Investing in the Next Generation of Leaders

This last week was somewhat of a milestone in our ministry.

The Senior Leadership Initiative (SLI) Cohort, to which Jen helps to give oversight, met in person for the first time since October of 2019.

This group of nearly 30 leaders represents the breadth of Cru ministries, from Campus to Family Life, Jesus Film to Athletes in Action. City, Josh McDowell and Global Headquarters are also represented as well as participants from Cru ministries serving in a number of overseas locations.

Participants of the Senior Leadership Initiative Cohort 8 graduate from their 2 year development program.

Potential leaders are nominated by their division leadership and encouraged to apply to participate in this unique 2 year development program.

The cohort is divided into 4 modules, lasting 6 months each. Each module has a live one-week conference that delivers content relevant to the theme of that particular module. These in-person conferences are critical to providing a relational component that encourages connection and collaboration among these rising leaders who serve in different Cru divisions.

The cohort was scheduled to meet in person in April 2020 in San Antonio to kick off the 2nd module, but as you know, all in person meetings and gatherings were suspended due to Covid.

The SLI Design team is responsible for developing the next generation of rising leaders who are serving across the multiple divisions and many ministries of Cru world-wide.

The design team on which Jen serves had to pivot and re-imagine how to deliver content and a leadership development experience in a strictly virtual environment.

We are fortunate to have technology platforms like Zoom for connecting virtually, but duplicating a week-long in-person conference into an online platform is particularly challenging.

For starters, nobody really wants to be in a Zoom meeting for 8 straight hours, much less for a full week!

Secondly, if you’ve ever been to a live conference or retreat, you know that there is so much that happens in the margins that just can’t be duplicated virtually. Side conversations happen at your table during the breaks and over meals that magnify the conference experience.

If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that there is no replacement for live, physical interactions with other humans.

Jen and SLI Director Alan Tung recognize cohort participants at the closing “graduation” ceremony.

This last week gave the participants an opportunity to experience those interactions first-hand, as their SLI experience came to a conclusion in San Diego. Because of the proximity of this module to our home, I was able to join Jen for the week and work remotely.

The SLI Design team did an amazing job keeping things together during this challenging season and helping this cohort to finish strong!

In addition, because of how Covid impacted large gatherings and conferences, we were blessed to be able to experience this module in a prime location that normally would be out of reach to us financially. It was certainly nice to be able to experience the week in such an amazing location.

View of North San Diego Bay and Coronado Island from our hotel.

Please pray for these leaders as they seek to implement what they’ve learned into their own leadership situation. Many of these leaders are moving into significant positions of responsibility within the organization. Pray that the leadership lessons they’ve learned will multiply their impact and influence, resulting in many more changed lives.

Thank you for your partnership with us that enables us to influence the next generation of leaders amongst Cru staff as well as Young Professionals in our community and around the world!

Training in Righteousness – Part 2

2 Timothy 3

14But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 15You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. 17It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.
(2 Timothy 3:14-17, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few weeks ago, I shared a post with some devotional thoughts from Proverbs 11:17, entitled, “Can Golf Nourish Your Soul”.

The idea behind that post is that we can actually train ourselves to live righteously. Just as a golfer takes thousands of practice swings in order to perfect their technique and ensure proper form when they’re out on the course, we too can train our souls to act righteously by doing the right thing, even when we might not feel like it.

But that begs the question: how do we know what the right thing is?

Paul gives the answer to Timothy in this passage, which includes the popular verse:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right.
(2 Timothy 3:16)

This verse tells us that there are 4 functions of God’s word:

    1. God’s word teaches us what is true. We know what is right and what is wrong because God’s word tells us. By reading God’s word, we get insight into what God says is right and what is wrong.
    2. God’s word shows us what is wrong in our lives. With God’s word as our barometer for truth, we can determine when and where we’ve strayed off course.
    3. God’s word tells us how to straighten out our lives. When we stray off course, God’s word gives us the blueprint for how to get back on the right path.
    4. God’s word teaches us what is right. Some versions say that God’s word is useful for “training in righteousness”.  In other words, just as a golfer can create muscle memory in his or her swing through increased repetition and practice, so we too can train ourselves to respond the right way through repetition and practice, creating habits that are imprinted upon our character.

We know what the right thing is based on what God’s word (Scripture) tells us.

The Scriptures give us insight into God’s character and direction regarding what is moral and true.

By aligning our lives and our actions with God’s word and its description of moral truth, we can train ourselves to be righteous.

One of the problems in our culture today, however, is that everyone has their own view and understanding of what is right and what is moral. Even many Christians dismiss portions of Scripture that don’t align with their preferred morality in order to support their own life choices.

Whatever standard of morality one chooses to adopt and follow will shape their soul and their character. If we adopt God’s standard as outlined in the Scriptures and consistently obey and follow his guidelines and statues, we will be training our hearts and souls to live righteously.

However, if we adopt some other standard of morality, whether it’s one promoted by the culture, or even a personal standard that is only loosely based on Scripture, we will be training our hearts and souls to live unrighteously.

In some circles, Christians talk about making Christ Lord, not just Savior. The idea is that Jesus, through his death on the cross, saves us from eternal condemnation and punishment. But if we want to experience the full spiritual life that Jesus desires for us, we must submit our will to His, making Him Lord in all areas, including the area of personal morality.

Reflection

What is the basis for your own personal moral views? What is the source for how you determine what is true and right?

Trusting Jesus for salvation is only one component of the Christian life. It “saves” us from eternal punishment but if we want to experience true spiritual life now, we must make Jesus Lord. Is Jesus Lord of your life? If not, why not? What keeps you from submitting to Jesus fully and completely?

In what ways have you seen Christians compromise their morality, dismissing biblical views for their own personal morals that are contrary to the Scriptures?

What are some practical steps you can take to begin to adopt a moral understanding of truth and righteousness that aligns with God? 

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Is Christianity an Exclusive Religion?

1 Timothy 2

1I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God’s mercy upon them, and give thanks. 2Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. 3This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4for he wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. 6He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message that God gave to the world at the proper time. 7And I have been chosen—this is the absolute truth—as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles about faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-7, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

One of the criticisms I often hear when talking to others about Christ is that Christianity claims to be exclusive. These claims of exclusivity are seen as a negative in our culture, which values freedom of thought, and in the name of tolerance, often validates any and all views, no matter how outlandish or illogical.

It’s absolutely true that Christianity claims to be true and  on certain doctrinal matters it is exclusive.

In this passage of 1 Timothy 2, Paul is urging his audience to pray for everyone, including kings and those in authority. I previously wrote about the need to pray for our political rivals here.

Paul gives the reason why we should pray for others, even those who are in authority over us and with whom we might disagree – God wants everyone to be saved and understand the truth.

Two questions naturally follow: what does it mean “to be saved” and “what is the truth that people need to understand?”

When the Bible talks about being saved, it’s referring to being rescued from punishment. The picture is that we are on a trajectory that will lead to disaster but because of God’s help, our crisis is averted.

One of the questions that every religion seeks to answer is “how can people be reconciled to God?” Or another way of putting it is, “what must a person do in order to be accepted by God and enter into His presence?”

To be reconciled means to be brought back into a favorable relational status. What must I do to please God, to earn His favor and gain His acceptance?

Nearly every religion answers this question by providing a list of actions one must complete or avoid in order to gain favor. These actions form the basis for evaluating a person’s devotion to God and the quality or “goodness” of a person’s life, which in turn is used to determine their worthiness for entering God’s presence in the afterlife.

But here lies the problem. Nobody can follow all the rules that any religion might establish. These “rules” create a legal system for following God which people inevitably violate. One doesn’t have to read very far into the Old Testament to see that the Israelites were constantly abandoning God’s laws and rebelling against His statutes.

So what is the “truth” that God wants everyone to understand?

The truth is outlined in verses 5 and 6, which state:

For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message that God gave to the world at the proper time.

The truth is that the ONLY way to be reconciled to God is through Christ Jesus. His death on the cross purchased freedom for everyone.

So reconciliation to God does NOT occur by keeping a list of religious requirements. Instead, it comes by placing one’s faith in Jesus to make the payment for us.

Is it exclusive? YES and NO!

It’s exclusive in that Jesus is the ONLY one who has made a payment for sin. No other religious system even offers a solution to how imperfect people can make themselves righteous enough to enter into the presence of an infinitely holy God. Every other religious system keeps people trapped in the religious hamster wheel of endlessly attempting to make oneself “worthy” before God, only to experience moral failure through everyday sins.

Fortunately for us, Jesus rescues us from this religious trap and provides a way for us to actually be reconciled.

But it’s NOT exclusive in the sense that the freedom Jesus offers is available to EVERYONE, not just some select group. ANYONE can access God by coming to Jesus!

This is the truth that God wants EVERYONE to understand, which is why Paul urges us to pray for all people to ultimately understand this truth so that they might experience God’s mercy.

Reflection

What is your view on how a person is “saved”? In other words, in your view, what does a person need to do in order to make it to heaven and live with God for eternity?

What is the basis for your answer in the previous question? In other words, what is the source of the views that you hold? 

People often say that Christians are too exclusive in their views. Do you agree that Christianity is exclusive? If so, why is this seen as a negative to people? Does being exclusive mean that it is automatically wrong? Why or why not?

The essence of Christianity’s exclusive claims is found in verse 6, which says, “He [Jesus] gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.” How would you explain this concept to someone else? What does it mean that Jesus gave his life? What does it mean that he purchased freedom?

 

Photo by seabass creatives on Unsplash

Follow the Science

Psalm 19

1The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship.

2Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.

3They speak without a sound or a word; their voice is silent in the skies;

4yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world. The sun lives in the heavens where God placed it.

5It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding. It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.

6The sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end. Nothing can hide from its heat. (Psalm 19:1-6, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

One of the great gifts that 2020 gave us all is the phrase, “Follow the Science”!  (#Sarcasm)

What does it mean exactly to “follow the science”? What is science?

Science is a method of determining how the natural world around us functions based on repeated observations and experimentation. If you make enough observations, you begin to notice patterns. If a pattern is established, you can develop a hypothesis regarding the natural order of the physical universe. Further observations and testing will either substantiate the hypothesis or refute it.

So to “follow the science” really just means that one should follow the evidence or the data to its logical conclusion.

In Psalm 19, David is following the science. David gazes wonderfully on the celestial beauty in the skies. Based on his own repeated observations and the observations of others over thousands of years, David concludes that the heavens are the result of a magnificent creator. David sees the design of the universe and assumes that it must have a designer. Have you ever seen something that looked designed and assumed that it came into existence without a designer?

Philosophers call this argument the teleological argument for God’s existence, which basically says that because the universe is designed, it must have a designer.

Atheists and skeptics have argued over the years that the universe isn’t really designed, but only appears to be designed. Just because one might attribute elements of design to something they see doesn’t mean it is designed. It could just be a naturally occurring phenomenon. But often, these conclusions, ironically, are not following the science, for they immediately dismiss the most logical and obvious explanation for the world and universe which we observe.

If you walk into Best Buy and see a case full of cell phones, what do you conclude? You conclude that those phones were designed and then manufactured by intelligent people who created them for that purpose.

If you walk onto a car lot, what do you assume about the wide array of vehicles you might decide to purchase? You assume that they were designed by intelligent teams of people who created them for the purpose of transporting people and goods.

Everywhere you go, you see things that are designed and built by people…intelligent people.

Now look at our world, its ecosystems and its incredibly diverse array of animals and plants. Beyond our world is the vastness of space with its trillions of stars and galaxies, all of which we can observe.

Whenever we observe something intricate that has purpose, we assume it has a designer because our experience dictates that intricate, complex systems that have functional purposes are designed by intelligent beings, usually humans.

So why would we look at the earth and the universe and conclude something different?

If we’re following the science, as David did, our conclusion should be the same as his conclusion – that “the heavens declare the glory of God” and “the skies declare his marvelous craftsmanship.”

Reflection

What has been your understanding of the phrase “follow the science?” What do you think it means to “follow the science?”

What has been your experience with scientific observation? What are some science classes you’ve taken and what kinds of things did you observe?

Do you think it’s possible to prove God’s existence “scientifically?” How would you go about it?

What is your understanding of the teleological argument for God’s existence? How would you explain it someone else?

 

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

 

 

Who Was at Fault for the First Recorded Church Split?

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. 39Their disagreement over this was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40Paul chose Silas, and the believers sent them off, entrusting them to the Lord’s grace. 41So they traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia to strengthen the churches there. (Acts 15:36-41, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

If you’ve had many conversations with non-believers about Christianity and the gospel message, you no doubt have encountered questions about “all the different denominations” of Christianity.

To many non-Christians the existence of so many different groups and denominations is a kind of proof of the invalidity of the message. After all, if Christians can’t get along and they disagree enough to split over, how can we believe the message they are promoting is true?

This line of reasoning argues that if Christianity were really true, there wouldn’t be so many “versions” of it.

If you happen to agree with this, you might be surprised to know that Acts 15 records the first known church “split”.

Paul and Barnabas were the first missionary super-team, having been commissioned and sent out in Acts 11 by the church at Antioch. Along for the ride was John Mark, who was the cousin of Barnabas.

In Acts 13, when they arrived at Pamphylia, the text says that John Mark left to return to Jerusalem:

Now Paul and those with him left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. 14But Barnabas and Paul traveled inland to Antioch of Pisidia.

The mention of John Mark leaving almost seems like an after-thought. There certainly isn’t any indication that his return to Jerusalem was anything more than an expected part of the plan.

But in chapter 15 we find out that John Mark’s return to Jerusalem was NOT a part of the plan – that he had left the team unexpectedly. In his first experience as a missionary apprentice, he washed out.

Now Paul and Barnabas are planning their return trip and Barnabas wants to take John Mark along. Paul wants nothing to do with John Mark, seeing as how he had deserted them on the previous journey.

Their opinion on this issue is so strong that they split. Barnabas takes John Mark with him while Paul selects Silas as his new sidekick.

When evaluating this situation, it’s natural for us to want to assign blame – to ask, “who was in the wrong?”

Let’s look at Barnabas for a moment. We first see Barnabas at the end of Acts 4 when he sells some property and gives the proceeds to the church. We learn that his name means “Son of encouragement”.

Barnabas was an encourager. He believed the best in people. It was Barnabas who first found Paul after he had converted and brought him to the apostles. Barnabas vouched for Paul when others thought his conversion story was just a ruse to worm his way into the church for the purpose of arresting and persecuting its followers.

And now Barnabas is wanting to give John Mark, his cousin, a second chance. It’s who Barnabas is.

But Paul is different. He’s a hard charger – a leader who is singularly focused. Because of Paul’s vision and determination, not only are numerous churches planted throughout the known world, but he writes half of the New Testament as well.

Being a missionary is serious business and Paul doesn’t have time for those who aren’t going to last.

So who was at fault? Who was wrong?

If you are an encourager like Barnabas, you’re likely to take his side and say that Paul was in the wrong.

However, if you’re a leader with a pioneering spirit like Paul, you’re likely to take his side and think that Barnabas was in the wrong.

In my opinion, neither was at fault or in the wrong. This is simply an example where two people with different personalities and different values could not agree. As a result, they decided to go their separate ways.

While some might bemoan the fact that they split as an example of “disunity” or even selfishness, consider the fact that by going their separate ways, their missionary labor force was essentially doubled.

In addition, God honored both groups. We see how Paul’s ministry continued to expand even without Barnabas by Paul’s side. Also, we know that John Mark did indeed learn from his previous mistakes, thanks to Barnabas believing in him. Even Paul, later in 2 Timothy 4:11, recognizes John Mark’s contribution when he states:

Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me.

So who was at fault for the first recorded church split? Neither party. Instead, both parties stood firm to their principles and personalities and as a result agreed to dissolve their partnerships and form new ones. God uses each new missionary unit to further his kingdom purposes.

So while it’s true that there are many denominations and many different groups within Christianity, it’s an overstatement to assume that the reason so many groups exist is because of some sinful or immoral separation. Though it’s possible and even likely that some splits occurred because of sinful and selfish reasons, it’s also true that the existence of different groups is not because of sin or immorality but simply different preferences and choices that in no way negate the validity or truthfulness of the Christian message.

In other words, just as God honored and blessed the two different groups that emerged from the Paul and Barnabas split, the existence of many different groups within Christianity today should not be seen as evidence against Christianity but as proof that God is able to accomplish His purposes and expand His reach despite the conflicting preferences and personalities of those who claim to be His ambassadors.

Reflection

In this scenario pitting Paul vs Barnabas, are you on team Paul or team Barnabas? Why did you pick the side you picked?

What has been your response to someone who argues that all the different denominations must somehow be a proof against the validity or truthfulness of the Christian message?

What insights have you gained from this passage that might help you to address those who seem overly concerned about the number of churches and denominations within Christianity?

What do you see as the primary values each person (Barnabas & Paul) were holding onto in their disagreement? When do you think a person should hold fast to their principles and when do you think a compromise is warranted?

 

Photo by Matt Moloney on Unsplash

Is God Unfair in How He Treats People?

Matthew 20

1“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of an estate who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

3“At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5At noon and again around three o’clock he did the same thing. 6At five o’clock that evening he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

7“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“The owner of the estate told them, ‘Then go on out and join the others in my vineyard.’

8“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10When those hired earlier came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11When they received their pay, they protested, 12‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

13“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14Take it and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be angry because I am kind?’

16“And so it is, that many who are first now will be last then; and those who are last now will be first then.”
(Matthew 20: 1-16, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever been treated unfairly or unjustly? As a kid, when things didn’t work in my favor, I would usually cry out, “that’s not fair!”

But what is fairness? What is just and what is unjust?

In this passage from Matthew 20, Jesus shares a story that may cause you to rethink your view and understanding of fairness and justice.

In the scenario, a vineyard owner goes out early in the day and hires a number of day workers to work in his fields. He agrees to pay them the normal accepted wage for their labor.

At mid-morning the owner hires more workers, agreeing to pay them whatever is right at the end of the day. The owner hires more laborers at noon and again at 5:00, just one hour before the end of the day.

When the work day ends and it’s time to settle up with the workers, those who had worked only 1 hour receive their pay, which turns out to be a full day’s wages.

Naturally, those who worked the full day think they will receive more since they worked longer.

But when the time comes to pay those who worked all day, they receive the same amount that the owner paid those who worked only 1 hour. The workers who worked all day are incensed. How could the owner pay them the same amount even though they worked a whole day when the last group worked only for one hour? It doesn’t seem fair!

What do you think? Was the owner being unfair? Your answer may reveal how you view God and His system of fairness.

The problem is not that the owner is unfair. The problem is that our understanding of fairness is wrong. People tend to operate on a merit based system, or a meritocracy, where those who work harder and achieve more are rewarded more. As a result, we’re conditioned to believe that those who worked less somehow got more. BUT THEY DIDN’T. They got the same outcome and the same payment as those who had worked the full day.

God, who is represented by the vineyard owner, does NOT operate in a meritocracy. God operates in an environment of grace and generosity. He lavishes grace on whomever He chooses. While some might look at this story and conclude that God gave a higher hourly wage to some over others, which seems unfair, Jesus invites the reader and His audience to look at this scenario in a different way.

Instead of assuming God is treating some favorably over others, the point of the story is that God shows compassion and graciousness on some while not disaffecting others. In other words, those who came to work late were generously given the same portion as those who worked the whole day.

Here’s the key point: Those who worked the whole day were not negatively disaffected by the owner’s generosity. They were simply annoyed because of their own greed and envy.

If you think of the daily wage as representing salvation, then in this parable, anyone who responds to the invitation of the owner, no matter how early or late, receives the same outcome – eternal life! It’s not possible for some who respond early to receive a greater amount of eternal life than someone who responds late. The outcome is the same – anyone who responds to the owner (God) will receive the gift of eternal life (a full day’s wage), no matter when they respond.

So what do you think? Does this story demonstrate that God is unfair to some? NO. If anything, it shows how gracious and generous He is while also showing that those who THINK He’s unfair are often motivated by their own jealousy and envy.

Reflection

How have you interpreted and understood this passage in the past? How have you explained the fact that the owner pays a higher hourly wage to some than others? Isn’t that unfair? Isn’t that inequitable?

What do you say to those who claim that God is unfair or that He doesn’t treat people equitably? 

How do you personally reconcile the idea that some come to Christ and serve Him early in life while others may respond to His invitation late in life and yet the outcome is the same? How does this contradict or confirm your own understanding of fairness with God?

What practical ideas do you have for cultivating a deeper, more biblical understanding of God’s graciousness and fairness?

 

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Can Golf Nourish Your Soul?

Proverbs 11

17Your own soul is nourished when you are kind, but you destroy yourself when you are cruel. (Proverbs 11:17, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

It’s summer time so of course for thousands of kids, that means summer camp. When my kids were in high school, we were alerted to all kinds of “camps” that we could pay money to send our kids to – soccer camps, baseball camps, basketball camps and even music camps. Some are even hosted by famous athletes and celebrities.

It’s interesting that these experiences are often called “camps” because there’s very little “camping” that happens. I think a better term for these week-long adventures is “clinic”. The purpose of these “clinics” is to hone skills and become better at whatever the craft is.

The truth is that any professional athlete, whether it’s a golfer, basketball player, baseball player or just about any other sport, spends hours upon hours doing drills. A golfer will take thousands of practice swings in order to perfect his or her technique.

A basketball player will dribble a ball up and down the court, switching hands and navigating through cones, just to perfect command of the ball.

Kobe Bryant was noted for his work ethic, shooting hundreds of balls every day in order to perfect his jump shot.

The purpose of training is to create muscle memory and develop habits so that when you’re in a game or in a live situation, you don’t have to think twice about how to act or what to do. Your body automatically taps into the hours of practice and you simply repeat what you’ve done thousands of times.

In this single proverb, we see a biblical example of what the scriptures refer to as “training in righteousness.”

What is training in righteousness?

Training in righteousness is a process by which you train yourself to do the right thing and thus live righteously, even when circumstances are against you.

Just as a golfer doesn’t perfect his swing without hours of practice swings, we don’t live righteously unless we train ourselves to make righteous choices.

According to this proverb, our soul is actually nourished when we act kindly. You might say that when we make a righteous choice, like acting kindly, it feeds our soul. But when we make an unrighteous choice, like acting with cruelty, it starves our soul.

If we make right choices over and over, we train our soul to live righteously. It becomes a habit and our lives will begin to bear fruits of righteousness, which will become evident to others.

However, if we make unrighteous choices over and over, we train our soul to live unrighteously. Living sinful lives will become second nature to us and our lives will bear unrighteous fruit.

So remember this the next time you are conflicted about how to act in a certain situation or how to respond to another person – by responding with kindness, you are feeding your soul and training yourself to live righteously. But by responding unkindly or acting cruelly, you will have the opposite effect – you will actually be training yourself to live unrighteously.

Reflection

What are some examples in your own life, whether sports, or music or some other discipline, where you have practiced drills in order to increase your skill level and your performance?

Can you think of any situations where a person can experience growth and development without undergoing some kind of training routine?

What are some ideas you have for cultivating your own soul and training yourself to live righteously?

What are some things that might be helpful to eliminate in your life that are actually starving your soul and making it harder to train yourself in righteousness?

 

Photo by Courtney Cook on Unsplash

What Does it Mean When Jesus Gives Peter “the Keys” to the Kingdom of Heaven?

Matthew 16

13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15Then he asked them, “Who do you say I am?”

16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you lock on earth will be locked in heaven, and whatever you open on earth will be opened in heaven.” 20Then he sternly warned them not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13-20, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

What does it mean when Jesus says He’s giving “the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” to Peter?

The Catholic view is that Peter is the first Pope and through apostolic succession, the Pope is the leader of the church and the ultimate interpreter and arbiter of church doctrine.

The Evangelical, and I would argue the Biblical view, is that it means that Peter was given a special role in the initial spread of the gospel in that he was uniquely involved in the entrance of all people groups into the Kingdom of Heaven (the church).

In Acts chapter 2, Peter preaches the first mass sermon and many Jewish people believed and were ushered into the church.

In Acts chapter 8, Philip preaches the gospel in Samaria and many believe.

However, Peter (and John) are sent to Samaria to authenticate the conversion of these new believers.

Though these Samaritans had believed, they had not yet received the Holy Spirit, which is the mark of believers who are a part of God’s family (see Ephesians 1.13).

Peter prays for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit and he and John lay their hands on them and they do indeed receive the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 10, Peter has a vision that all food is now considered clean. He then is summoned to visit a Gentile named Cornelius.

Peter shares the gospel with Cornelius and his family and they believe the gospel message AND they receive the Holy Spirit, as a sign that their conversion is genuine and God does accept them.

So we see that Peter was involved in the first Jews coming to faith and receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Peter was also involved in the first partial Jews (Samaritans) in receiving the Holy Spirit and entering the church.

Finally, Peter was instrumental in the first non-Jews (Gentiles) receiving the Holy Spirit and entering the church.

So every people group (Jews, partial Jews and non-Jews) entered the church only when they received the Holy Spirit through Peter’s ministry.

Since that time, all other Jews, partial Jews or non-Jews (Gentiles) who come to faith in Christ immediately receive the Holy Spirit and become members of the family of God.

But Peter had “the keys” to entrance for people at the outset.

Reflection

What has been your understanding of this passage? How have you interpreted the statement that Peter was given “the keys” to the Kingdom of heaven?

Why do you think it was necessary for Peter to authenticate the receiving of the Holy Spirit for the initial Samaritan and Gentile believers?

How would you answer the question that Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

 

Photo by Amol Tyagi on Unsplash

 

Can the Church Usher in a Utopian Society?

Matthew 13

24Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field.25But that night as everyone slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat. 26When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. 27The farmer’s servants came and told him, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds!’

28“‘An enemy has done it!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Shall we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

29“He replied, ‘No, you’ll hurt the wheat if you do. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds and burn them and to put the wheat in the barn.’”

. . . . . . . . .

36Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house. His disciples said, “Please explain the story of the weeds in the field.”

37“All right,” he said. “I, the Son of Man, am the farmer who plants the good seed. 38The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.

40“Just as the weeds are separated out and burned, so it will be at the end of the world. 41I, the Son of Man, will send my angels, and they will remove from my Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil, 42and they will throw them into the furnace and burn them. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the godly will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Jesus spoke often in the book of Matthew about the “kingdom of heaven”, painting word pictures for His followers to help them understand more clearly what God is like and how things operate under His control.

Jesus shares the parable of the wheat and the weeds to illustrate how God intends to deal with people at the end of the age. Most commentators agree that Jesus is speaking about how judgment will take place at the end of time.

According to Jesus, who explains the parable to His followers, good and evil will co-exist until the end. At that time, Jesus will separate the good from the evil. Those who are followers of Christ will spend eternity with God while those who are not followers will be separated and sent to spend an eternity in punishment for their sins.

But though this passage speaks to the end of the age and the process of judgment, there’s another fact that is so obvious that it’s sometimes easy to overlook. That is the fact that good and evil will exist side by side until the end.

It seems to me that there’s a lot of effort being made within our culture to create the Utopian society – that community where evil is eradicated and everyone’s needs are met.

This vision of utopia doesn’t currently exist, nor is it possible that it will ever exist, if we’re to accept Jesus’ teachings.

This is not meant to dissuade believers from doing good and seeking the welfare of others within their community. On the contrary, we’re admonished to be salt and light to a dying world. One of our functions as believers is to give those who aren’t Christ-followers glimpses of what it looks like to live within God’s kingdom, following His kingdom rules and living under His rule. These glimpses are likely to stand in stark contrast to the ways of the world.

However, as much as we strive to live for Christ and impact the world around us for Christ, we will never fully eradicate evil. Evil and evil people will co-exist, side by side with those who follow Christ and it won’t be until the end of time that Jesus will finally eliminate all evil.

Any thoughts of creating a utopian society are mis-directed, as only a kingdom in which Jesus reigns supreme has any chance of achieving utopian aspirations. According to the scriptures, that won’t happen until Jesus comes again. Until then, we must do our best as Christ-followers to create pockets of kingdom community within a larger world system that is firmly in control of the evil one.

Reflection

In what ways do you think we as believers can create pockets of kingdom community that provide a glimpse to the outside world of God’s goodness and greatness?

In what ways do you see the Devil planting weeds within our culture? What are the tactics you see in our culture that is producing weeds?

What are some practical ways for turning weeds into wheat?

Practically speaking what do you think our goals should be as believers in terms of how much impact we can have on the culture at large?

 

Photo by Tim Matras on Unsplash

Keys to Thriving

Psalm 1

1Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with scoffers.

2But they delight in doing everything the LORD wants; day and night they think about his law.

3They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper.

4But this is not true of the wicked. They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.

5They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly.

6For the LORD watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction. (Psalm 1:1-6, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In the very first Psalm, the author paints a picture contrasting the life of those who follow the Lord with those who don’t.

The person who follows the Lord is depicted as a healthy tree that is firmly planted and has plenty of water. As a result, the tree thrives, producing fruit without fail, in every season, just as it is supposed to.

But those who don’t follow the Lord, termed “the wicked”, don’t thrive. Instead of producing fruit, they are like worthless dried leaves that wither in the wind.

What is it that determines whether someone is going to thrive or not?

According to the author, what allows some to thrive is that they “delight in doing everything the Lord wants.” The author expounds by saying, “day and night they think about his law.”

The person who thrives, spiritually speaking, does so because he commits himself to following God’s pattern for righteous living as outlined in God’s law.

You may be saying, “I thought Jesus died so that we would not have to follow the Law”, to which I would agree.

However, the fact that Jesus died does not mean we can do whatever we want. As I wrote in yesterday’s post, “The Decisive Issue in Following Christ”, when we come to Jesus to save us, we are not just saying a prayer that will allow us to escape some future punishment (hell). We are making a decision to make Jesus king in our lives, voluntarily submitting ourselves to His rules and His rule.

Jesus died so that the Law no longer condemns us and no longer punishes us. But God still outlines for us throughout the scriptures the way to righteous living. Those who want to prosper will follow the Lord’s guidelines for living. Those guidelines are not found by listening to the media, academia, celebrities or corporate America. God alone provides the way to a rich and abundant spiritual life.

Do you want to thrive? Do you want to be like a tree that is firmly planted, bearing fruit and flourishing?

According to Psalm 1, this happens only by knowing what God wants and actively and intentionally pursuing His ways.

Reflection

What kind of tree are you, spiritually speaking? Are you thriving? Why or why not?

The author says that those who prosper do so because they do everything God wants and they constantly think about God’s laws (God’s guidelines for righteous living). What evidence would you present to demonstrate that you know God’s ways and that you actively pursue them?

What factors might cause a tree that is thriving to begin to die and produce worthless dry leaves?

What are the things in your life and environment that make it harder for you to thrive spiritually and produce regular and consistent spiritual fruit?