Are Christians Supposed to Make the World a Better Place?

“Jesus said…In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” –John 18:37

I’ve often heard people, well-meaning believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, say things like: “We need to make a difference in our world, in our country, in our community, and in our homes.” Or, “Let’s get out there and change the world.” Should we? Or do we, ever so subtly, even by something seemingly good, get sidetracked from our vocation as Christians? I often have felt a check in my spirit when I hear things like this. Up until maybe 4 or so years ago, statements like this confused and weighted me down. I would ask the Lord, “What do you want me to do? Should I start a charity for refugees, protest for the anti-abortion movement, support veterans, fight for civil rights?” The list expands with every desperate need we see in society. So the Lord Jesus has taught me something from all this that I’d like to share with you, with the hopes that it will keep you on task and at peace.

First, let me ask that you read this with care and knowing that love is the motivation. I am NOT saying we are never called to do good works. That is unscriptural. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10). I merely want to draw your attention to the purpose and order of our to-do lists, which, sadly, these days are way too long. We live in a world of Marthas! Remember that it was Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, that chose the good part. It is a distraction and tactic of the enemy to drive a wedge between us and our Lord—always doing and having little time to build our friendship with the Lord. When we love others, we want to spend time with them, yes? How much more should we spend quiet time alone with our Lord and Savior, prayerfully reading His Word and enjoying His presence. He has called us to friendship, not a productivity initiative. We first have to receive from Him, then share it with others.

To start off with, lets talk about our purpose in doing good works. What did Jesus say? “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Is our purpose here to make a difference in the world? Or to bring glory to God? I beg you to see that our purpose behind our good works is to bring the magnificence of our God to light. So that we can point lost people to Him, not ourselves. So many churches have big programs and events and drives and whatnot. What gets headlined in the local paper or their own web site? Their church! I suppose the idea is to get people to church to hear the gospel. Then they get there to find lots of friendly people, coffee bars, rock concert-type music, and a message that basically says, “God loves you just the way you are.” Which is true in the sense that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” But then they say, “Hey, this church ain’t so bad!” But I suspect most folks walk away with the idea that God loves them so much that they need not change their sinful way of life. This is perverted love! What parent would allow or encourage their son or daughter to continue using something like heroin if it would destroy their life or even cause their death? Is the Lord less loving than a human parent?

I digress a bit, but the preaching of repentance is sadly missing in our seeker-focused churches we have today. But we hear, “God’s love is unconditional.” This is a lie straight from hell. I’m not saying His love is withheld if we do wrong, but it is enforced! Most unchurched people use the term unconditional love to mean that God accepts me as who I am and will allow me to do whatever I want. He will never tell me I’m doing wrong, because that’s being judgmental. ?! Listen. When you get a call at 2 AM from a police officer who informs you that your son or daughter was picked up for drunk driving and has totaled the family car, most parents say, “Oh, that’s okay. No big deal. We will buy them another car so they can go kill themselves or someone else in a head-on collision going the wrong way on the freeway of life. After all, we love them. They’re our child. We need to cheer them on!” NOT. So, anyone who argues that God’s love is unconditional in an attempt to excuse their sin, I challenge to let their own children run their home. Let’s see how that turns out. The church needs to let the Lord run His home, not placate sinners.

Repentance is the one main ingredient lacking in the gospel message today. I even read somewhere that repentance is a work and therefore not necessary because salvation is by grace. This is twisted. Please read in the Word how the apostles preached. Paul said, “[I] declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” (Acts 26:20) Even ‘[Jesus} said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”‘ (Luke 24:47)

There are many more scriptures I could list. Bottom line is that the modern church looks more like the world than a Jesus follower because its kowtowing to the society’s likes and dislikes. Sermons are more akin to a sales pitch or grand marketing scheme to draw the most conversions, because mega is “in” and truth is so outmoded. What does the bible say? “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

It feels so good to scratch an itch. The Church needs to stop it’s co-dependent relationship with its members. The coffers may run dry, the pews may look pretty empty, but let’s let the truth be told out of love. Paul said, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2: 7-8) What? Works? No. Holiness and righteousness are not works. They are fruit! Remember, Paul said this, the champion of salvation by grace through faith! We need to repent. Itching ears need truth or they will perish. We may even be surprised at the result when we stop striving to fill the seats and let the Lord of Hosts do His saving work.

Okay. So the purpose of our good works is to bring glory to our loving God, out of love for Him and our neighbor. The next point I want to make is the order of our to-do lists. What should be our priority? What is our purpose in this world which is passing away? What was Jesus’ purpose? “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” (John 18:37) What was the disciples’ purpose? “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) We are to be witnesses for Christ, preaching His gospel, testifying to His truth. The Lord’s desire is to fill his house! This should be our number one priority. We can lobby for anti-abortion laws, protest for civil rights, be a champion for the homeless, but if the gospel message is not preeminent, the work will swallow up the purpose of our lives. Truthfully, if our focus gets shifted to the cause, we end up with the same sad world BECAUSE it is the Lord who changes hearts, not man-made laws or government action. The laws may change, but the individual’s heart remains cold. I am NOT saying that any of these causes are not good. I am saying they are out of order. God wants us to speak truth so that He can renew and conform us into the image of his Son. A law does not do this. Only the gospel message can. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

Brothers and sisters, please understand. A follower of Jesus is not called to make the world a better place! No amount of doing good will fix this world. Jesus did the ultimate good. He died for us and has given us new life. Did this change the world in the sense of making it a utopia? The early church was brimming with good works. How did they fare in making the world a better place? Who is the ruler of this world? Did Jesus tell us it will eventually get better over time? Or worse? Did he not ask that at the day of his coming, will he find faith on the earth? My concern is that this “better place” thinking is more of a New Age type idea, that if enough people get together and do good to one another, they will impact the world for the better and will evolve into superior humans. Do they see good results? Yes, at times. But devoid of a clear gospel message, people may have all their rights secured and their bellies filled but they are still going to hell. The fix is temporal, not eternal. We need to stay on task. The Apostles preached and testified about Jesus and worked hard making disciples. They apparently, if you look at the world then and now, did not make it a better place. They made eternity a better place!

So what should a Christian do when the world tempts us with all its needs? Look to a person’s overarching need for salvation, then let the Lord supply. Otherwise, we go bankrupt. We have not enough resources or energy or power. Our heavenly Father, on the other hand, can reach into his infinite storehouse. Listen. When we feel tugged and guilty to meet some need in our world, and feel overwhelmed with the task, that is not the Lord calling you to serve. It is a distraction. Jesus, God in the flesh, did not abolish slavery or any other “just” cause because he stayed on task. He came to seek and save the lost. It was His mission, and it should be ours. I am not saying to not get involved in any of the things I’ve mentioned. Just don’t let it distract you from the top of the list. Pray for direction. Do not feel “pushed” or burdened with guilt. It is the order of things that I contest. Any good to society that comes from our good works must ride on the coattails of the gospel message, or it loses its eternal value. So let’s focus on making eternity a better place. Let’s be about the Father’s desire to make His house in eternity full. Amen.

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” —Luke 14:23

Spiritual Journey: A Riches to Rags Story

 Looking at his disciples, [Jesus] said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

–Luke 6:20-26

I have often seen these first three verses from our featured passage on literature for poverty relief organizations. Ripped out of context and applied literally, this would mean that Jesus is saying that the physically poor, the hungry, and the depressed somehow have more merit in the eyes of God, and that rich, chubby, happy people are doomed. Hmm. Seems to me there must be something more here than meets the eye–the spiritual eye!

The first four verses are easily recognized as a parallel passage to the beatitudes of Matthew, chapter 5. A key to understanding this passage is looking at the similar one. Matthew 5:3 states: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Jesus must be referring to poverty of spirit, not physical poverty. He is talking to people who recognize their spiritual need, their spiritual poverty in the sight of a holy and righteous God, because they will depend on Jesus for salvation. They rely on God’s mercy and grace, his spiritual charity, and not their own righteousness, and so the kingdom of God is theirs (Romans 3:21-24).

In verse 21 above, it is again not literal food Jesus is talking about. Matthew 5:6 speaks of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. How often Jesus spoke of himself as being living bread and living water! (John 6:51; John 4:10) Similarly, it is not those who are unhappy about justifiably sad events, but rather those who mourn over and regret their sin that are comforted. (Luke 18:13)

Verse 22 is the key to the whole passage. When are people especially blessed? When they have physical needs? No. Here, Jesus makes it clear he’s talking about his followers. It’s when we are hated, insulted, and called evil because we bear the name of Jesus. Just like the prophets and Jesus himself, every one of us who commits our life to glorify God will suffer. But even though we suffer here for a little while, Jesus reminds us to rejoice because our reward in heaven is eternal.

Unlike the passage in Matthew, Luke adds four woes to show a reversal of fortune in the spiritual realm. The first woe is to the rich. Does that mean that wealth is bad? No, some notable examples of faith were very well-to-do, including Abraham. Again, this must be taken in the spiritual sense: those who consider themselves wealthy before a holy God because of their own righteousness. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day felt like they were pretty righteous folks, and relied on their own interpretation of their Law for their feeling of spiritual security.

Again, Jesus said, woe to the well fed, or those who didn’t eat up Jesus’ parables or drink in his spiritual words. Woe to those who joke about or make light of their sin, and who want everyone to speak well of them in public, instead of saying what is true and right. Just like the false prophets in the past, they will tickle the ears of their listeners, seek glory for themselves, and lead people away from God. Woe, Jesus says, for the day is coming, if they do not heed his warning, when the tables are turned, and they will be without comfort, they will go hungry, and they will mourn and weep.

There’s a similar reversal of fortune found in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31:

 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Again, there is a tendency to just read this as a parable about the rich not lifting a finger to do anything for the poor.

This cannot be simply a parable about how the poor go to heaven and the rich go to hell. As mentioned previously, Abraham himself was wealthy beyond imagination. Here in this parable he is comforting Lazarus at his side. So if Abraham is in heaven, why and how did he get there? Why is the other rich man in hell? Why is Lazarus in heaven?

Throughout the bible, Abraham is held up as a model of faith, not in himself, but in God. The bible says that when God promised Abraham a son in his old age, that he “believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the night sky. Abraham’s spiritual children are all who, like him, believe God, and are credited righteousness: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

We know Lazarus did not go to heaven on his own merit. Poor people are just as needy spiritually as you and me. So here’s the deal. Did you know that the name Lazarus means, “whom God has helped?” Lazarus is just like those in our featured passage who are poor in spirit. He is hungry for God and covered with all sorts of spiritual sores that need healing. Even the dogs have more empathy and spiritual sense than the rich man!

So who is this rich man? In context, Jesus had been talking to his disciples, sharing another parable, and when the Pharisees overheard it, they sneered at Jesus, because they loved not only wealth, but also their way of life, their practices, their culture, their own wisdom, their own selves more than the lives of those around them. Jesus said to them: “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16: 15). They were supposed to be Israel’s religious leaders and teachers, but they held sinners in disdain and refused to help the most spiritually needy right under their upturned noses.

It would be like people today, especially modern-day religious leaders, who get wealthy without giving a crumb of real spiritual food to their flocks. Or individuals and religious leaders who weigh down people with many “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots,” before helping them understand Jesus’ only required work for entrance into heaven: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29). Or individuals and religious leaders today who like to mix extra-biblical material with orthodox Christian thought, polluting the faith with heretical ideas that do not glorify God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, but rather man. Simply put, the rich man is a pseudo-religious figure who cares nothing for the eternal well-being of the wretched soul lying just outside his doorway.

Am I trying to minimize the role of humanitarianism and the importance of aiding the poor in society? Never! Jesus himself tells us how we should care for and have friendship with the poor and disabled in our communities. He said, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed” (Luke 14:13-14). I’m only pointing out the spiritual overtones of these passages. God does not want us to look at our own works and say, “Well, I have gone to church every Sunday, I have given so much to the poor–hey, I’m a pretty decent and kind person. Thank God I’m not like [insert least favorite political candidate]. I’m sure he will let me in heaven.”

That is the attitude of Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Note the reversal of fortune at the end? We seem to have it all backwards, upside-down, & inside-out! Isaiah 64:6 states it best: “How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” So, no. God doesn’t want us to rely on or boast about what we do. He wants us to say, “I believe in Jesus. I’m sure he will let me in heaven because I know he died for me . . . even though I missed church about half of the Sundays this year and I didn’t give five bucks to that homeless man today because I thought he would buy a bottle of cheap booze with it. Dear Jesus, forgive me. What should I do?”

Jesus: “The next time you see the homeless man, at least buy him a sandwich and a soda. I would prefer that you do this though, because the kingdom of God is all about relationship with me and other people: The poor and disabled are not just projects. They are potential friends. Eat with him. Listen to his story. Tell him about me. The sandwich will be gone in fifteen minutes. You’ll leave him in sixty minutes. If you and my other children keep doing this and more for him until he believes in me, then he will not only be off the street, but he will also be with me forever in eternity, just like you, and you will have gained a new friend. You will be so moved by the whole experience that you will actually look forward to worshipping me on Sundays and doing more.”

When you think about it, don’t you just want to tell everyone you can about Jesus? Don’t you wish everyone could experience the grace of God and come live in heaven with you? I do. Ahem. Let me say that I have not always had that attitude. God matured me over the years (yes, years!), and has helped me understand him in such a loving way that I want other people to know my God in all his awesomeness. Let’s pray for the heart to want to take as many people with us to heaven as we can, with God’s help. Hey. Even the rich guys dressed in purple and fine linen need our prayers, too.


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.

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.”

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.