What I don't believe we ought to tolerate is the fact that their faith may be wrong. I don't think that's what we ought to tolerate, and that's where we encounter this big, big problem. Because the dirty little secret out there, and I don't want to hurt Oprah's feelings, and I certainly don't want to offend Madonna, because she's so sensitive about offending other people. I don't want to offend her, but the dirty little truth is, all religions are not the same. They don't teach the same thing. They don't even have the same concept of God. As a matter of fact, I went back and did a little mini-study of some of the other major religions in the world. Here's what I found. They actually teach three different things about God. For example, on the one hand, there are some religions that teach there are many gods.

I was in India a couple of years ago, and I was there when they were having their country-wide festival. This is a big festival celebrating Hinduism. And they had these beautiful parades that go through, I mean it's really nice, and they do it at night, and they shoot fireworks off and all this. And they're on the back of these flat-bed trucks, and there's different gods on every truck. And Hinduism teaches that there are many gods. As a matter of fact, it's kind of interesting, They call their gods "Divas".

Now, sometimes I think maybe you're right. Because I meet a lot of divas in my ministry, okay? So my granddaughter is a diva, okay? So maybe there's something to that. On the other hand, Buddha rejected Hinduism not because he didn't believe there were many gods. Buddha said, "I don't even believe there's really one God. I don't believe there is a personal God. I reject belief in any God that is personal altogether". So you've got one religion that says there are a lot of gods. You've got one religion that says, well, there really isn't any personal God. And then you've got Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, and Islam. They come along and say, "Oh, no. There is a personal God and there is one God".

So you say, well wait a minute, at least now you've got three religions that kind of agree. Well, not really. Because the Jews do not believe their God is the Muslim God. And neither the Muslims nor the Jews believe that Jesus Christ is God, but we do. But it gets deeper. Jews and Christians believe that Jesus Christ died on a cross, but Muslims don't. Jews and Muslims don't believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, but Christians do. So, we've got to face up to a couple of real hard truths, dirty little secret. On the one hand, all of the religions in the world can't be right. Impossible. They all can't be right. On the other hand, all of the religions in the world can't be wrong unless there's no God or no divine force of any kind and then they are all wrong.

Now, the second dirty little secret is this, whether you like it or not. Once you adopt any belief system, I don't care what you believe. You can be a Buddhist. You can be a Hindu. You can be a Confucianist. You can just be confused. I don't care. Whatever belief system you adopt, when you adopt that belief system you just automatically said every other or most every other belief system is completely wrong. So, if Islam is right, Christianity is wrong. If Judaism is right, Islam is wrong. Or how about this. You say, "Look, I just believe that we all believe the same thing. We're all going to the same God. We're all going to the same place. Doesn't matter which path you take". You know what you just said? You just said that Christians, Jews, and Muslims are all wrong because we all believe we've got the only way to get there. So it doesn't matter which way you go. Any way you go you're really saying, "What I believe is right, and if you don't believe what I believe you are dead wrong".

Now, in case you missed a key point here, I want to go back and say something because this is very important, and I don't want you to miss this. If there are many gods, there can't be just one God. If there's one God, then there can't be many gods. If there's no God, there can't be one God or many gods. Now if you understand that, nod your head real big, okay? You got that, right? If there's one God, there can't be many. If there's many, there can't be one. If there's no God, there can't be one or many. So somebody's got to be right. And somebody's got to be wrong. I want you to turn to Acts 4 This man's name was Peter. Peter grew up an Orthodox Jew. Absolutely convinced he was right and everybody else was wrong. Peter's talking to a group of religious men.

Many of these men were his heroes. Many of these men he went to high school with. Many of these men he grew up with. They had all grown up believing that Judaism was the only way to God. It was the right way to God. It was the unique way to God. And he's talking to all of these men who felt that they had the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And he comes along and he makes one statement, just one statement. And when he made this statement it forever drew a line between Christianity and every other religious faith that ever has existed or ever will exist, and here's what Peter said. "There is salvation in no one else". He's talking about Jesus. "For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved".

Now, I want you to listen to what this statement asserts. This statement, Peter wasn't just saying, "Hey, Christianity is right and every other religion is wrong". He was saying that, but he was really saying a lot more than that; don't miss this. What he was saying was this: A relationship and not any religion is the only way to God. What he really said was if you think any way to God starts with the word religion, you're already on the wrong road. Now, that raises a question. Peter, you grew up a Jew. All of your life you grew up believing keep the law, do this, do this, don't do that, don't do that, and you're good to go. Now you're telling me all of the sudden you've turned on a dime and you've said, "Hey, the way to God is not a philosophy. It is not just a principle. It is not just a belief. The way to God is a person".

Why in the world would you make that claim? What was it? What was the truth that Peter finally came to realize that made him understand that Christianity is so unique, Christianity is so one-of-a-kind, Christianity has so much that no other religion in the world has to offer, that it alone has to be right and every other religious belief system has to be wrong. What is it that makes our faith, our Christian faith, so unbelievably unique and, bigger question, why, of all the religions in the world you should choose from, why should you choose Christianity and Christianity alone. Well I gave a lot of thought to that. I'm going to make it real easy. I'm going to give you three reasons, real simple. Just real, real simple.

And, by the way, this would be a great resource when this message is over. If you've got unbelieving friends or people who are practicing other faiths we're not going to necessarily inflame or do anything like that. But this would be a good resource for you to give the people to listen to. It would be a great kind of a conversation starter, okay? Let me give you three reasons why I make the statement that I've made today about Christianity. Number one, we should choose Christianity because of one person. We should choose Christianity because of one person. See, there's this one big obstacle out there. It's just one, but it's a big one. There's this one big obstacle out there to anybody that says, "Oh, all religions teach the same. All paths lead to God. All religions, you know, it's the same God just different names".

There's one big problem with that. And his name is Jesus. See, Jesus is the fly in the ointment. Jesus is the square peg that doesn't fit in the round hole. Because no other founder of any other faith has ever claimed to be who Jesus claimed to be and ever claimed to do what Jesus claimed to do. Jesus is the only founder of any religious faith that ever claimed to be the son of God and ever claimed to be God in the flesh. Jesus is the only founder of any religion in the world that accepted the worship of his own followers. Every time, this was before he died on the cross. This was before he came back from the dead. Every time people would kneel and worship at the feet of Jesus, he would accept their worship. Jesus is the only founder of any religion in the world who ever claimed not to have died just for himself, but who claimed to have died for the sins of the whole world. Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius not one of them ever said they died for anyone but themselves.

Not a one of them ever said "I have lived a perfect, sinless life". Not one of them ever claimed to be the son of God or God in the flesh. Not one of them ever performed miracles like Jesus healing the sick and raising the dead. Not one of them. Totally different. Totally unique. And, see, this is the biggest problem we have to have, those of us who say we're Christians. This is the biggest problem that we've got to have with people who say, "Oh, all religions are equal. They all teach the same thing. Every religious road leads to the same destination". Let me tell you why that's a huge problem. If they're right, all roads lead to heaven; all roads lead to Rome; they all go to the same place; they all teach the same thing, well, then, what we just read a while ago that Peter said was a lie. Peter lied. Because he said there's no other name except Jesus, period. The Apostle Paul lied. Because the Apostle Paul said, "For there's one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus".

Now a mediator is someone that takes the hand of a man, and takes the hand of God, and joins them together. Paul lied. Jesus is a liar, because Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me". So, simply put, either Christianity is true and every other religion has to be false, or, there's at least one other religion out there that's right, but Christianity is wrong. And the reason for that is in one word: Jesus. See, Jesus is the guy that upsets everybody's religious apple cart. You can't just say, "Well, all roads lead the same way". No, you've got a big problem, and it's Jesus. We should choose Christianity because of one person. Secondly, we ought to choose Christianity because of one place. Because the empty tomb is the game-changer. It is the game-changer. I mean it's the ball game.

Someone rightly said, "Christianity begins where other religions end and that is with the resurrection of Jesus Christ". I was reading this story the other day about a Buddhist over in Africa and he befriended a missionary. And this missionary began to share the truth of Christianity, began to investigate with him the facts about Jesus. And over a period of time, this Buddhist became a believer. He gave his life to Christ. Why should we choose Christianity? Well, because of one person; his name's Jesus. Number two, because of one place, the empty tomb, and then here's the last thing, because of one principle. We should choose Christianity because of one principle.

Now this makes the whole trip worthwhile this morning, listen. There was a British conference that was going on about 60, 70 years ago, and there were a group of religious leaders representing all these major religions and they got together in a room over in Great Britain, and they were trying to talk about, you know, what's common to our faith, what's not common. you know, what do we have in common, what do we believe, what do we not believe. Well, somehow they got off-track and they started debating what was unique about Christianity. What was so unique about, what made Christianity different from every other religion in the world. And so, one man said, "Well, maybe it's the incarnation". And somebody spoke up and said, "Well, no, there are gods of other religions that have appeared in human form". And, so, somebody said, "Well maybe it was resurrection". And another guy said, "Well, no. There are other religions that tell of other people that came back from the dead".

So the debate went on, and they kind of came to an impasse. They couldn't really get, you know, to a stopping point and about that time, C.S. Lewis walked into the room. And he was kind of the E.F. Hutton of that day, and so when C.S. Lewis walked into the room they immediately apprised Dr. Lewis of what was going on and they told him what the question they were debating, and so they said, "Well, Dr. Lewis, can you tell us what is the one thing that is totally unique to the Christian faith, that separates it from every other religion in the world"? And C.S. Lewis said, "Well that's easy. It's grace".

Christianity is the only faith, the only one out of 270, it is the only one that says a relationship with God and salvation is a gift that you just take from God. You can't earn it. You can't buy it. It's not for sale. You can't buy it for money, marbles, or chocolate. It's a gift. See, every other religion has its own concept of a savior. Buddhist, they'll say "Oh, you've got to save yourself by ceasing all desire". Hindus say, "You've got to save yourself by detaching yourself from your ego and trying to live in unity with a divine force of the Universe". Islam says, "You gotta save yourself by living a life of good deeds and hope that at the end of your life the good outweighs the bad".

Orthodox Judaism says, "You've got to save yourself through repentance and prayer and keeping the law". And every other religion says, "You need a savior, and you're it". And then Christianity comes along and says, "You do need a savior, but you're not it. And you can't be it. And God has done for you what you can't do for yourself. He gave you a savior. His name's Jesus". Because, you see, 269 religions in the world are based on performance. It's all about you. It's all up to you. Your relationship to God is based on what you do, how well you do it, how long you do it, and you better do it right. It's all on you.

Christianity says a relationship with God has nothing to do with performance. It has everything to do with acceptance. God accepts you through Jesus when you, through Jesus, accept God. Christianity does not teach that only Christians deserve to go to heaven. Christianity teaches nobody deserves to go to heaven. Nobody. You don't go to heaven because you deserve to. You go to heaven in spite of the fact that you don't deserve to, but because of the grace of God, you get to. That's what makes it different. That's what separates it. That's what makes it unique.

Now, here's what I want to say to you. If you're out there, and you're saying, "Man, I'm in, pastor. I believe everything you say. I really do. I get it. I understand. I believe that". Then, listen, if you believe that, then you have to believe this. You have to believe that the most important single thing you will ever do in your life is to share the Jesus that you know with the people that don't know Jesus. You have to believe that. You have to believe it's more important than making your money, getting to retirement, buying the car, owning the house, paying off the mortgage, and saving your pension. There is nothing, if you believe what I've been preaching this morning, there is nothing you will ever do with your life that's more important than sharing Jesus that you know with people that don't know Jesus. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Now, I want you to imagine that I'm about to offer you a choice of four gifts. You get to choose one gift, okay? You can have the original Mona Lisa. You can have the keys to a brand-new Ferrari. You can have $10 million in cash. I don't know why they put that up there. You can buy both of those then. Or, I'll give you a parachute. Now, before you decide, one other piece of information you need to know. In ten seconds you're going to have to jump out of an airplane at 10,000 feet. Kind of makes the choice easy, right? Not real hard, right? Say, "Okay, I think I'll take the parachute". Because the parachute's the only thing that will save you from the force of gravity and from the fall of that airplane.

Okay, so what's that got to do with all we've been talking about? Paint this picture, and we're going to pray. Whether you realize it or not, every day, we're standing on the edge of eternity, every day. And we never know when we're going to have to jump through the plane of life, through the door called death. We don't ever know that. Lady today, just today, this morning, was almost in tears, was talking about her first cousin in North Carolina who is 45 years old. Picture of health, works out, eats healthy, the whole nine yards. Started having headaches two weeks ago. Two weeks ago started having headaches. Just was operated on, had a baseball tumor, the size of a baseball tumor in the back of his brain. He has one to two years to live. Never know.

You never know when you're going to jump out of that, and you know most of the time you get pushed. The question is, when it comes time for you to jump, will you land safely? Now here's what I want you to think about, and we're going to pray. Every other religion says you got to make your own parachute. And since you're not perfect, your parachute may not be perfect. So your parachute may open or it may not, and even if it does, it may not be good enough to get you all the way down, and here's the bad news, you won't even know until you jump.

So, good luck. Christianity says God made your parachute. His parachutes always open, and they never fail. And he gives it to you. It's called grace. It's a gift. And you can know before you jump you're going to land safely. You say, "How do you know you're going to land safely before you even jump"? Because one man already did, and his name is Jesus. So what I answer to the question we've been asking this morning, so Christianity, you really say it alone is right, and every other religion is wrong? Yes I do. Can you just give me one final reason why you believe that? I really can. Because there is nobody like Jesus.
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