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 Modern Day Version of an Ancient Heresy

John 1

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14, NIV)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few years ago I received a knock on my front door early on a Saturday morning. There, on my porch to greet me were two friendly gentlemen from the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses who wanted to talk to me about my religious views and how I could experience eternal life.

They gave me a small red book entitled, “You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth” and asked me to read it (see photo above). They promised to return the following week and get my thoughts on what I had read.

I was already familiar with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their teachings but I had not read the book they were offering so I agreed to take the book, read it and reconvene the following week for a discussion.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are an offshoot organization of Biblical Christianity that traces its roots to a pastor named Charles Taze Russell, who, in the late 1870’s began printing a monthly magazine known as “Zion’s Watchtower”. A few years later, Russell formed the Watchtower Tract Society, which is the publishing arm of what is now known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On a number of levels, the Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs and teachings don’t seem much different from any other Christian church one might attend. However, when it comes to the person of Jesus, there is a huge difference in what the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe compared to the traditional Christian view of Jesus.

I’ve written a number of times (here and here) on why our view and understanding of Jesus matters. The Jehovah’s Witnesses actually teach a view of Jesus that is known as Arianism, which takes its name from an Alexandrian priest from the 3rd century named Arius, who believed that Jesus was a created being, and thus did not possess a divine nature.

Arianism was condemned as heresy by the early church because it denied the divinity of Christ. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are the modern day torch-bearers of this ancient heresy known as Arianism.

What does any of this have to do with our passage today?

This first chapter of John is rich with imagery and insights into the true nature of Jesus.

Right away, in the first verse, John directly states several things very plainly:

    1. The Word existed in the beginning – implying that Jesus was in existence when nothing existed. This clearly alludes to his eternal nature.
    2. The Word was with God – implying that Jesus is distinct from the Father.
    3. The Word WAS God – implying that Jesus is essentially the same in nature as the Father.

These three ideas form the basis of two long-standing theological doctrines of the Christian church, namely, the divine nature of Jesus, as well as the triune nature of God, both of which the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny.

How do Jehovah’s Witnesses explain this verse (John 1:1)?

The answer is that they don’t. Instead, if you look at their own translation of the Bible (New World Translation), you will see John 1:1 stated this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. (John 1:1, NWT)

The Jehovah’s Witnesses change the meaning of John 1:1 in order to fit their preconceived theological view that Jesus is a created being.

The truth is that a Jesus who is not divine is not able to save us. This is why it’s important to understand Jesus for who he really is.

In this passage, we learn quite a number of essential truths about the nature of Jesus.

In addition to the truths that Jesus is eternal and that Jesus is God (from verse 1), we learn from verse 3 that Jesus is the creator of everything:

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

In verse 4, we learn that Jesus is the source of life:

In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

In verse 12, we learn that those who receive Jesus and believe in His name are granted the rights to become His children:

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

And verse 14 tells us that this Jesus, who displays the glory of the One and Only (God) came to earth to dwell among us. This is what theologians refer to as the incarnation – God becoming man and living among us:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

If there is any doubt as to the meaning of this verse, that Jesus is indeed God and became a man to dwell among humanity, think about this prophecy from Isaiah 7:14, which describes the future Messiah:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

The word “Immanuel” literally means “God with us.” One of the names for the Messiah, according to the prophet Isaiah, would be “Immanuel” or “God with us.” That would be a pretty unfitting name if Jesus is not actually God as the Jehovah’s Witnesses assert.

Imagine – the God of the universe, the one who created EVERYTHING and has always existed, the one who is the source of life, this Jesus became a man and dwelt among us!

This concept was absolutely unthinkable to the average person living in the time of Jesus. And yet, the Old Testament prophets predicted it, and the apostle John not only witnessed it, but wrote about it so that we might come to believe in Jesus, receive Him and become His children!


NOTE: For those who might wonder how we know that the Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Translation of John 1:1 is incorrect, first know that no reputable Greek scholar has translated the Greek text the way the Jehovah’s Witnesses do. For an explanation of why their view is not correct, check out this thorough, yet detailed blog post that explains why the traditional biblical translation (“the Word was God”) is the correct translation.


Reflection

What has been your view and understanding of the nature of Jesus?

In what ways does this verse demonstrate to you that Jesus is indeed divine?

In your view, what is the significance about the fact that God came and dwelt among us? 

How would you respond to someone who asserted that Jesus was not God but was a created being? What Scriptures would you use to demonstrate that Jesus is indeed divine?

 

Photo by Dave Lowe

Dealing with Gray Areas

1 Corinthians 10

23“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

25Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

27If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake — 29the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? 30If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God — 33even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:23-33, NIV)


The Daily DAVEotional

When is the last time you wondered if the meat you were about to eat had been sacrificed to idols?

That’s probably never happened to you but in the New Testament culture, this was a big issue that created a lot of controversy.

The Roman Empire was an amalgamation of many diverse cultures that had been conquered and grafted into the Roman/Greek culture. As a result, there were hundreds of different religions and gods that the people worshiped and animal sacrifice was a normal part of worship for most of these religions.

So the context of this passage is one in which Christians were wrestling with whether or not it was morally right for them to eat a meal with someone when they know the prepared food had been previously sacrificed to a pagan deity and then later sold at the local market.

Though we don’t wrestle with this exact issue today, Paul outlines several principles that enable us to make wise biblical decisions when we’re faced with unclear moral choices today. In some Christian circles, we refer to these issues as “gray areas” – issues the Bible doesn’t specifically speak about but there’s an element of the issue that might make it morally questionable.

Classic “gray areas” might include: drinking, smoking, dancing, gambling, watching R-rated movies, listening to certain kinds of music, etc.

The Bible never says anything about R-rated movies, as movies didn’t even exist until a little over 100 years ago. So how can we know whether it’s ok to partake in some of these activities that some have questioned?

Paul gives a number of principles that we can apply to current situations.

The first thing Paul says is that even though we may be permitted to do certain things (in other words, it doesn’t clearly violate God’s laws) doesn’t mean it is beneficial or constructive. The implication is that we should not do things just because it’s technically allowed. We should consider whether it’s beneficial to us, and others!

Paul builds on this by citing his main principle, which is to seek to the good of others, not our own good.

Paul explains that he has no problem eating anything that is set before him because he knows that there is only one God and that even if the meat had been sacrificed to an idol, he knows that the idol is not a real god. So in his conscience, he can give thanks to the one true God and gratefully eat whatever is put before him.

However, others may not have that understanding. This difference may be the result of a lack of spiritual maturity and understanding on such issues or the person may just have a difference of opinion. Whatever the case is, Paul explains that he will forgo the eating of meat if he thinks it may in any way be a hindrance to the conscience of the other person who is there to observe.

The bottom line is summarized in verses 31-33. Whatever we do, we should do it for the glory of God and in whatever we do, our aim should be to not cause others to stumble. We should seek the good of others above our own good so that we may not create any barriers to them being saved.

Reflection

What are some “gray areas” that you have wrestled with in the past?

What do you think are the most critical and controversial “gray areas” issues the church is facing today?

What has been your method in the past for determining whether or not it was ok to participate in some of these questionable activities?

Of the principles shared, which one stands out to you the most? Why?

What changes do you need to make to adjust to the principles Paul shares in this passage?

 

Photo by Kyle Mackie on Unsplash

Is it Always Wrong to Judge Others? (Part 2)

1 Corinthians 5

12It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways. 13God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13, NLT)


One of the biggest criticisms against Christians in our culture today is that we’re “judgmental”. Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman, in their book “UnChristian” outline several negative traits that non-believers perceive to be true of Christians and being judgmental is one of them.

As a result of this criticism, many Christians wrongly believe that we should NEVER judge others. Matthew 7:1, in which Jesus says: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” is often cited as proof that Christians should never judge others.

I wrote about this passage several months ago (you can read it here) and explained why that passage does not teach that Christians can never judge others, while explaining what Jesus was really teaching in that passage.

Now, in this passage of 1 Corinthians, Paul gives further clarity on the issue of judging.

The context of this passage is sexual immorality. Apparently, there was a person in the church who was involved in some pretty heinous sexual sins, and nobody was calling him out on it.

Does this sound familiar?

Often, we in the church don’t want to confront others regarding their immoral life choices because we don’t want to be seen as “judgmental”.

Paul offers a rebuke to the Christians in the Corinthian church precisely because they did NOT judge the person for their sinful actions.

Paul explicitly states that while it’s not our job as Christians to be the morality police to the world, for those who are in the church, those who claim to be followers of Jesus, we ARE to confront and rebuke them when their actions and life choices do not line up with God’s standards for righteous living.

We should note that the idea of “judging” someone is simply confronting them whenever they are in sin.

Unfortunately, the world’s view of “judging” usually involves any type of negative feedback that might be critical of a person’s choices. Paul says that we, as believers CAN and SHOULD be prepared to approach, confront, rebuke and even criticize those who are in the church if their actions are not righteous and honoring to God.

Of course, whenever we do this, we need to be careful how we do it and we need to ensure that our own lives are above reproach. Otherwise, we can easily be labeled as hypocrites, which is another one of the negative traits labeled against Christians that was identified in the book UnChristian by Kinnaman and Lyons.

If you read the passage in Matthew 7, you’ll see that this was exactly the point Jesus was making about judging others – it’s not wrong to judge but we don’t want to be hypocritical in the way that we judge others.

So is it always wrong to judge others?

Clearly, NO! But we need to be careful how we confront others so that we are not doing it in a way that may seem hypocritical. Additionally, we should not apply the same moral standards to those outside the church as we do to those who are followers of Jesus.

Reflection

What do you think is meant by the term “judging”?  How have you defined it?

What is your response to the view that many non-Christians view Christians as being judgmental? Do you think this charge is true or fair?

Paul says that “it certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways.” How does this statement align with your current thinking on the issue of judging? Does it surprise you to know that we as Christians SHOULD judge others (those inside the church)? Why or why not?

What do you think are some ways we can be better at judging others without reinforcing the negative stereotypes that Christians have on this issue?

 

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Have You Left Your First Love?

Revelation 2

1“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:

2“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. 3You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. 4But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! 5Look how far you have fallen from your first love! Turn back to me again and work as you did at first. If you don’t, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. 6But there is this about you that is good: You hate the deeds of the immoral Nicolaitans, just as I do.

7“Anyone who is willing to hear should listen to the Spirit and understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Everyone who is victorious will eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:1-7, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In Revelation 2 and 3, John relates a series of messages the Lord gave him to share with seven different churches that existed at that time. In each case, the message follows a pattern of sharing some positive qualities that the church exhibits while also sharing the areas where the church has deviated from God’s design.

I previously wrote about the message to the church at Pergamum here (Compromise isn’t Always Good), where the Lord’s complaint against this church was that they tolerated the presence and the teaching of a group known as Nicolaitans, who apparently taught a doctrine of compromise that integrated sexually immoral pagan practices with Christian teachings.

In the message to the church at Ephesus, Jesus praises the church for NOT tolerating the immoral Nicolaitans.

The complaint Jesus has for the Ephesians is different. He rebukes them because they “don’t love me or each other as you did at first.”

Here is a case where the New Living Translation (NLT) may not portray the full impact of what Jesus is saying.

For comparison, here is how Revelation 2:4 reads in a few different translations:

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. (NIV)

‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. (NASB)

But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. (ESV)

Those words “forsaken”, “left”, and “abandoned” give the impression of a person who has left a relationship for something else. I picture a wife who has left her husband for another man. Or I imagine a dad who has left his wife and family for a younger woman.

The issue is a lack of commitment.

We live in a culture that doesn’t honor or value commitment as much as previous generations did, particularly when it comes to marriage. Divorce is so commonplace that it almost seems strange when you meet someone whose family is still together.

We see celebrities and media personalities moving in and out of relationships and falling in and out of love with such regularity that the idea of love has been reduced to a feeling that can change more rapidly than the weather.

Over and over in the Old Testament, the Israelites are rebuked for being unfaithful and abandoning the Lord. They did this by pursuing foreign gods and neglecting God’s explicit commands.

We have a penchant for wandering. I suppose it’s human nature to always think the grass is always greener somewhere else so we test the limits, we expand the boundaries and before you know it, we’ve completely forsaken the Lord and his teachings while pursuing something or someone else.

This forsaking of Jesus can take many different forms but the one constant is that we no longer value Jesus as king in our lives. Perhaps we still believe in Him and even continue to participate in various religious practices but His priority and importance in our lives begins to wane.

The good news is that no matter where we’re at, or how far we may have strayed, Jesus invites us to return to him.  Regardless of our situation, we can renew our commitment to Jesus and experience His presence and purpose in our lives.

Reflection

If Jesus were to give a message to you today, what would he say? Would he commend you or would he have a complaint to share?

The complaint against the church at Ephesus was that they had left their first love? How would you rate your love for God right now compared to when you first came to know Him?

What is your concept of love? How does the concept of commitment fit with your perception of love?

What are some of the things in our culture and in your life that are most likely to cause you to stray from the Lord and tempt you to “forsake” Him?

What steps can you take to ensure that your commitment to Jesus does not succumb to current cultural challenges.

 

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

 

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