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

 

 

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