Christian Karma

A few years ago the My Name is Earl TV show resurfaced the old Eastern religion concept of karma. The basic idea of karma is embodied by the phrase "what goes around comes around". According to the wiki:
Through the law of karma, the effects of all deeds actively create past, present, and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one's own life, and the pain and joy it brings to him/her and others.
The bible deals with this idea of cause and effect a bit different in the sixth chapter of Galatians when it says:
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Now some take this scripture and skew it into a Christian-like karma taking the idea of sowing and reaping to formula-like proportions. I know many sincere believers who buy into it lock, stock and barrel. Oral Roberts made a lot of money 30 years ago or so when he sold this idea and called it "Seed Faith". The fallacy I see in this karma like concept of faith is three fold:
  1. It embodies the notion that God always responds in formulaic fashion to our actions and giving.
  2. It creates a carnality in giving and causes people who embrace it to feel that they earned blessings.
  3. It causes people who experience hardship to blame themselves.. much like the thinking that Job and his friends embraced.
From my perspective these karma-like concepts negate the idea of grace and cause actions to be the products of faith instead of the byproducts of faith. The scripture in Galations is a simple one that simply says that when we respond to the Holy Spirit we sow eternal seeds and when we respond to our flesh we sow temporal seeds. That scripture has nothing to do with Christian karma.

The good news of the Christian gospel is that we do not get what we deserve. We have escaped from judgment by the blood of Christ. It is not karma that causes us to prosper.. it is the Holy Spirit.. and sometimes "prospering" has little to do with the temporal aspects of life :)

Emerging Church

At a friend's request I posted my perpsective on the emerging church last November. I am still interested in this Christian movement and recently viewed this 10 minute video (above) at Alex's place. I recommend it to you. It will give you a brief overview of what the emerging church movement is all about and how the different streams of it don't alays agree with each other. If you watch it please let me know what you think of it.

For a Reason

Ever heard someone repeat this old cliché?
"Everything happens for a reason."
I am sure that you have. Last month I kicked this old cliché around with a few guys at Barnes and Noble over a latte. Thought about it today when I saw this cartoon and I remembered this passage of scripture:

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; (Romans 8:26-29)

There are a few things that I see about God's will in this passage:
  • In our weakness and struggles the Holy Spirit intercedes for us so that God's will is acomplished in our lives.
  • While He does not cause all things to happen, God causes all things to work together for our good so that His will is accomplished in our lives.
  • His will for our lives is to be conformed to the image of Jesus.
I guess what I am seeing in this passage is that the reason that things happen is to make us like Jesus. That image of Jesus is encapsulated in these verses:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)
When difficult times and events come we can be sure that God is causing those things to make us loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. In reality, pain and struggle.. either our own or that of others.. are often the only things that will cause spiritual fruit to manifest in us.. maybe that is part the reason that things happen.

The Letter Kills

My Charismatic journey took me through years of living a life built around scriptural precepts and principles. Often I would say that the Holy Spirit was leading me when, in fact, I was being led by religious rules. It is a dangerous way to lead your life because it leans heavily on your head to instruct you. The apostle Paul identifies this danger when he writes:
Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. [2 Corinthians 3:5-6]
Paul speaks of a sufficiency that cannot be discerned with your head. This sufficiency is one of the heart or spirit. He tells us that when we are led by the Spirit we are competent New Testament ministers. It is a simple idea but such a challenging one.

Paul also says in this passage that the letter kills.. did you catch that word - "kills". He could have said hurts, hinders or wounds but he chose the word kills. It strikes me how, when we live by the letter of the scripture, we live a sort of death.

Jesus, as He shared the sermon on the mount, spoke to this kind of death-living when He challenged the religious people of His day often saying:

You have heard that it was said” … “But I say to you”

Jesus took on the letter of murder, the letter of adultery, the letter of divorce, the letter of making an oath, the letter of vengeance, the letter of loving, the letter of judging others - and He spoke to them about the Spirit of those issues. He spoke to them of heart anger, heart lust, heart revenge and heart love. It was like He was telling them about how a healthy and whole heart would be life-giving.. and how a life lived by the letter of the law would be death-giving.. on a heart level.

I guess that is what I am trying to say. Those years that I lived by the letter of the scripture were years that I spent shutting down my heart.. my "spiritual life" was axiomatic.. I relied on my brain to lead me. I masqueraded my pseudo-spirituality with all sorts of Christian cliches and mumbo-jumbo.. and all the while the letter of my religion was slowly killing me on the inside.

I think that, in a sense, this kind of letter-driven behavior is encouraged by weak religious leaders who want to keep the flock under control. The sad part is that when we are under the control of the letter the influence and work of the Holy Spirit is quenched in our lives and in the church.. and the result is death and not life. I think that this is why so many leave traditional churches tired of heart-killing religion and looking for something that will ignite their hearts to real life.

No More Sorrow

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." (Revelation 21:1-5 ESV)

Sometimes when life becomes so unbearable it is good to remember that this life is.. as the scripture says.. but a vapor.. it is short-lived whether it is 43 years (as in the case of my first wife Ellen) or 143 years. It is a good thought to have as we reflect on the events in New York City seven years ago today. Yesterday morning as I prayed I was reminded of this verse from Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Heb 12:1-3 ESV)
The thought that jumped out to me was that Jesus looked forward to joy after death. It is a comforting thought that there will one day be a manifestation of the inexpressible joy that Peter speaks of.

Not of this World

This morning I was reminded of these words that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to Pontius Pilate:
"My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."
These words are ones that we (read that 'I') need to remember in this season of nationalistic politics and campaigning. In this election season we can all join together and pray the prayer Jesus taught us as we declare together:
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
This prayer is a great reminder that His kingdom has not yet come in full. We often pray this generic kind of prayer for God's will to come because we really don't not know what it is specifically. The apostle Paul says it this way in 1Corinthians:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
I look back on my life and can see how many times I was wrong even though I was convinced that I knew God's will. I think that we often show our spiritual immaturity when we say that we know God's will. As Paul says, we know in part.. even prophetic words are often veiled in mystery. Many times God surprises us - just think about the incarnation of Jesus. Really, I think that it would be fair to say that almost all of Jesus' contemporaries didn't see Him in the messianic prophesies.. they certainly were seeing in a mirror dimly.

So, my brief admonition for all of us in this election season, and all other seasons, is to remember that our kingdom is not of this world.. we are citizens of heaven. Good to remember that though we vote for a president every four years a King was crowned from eternity past.

We Walk by Faith

This song so moved me this morning as I watched it on TV.. I am still crying.. I have been down for a long time. It is such a good thing to be reminded that our walk is not one of sight.. when our natural eyes only seem to see life's difficulties we need to remember that our life is a walk of faith in things unseen by natural eyes.

I Don’t Need A Boyfriend

I found a post at Challies blog that really resonated with me. My post title is copied from it. Here is an excerpt that captures the heart of my thinkings on this:
I don't want God to romance me. I don't want God to be my lover. I don't need a boyfriend. I want God to be a Father--to be my Father. And after all, isn't this exactly how He reveals Himself in the Bible? ... I see God as a Father or as a shepherd. I see God as one who loves gently and patiently, but not romantically. God loves me as my father loves me (though certainly more completely and more perfectly), but I don't expect either one of them to send me little love notes. If either one did, I don't quite know how I'd react, but I can only imagine that I'd be distinctly uncomfortable.
As I learn more about God from studying the Scripture, I see in greater clarity the paternal qualities of God. And I love to find these. I love to learn more about God as Father, about God as one who loves and who loves completely. And I see little to convince me that God wants to woo me, to romance me, or to act the part of a lover. And I like it this way.
I think that Challie says it better than I did when I posted about feminine worship. I think that guys are generally uncomfortable with much of the romance language used in some religious circles. The imagery of romance just doesn't seem to fit when speaking about our heavenly Father or heavenly Brother.. but maybe I am missing something.. maybe someone can help me see this from a different perspective?