Are You Looking for a Purpose in Life?

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” –Numbers 13:30

 

Have you ever been around someone who just exudes confidence and faith? They have a real gift of encouragement, if people are willing to listen. Not so with our dear Israelites. In this account of biblical history, twelve leaders, one from each tribe, are sent to spy out the land of Canaan and report back on what they see & hear. Out of the twelve, only Caleb & Joshua tell the community that the land is everything God promised, and that with God’s favor they will be able to possess the land the Lord will give them.

Have you ever been influenced by a group of people that is fearful? The other ten men in our little spy group were afraid of the people in Canaan, and emphasized to the other Israelites their physical size, saying, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:33) Yet Joshua and Caleb tell the people, “Do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:9)

These ten men that spread the fearful report have the Israelite assembly so riled up and feeling defeated that they want to stone Joshua & Caleb, the men that are trying to encourage them to trust in their God! They grumbled against Aaron and Moses, whining: “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt? And they said to each other, ‘We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.'”

When we look at our circumstances and assume negative outcomes based on supposed facts stripped of faith, we would most likely come to a similar conclusion as the Israelites: if only I didn’t have to face this problem. I was better off before God’s intervention in my life. Let’s elect a different leader who will guarantee my safety and happiness.

Sound familiar? I know I have days where I struggle with the wrong outlook, and then the Lord reminds me I am forgetting about trusting him to do good for me. The only leader who can guarantee my safety and happiness is Christ. He is our Rock.

When I read the above account I couldn’t help but think of our current political climate. I’ve been praying recently about the handling of Syrian refugees, whether or not they should be allowed to come to the U.S. or if we should close our borders to them. I have come to the conclusion that while proper security measures should be exercised, actions motivated by fear alone frustrate the will of God. God’ will is to love Him and other people as you would yourself. I know if I were a refugee, faced with homelessness, war, death, hunger–I would want someone to take me in and show me some kindness and mercy, not to fear me because of my ethnic or religious background.

Jesus told his disciples that when it comes to their own hides, they should fear God, not man. It is my duty as a follower of Jesus to love–both my neighbors and my enemies: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 43-45) If you ever wonder what your purpose in life is, it is to love people and God. Like Jesus’ life illustrates, sometimes that means laying down our self-interest to focus on the benefit of another.

The Power in Prayer

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5:16-18)

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer . . . ” (1 Peter 3:12)

 

Last weekend when my hubby and I went to church, the pastor asked the congregation after the service if anyone wanted prayer for a family member who needed salvation. At that particular moment, I didn’t raise my hand, because to my delight, I was recalling how many of my family members and Randy’s family members have almost all given their lives to Christ over the years.

 

The years that have passed were filled with heartfelt prayer for them, and it was a wonderful thing to see God at work in their lives during that time and even now. It is not only evidence that the Lord hears us, but also a faith-affirming and substantive witness of nothing less than the divine working among the mundane day-in and day-out things of life.

 

I am learning to make life one long prayer, little snippets of praise and thanks and S.O.S’s sent up to the throne of grace throughout the day, not just during my quiet time with the Lord. It’s easy to forget to lean on Jesus when we’re more accustomed to going it alone and flying by the seat of our pants. Yet, like any good habit we start, it takes time for it to feel natural. I would like to make my prayer life as natural as taking a breath, because prayer in our spirits is like breath in our lungs. Prayer is air. It’s reliance on God that animates our spiritual life. It helps us grow in righteousness, trust the Lord’s goodness, and endure until the end.

 

A believer without a prayer life usually shows immaturity, a lack of faith, and short-lived enthusiasm for the Christian life. The solution? Pray, not only for them, but model it, too. Help them learn to talk to God themselves. There is something about interacting with the Most High God of heaven and earth, whether it is a casual chit-chat or a heartfelt plea for help, that makes me feel not only loved, but also valued dearly.

 

Late last year I decided to “adopt” a persecuted Christian in Darfur, Sudan. She had been in prison in this Muslim country for many months on trumped-up charges with the death penalty hanging over her head. I wrote to her, sending her scripture quotations that could be translated into her language. I then made it a point to bring her to the throne of grace every day. I prayed for about two months. One night, I was sitting at my computer and heard in the background a newscast about a Sudanese woman who had just been released from prison. I missed the name, so I looked it up on the Internet. It was her! Praise God Almighty! All the prayers that went up to the Lord from her family, her husband, her children, Christian workers, and all the other saints that prayed . . .He hears the prayers of his children!

 

I would like to encourage you to pray for someone regularly, perhaps a missionary, a Christian in a persecuted country, a family member, a friend, and as a special challenge, the guy that cut you off in traffic. Or someone else you’re mad at. Seriously. I guarantee that if you ask with love as the motive, you will see the Lord work in amazing ways, and neither you nor the person(s) you are praying for will ever be the same.

 

Hide and Seek

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”  He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” –Genesis 3:8-10

 

Do you hide from your Heavenly Father when you know you’ve done something wrong? How about when you are thinking about or feeling angry enough to do something wrong? Maybe you mask hiding from God with excuses, like, “I’m too busy to read the bible and pray,” or, “I just need to take a break.” Don’t feel too bad. I hide, and the first human couple hid, too. But I have learned over the years to trust God’s love for me much more. I’m learning to pray when I am first tempted, not after (when I have usually failed).

I have most recently learned to pray as soon as I get angry. It doesn’t have to be a formal prayer on your knees with hands folded–just a quick mental S.O.S. to God. I don’t know about you, but it seems that most of our troubles begin when we get angry. We lash out at people, disagreements flame into yelling matches, we hurt people we love. In society, our fuses are eerily short. A man gets cut off in traffic and in his anger, forces the offender off the road, or worse yet, fires a gun and kills him. The Dylann Roof’s of the world shoot dead some of the most loving people on the planet. Nations are easily offended by another country’s culture or aggressive attack and return the volley, fueled by longstanding hatred. And hatred is just anger concentrated and focused, like a laser.

In the bible, Cain is our first example of the bitter fruit of anger. “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.  Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:4-6)   I appreciate the image of the verb “crouching” here, like a wild cat. When we get angry, sin is right outside our door, waiting to maul us like a powerful lion. We are no match for it. We must pray before acting, or anger will overpower us like it did Cain.

One of the consequences for Cain’s murder of his brother was that he would be “hidden from [God’s] presence.” (Genesis 4:14) Sin separates us from intimate relation with God, not because it is his will, but because it is our nature. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, which removed their total trust in that close-knit relationship with their Creator. Notice in our featured verse that the reason Adam hid was that he was afraid.

So too, the level of trepidation we feel about coming to God with our temptations and weaknesses may be one measure of our closeness to him. When you think about it, is it harder to ask for help or forgiveness from an acquaintance, or a close friend? I’m never afraid to ask my husband for help or forgiveness, because I know how tender-hearted he is toward me. Asking a stranger for help or forgiveness, on the other hand, makes me feel not only nervous because I don’t know how they will react, but also awkward because I feel vulnerable. Aren’t those two scenarios similar to how we can approach God?

Thanks to our faith in Jesus, though, we have regained the same trusting relationship with God lost by Adam and Eve before the fall. What does the bible say? “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,  Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

The word “confidence” in the original Greek is “parresia.” It means “freely, boldly, plainly, with assurance, openness, frankness.” If you have a good relationship with your spouse, this is the same type of comfort level God would like us to have in our relationship with him. Jesus was born in an earthly body and was tempted in every way we are, so he can also empathize with our feeble flesh.

I read a quote once that illustrated the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is like seeing a man in a row-boat that’s filling up with water, and you call for help from shore. Empathy is like jumping in the lake, swimming out to the boat, and helping him bail water. Now that’s what Jesus does when we’re about to sink! Just as he left his glory in heaven to die for us on the cross, he comes to save us every time we call on him in prayer.

We can trust our heavenly Father’s love and mercy because of this empathy. Even though Adam and Eve sinned and caused the fall of mankind, what did God do? He made them clothes to cover their shame. (Genesis 3:21) What a tender, small gesture of God’s kindness and empathy. Perhaps he was looking into the future, when he would clothe each of us with robes made white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:14)

Are Christianity and Karma Mutually Exclusive?

 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  –Luke 6: 37-38

I don’t know about you, but I try my darndest to live by the Golden Rule, to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31). My non-spiritual side wants to do to others AS they have done to me, to return like for like. And I admit, I do have a day here and there where I am especially cynical or fearful and am tempted to do to others BEFORE they have done to me!

In the above scripture and the verses surrounding it, Jesus teaches his disciples about the attitude of mercy they should have toward their enemies, or those that persecute them. Taken out of context, it almost sounds like the worldly notion of karma, that you get back what you give out, or the popular “what goes around, comes around.” This is not what our Lord and Savior is saying, for he tells us in verses 35 and 36: “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

In other words, we are not to return evil with evil. Even in verses 32 to 34, Jesus tells us that it is not good enough to return like for like: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” It is completely natural to do to others as they do to us, to treat them with the same respect they give us. It is, however, supernatural to do good to others who are treating us badly. It is in this same spirit that Jesus prayed on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Dear brothers and sisters, does this sound like karma to you? Do you hope for retribution for your enemies, or do you hope for their salvation? The bible repeatedly reminds us that the world is in spiritual darkness, and that people who do not believe in Jesus are blind. Why would we be surprised when we are treated badly by them? Weren’t we just as bad before coming to Christ? One problem with karma is that we usually speak of it when we are wanting evil visited on another, not when we want blessings conferred. We even forget that hell is not meant for our own personal enemies, but only for those who reject Christ as their savior. It is the intention of wanting to see harm done, if not by us, then by somebody, maybe even God, that is dead wrong. In the above scripture, Jesus tells us that it is by praying for good and by returning good for evil that we are rewarded, not by some nameless cosmic principle, but by our own dear Father in heaven, the Most High Sovereign Lord of Hosts. Remember, Satan loves to take away God’s glory and power, and to obscure his name and mercy. 

There are logical problems with karma, too. It does not explain suffering for one thing. Why do babies die or young children battle cancer? Have they done something wrong? Would it be just to punish them for something their parents have done? Heavens no. What about Christians who are persecuted for standing up for what is right or bearing testimony to the saving grace of Jesus? Do they deserve it? And finally, what about Jesus himself? Did he deserve to suffer and die on the cross? Double heavens no!

Mercy, on the other hand, oozed out of Jesus’ pores. He sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane in his struggle to bestow undeserved mercy on us all. We need to follow our spiritual leader, our example. Verse 40 says: “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” Let’s struggle against what is natural, and pray for grace to do the supernatural. Sometimes, when I am still angry with someone, my prayer will go something like this:

“Heavenly Father, darn it all, but I don’t want to pray for this person. I feel vindictive and mean-spirited right now. But regardless, please bless so-and-so with the privilege of knowing you, help me forgive, and do not count this against them, for without you we are all lost, not knowing our right hand from our left.” (Jonah 4:11) Nine times out of ten I will feel an immediate change in my attitude, and if not immediate, fairly soon after. Then I am able to pray properly. It is like a visceral feeling of God’s pleasure, which turns my heart upside down and empties it of all spite so that it can receive his grace and have room for “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.”

 

 

 

Are You a People-Pleaser?

To escape criticism — do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.
~Elbert Hubbard

Some people are natural pessimists. They seem to roll like quicksilver toward a gloomy view of the world. Then there are those that go one step further and criticize the half-empty glass. “It’s awful small.” “The water is too warm.” You’re smiling. You know the type?

Back in my younger days, I worked with elderly people in an assisted living facility as a certified nursing assistant. Edna was one of those ladies who, in a counter-intuitive way, wheedled herself into my heart. She was not only critical of life in general, but was also a hypochondriac. It made me smile to think that if she wasn’t being negative or criticizing something, I would have known without a doubt that she was really sick. Edna had this gravelly, nasally voice that reminded me of a cross between Marge Simpson and a bleating lamb. One evening at work, I was in the dining room helping serve supper. The kitchen staff had just given her a piece of apple pie. As I walked by, I heard Edna say in that nasally, odd sing-song voice, “There are too many apples in this pie.”

Criticism is part and parcel of interacting with other people, even little old ladies. Like our quote above, if you do much more than breathe, you can count on it. Of course, there are both positive and negative criticism. The former seeks to help, the other, to hurt. I happen to be over-sensitive to either one.

For example, my husband and I recently picked up part-time jobs at a cleaning company for a little extra cash. We liked the hours, the work was manageable, and it was always a good feeling to see the fruit of our labor. However, the job did have the drawback of receiving a lot of criticism. Small stuff, too. Things like, “You left a light on.”  “You forgot to empty a waste basket.” The pettiness would astound me. Then, after about six months, I received a very critical report for one of our jobs. The client had quite a long list of complaints, and I was near tears because I was under the impression we were doing a fantastic job. I thought to myself, we work so hard and hardly ever hear anything good. I whined to the Lord about it, expecting his comfort. The answer I got was, how do you think I feel? 

It made me think about all the good Jesus did and does now, yet all the criticism he has received throughout history, even from his own children! The Lord showed me through this experience that I have an inordinate need for praise from people that isn’t healthy. I’m also too defensive when it comes to legitimate criticism. I even gave up a natural talent I have for many years because of the critical feedback I received.

When Jesus walked this earth, most of the religious leaders were critical of him, and many of his own followers turned away. But this did not deter Jesus one bit. He stayed true to his Father, and did not fall into the trap of being a people-pleaser. John 7:18 says, “Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

That is what God wants me to do. It’s what he wants all of us to do: to seek his glory and his praise, not man’s. That means we will displease many people in our society when we stand up for what is true and do what is right. Jesus did not dance to the pipe his society played, and he did not cry on cue when they sang sad songs (Luke 7:31-35). He never let them dictate his behavior. He would go out of his way to do the unexpected in order to teach. No doubt he surprised many and turned them to God, which should be our motive, too.

PRAYER: Dear Father, forgive me for being a people-pleaser. Help me pursue something greater than chasing the empty praise of men. Forgive me for trying to use my natural talent for my own glory. Help me to seek your glory in all things, and may your praise satisfy me more than any person’s words. Thank you for your loving correction. Amen.

Are Your Spiritual Knickers in a Knot?

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” –1 Peter 5:5-7

When you get dressed in the morning, do you remember to put on humility? Here Peter says to “clothe” ourselves with it. The Greek word used is enkomboomai, which means “to put on a garment that is tied.” In the first century, the garment worn with a belt of some sort was the tunic. It was the undergarment worn next to the skin and was usually covered with an outer garment called a “mantle.” When Jesus laid aside his outer garments to wash the disciples feet, one of them was the mantel, and he would have been left wearing his tunic.

The Greek word Peter chose for “humility” is tapeinophrosynē, which means “lowliness of mind” or “modesty.” It makes me wonder if Peter had in mind a word picture of putting on an undergarment for the sake of modesty.

 The Greek word used for “proud” means assuming, haughty, and arrogant. James 4:6 also uses the same Old Testament quote as Peter used above. Then, in verse 7, he gives a striking juxtaposition: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” The word “submit” in Greek means to bring under a state of influence or to make obedient. The word “resist” in Greek means to oppose or stand out against. James lists some of the evidence of pride: fights, quarrels, murder, envy, covetousness, self-reliance, wrong motives, distance from God, pleasure-seeking, and friendship with the world. These folks had it all backwards. They were resisting God, not the devil! 

One of the things the Lord corrected me for in the past was arguing with people about interpretations of the bible. He helped me see that I wanted to win an argument, not a soul. Jesus did not argue with people and insist he was right. He gently taught the truth. He also allowed time for the Holy Spirit to do his work. For me, I know I have to slow down and be patient with people when I share my faith. Sometimes I want fast-food service when God has in mind a much more elegant, leisurely, enjoyable dinner.

Our Lord clothes himself with “splendor and majesty,” and he “wraps himself in light as with a garment.” (Psalm 104:1-2). We can be clothed in many things: salvation (2 Chronicles 6:41), joy (Psalm 30:11), shame and disgrace (Psalm 35:26), strength and dignity (Proverbs 31:25), despair (Ezekiel 7:27), power (Luke 24:49), the imperishable and immortality (1 Corinthians 15:54), and Christ (Galatians 3:27). What outfit are you wearing today?

The clothing in our closets may or may not be as extensive as our spiritual wardrobe, but we all must remember to wear the undergarment of humility.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, you are clothed in light and truth. Love is your kingly raiment. Clothe us in your Holy Spirit so that we may be like Jesus, who is gentle and humble in heart toward all. Amen.