Lenten Devotions 2015: Twenty-one ways the grace of God works for us.

GraceWe live in a very challenging world today characterized by violence, bigotry, and an unashamed apathy to the Truth. Every day, it’s becoming impossible to live without the grace of God in my life. If you are honest, you would agree that we need a fresh and abundant dose of the grace of God to carry us through each day in today’s world. And the good news is that the grace at our disposable is boundless, overflowing and ever flowing. As I reflected on what grace is and what it does for us, I came across twenty-one points which I would like to share with you as well. I hope and pray that you too are blessed as I am by learning more about something which we need daily. This is not an exhaustive list and I am sure you could add a few more points from out of your personal study of the Word. Please feel free to add them with references in the comments below.

According to the Bible, the infinite grace of God is:

1. The gift of God (Romans 3: 24; Ephesians 2: 8).

2. Available to us in time of our need (Hebrew 4: 16).

3. Sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12: 9).

4. Able to justify and redeem us ( Romans 3:24; Titus 3:7).

5. Able to save us from sin (Ephesians 2: 5; Acts 15: 11).

6. Made available to us freely through Jesus Christ, not based on our works (karma) whether past of present (Romans 5: 2; 11: 6; 2 Timothy 1: 9).

7. Rich or boundless toward us just like God’s love (Ephesians 1: 7).

8. Able to strengthen us in our faith and daily walk with the Lord (2 Timothy 2: 1).

9. Able to lead us to eternal life (Romans 5: 21).

10. Worthy of sharing with one and all (Hebrews 12: 15).

11. Able to deliver us from the power of sin (Romans 6: 14).

12. Training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2: 11-12).

13. Something that one may fall away from (Galatians 5: 4).

14. An attribute of God, that is why “the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you” (Isaiah 30: 18).

15. To be preserved and we are to be good stewards of God’s grace (I Peter 4: 10).

16. Something that the prophets foretold about in the ages past (I Peter 1: 10).

17. Given more to the humble (James 4: 6).

18. Not to be received in vain but those who receive the grace of God should live by it (2 Corinthians 6: 1).

19. Something that we can be thankful about even when it is given to others (I Corinthians 1: 4).

20. Something that God may give us plenteously (2 Corinthians 9:8).

21. “Was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4: 7).

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Lenten Devotion 2015: Grace Vs Karma (Part II)

Mother-Teresa-HD-Download-Wallpapers-311_editedA friend of mine made some interesting comments about my last post on Karma vs Grace. It helped me think more on the topic and since many of you may have the same concerns, but won’t read the “comments” section here, I thought it would be helpful for all if I posted the edited version of my response.

I don’t claim knowledge of any religious system, but I am on a spiritual journey and value any help and route corrections by fellow travelers.

Karma has different meanings. The doctrine of Karma and its meaning is quite complex and it has also evolved over different periods of Indian religions. So, it will take sizable space and time to be expounded.

Let us not confuse the meaning of karma as an “act” or “action,” that is a necessity for everyone’s existence, with the “karma” as a theological concept or as a law of causality (cause and effect) employed to explain the sufferings of life just like it is done in every religious system. What is meant by “karma” as a sacrificial or ritual “act” (as in karmakanda) during the Vedic period is not the same meaning of karma as one’s moral obligation used in the later literature of “the Epic Period” of which the Bhagwad Geeta is a part.

Most believers of karma understand individual karma to mean: “If I do X, then Y happens; and Y is the result of my past X action.” Good actions reap good results and bad actions result in suffering and pain. However, they’re at a loss to understand and explain when something happens at a large scale such as an accident in which several people die or a natural calamity (an act of God!?) such as tsunami that claims thousands of lives. Whose karma was it the result of? Was it the result of collective karma of all who died or the result of the karma of individuals themselves? It is difficult to answer these questions for the believers in individual karma; therefore, it is also difficult for them to justify engagement in removing of societal injustices and wrongs. It is also hard to motivate believers of karma to engage in helping others for the betterment of their life, which is actually the result of their own actions in the past. Furthermore, believers of karma do not like the idea that they’re at the mercy of an omnipotent and omniscient God. Logically speaking, if one fully believes in the law of causation, there is no room for an omnipotent celestial Being; hence, there is no place for grace or mercy in one’s life!

Moreover, since X happens because of Y, and Y is the result of X, it naturally leads one into a vicious cycle, which the followers of karma call the “karma samsara” or the cycle of rebirths. The goal of an individual is to escape this karmic cycle. As only an individual is wholly responsible for his/her actions, he/she alone should strive for moksha or liberation from the karma samsara, without any outside help. Because of your X actions, Y is the result; so you’re not committing any “sin” against a Supreme Being. Hence, there’s no need or room for any grace of that Supreme Being.

As for the concept of karma in the biblical literature; yes, there is no denying that the concept exists as it has been part of almost all religions. However, it is the doctrine of grace and its absolute necessity for the believer’s life and salvation and not karma that is emphasized in the Bible (please see the first few chapters of the book of Romans). Yes, the Bible and particularly the New Testament talk about good works (karma) and the need for a believer to engage in good deeds. However, the most significant difference here is that the forgiveness of our sins, our salvation now and the eternal life after death are NOT dependent on our deeds however good they might be. That is absolutely the work of grace by God which we need to appropriate by faith. As the Apostle Paul clearly states, we are not saved BY good deeds but by grace FOR good deeds:

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 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: 3- 10).

Some might cite Galatians 6: 7– “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” as belief in the karma worldview. However, it must be seen in the larger context of what the Apostle Paul is saying to the believers who are already saved by grace. He’s not exhorting them to do good deeds for their future salvation or eternal life. Paul said that it is seeding time now and the reaping time will be later in the afterlife. Therefore, believers should be busy doing the sowing by engaging in good deeds of the spirit than carnal deeds. Again, like Paul writes in Ephesians, these good deeds are done not to earn our salvation because that is by grace alone, but because we are saved by grace for doing good deeds. That is why Mother Teresa and millions of other believers have engaged in doing good to others.

Grace cannot be grace if you have to work for it. Instead, grace is what you need but don’t deserve! It is the sheer mercy of God which He decides to grant me what I need it but don’t merit it through my works/actions—good or bad. That is grace. May the Lord continue to lead us all into the deeper spiritual recesses of the grace of God during this Lenten season. Blessings!

Lenten Devotions 2015: Grace Vs Karma

GraceThe main reason people are still talking about Mother Teresa and her ministry to the destitute in Kolkata is due to the worldview she adhered to in her life. Teresa’s worldview—the way she looked at the world and in particular fellow human beings—was that of grace. The rich and capable people who could serve the poor with their resources chose not to do so mainly because of their worldview. This worldview is characterized by karma. If you subscribe to the worldview of karma, you would indubitably believe the popular sayings such as:

“We reap what we sow…we sow what we reap”

“If the good is sown, the good is collected”

“What goes around comes around”

“Do good and good will come back to you”

“People pay for what they do”

“You get what you give, whether it’s bad or good.”

Thus, the natural corollary of karma worldview is that you do not engage with the world and its problems. You leave the world to go the way it is destined to go. You leave people in their sufferings for that is their destiny due to their past karma. You do nothing to alleviate misery and poverty. You do not spend time and resources in researching the root causes of sicknesses and produce better treatments, medicines, and vaccines, and so on and so forth.

On the other hand, if you subscribe to the worldview of grace, you would realize that we are not good enough in ourselves and need the grace of God to save us. Grace means God loved us so much that he decided to reveal himself fully to us in and through Jesus Christ (John 3: 16). The grace of God not only saves us from sins but enables us to be a channel of His grace to others (I Corinthians 15: 10). In short, the following summarize the effects of a worldview of grace:

Grace enables you to see the world in light of hope.

Grace enables you to find beauty, hope, positivity, and possibilities all around you.

Grace helps you see people in misery through the eyes of God and God does not just sit around doing nothing. Rather, He works out the grace through us to find solutions for the problems of the world.

Grace makes you recognize that you are already part of the Kingdom of God; therefore, you would do everything possible to not only pray but also help bring the Kingdom of God on earth.

Grace empowers you to see yourself as salt and light in the world; therefore, your words and actions would reflect the characteristics of salt and light.

This Lenten season, therefore, let’s pause to consider which worldview defines us: karma or grace? Which perspective would you like to view the world with? Some of us who are saved by nothing but grace still think and operate under the law of karma. For example, some think that by doing a few pious looking deeds such as giving up meat or chocolate they could keep Lent holy and please God while their lives remain unchanged. May the grace of God dispel such thinking from us and may we choose to be a channel of God’s free-flowing grace in the needy world.

Lenten Devotions 2015: Karma, grace, love, and service.

Dr. Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of a Hindu fundamentalist group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), recently raised a storm in India by his callous, ignorant, and malicious comment on Mother Teresa. Bhagwat remarked that behind all her social service of helping the orphans and poor people, Mother Teresa had a “hidden agenda” of converting them to her Christian faith. Many people in India and abroad, including prominent Hindus, have taken exception to Bhagwat’s comments. The Upper House of the Parliament of India, too, discussed the matter and has demanded an apology from Mr. Bhagwat. However, this is not a new issue in India as it is tied to the debate on religious conversion, and India has always shown aversion to conversion.

Therefore, the question I want to deal with today relates to the reason Mother Teresa did what she did, that is, serving the poor in India. The first thing to note is that Mother Teresa found the streets and slums of Kolkata lined up with destitute lepers, orphans, disabled people, elderly parents deserted by their well-to-do children, and young children abandoned on the streets because they were either born out-of-wedlock or born with deformities.

Secondly, one must pause to think, why did Mother Teresa encounter what she did in Kolkata? Why did people behave as they did with their sick relatives and disabled children or parents? The answer is very simple: because of their belief in the theory of karma. People believed and continue to hold that whatever you suffer today in your life is the consequence of your karma in the past life. If one is born with physical deformities or develops sicknesses like leprosy, it is the curse of deities as well as the punishment for their bad karma. No one can do anything to alter the consequences of bad karma. And if I do well in my life, it is because of my good karma. Therefore, I should fully enjoy my life without being bothered about those suffering around me due to their bad karma.

Thirdly, why did Mother Teresa choose to intervene in the lives of destitute suffering in the slums of Kolkata? Why would she decide to leave the comfort and security of a convent to go out and risk her life and dignity serving on the filthy streets of Kolkata? It is certainly not because there were no wealthy people in the city with money to spare for the poor and needy. It is also not because there were no hospitals to look after the lepers and abandoned children and the elderly. It is definitely not because there was dearth of temples and ashrams in the city. Nope, none of the above is true. She did it, instead, because of her livid vibrant faith in Jesus Christ, which she always openly acknowledged. She never hid the fact that it is the love of Christ that compelled her to engage what others had conveniently ignored. If Mother Teresa also believed in the theory of karma, it would not lead her to helping others. Thank God that she believed in the inherent dignity, value, equality, and worth of human beings as they are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1: 27) and not as low-caste or high-caste people. Mother Teresa also believed in the grace of God freely available to all people irrespective of their caste and creed and particularly to the destitute, needy, rejected, disabled, abandoned, marginalized, and oppressed human beings in our society. Her faith in Jesus Christ and his command—“love your neighbors as yourself”—did not limit her to keep her time, talents, and resources to herself or to waste them on feeding animals, birds, or idols; instead, her faith led her to use them in the service of fellow human beings who were created in the image of God just like herself. May our belief in the love of God and his grace lead us, too, to be in the service of humanity wherever we find a need around us. Amen.