The “Born Again” Redundancy

John 3

1After dark one evening, a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus, a Pharisee, 2came to speak with Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are proof enough that God is with you.”

3Jesus replied, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God.”

4“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

5Jesus replied, “The truth is, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven. 7So don’t be surprised at my statement that you must be born again. 8Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

One year, back in the 1970’s, my parents gave me a necklace for Christmas. It was a stainless steel chain with a large metal, rectangular tag hanging from it with the words “Born Again” stenciled in black. It looked something like the dog tags one might find a soldier wearing to identify themselves in the case of some tragic accident.

I never really wore the necklace too much for reasons I will allow Kevin McCallister to explain in the following short video clip:

The phrase “born again Christian” was quite popular back then as it served as a way to identify a certain segment of the Christian crowd.

If you’ve ever wondered where the term “born again Christian” came from or what it means, this is the passage.

The text says that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and if you know anything about the Pharisees, they didn’t exactly get along with Jesus. But unlike most of his religious brethren, who were hard-hearted and saw Jesus as a threat, Nicodemus was open and spiritually curious. So he found a way to meet with Jesus in private where he acknowledged what most Pharisees were unwilling to even consider – that Jesus was indeed sent from God.

I’m sure Jesus’s reply was not what Nicodemus was expecting as he gives this rather strange response about the need for one to be “born again” to see the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus, like many people today, was confused by the phrase “born again”. He gives a bewildered response, “how can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” as well as the equally puzzling, “will being born again give me TWO belly buttons?” Ok, I added that last phrase but both statements show a fundamental lack of understanding in what Jesus was communicating.

Jesus explains to Nicodemus that to enter the kingdom of heaven one must be born of water and of spirit. He continues by adding that “humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven.”

So what’s he saying?

Everyone experiences a physical birth. In theological terms, we call that generation. There isn’t a person who’s ever lived who did not experience a physical birth. So, the first condition to making it into the kingdom of heaven is one must have experienced a physical birth.

But there is a second condition that’s required to make it into the kingdom of heaven. In addition to being born physically one must also experience a spiritual birth. This second birth is what Jesus is referring to when he says “you must be born again.”

The Bible tells us that even though people are alive physically, because of sin, we are dead spiritually (separated from God). Therefore, in order to be reconciled to God, we must become alive spiritually by experiencing a spiritual birth. We call this regeneration.

Regeneration is the role of the Holy Spirit and it occurs when a person receives the free gift of forgiveness that Jesus offers through His death on the cross.

Receiving this free gift is simply a matter of:

    1. Recognizing that I am a sinner
    2. Acknowledging that Jesus died on the cross for my sins
    3. Trusting Jesus to come into my life and provide forgiveness

When someone responds in faith to Jesus’s offer of forgiveness, an amazing thing happens. God’s Holy Spirit comes into that person’s life and gives them new spiritual life. This is the spiritual birth that Jesus is referring to and it’s what is meant by the term “born again.”

The thing is, it’s impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven unless you’re born again. In other words, you cannot be a Christian unless you are born again because being a Christian means you’ve accepted Jesus’s free gift and the Holy Spirit has come into your life to make you alive spiritually.

So the phrase “born again Christian” is a redundancy, akin to saying “I’m a Christian Christian.”

So why use the term “born again Christian” if it’s a redundancy?

The term became popular as a way for those who have accepted Jesus into their life to distinguish themselves from those who call themselves Christians but have never responded to Jesus’s offer. Many people identify as Christians simply because they go to church or they believe in the God of the Bible. But none of this means a person is a Christian. A person becomes a Christian the moment they experience this second birth, just as Jesus described to Nicodemus.

Reflection

Do you consider yourself a Christian? What is it that makes you a Christian?

Jesus said that a person must be “born again” to experience the kingdom of heaven. Have you experienced a “second birth”? What were the circumstances that led you to make that decision?

The term “born again Christian” is not as popular today as it was in the 1970’s, partly because many who are not Christians began to associate the term with religious fundamentalism and other caricatures of Christianity that most true Christians would reject. What terms do you currently use to identify your Christian faith and tradition to others?

The danger for many Christians is that we can become religious over time. What steps can you take to ensure your heart remains open and curious, like Nicodemus, instead of hard and callous like the other Pharisees?

 

Photo by Dave Lowe

 

Choose Wisely!

Deuteronomy 30

11“This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you to understand or perform. 12It is not up in heaven, so distant that you must ask, ‘Who will go to heaven and bring it down so we can hear and obey it?’ 13It is not beyond the sea, so far away that you must ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to bring it to us so we can hear and obey it?’ 14The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it.

15“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between prosperity and disaster, between life and death. 16I have commanded you today to love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, laws, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and become a great nation, and the LORD your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy. 17But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, 18then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.

19“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live! 20Choose to love the LORD your God and to obey him and commit yourself to him, for he is your life. Then you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-20, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

There are dozens of burger chains among an endless sea of fast food choices in America. The job of marketing is to convince you why you should frequent one establishment over the others.

A successful marketing campaign will have you singing a jingle or repeating a slogan unconsciously.

Back in the 70’s it was McDonald’s “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun” jingle vs. Burger King’s “hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us, all we ask is that you let us serve it your way” chorus.

These two fast food giants were the undisputed big dogs of the fast food world.

Wendy’s burst on the scene in the 1980’s with its famous “Where’s the beef?” commercial and is currently the 3rd largest burger chain.

Today, the McDonald’s slogan is “I’m loving it.”

I can’t even tell you what Burger King’s slogan is as they seem to be going through somewhat of an identity crisis.

Wendy’s current marketing strategy is to position itself as the “better” choice, from hot and crispy fries that are better than McDonalds to burgers made from beef that is fresh, not frozen. The ad campaign encourages patrons to “Choose wisely, choose Wendy’s”.

It all comes down to how you choose.

This is the idea in this section of the book of Deuteronomy. Make your choice and choose wisely.

The book of Deuteronomy is really a message given by Moses to the Israelites just before entering the promised land. The word actually means “Second Law”. Moses had already given the law to the Israelites in Exodus but most of those people had died off because of their disobedience in Numbers 13-14. Hence, this is the “second” giving of the law.

After 40 years of wandering in the desert a new generation was finally about to experience God’s promise to enter the promised land on the other side of the Jordan river. Moses is reminding them of the covenant that God had established with His people, along with His promise that if they would follow Him whole-heartedly and obey His commands, they would not only live, but they would prosper.

Disobedience, on the other hand, would bring about disaster and curses, including certain destruction from their enemies.

The choice for the Israelites was simple: choose life and prosperity over death and destruction.

Choosing life means loving God with your whole heart, keeping His commands and walking in His ways.

Choosing death means turning away from God, refusing to listen to Him and being drawn away to serve and worship other gods (including oneself).

Clearly life is better than death and prosperity is better than destruction.

Though we are now living under the New Covenant, the basic choice is still the same. We can choose life or death. We can choose prosperity or we can choose destruction. We can choose to love God and follow Him or we can choose to follow our own selfish path.

Like the Wendy’s ad campaign says, there is a better option…..choose wisely!

Reflection

When have you been faced with a tough choice in your life? How did you choose? What factors went into your decision?

What makes choosing God so difficult for people in today’s culture? 

What do you think it means to choose life? What would that look like?

What do you think “destruction” looks like for those who choose not to love God? 

What steps can you take to continue to choose life over death?

 

Photo by Batu Gezer on Unsplash

I Know a Guy

Have you ever asked for a recommendation for something, like an electrician, a mechanic, an accountant or something else, only to get a response from a friend who says, “I know a guy.” Perhaps you’re the one who knows a guy and have recommended someone’s services to someone else.

Recently, I was meeting with my friend Vince, a Young Professional who shared a funny story. 

Vince is a Young Professional who is pursuing his passion to help teenagers succeed academically via his own tutoring business (vincecanhelp@outlook.com).

Vince was manning an informational table at church with another Young Adult named Wyat, whom he didn’t know. They started talking about the challenges they were facing in this post-college, single phase of life.

“It seems as if most churches are geared more towards families”, one of them said.

“True. Young Adults like us are often overlooked and under-served”, the other remarked.

“There is this one guy I know though, who seems to care about Young adults and has really helped me out.”

“Wait. You know a guy? I know a guy too. Who’s your guy? My guy is named Dave Lowe.”

“Dude…that’s my guy too! How do you know Dave?”

Scene from Ocean’s 11: “You know a guy?”

 

I love this story for many reasons. 

First, it confirms the unique challenges Young Professionals experience as they seek to find spiritual resources and mentors to help them navigate the unique challenges they face. 

Secondly, it shows the amazing power of networking, as I met both Vince and Wyat through a common connection they both had, though they didn’t actually know each other.

Third, it’s fun being thought of as “the guy” who cares about and ministers to the unique challenges of Young Adults. Actually, that is what we’re hoping for and trusting God to develop in our ministry.

Wyat is a recent graduate of UC Irvine, working as a Phlebotomist while he contemplates going to Medical School.

I was introduced to Vince last year through a mutual connection. When we met, I learned that Vince is from New York and received an appointment to West Point but opted instead to attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he received a degree in engineering. After working a few years for a big engineering firm, Vince decided to step out in faith to pursue his real passion, helping high schoolers succeed academically.

It turns out Vince is highly skilled at teaching young people just about any STEM subject you can imagine. He not only helps high schoolers improve in the classroom, but Vince is also proficient in helping teens boost their standardized test scores and navigate University Admissions processes.

Starting your own tutoring business can be extremely rewarding emotionally, but difficult financially. This is especially true for Vince, who not only supports himself, but is the sole provider for his mother.

Like any startup, increasing your client base and getting the word out is always a challenge.

Saul Goodman (from Breaking Bad): “Let’s just say I know a guy who knows a guy…..who knows another guy.”

 

Not long ago, I saw someone post on Nextdoor that they needed a recommendation for a tutor for their daughter, who was struggling in her Physics course. I was able to respond, “I know a guy”…and I shared Vince’s information.

When I met Vince, after sharing his humorous story about his interaction with Wyat, he thanked me for connecting me with the person from Nextdoor. He’s been tutoring this young woman and her understanding and test results have improved dramatically.

So if you find someone who needs help academically, you can say, “I know a guy” (vincecanhelp@outlook.com), or as Saul Goodman from the show Breaking Bad famously said, “I know a guy who knows a guy…”

And if you know a Young Adult who needs coaching or spiritual mentoring, you definitely “know a guy….and a gal.”

Please pray for Vince as he trusts the Lord to provide for his needs by growing his business, and pray for us as we seek to continue to serve the needs of Young Professionals in Orange County and beyond. 

It’s Not How You Start, but How You Finish!

Acts 15

36After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s return to each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are getting along.” 37Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not shared in their work. – Acts 15:36-37, NLT

Colossians 4

14Dear Doctor Luke sends his greetings, and so does Demas.  – Colossians 4:14, NLT

2 Timothy 4

9Please come as soon as you can. 10Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus has gone to Dalmatia. 11Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me. 12I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13When you come, be sure to bring the coat I left with Carpus at Troas. Also bring my books, and especially my papers.  – 2 Timothy 4:9-13, NLT


The Daily DAVEotional

In December an amazing thing happened in an NFL football game. At half-time, the Minnesota Vikings were getting taken to the woodshed, down 33-0 to the Indianapolis Colts. It was a surprising development, given the Vikings had one of the best records in football and the Colts were widely regarded as one of the worst teams in the league.

I remember seeing the half-time score and thinking that game was all but over.

Later I learned that the Vikings had made a complete turn around in the second half, tied the game up and won 39-36, on a last second field goal in overtime. It was the greatest comeback in NFL history.

 

Proof once again that it’s not how you start, but how you finish.

The same is true in the Christian life. The Bible is replete with stories about people who did not finish well.

In 2 Timothy 4, Paul mentions two guys who are going in opposite directions. Paul mentions both by name.

The first is Demas. You might remember Demas from Colossians 4, where Paul mentions him as one of his co-workers who offers a greeting to the recipients of Paul’s epistle. Demas was on the right track, seemingly walking with Christ and serving with Paul for the furtherance of the gospel ministry in Asia Minor.

But something happened. We’re not given all the details but later, when Paul pens his final letter to Timothy, it’s clear that Demas has abandoned the faith in favor of a worldly lifestyle.

In contrast to Demas is Mark. Mark did not get off to a good start. He joined Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey as an assistant in Acts 13:5 but didn’t last very long, abandoning them before their journey was complete (Acts 13:13).

In Acts 15, when Paul and Barnabas decide to go out on another missionary journey, Barnabas wants to take Mark with them but Paul is not in favor of this plan because Mark had previously abandoned them. Their disagreement was so sharp that the Paul and Barnabas band broke up and each decided to go solo, taking on new partners, Paul taking Silas while Mark accompanied Barnabas. I wrote about this first “church split” in a previous blog post here.

Later, when Paul is older and about to leave this earth for his heavenly abode, Paul makes a final request of Timothy – “bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me.”

Paul had no use for Mark early on, for Mark had clearly tubed out on the mission. But though Mark started off shaky, he finished well, so much so that later, when Paul was nearing death, Paul came to see Mark as tremendously useful.

These two guys, both mentioned in the same ending lines of Paul’s letter to Timothy, illustrate that no matter where you’re at or what you’ve done, you can always re-direct your path and finish well. Like Mark, we can change the narrative of our lives and become “useful” to the Lord and His purposes.

Likewise, even if you may find yourself on the right path now, it’s no guarantee that you will finish well. Like Demas, we can be lured by worldly forces to abandon our first love for mere earthly pleasures.

My hope is to finish well like Mark did, while avoiding the pitfalls of Demas!

Reflection

In what ways do you relate to Mark? In what ways can you relate to Demas?

What are some examples in your own circle of friends and acquaintances of people who seemed to start strong but ultimately didn’t finish?

Demas left Paul because he “loved the things of this life”. What are some of the things in this life that tend to be alluring to you and could possibly sidetrack you from wholehearted devotion to Christ?

What safeguards can you place in your own life to ensure you finish like Mark and not like Demas?

 

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Helping New Believers Via Digital Discipleship

Last fall, I shared about how Cru is reaching people all over the world through our evangelistic websites EveryStudent.com and EveryPerson.com.

In August, over 5.3 million people visited one of our sites and well over 100,000 people made a decision to become followers of Jesus. If you do the math, that’s over 3300 people EACH DAY making a decision to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior!

Every month, we receive hundreds of messages from people all around the world whose lives have been impacted. 

Lalit, from India, emailed us to say, “I now know that Jesus has sacrificed for us and he covered us by his blood, so our sins could be washed away. And I am really so happy because my life will be changed now by God. I tell many about God who is like this.” 

After accepting Christ, Hadijah from Uganda shared, ”I’m so glad that I accepted Jesus in my life. I love this change. I’ve been through tough times, but I’m feeling some change ever since I accepted Christ.”

Hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world are coming to Christ each month by reading evangelistic articles on the Cru websites at EveryStudent.com and EveryPerson.com.

Many of those accepting Christ are coming from the most challenging countries in the world (Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Atheistic Nations). The websites allow them to come privately, safely, and at their moment of interest/questioning.

But what happens to people once they’ve made a commitment to accept Christ into their lives?

Did you know that Cru also has a website aimed at discipling new believers as they begin their journey with Christ?

StartingwithGod.com is a Cru website that helps new believers build a strong spiritual foundation by introducing them to foundational principles of walking with Christ.

Those who indicate a new decision for Christ are invited to go to the site and sign up for the Spiritual Starter Kit, which initiates a series of emails that link to articles that explain important concepts for spiritual growth.

One of the articles, The Nature of Faith, helps new believers understand what it means to trust God in every day life. I wrote this article years ago as an adaptation of a talk I gave to Cru students.

Signing up for the spiritual starter kit at StartingwithGod.com allows new believers an easy way to take a next step in their new relationship with God.

Earlier this year, I learned about the impact the article is having in the lives of people around the world. 

Last year alone (2021), the article was read by over 10,000 new believers in English, Spanish and Portuguese  in addition to countless more who read the article in languages such as Albanian, Armenian, Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Russian and many others.

If you’re looking for a simple way to introduce others to Jesus with little effort and no pressure, consider inviting your friends to visit EveryPerson.com where they can explore their spirituality and address their questions with complete freedom and anonymity.

An easy way to help others build a foundation for their faith is to encourage them to go to StartingwithGod.com and sign up for the Spiritual Starter Kit or one of the other email discipleship opportunities.

Please join us in praying for the continued impact of these sites to those around the world who are spiritually thirsty and seeking answers to life’s challenges. 

Thank you for your partnership, which enables us to minister to Young Professionals personally as well as people around the world digitally!

Biblical Investing Advice

Ecclesiastes 11

2Divide your gifts among many, for you do not know what risks might lie ahead. (Ecclesiastes 11:2, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The Bible has a lot to say about money and wealth. Despite what many people in our culture think today, the Bible doesn’t condemn wealth or making money. Actually, Jesus himself encourages the wise steward  to multiply the resources entrusted to him/her by God and to seek to make a profit. I’ve written a number of blog posts on the subject of whether wealth is immoral. You can read my previous posts here, here and here.  Additionally, I wrote about God’s stance towards the rich here.

Though the Bible encourages people to make a profit and to multiply their financial resources, it doesn’t give a lot of guidance on how exactly we’re supposed to do that. When it comes to investing, the Bible has little to say that will yield any specific steps or strategies to guide us.

There is one verse however, that gives some financial wisdom on the topic of investing, and it’s found in Ecclesiastes 11:2.

In this verse, Solomon tells us to divide our “gifts” among many in order to hedge against risk.

What’s he talking about?

I like the way the NIV states this verse. It says it this way:

2Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. (Ecclesiastes 11:2, NIV)

In this verse, Solomon is encouraging the reader to divide his investments into 7 or 8 different portions. Essentially, he’s encouraging the reader to diversify their assets in order to hedge against a potential disaster.

I found a blog post by Alice A. Anacioco to be especially helpful. She explains this passage this way:

You may be surprised to read King Solomon offering financial counsel as he nears the end of Ecclesiastes. But accordingly, Solomon was deeply involved in international trades with merchants. And just like today, one of the main trade commodities was grain.

The merchants of Solomon’s day would load their grains on ships and send them off. But instead of loading all of their grains in just one ship, he tells his merchants to put them in several ships and send them out in a diversified way so that if one of the ships should sink, he would not lose everything.

The main advice the Bible gives when it comes to investing is to diversify your investments. The idea is to spread your money out among different types of assets so that if one type of asset is negatively impacted by an economic event, the other assets may be unaffected and as a result, the entire portfolio will not be completely devastated.

Be careful though. Many people assume they are following this advice because they have placed their investment money into mutual funds. Many financial advisors will advise their clients to diversify their stock portfolio among many different stocks so that if one company performs badly, the positive performances of the other stocks may shield the portfolio from being completely torpedoed.

Mutual funds provide some level of inherent diversity because a mutual fund is already a portfolio of many stocks. Hence, if one company within the fund goes down, other companies may go up and thus the value of the fund may go up as well despite the poor performance of one or a few companies.

But being invested in a number of stocks or even mutual funds does not mean you are diversified. To truly be diversified and hedged against disastrous economic events, one needs to have their funds invested in different asset classes altogether.

Think about it. Stocks and mutual funds are part of the same asset class. When the market crashed in 2000 due to the dotcom bubble bursting, many people who had all their money in the stock market had their entire portfolio decimated. Again, in 2008 when the market crashed as a result of the real estate bubble bursting, many who were “diversified” because they owned many different stocks or mutual funds took major hits to their bottom line.

I have heard and seen too many stories of people who had their entire nest egg cut in half or worse by one of these two market events. And for those who were in retirement when it happened, the results have been disastrous. There simply is no time to rebound from these market crashes when you’re already taking disbursements during retirement.

Solomon’s advice is basically “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. So if you really want to diversify, don’t have all your money in stocks and mutual funds. Invest in other assets as well (such as real estate, precious metals, commodities, etc.) That way, if the stock market crashes, as it inevitably will do, only a portion of your entire portfolio will be affected. And who knows, even while the market is crashing, perhaps the other assets will be unaffected or even increase. You may find that you are gaining overall instead of losing it all.

Reflection

What is or has been your investing strategy?

What steps have you taken or are you taking to diversify your financial portfolio?

Besides stocks and mutual funds, what are some other asset classes you could invest in to begin to create a truly diversified portfolio?

 

Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash

 

All You Need is Love

Romans 12

9Don’t just pretend that you love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good. 10Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11Never be lazy in your work, but serve the Lord enthusiastically.

12Be glad for all God is planning for you. Be patient in trouble, and always be prayerful. 13When God’s children are in need, be the one to help them out. And get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night.

14If people persecute you because you are a Christian, don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow. 16Live in harmony with each other. Don’t try to act important, but enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible. (Romans 12:9-18, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The second half of Romans 12 reads almost like a chapter in the book of Proverbs, with each verse seemingly reflecting its own solitary counsel of wisdom.

Yet there is a theme that ties this section together, and that is the idea of loving others. We all know that love is the supreme command. Jesus himself said that all the laws could be summed up in the ONE command to love God and love others.

But what does it really mean to love other people? Paul, in this section, gives a bit of a glimpse.

First off, it’s easy to talk about love but it’s harder to actually demonstrate it. Hence, the admonition to really love people and not just pretend to love others.

Love can be tangibly demonstrated by showing genuine affection for others as well as honoring others.

Love is patient with others and is demonstrated by helping meet tangible physical needs, such as providing food and/or lodging to people when they need it.

Love is empathetic. When people are happy, we rejoice with them, but when they’re sad, we share in their sorrow.

People who are loving don’t show partiality to select groups of people and they don’t try to prop themselves up by acting like they know everything. In other words, love isn’t ego-centric, but it’s other-centered. Love is selfless.

Love is not vengeful but seeks to bless others, even those whose aim is to persecute us.

Love seeks peace and harmony with others. It’s not always possible to achieve because we can’t control how others act or respond, but we can control how we respond in a given situation.

As I think about these words of Paul, I wonder how different our physical and online encounters with others would be if we sincerely took these words to heart and sought to integrate them into our lives and character.

The truth is, truly loving people is hard. It’s difficult to love those who have wronged you and even more difficult to love those who are actively persecuting you. When someone wrongs me, my sin nature wants to wrong them back.

Truly loving people in a way that reflects Jesus’s standards and expectations isn’t possible apart from the transforming power of God’s Spirit working in our lives.

We are all unfinished products and we need Jesus every day to live His life in and through us. When I commit to yielding to Him and I consciously invite Him to empower me, I find that I’m able to act in a way that is more reflective of God’s love for me. But when I’m being self-centered and rebellious, my life and actions don’t look very loving.

This is why Paul, at the outset of this chapter, encourages us to offer our bodies up to the Lord as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). He’s inviting us to surrender our will to that of the Lord’s. If we can purpose to do this more consistently, moment by moment, we just might find ourselves demonstrating love to others in the way that Paul describes.

Reflection

Paul gives a number of tangible expressions of love. Which ones are easier for you to demonstrate and which ones do you find more challenging?

Do you find it easy or hard to live in harmony and peace with others? Why or why not?

What are some examples you can think of in our culture that demonstrate a lack of love? 

What are some positive examples of love you have seen in your life and/or community?

In your opinion, what are some reasons why people are so unloving toward others?

What do you think are some solutions that would help to get people to love others?

 

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok: https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-sand-love-text-on-seashore-348520/

Evidence that Jesus is God

John 10

22It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah. 23He was at the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. 24The Jewish leaders surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

25Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is what I do in the name of my Father. 26But you don’t believe me because you are not part of my flock. 27My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them away from me, 29for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. So no one can take them from me. 30The Father and I are one.”

31Once again the Jewish leaders picked up stones to kill him. 32Jesus said, “At my Father’s direction I have done many things to help the people. For which one of these good deeds are you killing me?”

33They replied, “Not for any good work, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, have made yourself God.” (John 10:22-33, NLT)

Acts 14

8While they were at Lystra, Paul and Barnabas came upon a man with crippled feet. He had been that way from birth, so he had never walked. 9He was listening as Paul preached, and Paul noticed him and realized he had faith to be healed. 10So Paul called to him in a loud voice, “Stand up!” And the man jumped to his feet and started walking.

11When the listening crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in their local dialect, “These men are gods in human bodies!” 12They decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Zeus and that Paul, because he was the chief speaker, was Hermes. 13The temple of Zeus was located on the outskirts of the city. The priest of the temple and the crowd brought oxen and wreaths of flowers, and they prepared to sacrifice to the apostles at the city gates.

14But when Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting, 15“Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings like yourselves! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. 16In earlier days he permitted all the nations to go their own ways, 17but he never left himself without a witness. There were always his reminders, such as sending you rain and good crops and giving you food and joyful hearts.” 18But even so, Paul and Barnabas could scarcely restrain the people from sacrificing to them. (Acts 14:8-18, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A number of years ago, I had some conversations with two Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to my door seeking to proselytize me. I wrote about that encounter in a previous post here.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religious group that has its roots in Christianity but is not Christian in their theology. That’s because they deny both the traditional Christian doctrine of the trinity, which they believe is rooted in paganism, and the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, which they assert was not the belief of the early church but was introduced as a false doctrine by Constantine at the Council of Nicea.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is a created being and they argue that Jesus never claimed deity for himself and nowhere in Scripture does it even hint at this “false” teaching.

In my conversation with the Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to my door, I referenced this passage in John 10 and asked, “what do you make of John 10:30, where Jesus says, ‘I and the Father are one?’ Isn’t this an evidence of Jesus’ divinity?”

Their response was interesting. They said, “Jesus was only claiming to be one in purpose with God the Father. He was not claiming divinity.”

My response was, “the context doesn’t support your view. Look at verse 31. It says that the Jewish leaders picked up stones to kill him. Why would they want to kill him if he was simply stating that he was one in purpose with God the Father? Aren’t you one in purpose with God the Father?”

They responded by saying that the Jewish leaders had misunderstood what Jesus was saying. Yes, they picked up stones to kill him but it was because they THOUGHT that Jesus was asserting equality with God but he really wasn’t.

If this was really the case, that the leaders simply misunderstood what Jesus was saying, then why didn’t Jesus correct their false understanding?

Think about it.

Jesus makes a statement about being unified with God in purpose and suddenly a mob is trying to kill him. Jesus asks, “why are you trying to kill me?” and they tell him it’s for blasphemy…that he, being a mere man has made himself God!

If Jesus WASN’T God, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses assert, why did Jesus not correct their misunderstanding?

Interestingly, in Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas heal a crippled man and the crowd is so amazed at the miracle they had performed that they determined Paul and Barnabas must be gods in human form. They are prepared to make sacrifices to them at the city gates when Paul and Barnabas realize what’s happening. What do they do?

They don’t allow their misunderstanding about who they are to go uncorrected. They plainly and directly explain that they are NOT gods and that they should not be worshiped. Instead, they tell their audience that they are simply messengers sent to explain to them about the God they SHOULD worship – Jesus.

So the Jehovah’s Witness argument doesn’t make sense. They say that Jesus was only claiming to be one in purpose with God but the religious leaders misunderstood what Jesus meant and so they decided to stone him for blasphemy. If Jesus were not God he would have corrected their misunderstanding just as Paul and Barnabas did with those who mistook them for Greek gods. Yet Jesus didn’t correct their supposed misunderstanding. The simple explanation for why He didn’t is because they DIDN’T misunderstand what He was saying. He really was claiming equality with God the Father.

The context of this passage clearly communicates that Jesus believed He was equal with God and He communicated that belief to others. That is why the Jewish leaders picked up stones to kill him. They clearly didn’t believe Jesus was God but they clearly understood Jesus was making the claim. That is why they picked up stones to kill Him. They believed He was guilty of blasphemy.

To reach the Jehovah’s Witnesses understanding of this passage requires one to add details to the narrative that simply are not there. The text doesn’t say anywhere that the leaders had misunderstood Jesus. The Jehovah’s Witnesses though are forced to embrace this false narrative because it is the only way to hold to their preconceived view of Jesus – namely, their belief that Jesus is no God and never claimed to be.

The Jehovah’s Witness’s understanding and explanation of this passage fails. It fails because they deny what the passage clearly and plainly teaches and they add details that aren’t there in order to change the meaning of the passage  so that it fits their preconceived theological bias..

Reflection

What do you think Jesus meant when He said “I and the Father are one”?

How likely do you think it is that the religious leaders simply misunderstood what Jesus was saying?

If Jesus was simply misunderstood. what reasons can you think of to explain why He didn’t correct this misunderstanding?

What is your view of Jesus? Do you believe He is God, as traditional Christianity teaches or do you think He is simply a created being as the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach?

Do you think it even matters what we believe about Jesus? Why do you think our understanding of the nature of Jesus is important? What difference do you think it makes?

 

Photo by Tim Hüfner on Unsplash

An Issue of Control

Romans 8

1So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death. 3The law of Moses could not save us, because of our sinful nature. But God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours, except that ours are sinful. God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4He did this so that the requirement of the law would be fully accomplished for us who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

5Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace. 7For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

9But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them are not Christians at all.) 10Since Christ lives within you, even though your body will die because of sin, your spirit is alive because you have been made right with God. 11The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as he raised Christ from the dead, he will give life to your mortal body by this same Spirit living within you. (Romans 8:1-11, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Today I got a Facebook message from a person in Africa who connected with me through our website: everyperson.com.

This person wanted to know how he could receive the Holy Spirit.

I asked him if he had accepted Jesus as his savior, to which he replied, “Yes.’

“Great”, I replied. Then you already have the Holy Spirit living inside you.

The Holy Spirit is absolutely critical to our growth as Christians, yet so many believers are completely unaware of who the Holy Spirit is or what role He plays in our daily lives.

In this passage, Paul communicates several important truths about the Holy Spirit, including the following:

    • The freedom we experience as Christ-followers is because of the work of the Holy Spirit, who freed us from the power of sin and death and gave us new spiritual life. The result is that we are no longer living under condemnation.
    • The mark of the Christian is that they have the Holy Spirit living in them. Paul states in Romans 8:9 that if you do not have the Spirit of Christ in you then you are not a believer at all. This means that to be a believer, you must have the Holy Spirit. Paul states in Ephesians 1:13 that the Holy Spirit is gifted by God to the believer at the moment of belief. Therefore, when one places their faith in Jesus and His death on the cross, the Holy Spirit comes into their life.
    • As Christians, we have two natures warring within our bodies. There is the old sinful nature and there is the new spiritual nature. We can be controlled by either of these natures. When we’re controlled by our sinful nature, we think about sinful things and we likely are going to engage in sinful activities. Paul says that this leads to death. When he talks about death he does not mean you will physically die. What he means is that spiritually you will experience death, which means separation. Hence, those Christians who are controlled by their sin nature will experience a disconnectedness from God. However, when we are controlled by the Holy Spirit, we will think about spiritual things and we will experience life and peace.

Understanding the Holy Spirit and His role in our lives as Christians, often, for many believers is the difference between growing as a Christian and staying stagnant.

Peace, life, and ultimately our growth as Christians is dependent on whether we yield control of our lives to God’s Spirit living within us or whether we continue to be controlled by our own selfish desires.

Reflection

What has been your understanding of the Holy Spirit in the past? Who is He? What has been. your understanding concerning the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christians?

Based on this passage and your understanding of the Bible, what do you think is required to receive the Holy Spirit? 

What helps you to yield control of your life to the Holy Spirit? 

What are the things that make it easier for you to be controlled by your sinful nature?

 

Photo by Sunguk Kim on Unsplash

A Big Bang Theory Tribute to my Mom

L-R: Howard, Raj, Sheldon, Leonard and Penny

One of my favorite sitcoms is The Big Bang Theory, which follows a group of brainy, socially awkward nerds who work at Cal Tech and struggle to figure out how to navigate life both professionally and socially. 

One of the main characters is a Jewish engineer named Howard Wolowitz (far left in the picture), who, in many ways typifies the stereotypical nerdy Millennial. He lives at home with his mother, who does his laundry, cooks for him and generally treats him like he’s still a child.

In the show, Howard’s mother is never seen but her voice is always heard yelling from another room. It’s actually quite comical. Unfortunately, the real life actress who played Mrs. Wolowitz died unexpectedly in the middle of season 8. As a result, the writers of the show decided that her character would also be written out of the show via an unexpected passing.

In the season 8 episode “The Leftover Thermalization”, there is a power outage and Howard realizes that the food his mom had cooked and stored in the freezer would soon spoil and be gone forever, and so too would one of the last sensory connections to his mother’s memory.

You may know that on Sunday, September 11th, my mother finally succumbed to her weeks long battle with pneumonia. She is now at peace in the presence of her savior, Jesus Christ.

A few days after my mom’s passing, I drove out to spend a few days with my dad, mostly so he wouldn’t have to be alone so soon after my mom’s death.

We found the last of my mom’s spaghetti in the freezer.

One of the first things I wanted to do was survey the food situation. Did we need to go to the grocery store? What was in the house to eat? Truthfully, the food was always my mom’s department, so I wanted to make sure that while I was there, we weren’t eating snacks and junk food for dinner.

As we were charting a plan for meals for the next few days, I had a Big Bang Theory moment when my dad produced a container of my mom’s spaghetti sauce from the freezer. I thought, “this is the last time I will ever eat anything my mom has made.” It was a surreal moment but it reminded me of the one quality that I think most typified my mom, and that was her selflessness.

My mom and dad with Jacob (right) and Joshua (left) – Thanksgiving 2013

One of the ways my mom demonstrated selflessness was through her cooking. Growing up, my mom always made sure everyone was fed and she was pretty good at it.

When I was in 2nd grade, my mom went back to work to help add to the family income. Still, she always found a way to make sure dinner was on the table. 

In high school, my mom went back to school to get her AA degree. Even then, despite the busyness of work AND school, she always had dinner prepared for us to heat up and serve, even when she wasn’t present to eat with us.

My mom with granddaughters Shaina (right) and Charissa – Thanksgiving 2009.

When I was in college, I would often come home very late from studying or working. There was always a plate in the refrigerator for me to heat up.

My mom typified kindness and service to others. She rarely complained even though she worked long hours meeting the needs of others before attending to herself.

She was the glue that held our family together. She stayed connected to me and my siblings even when we weren’t connected to each other.

In the Big Bang Theory episode, Howard decides to invite all his friends over for one last feast of enjoying the cooking of his mom, allowing each person to fondly reflect on how Mrs. Wolowitz had impacted them.

The last photo I took with my mom – Mother’s Day 2022

While my dad and I enjoyed the last of my mom’s spaghetti sauce, we reflected on her kindness and her sacrificial love demonstrated in so many ways, including her cooking.

Though my mom’s presence will be dearly missed, I thank God that she knew and loved Jesus and that she is in God’s presence, free from the health issues that increasingly affected her in her later years.

I thank God that in Christ, we have hope beyond this life, and that through Jesus, we have the assurance that being separated from our loved ones is but a temporary arrangement.  

Rest in Peace Mom!