Devotions

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.”

 

 

 

I Love You to the Moon and Back

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

–Psalm 103:11-12

On the way to church this morning, my husband mentioned during our small talk that the odometer had just turned over to 66,555 miles. “Just think,” he said. “We’ve driven a little over a quarter of the way to the moon!” Although I knew the moon hadn’t been our destination these past ten-odd years of driving, I had to laugh at his delightful way of mapping our progress. It started me thinking about heavenly bodies.

Back on a cold late night in March 1997, I remember looking up into the dark sky to see the Hale-Bopp comet furrowing its cosmic path across the heavens. I had just heard on the news that the comet would be the closest to the earth this night, a mere 122,236,887 miles away. That’s 512 times the distance the earth is to the moon! As I stared in wonder at this astronomical phenomenon, the Lord whispered Isaiah 55:9 to my heart: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” I felt so humbled and awed at the greatness of my God!

I don’t think it coincidence that the sermon this morning was about how much God loves us, despite our faults, our sins, and our flimsy excuses. We might feel we have a neon sign on our forehead that flashes our sins and that is all God sees. We need to remember that because of our faith in Jesus, he sees us in whole, as his precious child. He sees our regret for our sins. He sees our frustration when we try to overcome a sin on our own, without the help of the Holy Spirit. Most importantly, the Lord sees our fear that he may stop loving us.

It was no mistake that God wanted me to think on an astronomic scale this morning. He wanted me to know that there is at least 122,236,887 miles of his love for me, for each and every one of his children. In my heavenly journey toward Love, in odometer terms, it’s like I’m still in the driveway, just beginning to explore God’s endless road of loving kindness. Can you hear him speak to your heart? It’s as if the Lord is calling out, “I love you to the moon and back and many, many times more.”

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.

Dear Christian, Never Give Up!

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” –Luke 15:20

The entire fifteenth chapter of Luke is a series of three parables about lost things: a sheep, a silver coin, and a younger son. It is worth noting that all these things have progressive value. The sheep would have been commonplace, the silver coin (worth a day’s wages) would have been of far more value, and anyone could relate to the irreplaceable loss of a priceless child.

Now, tax collectors, various “sinners” of all sorts, the Pharisees, and teachers of the law gathered around Jesus to listen. The Pharisees and teachers had just been muttering under their breath, complaining about the fact that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them. I can hear the disdain in their voices. It would be like a modern-day religious person saying, “If Mike knew what I know about Frank and his buddies, he wouldn’t be inviting them over to dinner all the time.” Jesus had the opposite attitude. He invited people of all walks of life to his gatherings–both religious snobs and prostitutes. He ate with them and didn’t care who was watching. He dived in and got his hands dirty–he got social. Why? Why did an up-and-coming Jewish rabbi (teacher) risk his own reputation with those in power?

Because it was the right thing to do. And because Jesus knew that real power comes from God and is birthed in love. Jesus loved others and he always perfectly reflected God’s love toward us. We should also try to reflect that love. If we were to look in a spiritual mirror, would we see love? What if we saw fear, superiority, or indifference?

If I am honest with myself, I see fear. Sometimes a bit of indifference (I’m too busy. It’s not my problem). Sometimes I’m afraid to share the gospel for fear of making a mistake. I might misspeak, or what if I offend someone? What will other people think? Then I pray about it, and God reminds me that my focus in on myself and not the other person. The Lord has something akin to emotional algebra that states “x” amount of worry is always less than “y” amount of love.

These parables here in Luke sum up God’s heart for the spiritually lost, or anyone famished for God’s love and care, anyone whose heart seeks forgiveness. Note that verse 16 says: “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” Verse 18 says, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” Note the change of heart. This could include people in our own church, even those struggling with sin.

Now this is for the spiritually mature Christian. Paul says in                      1 Corinthians 5:11: “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater, slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” Surely Paul did not have in mind a mature person who speaks and prays with another for the goal of gentle spiritual correction and restoration. His concern was that the relatively young church in Corinth was having some issues, and he feared that the bad behavior of some would tear down everyone else (verse 6). Paul was writing to impressionable Christians who wanted to socialize with “sinners” for their own pleasure. This was a wrong motive. Love and restoration of a believer is a right motive.

But Jesus warns us against having the wrong attitude. He says, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4) If sin is the speck of sawdust, what is the plank? Judgmentalism. If a person can’t see his own weakness and need for God’s help, how can he presume to help someone else who has a burning, stinging, scratchy, tear-producing sliver of wood in something no less sensitive than your eye? I, for one, would not want anyone touching my eyeball if they couldn’t even see. They would either simply miss the cause or could gouge my whole eye out! Ouch! Talk about making someone blind to God’s love.

Jesus also said in Matthew 18:17 that if an unrepentant sinner won’t listen to you, two others, or even the whole church, that we should “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Does this justify a judgmental attitude? How did Jesus treat the tax collectors and sinners? Like they were lost sons and daughters.

Ephesians 5:1-2: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”

If you are a Christian who is struggling to live a godly life, break a bad habit, forgive someone, escape from addiction, or whatever else is “common to mankind,” I want you to know that God is faithful, even when we are not. (1 Corinthians 10:13) You may be a spiritual mess, like the young man in the video who has given up and is a physical and emotional mess. The Lord will help you even when you’ve given up hope. He will pick you up in his arms. He will carry you on his back. He will work with you until you get it. He will cry when he sees you try. He will applaud your first steps. He will throw his arms around you and hug you and kiss you, because you were near death, and have been revived.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help us trust you and love like Jesus. Not necessarily a warm, fuzzy kind of love, but a gritty, tenacious kind of love, one that empathizes with a person’s true spiritual state. They may cuss, swear, drink, stink, dress weird, think they’re tough and to be feared, seem aloof and above reproof, wear nose rings and sport full-length body tattoos, or simply hate the Good News . . . but their true state is one of utter weakness and brokenness before You. Help us see them this way so that we can bring them to Jesus to mend and make whole. Amen.

 

 

God-breathed

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. –2 Timothy 3:16-17

What can we tell non-believers who think that the bible is just a another religious book written by men?

First, we can ask them how they came to have their opinion to get them involved in a conversation. We can ask if they have ever read the bible. Chances are they have not. You can’t judge a book by its closed cover, right? We can ask how they can give an informed opinion on any book they haven’t read. Maybe the idea of reading the entire bible is a bit daunting. We can break it down to challenging them to read just one of the gospels–my favorite is John. And we can always share just a few scriptures to whet their appetite. I like verses that illustrate the mercy of Jesus. Then ask them what they think of what was just read. Jesus says that just like bread is vital to our physical bodies, every word that comes from the mouth of God is vital to our spiritual life (Matthew 4:4). Our job is to help them realize their God-given hunger and thirst for salvation. “I am the bread of life; the one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty again.” (John 6:35)

Reasoning with people is helpful, too. I have heard the idea that the bible couldn’t be written without inspiration, because it speaks plainly about people’s failures. It doesn’t talk up humanity. It rather always glorifies God. 1 Peter 1:20-21 says: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

When you think about it, the entire bible is a series of real life stories about how God relates to humanity, and how humanity responds. The two responses are belief and obedience, which lead to great blessing, or disbelief and disobedience, which lead to great heartache. The bible is a living word picture illustrating the polarity between faith and distrust. It is littered with the human failures of even godly people, a book that is embarrassingly truthful and always proves God true. How many other books would dare to be so honest? Jesus said, “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own honor,” which is human nature. (John 7:18).  And the Lord said, “How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another,” which is God’s nature (Isaiah 48:11).

Remember to have a humble attitude, especially with those in another faith tradition. We want to engage in a dialogue, not a diatribe. Jesus reserved his “woe to you” speeches for the hard-hearted religious leaders of the day. Otherwise, he gently taught the misinformed and the lost. Hebrews says that the word of God is alive and more effective than a two-edged sword and “able to discern the thoughts and deliberations of the heart.” (4:12). Ephesians actually calls the word of God the sword of the Spirit (6:17). Discern your audience. We wield a weapon against an enemy, not a victim.

In our main scripture above, Paul says all Scripture is God-breathed. The Lord breathed the breath of life into Adam. God-breathed words animate the dry bones in Ezekiel 37:9-10: “Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”  So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.” Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Whenever God-breathed words are spoken, the result is a spiritual miracle and abundant life.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, we love you. Fill our mouths with your word so that we will bear fruit for your Kingdom and your glory. 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.

The Camel and the Needle

But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is [for those who trust in riches] to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” –Mark 10:24-26

What? Is Jesus saying that he can’t save rich people, or that wealth is bad? Wretched out of context, you might think so. A more careful reading reveals so many things jam-packed into this relatively short conversation in Mark chapter 10!

First, there seems to be a contradiction here compared to the preceding verses. In Mark 10:14-15, his disciples decide that Jesus is too important a religious teacher to waste his time on blessing little children. But their attitude toward children makes Jesus indignant. He tells them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Is it any wonder that by the time we read verse 26 that the disciples are dumbfounded by the seemingly impossible task of entering the kingdom of God?

Looking at a little more context, Mark 10:17-22 tells us that a young man runs up to Jesus, falls on his knees, and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  The first thing he tells him is, “Why do you call me good? No one is good, except God alone.” In one breath, Jesus alludes to his deity AND makes a blanket statement. God alone is good. No one else can claim to be good. The greek word for “good” is agathos, meaning “good, profitable, generous, upright, virtuous.”

Jesus then reminds this man of several of God’s commandments, such as “you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.” The young man tells Jesus that he has kept these laws since he was a little boy. His desire to please God was humanly sincere. To test that sincerity, Jesus tells him there is one thing he lacks if he wants to be perfect. He tells him to go and sell everything he owns, lock, stock, and barrel, give it to the poor, and invites him to become a follower. Then the bible tells us, “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

You see, with this little spiritual “pop quiz,” Jesus reveals that the young man’s desire to observe external rules perfectly cannot be compared to an internal love for God. By asking this rich young ruler to part with all his wealth, he pinpointed his failure to keep the first commandment, to love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, to love God passionately. The man simply loved his money more than he loved God. He turned from Jesus and chose to walk away from the only One who could save him and give him supernatural love! And here we come to our quote wrenched out of context.

Starting in verse 24, after this dramatic exit, Jesus looks around him and tells his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” He then gives this striking image that likens the rich person’s salvation to leading a camel through the eye of a needle! Camels are not only large animals, but also carry heavy cargo. They are true beasts of burden. Some scholars believe this could be a reference to a narrow gate that required the reign-holder to strip the camel of its cargo before being able to pass through. Others claim the meaning was simply a hyperbole, or exaggerated statement, referring to the actual eye of a sewing needle. Regardless, the message boils down to the impossibility of the situation.

And here, I think we have in a very condensed passage of scripture, the message of the gospel. Salvation is simple. Remember verse 15? You “receive it” like a little child. It is a gift of love from our heavenly Father, just as earthly parents provide for the needs of their children. Another thing to note is that children are not beasts of burden, like camels. They are not called upon to physically or emotionally labor for the love of their parents. A good parent simply loves their child and allows them to play and grow while nurturing their development. How much more so with our perfect Parent? And one last thing. If the camel in this word image refers to the rich man, what does the eye of the needle represent? Jesus! We live in a world filled with the mindset that all paths lead to God. But Jesus made it clear that there is no other way than through the eye of a needle, Jesus himself. He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

And the crowning gem to this story is in verse 27 where Jesus says: “With man [salvation] is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Dear friend, if you feel God tugging at your heart to come to him, don’t be afraid. You don’t have to be perfect. Simply receive his love like a small child. If you already are a Christian, but because of an imperfect parent you have the habit of always working to please in order to get love, rest in knowing God’s love is not earned. Perhaps you are in a faith tradition that teaches you may not go to heaven if you don’t give enough, sacrifice enough, go to church enough, serve enough, pray enough. I pray God frees you from that false notion, because “Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7: 24-25) Trust in God’s goodness until love, a perfect motivator, replaces fear. Your heavenly Father wants you to simply love him so that all else follows. God’s love is not earned. It is simply returned to the Giver.

PRAYER: Dearest Father, lead all of us to Jesus, who loves you infinitely, and allow him to cover our feeble attempts to please you with his perfect sacrifice on the cross. In his precious and holy name, Amen.