Where Did that Ball Come From?

Romans 1

18But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who push the truth away from themselves. 19For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. 20From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God.

21Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. 22Claiming to be wise, they became utter fools instead. 23And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people, or birds and animals and snakes.

24So God let them go ahead and do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 25Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies. So they worshiped the things God made but not the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever. Amen.

26That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27Note And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within themselves the penalty they so richly deserved.

28When they refused to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their evil minds and let them do things that should never be done. 29Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, fighting, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They are forever inventing new ways of sinning and are disobedient to their parents. 31They refuse to understand, break their promises, and are heartless and unforgiving. 32They are fully aware of God’s death penalty for those who do these things, yet they go right ahead and do them anyway. And, worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. (Romans 1:18-32, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

I heard a humorous story a long time ago that goes like this:

A guy is talking to his atheist friend and poses this series of questions:

“You’re walking along the beach and you see a tennis ball. What do you assume? Is it the product of random ocean forces that somehow mixed random ocean materials together to create a tennis ball and then washed it up onto the shore?

“NO! It’s a tennis ball. I assume someone left it here after playing with it on the beach.”

“Ok. Let’s say you’re walking along the beach and you see a bigger ball, like a soccer ball. What do you conclude? Was it designed or did it create itself through some random process?”

“It was obviously designed and placed there by someone.”

“Ok. Let’s say you’re walking along the beach and you see an even BIGGER ball, like a weather balloon. What do you conclude?”

“Well, since a weather balloon has purpose, it must have been created by someone who understood that purpose.”

“Great. What about an even BIGGER ball? What if you’re walking along and you see the EARTH? What do you conclude? Was it the product of an intelligent designer?”

“Oh no. The Earth was not created by an intelligent being. It’s the product of billions of years of random chance processes.”

Romans 1 is the classic Bible chapter outlining the process by which people, in the futility of their own mind, devolve into the depths of their own sinfulness.

Paul speaks to the fictional exchange above in verses 18-20, which state that it’s obvious when you look around that there must be some powerful, creative force behind all that we see. Given our own understanding and experience with creating and designing advanced, complex machines and electronics, how could anyone come to the conclusion that something like our universe, which is so intricately, beautifully and purposefully designed is the result of random chance?

It really makes no logical sense.

William Paley, in the early 1800’s, posed this scenario when he developed his “Watchmaker” analogy. In his analogy, he said in effect,

If I stumbled upon a stone and asked how it got there, I would think the question is absurd. It has been there forever. But if I stumbled upon a watch and asked how it got there, the answer would be different, for a watch is obviously designed with purpose, showing evidence of a designer.

So what is the reason people will acknowledge that man-made items such as watches, computers and automobiles are obviously designed, yet something much larger, more complex and intricate that includes biological living things and entire eco-systems, is NOT the product of a designer?

Paul’s answer in this chapter is spelled out in the first verse of this section (verse 18), when he says:

“But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who push the truth away from themselves.

The short answer is that people suppress the truth that is inherently obvious to them. To suppress truth is to deny it and reject it.

Paul’s discourse outlines the depth of the problem of sin. Sin is not just doing bad things or saying bad things, but sin has penetrated to the very depths of our heart.

The heart represents our will, our most inner motives and desires. Paul is saying that though God’s qualities are obvious to all through creation, people end up suppressing (rejecting) this truth through a downward spiraling pattern of inner rebellion.

How does this happen?

It starts when people who know God, or at least know there is a God, refuse to give thanks to God or acknowledge His role in our lives. Next, people develop an image of God that matches their own preferences. They fail to acknowledge God as He is, but instead begin to create a god in their mind who matches their own desires and preferences.

As people begin to follow and worship their own view of god, their hearts become darkened. Why? Because they are not following the truth but they’re following a distorted and false image of god that represents their own preferences and desires. In effect, people begin to train and condition their own moral values away from God’s standards and towards their own sinful desires.

As people continue on this course, God gives them over to their own base desires. In other words, He gives people the freedom to follow their choices and also experience the natural consequences of those choices. People’s thoughts, attitudes and actions become more and more vile and wicked as they reject God’s standards of morality and choose to follow their own inclinations.

The end result is that people develop their own moral values that contradict and oppose God’s values in varying degrees. What sinful humanity now thinks and calls normal and good, God views as wickedness. These rebellious acts show up in every possible area of our lives, from the way we talk to others, the way we conduct our business, our sexual practices, etc.

The final stage in this rebellion is a declaration that our sinful acts are righteous (thus, morality is redefined) along with an encouragement for others to follow these new moral guidelines.

In order to justify the new moral order, people either eliminate God altogether (atheism) or they re-create God in such a way that He actually advocates and endorses these attitudes and behaviors that have traditionally been seen as sinful (paganism/idolatry).

I think verse 31 is a fitting summary that characterizes the attitude of the person Paul is describing, when he says,

“They refuse to understand, break their promises, and are heartless and unforgiving.”

This sounds a lot like our current culture to me, and the thing is, none of us are immune to these outcomes. If we are not intentional about caring for our spiritual life, we may find ourselves, over time, slowly drifting away from God until one day we resemble the person described in Romans 1:28-32.

How can we avoid this?

I’m sure there are many practical steps that could help but if we did these three things consistently: acknowledge God, give thanks to Him for His goodness, and worship Him for who He is, we would likely safeguard ourselves from entering the downward spiral which starts the progression.

Reflection

What are the typical reasons you hear people giving to reject God and His existence?

What examples can you see in our current culture where people are redefining morality and changing their view of God in order to accommodate their own life choices and preferences?

What biblical moral standards do you struggle with the most? What do you think are the reasons you (and others) struggle with those particular moral values?  

In what ways are you most tempted to re-define God in order to meet your own personal moral preferences?

 

Photo by Kevin Mueller on Unsplash

The Prayer of Rebellion

Jeremiah 44

11“Therefore, the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I have made up my mind to destroy every one of you! 12I will take this remnant of Judah that insisted on coming here to Egypt, and I will consume them. They will fall here in Egypt, killed by war and famine. All will die, from the least to the greatest. They will be an object of damnation, horror, cursing, and mockery. 13I will punish them in Egypt just as I punished them in Jerusalem, by war, famine, and disease. 14Of those who fled to Egypt with dreams of returning home to Judah, only a handful will escape.”

15Then all the women present and all the men who knew that their wives had burned incense to idols—a great crowd of all the Judeans living in Pathros, the southern region of Egypt—answered Jeremiah, 16“We will not listen to your messages from the LORD! 17We will do whatever we want. We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and sacrifice to her just as much as we like—just as we and our ancestors did before us, and as our kings and princes have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For in those days we had plenty to eat, and we were well off and had no troubles! 18But ever since we quit burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and stopped worshiping her, we have been in great trouble and have suffered the effects of war and famine.”

19“And,” the women added, “do you suppose that we were worshiping the Queen of Heaven, pouring out drink offerings to her, and making cakes marked with her image, without our husbands knowing it and helping us? Of course not!”

20Then Jeremiah said to all of them, men and women alike, who had given him that answer, 21“Do you think the LORD did not know that you and your ancestors, your kings and officials, and all the people were burning incense to idols in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 22It was because the LORD could no longer bear all the evil things you were doing that he made your land an object of cursing—a desolate ruin without a single inhabitant—as it is today. 23The very reason all these terrible things have happened to you is because you have burned incense to idols and sinned against the LORD, refusing to obey him and follow his instructions, laws, and stipulations.”

24Then Jeremiah said to them all, including the women, “Listen to this message from the LORD, all you citizens of Judah who live in Egypt. 25The LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You and your wives have said that you will never give up your devotion and sacrifices to the Queen of Heaven, and you have proved it by your actions. Then go ahead and carry out your promises and vows to her!

26“But listen to this message from the LORD, all you Judeans now living in Egypt: I have sworn by my great name, says the LORD, that my name will no longer be spoken by any of the Judeans in the land of Egypt. None of you may invoke my name or use this oath: ‘As surely as the Sovereign LORD lives!’ 27For I will watch over you to bring you disaster and not good. You will suffer war and famine until all of you are dead.

28“Only a small number will escape death and return to Judah from Egypt. Then all those who came to Egypt will find out whose words are true, mine or theirs! 29And this is the proof I give you, says the LORD, that all I have threatened will happen to you and that I will punish you here: 30I will turn Pharaoh Hophra, king of Egypt, over to his enemies who want to kill him, just as I turned King Zedekiah of Judah over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Jeremiah 44:11-30, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Jeremiah was an Old Testament prophet who lived about 2600 years ago. The book of Jeremiah chronicles the many prophecies he gave to the people of Judah in which the Lord promised to punish the people for their continued unfaithfulness and wickedness. This punishment would come at the hands of the Babylonians who would invade the land, overtake the capital city of Jerusalem and take the majority of its citizens back to Babylon as captives of war.

Throughout the book, many false prophets opposed Jeremiah, claiming that he had not heard from the Lord. These false prophets predicted that Babylon would not invade and if they did, they predicted that God would protect His people and enable them to withstand and resist any invading army.

At this point in the book, all of Jeremiah’s prophecies have come true. The Babylonians have come and laid siege to Jerusalem, overtaking its walled barriers and taking its people back to Babylon as prisoners of war.

However, a remnant of people are left in Judah to tend to the land and continue living under a Babylonian appointed governor.

It’s at this point that those who are left decide that they would be better off fleeing to Egypt and living under the rule of Pharaoh instead of living in their own land under Babylonian occupation.

Jeremiah comes to this group and gives them the Lord’s directive, which is to stay in the land and NOT flee to Egypt. God’s reasons are clear: He is going to punish the Egyptians by the very army that He used to punish the Israelites. If this remnant of Jews decides to flee to Egypt, they will only be putting themselves in the very harm’s way that they are trying to escape.

This chapter outlines the conversation Jeremiah has with key leaders of this remnant group which has made its way to Egypt. Jeremiah explicitly states that the Lord has decided that because this group has insisted on rejecting His direct command to stay in Judah, they will all die from the very things from which they fled, namely war and famine.

What is the response of the people?

You would hope that they would listen to Jeremiah and the word of the Lord. You would think that maybe they would repent and follow, for once, the command of the Lord.

But that’s not what happens. Instead, their response is:

“We will not listen to your messages from the LORD! 17We will do whatever we want. We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and sacrifice to her just as much as we like—just as we and our ancestors did before us, and as our kings and princes have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For in those days we had plenty to eat, and we were well off and had no troubles! 18But ever since we quit burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and stopped worshiping her, we have been in great trouble and have suffered the effects of war and famine.”

God’s response to this overt rebelliousness and rejection of Him is to allow them to experience the consequences of their choices and actions. By rebelling against the Lord, they were unknowingly putting their lives in danger by subjecting themselves to forces and circumstances that they could not possibly have seen or predicted on their own.

It seems to me that I often act just like this group of Judeans.

God no longer sends physical prophets like Jeremiah to speak to His people and warn them of potential disaster. He doesn’t need prophets to communicate these messages of warning because He has His holy Word that speaks for Him.

God’s word functions as the prophet in our current environment. Everything God wants us to know about righteous and wise living is summed up in His word. And yet, I often fail to consult His word to get input and wise advice concerning the issues I’m facing.

Often times, I don’t just ignore what God’s word says, I KNOW what it says and choose to overtly rebel anyway. I follow the pattern of rebellion these women modeled as I say to the Lord:

I will not listen to your messages, LORD! 17 I will do whatever I want. I will burn incense to whatever God or deity I want and sacrifice to her just as much as I like—just as we and our ancestors did before us, and as our leaders have always done in our towns and communities.

This is what I call the prayer of rebellion, in which I vocalize my rejection of God’s commands and His will for my life and I exert my own stubborn independence to live apart from Him.

Though Jeremiah lived 2600 years ago in a time and era that was much different than today, one thing is still the same – people are still rebelling against God’s word and will and living instead for their own personal desires and preferences.

We may not be taken into captivity by an invading army but by resisting the Lord’s will and disobeying Him, we most certainly will experience negative consequences and even disaster in our lives.

Reflection

These women made a habit of burning incense to a foreign god. They were putting their trust in a foreign deity and false god instead of God Himself. What are some potential idols in your own life that you are tempted to trust in place of God?

What are some times in your life where you have expressed “the prayer of rebellion” towards God. What were the circumstances?

In what ways can you prepare yourself from drifting and serving other gods or idols in your life? What are some practical tips that might keep you from experiencing spiritual drift?

What can you learn from this passage about the importance of being yoked (married) to someone who shares your same spiritual values and commitment to the Lord? 

 

Photo by Jakayla Toney on Unsplash

Is Wealth Immoral? (Part 2)

1 Timothy 6

6Yet true religion with contentment is great wealth. 7After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die. 8So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. 9But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT)

Ecclesiastes 11

1Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later.
(Ecclesiastes 11:1, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Yesterday, I posted here about a passage on wealth from Luke 12, in which Jesus tells a story calling a rich person foolish because he tore down his barns to build bigger barns so he would have a place to store his massive amounts of material possessions.

My post sought to address the issue of whether Jesus was condemning wealth in His story.

You see, there’s a lot of talk about equity these days and one of the areas where people are seeing inequity is in the wide array of financial positions held by people in our society. Some people are poor and some people are extremely rich, and a lot of people are somewhere in between.

In our very polarized society, it’s become fashionable to point to those who have extreme amounts of wealth and declare it to be immoral. It is assumed or implied that the only way people could have that much money is because of greed. To be fair, not everyone is directly declaring it to be immoral, but using words like “insane”, “outrageous”, “crazy” and “unnecessary” to describe the amount of wealth some people have makes the same point. Whether expressed directly or indirectly, many people are offended by the amount of wealth that some people have.

But is it immoral to be wealthy? Was Jesus, in his story, condemning wealth? You can read the details and explanation of my response here but the short answer is no, I do not believe Jesus was condemning wealth. What He was condemning was greed.

As if to reinforce that point, a portion of my reading today consisted of the passages above, which also speak to the issues of money, wealth and greed.

In 1 Timothy 6, Paul speaks to the need for contentment and then follows with a warning of the dangers that exist for people who “want to get rich”. Paul is speaking about greed.

Paul says that when people are greedy they find themselves “trapped by many foolish desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.” There are many examples of how this could play out but I initially think of a person who, in their hopes of making a big score, wastes all of their money playing the lottery or gambling.

The key verse in this passage is verse 10, where Paul says “the LOVE of money is at the root of all kinds of evil.”

Notice that Paul doesn’t say that money is evil. He says that the love of money is the problem. He continues by saying that many who crave money have wandered away from the faith. To “crave money” is another way of describing greed.

Just as Jesus’ story in Luke 12 was predicated on His warning to not be greedy, this passage from Paul also is delivered primarily as a warning against greed, not a condemnation of wealth.

As was stated in yesterday’s post, wealth is simply a tool. It is neither good nor bad, but can be used for good and honorable purposes or it can be used for evil and destructive purposes.

The Ecclesiastes verse above is a reminder that we are to be generous no matter how much money we have. If you have a lot of money, you have the opportunity be extremely generous.

Most of us are not in that extremely wealthy category, so it’s easy to look at those who have more than enough and wonder, “how can they possess so much money?” We might even begin to entertain the idea that it’s unfair and unjust, which is just a small step away from deciding that it’s immoral.

But be careful. Jesus doesn’t condemn wealth per se and as I demonstrated yesterday, there are many biblical figures who were, in fact, quite wealthy. How do we reconcile these truths if God is against wealth?

Instead of pointing to those who have more than enough and calling it unfair or even immoral, we should check our own heart and motives first. Greed is not a sin that just afflicts the rich. Anyone, from any socio-economic background can be lured by greed. However, those of us who aren’t rich can often cloak our greed by attempting to disguise our envy as justice.

Reflection

What do you think is the difference between greed and envy? When have you struggled with greed or envy in the past?

Paul warns of the dangers of “craving money”. When have you craved money, or any other material possession?

What examples can you think of in your own life or circle, where someone was “plunged into ruin and destruction” because of their “love for money”?

What steps can you take to avoid or resist greed and envy?

Do you agree or disagree with the idea that some people may attempt to point to extreme wealth as a sort of attempt to right an “injustice” when they may be simply expressing their own greed in the form of envy? Explain your view.

 

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Is it Immoral to Be Wealthy?

Luke 12

13Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”

14Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” 15Then he said, “Beware! Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have. Real life is not measured by how much we own.”

16And he gave an illustration: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17In fact, his barns were full to overflowing.18So he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store everything. 19And I’ll sit back and say to myself, My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!’

20“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get it all?’

21“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 12:13-21, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few weeks ago I saw the following tweet from Dave Ramsey who quoted and then commented on a statement from Larry Burkett.

If you don’t know who Dave Ramsey is, he’s well known for teaching thousands, if not millions of people biblical principles for managing money, getting out of debt and building wealth.

Larry Burkett was Dave Ramsey before Dave Ramsey.  Burkett, founder of Crown Ministries, was one of the main voices teaching biblical money-management principles from the 1970’s through the 1990’s before his passing in 2003. Personally, I remember reading a number of Larry Burkett books in the early 1990’s that helped me get out of debt, stay out of debt and begin to save money that would become foundational for my future marriage and family.

Why do I bring this up? What’s the big deal about this tweet?

Actually, I only saw Dave Ramsey’s tweet because of a response to his tweet that showed up on my timeline.

In the response, the tweeter made the comment that he’s heard too many sermons that try to explain away passages like this by saying that it’s not wealth that is being condemned but it’s the motivation for that wealth that Jesus is condemning.

The problem, according to the tweeter, is that these Bible passages, like the one we’re looking at today, don’t talk about “attitude” but only mention the bigger barns and the tremendous wealth.

The implication is that Jesus was condemning great wealth and that building bigger barns is immoral. After all, that is what is stated in the story.

The responder had a follow-up tweet in which he stated that the challenge he was bringing up isn’t just a challenge for Ramsey but it’s a challenge for himself as well, because as a middle class American, he’s wealthy by global standards. Therefore, he is just like the fool who is building bigger barns.

Is this tweeter on to something? Is it true that Jesus was condemning great wealth?  Is it also true that if you are a middle class American, you too are a fool because you have great wealth by global standards? In short, Is it immoral to have wealth?

If Jesus is condemning wealth then he would be instituting a radical shift in understanding regarding what was taught and understood from the Bible regarding wealth.

Consider the following facts:

    • Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people. was quite wealthy, as were his sons Isaac and Jacob. It is clear that God blessed them and their wealth was God-ordained.
    • David too was wealthy, as was his son Solomon. In fact, God provided tremendous wealth for Solomon because he asked God for wisdom to guide his people instead of asking for wealth. God gave him what he asked for (wisdom) and threw in what he didn’t ask for (wealth) as a bonus.
    • Job was tremendously wealthy. In fact, the scriptures say he was the wealthiest man in the area. After he lost everything, God restored his wealth and gave him even more. Job is consistently described as righteous, despite his wealth, which is never condemned.

How do we reconcile the tremendous wealth of these great bible characters with this “new understanding” that Jesus is supposedly condemning great wealth?

A basic tenet of Bible study is that scripture interprets scripture. What that means, simply, is that our understanding of a passage must align with what is taught in other passages. Otherwise, we end up with the Bible contradicting itself, which would be quite problematic.

Given the fact that wealth in the Old Testament wasn’t condemned as immoral and that there are numerous examples of God Himself providing and blessing people with great wealth, it should be clear that Jesus must not be condemning wealth outright.

So what’s Jesus saying? What’s the point of His story.

If we take a closer look at the passage, it’s clear from the outset what the point of the story is. Jesus tells us plainly in verse 15 when he says:

“Beware! Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have. Real life is not measured by how much we own.”

What Jesus is condemning is greed, which is clearly sin. Jesus’ example uses a rich man who decides to tear down his barns and build bigger barns because otherwise, he would not be able to store all the crops that his fields are producing. Because Jesus’ example involved a “rich” man, one might conclude that Jesus must be against the rich. But that’s not the case.

Jesus defines what is foolish in verse 21 when He says:

“a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

What makes a person a fool is being greedy, which leads to an attitude of always wanting and needing more. This is why the rich man felt the need to build bigger barns.

It’s also clear from this passage that another aspect of being a fool is NOT having a rich relationship with God.

What’s the bottom line?

The bottom line is that people are foolish when they are not content with what they have. Greed is not just a problem for people with money. Anyone can be greedy. Conversely, just because a person has wealth doesn’t mean they are greedy.

Greed is sinful because we seek to gain satisfaction and significance from material possessions instead of from our relationship with God. This is what Jesus is condemning.

We need to be very careful not to assume or project our motives onto others, particularly those who are wealthy. It’s become fashionable lately to malign those who have great wealth and condemn them as greedy.

The problem is that we cannot really know the inner motives of those who have an abundance of material resources. They “may” be greedy or they may not be.

The irony is that when we assume that those who have much are greedy and when we call for them to stripped of what they have so that it can be redistributed to others who don’t have as much, it actually demonstrates our own envy and sinful desires.

Wealth is not immoral. Greed is. Wealth is just a tool that can be used for good by those who are generous or it can be used for evil by those who are greedy.

Lastly, God Himself owns everything. He’s the wealthiest person in existence. The fact that He owns everything does not make Him selfish or greedy or immoral. He is none of those things. Instead, He’s extremely generous.

As believers, we should not be consumed with those who have more than us. We should be content with what we have and if we are blessed by God with much, we should be generous, just as God is.

Reflection

What has been your attitude towards people who are wealthy? What about people who have extreme wealth, such as billionaires? What has been your attitude towards their wealth?

What are some examples in your own life when you’ve been envious of others? What are some examples of greed in your own life?  How can you combat these attitudes and cultivate an attitude of generosity?

Do you agree with the tweeter or this author regarding how God views wealth? How does your view align with what the rest of Scripture teaches about wealth?

Why do you think so many people nowadays are attacking those who are rich and seeking to redistribute their wealth to others? What do you think are the reasons and motivations? 

 

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

 

Do You Pray for Your Political Rivals?

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. (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

You may or may not know that Timothy was Paul’s “son in the faith”, which simply means that Timothy came to know Christ through Paul’s ministry. Timothy became one of Paul’s traveling companions, learning from Paul and being discipled by Paul.

Timothy eventually became the pastor of the church at Ephesus and Paul, knowing that he is nearing the end of his time on this earth, pens this letter to Timothy with many practical instructions designed to help him lead others.

In this section, Paul gives an exhortation concerning prayer.

Paul’s admonition is for Timothy to pray for ALL PEOPLE.

This was a pretty radical thought, since we as humans are typically inclined to pray only for ourselves and those who are closest to us. We certainly are not inclined to pray for those we don’t know, but that’s exactly what Paul tells Timothy to do.

What’s even more amazing about this passage is the fact that Paul commands Timothy to pray for kings and those in authority, “so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity.”

Given the state of our country these days, I wonder how many people are actively taking these commands to heart.

We are more divided than ever and much of our division is a result of our political views that are not embraced by those on the other side of the political aisle.  But if I’m taking this passage to heart and seeking to implement this wisdom that Paul gave to Timothy so long ago, then I need to pray for those in authority, EVEN IF THEY DON’T REPRESENT MY POLITICAL POSITIONS.

This means that if you’re a conservative, you should be praying for those who are more liberal, and if you happen to be liberal, you should be praying for those folks, leaders included, who happen to be conservative.

The reason Paul gives for praying for those in authority is “because it pleases God.”

Now I know what you’re thinking – you cannot possibly pray for the evil people on the other end of your political spectrum because they believe a, b, and c and they do x, y and z. How could anyone pray for “those” people?

Paul’s exhortation does not imply that you need to embrace the beliefs of those with whom you disagree nor are you required to condone their actions or their policies. You simply are commanded to pray for them. The reason, again, is “so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity.”

The intent and desire is to live in peace. Praying for those with whom you disagree often has the effect of enabling you to disconnect emotionally from the other person’s beliefs and policies and see that person in their humanity. It’s only at that point that we can begin to understand people and demonstrate love toward them.

Reflection

What has been your habit and/or practice in praying for “all people” and in praying for kings and those who are in authority over us?

What barriers keep you from praying for those who are our political leaders?

The reason Paul gives for praying for those in authority is so that we can “live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity.” What are some things in your life (people, habits, etc.) that make it difficult for you to “live in peace”? 

What are some things you can do that would help you to live in peace and quietness with others?

 

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The Origin of the “Scapegoat”

Leviticus 16

3“When Aaron enters the sanctuary area, he must follow these instructions fully. He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a whole burnt offering. 4Then he must wash his entire body and put on his linen tunic and the undergarments worn next to his body. He must tie the linen sash around his waist and put the linen turban on his head. These are his sacred garments. 5The people of Israel must then bring him two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a whole burnt offering.

6“Aaron will present the bull as a sin offering, to make atonement for himself and his family. 7Then he must bring the two male goats and present them to the LORD at the entrance of the Tabernacle. 8He is to cast sacred lots to determine which goat will be sacrificed to the LORD and which one will be the scapegoat. 9The goat chosen to be sacrificed to the LORD will be presented by Aaron as a sin offering. 10The goat chosen to be the scapegoat will be presented to the LORD alive. When it is sent away into the wilderness, it will make atonement for the people.

11“Then Aaron will present the young bull as a sin offering for himself and his family. After he has slaughtered this bull for the sin offering, 12he will fill an incense burner with burning coals from the altar that stands before the LORD. Then, after filling both his hands with fragrant incense, he will carry the burner and incense behind the inner curtain. 13There in the LORD’s presence, he will put the incense on the burning coals so that a cloud of incense will rise over the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—that rests on the Ark of the Covenant. If he follows these instructions, he will not die. 14Then he must dip his finger into the blood of the bull and sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover and then seven times against the front of the Ark.

15“Then Aaron must slaughter the goat as a sin offering for the people and bring its blood behind the inner curtain. There he will sprinkle the blood on the atonement cover and against the front of the Ark, just as he did with the bull’s blood. 16In this way, he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place, and he will do the same for the entire Tabernacle, because of the defiling sin and rebellion of the Israelites. 17No one else is allowed inside the Tabernacle while Aaron goes in to make atonement for the Most Holy Place. No one may enter until he comes out again after making atonement for himself, his family, and all the Israelites.

18“Then Aaron will go out to make atonement for the altar that stands before the LORD by smearing some of the blood from the bull and the goat on each of the altar’s horns. 19Then he must dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it seven times over the altar. In this way, he will cleanse it from Israel’s defilement and return it to its former holiness.

20“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tabernacle, and the altar, he must bring the living goat forward. 21He is to lay both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all the sins and rebellion of the Israelites. In this way, he will lay the people’s sins on the head of the goat; then he will send it out into the wilderness, led by a man chosen for this task. 22After the man sets it free in the wilderness, the goat will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land. (Leviticus 16:3-22, NLT)

Psalm 103

10He has not punished us for all our sins, nor does he deal with us as we deserve.

11For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

12He has removed our rebellious acts as far away from us as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:10-12, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few days ago, I wrote here about the different sacrifices and offerings that are described in great detail in the early chapters of Leviticus. Knowing the purpose of these sacrifices is helpful for understanding the means by which the Israelites maintained fellowship with a holy God.

Leviticus 16 gives details on what is probably the most important day of the year for an Israelite – the day of atonement. On this day, the high priest offered up sacrifices to make atonement for the entire nation.

The details surrounding the events of this day were very precise, beginning with the high priest cleansing himself and wearing the proper attire for the sacrifice.

The first thing required of the high priest was to present two randomly selected goats to the Lord outside of the entrance to the tabernacle.

The high priest then offered a bull as a sin offering to make atonement for himself and his family. Remember that the sin offering was made to atone for any unintentional sins that one may have committed.

After making the sin offering for himself and his family, the high priest was to take fragrant incense behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies and place the incense on the burning coals in order to create a fragrant cloud of incense within the Holy of Holies. This was the only day of the year the high priest was allowed to enter this sacred part of the tabernacle and he alone was allowed to enter.

In addition to the incense, the high priest was to take some of the blood of the bull that was sacrificed and sprinkle it on the atonement cover (the Ark of the Covenant).

Next, the high priest was to take one of the goats and offer it up as a sin offering for the entire nation of Israel. He then took some of the blood from that sacrifice and just as he did with the bull’s blood, he entered into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled this goat’s blood on the Ark, making atonement for the entire nation.

After doing all of this, the high priest would then bring the living goat forward. He would place both of his hands on the living goat’s head and confess the sins and the rebellion of the nation. This is the origin of the term scapegoat, as the sins of the nation were symbolically transferred to this living goat.

This living goat was then led out into the wilderness by a person appointed for this specific task. The picture of leading the goat into the wilderness was symbolic of the sins of the nation being cast away and permanently removed from the presence of the community.

The psalmist, in Psalm 103:12, states it this way:

He has removed our rebellious acts as far away from us as the east is from the west.

So two things are at work in these events. First, the goat that was sacrificed demonstrated that the punishment for sin is death. This goat was sacrificed in the place of the community. The blood, which is symbolic of life, was shed in the place of the people.

Secondly, the scapegoat was used to “take the blame” for the community so that the people in the community could be cleansed and restored to their previous version of holiness, thereby maintaining a right standing before God.

The goat being led into the wilderness was meant to be a picture for the Israelites demonstrating what God does with our sin once it is atoned for. He removes it from our presence and He casts it into the wilderness, as far as the east is from the west.

Today, we use the term “scapegoat” as a way to blame another person or group for something they didn’t do, in order to avoid consequences or retribution for our offense. But the term originally was used to demonstrate how God takes the sins of the community that have been atoned for by an innocent surrogate animal and He removes those sins from the community and permanently casts them away.

Reflection

What is your experience with either a person or group that was labeled as a “scapegoat”? What were the circumstances? When have you been a scapegoat for others?

God has removed our sins “as far as the east is from the west”. Since east and west never meet, this means our sins are removed an “infinite” distance from us. What effect does knowing that our sins are “infinitely” removed from us have on you? How does it impact your view of God and His capacity to forgive?

The entire sacrificial system was meant to provide a word-picture for the people to see the magnitude of God’s holiness, the depth and seriousness of the people’s sin, and the means by which God would demonstrate both His justice and His mercy. In what ways do you see these word-pictures being carried out in the sacrifice Jesus made? What parallels do you see between the sacrifices made in the Old Testament and the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross?

 

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A Psalm for the Those Who Aspire to Lead

Psalm 101

1I will sing of your love and justice. I will praise you, LORD, with songs.

2I will be careful to live a blameless life—when will you come to my aid? I will lead a life of integrity in my own home.

3I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I hate all crooked dealings; I will have nothing to do with them.

4I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil.

5I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors. I will not endure conceit and pride.

6I will keep a protective eye on the godly, so they may dwell with me in safety. Only those who are above reproach will be allowed to serve me.

7I will not allow deceivers to serve me, and liars will not be allowed to enter my presence.

8My daily task will be to ferret out criminals and free the city of the LORD from their grip.

(Psalm 101: 1-8, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Billy Graham lived to be 100 years old and he was never a part of any kind of moral scandal. His son, Franklin Graham, explained here that Billy Graham lived by a principle that has come to be known by many as “The Billy Graham Rule” which, simply put, was a principle of never being alone with a woman other than his wife.

So Billy would never take a car ride alone with another woman or meet another woman for lunch, even if it was business or ministry related. He always met in a public place and required one of his assistants to be there with him.

If these “rules” sound extreme, it’s because they are. But they are effective as well. Billy knew that if he had a failure, and Lord knows that there are many godly men who have, it wouldn’t just be a stain on his own reputation, but it would affect the image of Jesus himself.

This Psalm reflects the spirit of a leader who is deeply committed to living a life of integrity and lifting up the name of the Lord.

The psalmist begins with an attitude of praise and thanksgiving before making a number of character-based commitments. Among them are:

    • a commitment to living a blameless life
    • a commitment to integrity
    • a refusal to look at anything vile and vulgar
    • a hatred for and rejection of all crooked dealings
    • a rejection of perverse ideas – avoiding evil at all costs
    • an intolerance for people who slander others
    • keeping a protective eye on the godly
    • only allowing those who are above reproach the opportunity to serve them
    • not allowing deceivers to be personal servants
    • avoiding those who are liars altogether
    • pursuing the daily task of ferreting out criminals
    • performing the daily task of seeking to free the city of the Lord (Jerusalem) from the grip of criminals

We live in a culture where temptations abound. The opportunity to slip up morally is more prevalent now than ever.

In addition, due to technological advances, scrutiny from those who might seek to capitalize on our mis-steps is also higher than ever.

In other words, there are more temptations than ever and more watchful eyes than ever. Therefore, the chances that our secret sins will eventually come to light are also greater than ever.

Leaders who want to live with integrity would do well to have a plan and to be intentional about placing safeguards within their lives to protect them from making the kinds of catastrophic mistakes that have drastic and long-term effects.

This Psalm is a great example of intentionality to a life of integrity, purpose and honor.

Reflection

What are some examples of Christians you know or know of who have experienced a moral failure?

What personal steps have you taken to live with integrity and honor? What kinds of principles or guidelines have you put in place in order to reduce the risk of a moral failure?

What are some situations or circumstances where you would be most likely to compromise?

Which of the items in the above list would be most challenging to you?

 

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Are you a Christian Who Needs Milk or Meat?

Hebrews 5

11There is so much more we would like to say about this. But you don’t seem to listen, so it’s hard to make you understand. 12You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food. 13And a person who is living on milk isn’t very far along in the Christian life and doesn’t know much about doing what is right. 14Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right. (Hebrews 5:11-14, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In this section, the author of Hebrews rebukes his audience for their immaturity.

Truthfully, these words could easily be directed towards the mainstream of today’s evangelical church, as data suggests that a majority of those who call themselves Christians today are either uninvolved or only marginally involved in the activities of their local congregation.

So what’s the issue?

According to the author, these believers were experiencing a spiritual dietary problem. They were drinking milk when they should be eating steak!

The author states that these believers had been Christians for a long time. If you’ve been a believer for a while, there is an expectation concerning your growth and maturity level. Yet these recipients had not attained an expected level of maturity.

The author compares them to babies. Babies drink milk because their bodies cannot handle solid food. So essentially, they need pre-digested food.

The food the author is talking about is related to an ability to understand right and wrong and to do the right thing. These believers were not new followers of Christ, but because they had not grown much spiritually, their lives looked like the lives of someone who had only recently been exposed to the Christian faith.

The author states that as long-time believers, they should be at the point where they are able to teach others.

What should they be teaching?

The author states that they should be able to teach others concerning what is right and what is wrong. But they weren’t able to do that. Instead, they still needed others to step in and lead them and teach them “again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures.”

The growth process isn’t automatic. In order to experience growth in the Christian life, there’s a process that we undergo where we begin to learn what is right and what is wrong. We learn this by understanding the Scriptures.

Those who are growing and becoming mature are learning what the Scriptures say about what is right and they are DOING what the Scriptures say we must do if we want to do what is right.

This process, over time, causes us to become mature and it results in our ability to teach others what the Scriptures say.

So the question is, are you a Christian who needs milk or meat?

Milky Christians are characterized by the following:

    • lack of knowledge of what the Scriptures teach
    • need for others to explain basic truths about Christianity
    • Incomplete or limited understanding of right and wrong
    • Consistently unable to make right choices in actions
    • Unable to teach others these truths (primarily because of a lack of personal understanding)

Meaty Christians may be characterized by the following:

    • Ability to recognize between right and wrong
    • Consistent application of God’s truth in their lives
    • Not overly dependent on others for understanding
    • Able to teach others Scriptural truths

Reflection

Which of the two conditions best reflects where you’re at? Are you a Milky Christian or a Meaty Christian?

What has been your experience in teaching the Scriptures to others?

What do you think is the biggest barrier to you growing in maturity and becoming someone who is able to teach other?

What steps can you take to become a person who is mature, knowing right from wrong, and able to teach others?

 

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What Can We Learn from the Temptations of Jesus?

Luke 4

1Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit to go out into the wilderness, 2where the Devil tempted him for forty days. He ate nothing all that time and was very hungry.

3Then the Devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, change this stone into a loaf of bread.”

4But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People need more than bread for their life.’ ”

5Then the Devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6The Devil told him, “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them—because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7I will give it all to you if you will bow down and worship me.”

8Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God; serve only him.’ ”

9Then the Devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10For the Scriptures say,

‘He orders his angels to protect and guard you.

11And they will hold you with their hands to keep you from striking your foot on a stone.’ ”

12Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’ ”

13When the Devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. (Luke 4:1-14, NLT)

Hebrews 4

14That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. 15This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. 16So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few days ago, in my daily bible reading, I came across both Luke 4 and Hebrews 4. Both of these chapters have portions related to the temptations Jesus experienced from Satan in the wilderness.

What exactly was the purpose of the temptations Jesus experienced in the desert and how can we learn from His example?


NOTE: Many of my thoughts concerning the temptations Jesus faced come from a talk that Dr. Bill Lawrence, a former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, gave to a group of Cru staff at a conference in March, 2011.


Sin has been described as our attempt to meet legitimate needs in illegitimate ways. In other words, we all have basic human needs that need to be met but we sin when we attempt to meet those needs in ways that are outside of the boundaries that God has set for us to meet those needs.

Dr. Lawrence, in his talk on the temptations Jesus faced, described the 3 temptations this way:

Every one of the temptations is related to what God wants you to do but not the way God wants you to do it. We are tempted to do God’s will but man’s way.

So how exactly are these three temptations an attempt to do God’s will but in man’s way?

In the first temptation, Jesus experiences the temptation to meet His own needs – to rely on himself instead of on God.

Clearly Jesus needed to eat. We all need food and sustenance to survive. But Satan was inviting Jesus to rely on His own resources instead of relying on the Father. Jesus recognized Satan’s tactic and quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, which states that people need more than bread for life, we need the Lord Himself in order to really live.

The second temptation, according to Lawrence, is the temptation to Self-Advancement. Jesus knew that it was the Father’s will that He would rule over the nations. Satan offered Jesus a shortcut to that outcome. But at what cost?

Jesus would have had to bow to Satan, who is NOT God.

Sometimes, because of our impatience, we can seek to get to a godly outcome via an ungodly process. In our haste to get what we want, we can cut corners and do things our way instead of God’s way.

In the third temptation, Jesus faces the temptation to make an impact. Remember that this desert encounter with Satan occurs at the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He’s a relative unknown. By throwing Himself down from the highest point and saving Himself, He would have instantly been seen as a divine being by the crowds.

Lawrence says that this is the temptation to self-assertion – to be successful.

There’s no doubt that had Jesus followed Satan’s plan, He would have gained an instant following. People would have recognized His power and divinity. But humility is more messianic than self-assertion and so Jesus rejects Satan’s offer for immediate fame and popularity.

These temptations are illustrative of the kinds of temptations we all face as human beings. We too face the temptation to meet our own needs instead of trusting God. We too face the temptation to do things our own way in order to get an outcome that we justify as “godly”. We too can act without humility, seeking to advance our own name instead of advancing God’s name.

In the Hebrews passage, we’re told the reason why Jesus experienced these temptations. Jesus experienced the temptations He did so that He could identify with our weaknesses and offer help to us in our time of need.

Jesus is our High Priest, which means He works as a mediator between us and the Father. Jesus is the perfect mediator because He knows from first-hand experience what it is like to be tempted with the kinds of things we are all tempted with.

The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus experienced, “all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin.”

Jesus knows what we’re going through. He doesn’t just know on a cognitive level. He knows on an emotional level because He has endured the kinds of temptations we’ve endured, and yet, He did not sin.

This last part, He did not sin, is important because it means that Jesus is divine and therefore can relate to the Father, who shares in His divinity, while at the same time, He can relate to us because He lived a life where He experienced all of the same struggles, hardships, and yes, TEMPTATIONS, that we have experienced.

As a result of these two truths, the author of Hebrews tells us that we can have confidence to come boldly before God’s throne. Because of Jesus, God will extend mercy to us and offer grace to us when we need it most!

Reflection

Which of the three temptations outlined in Luke 4 do you struggle with the most and why?

In what ways have you seen the statement “sin is meeting legitimate needs in illegitimate ways” to be true in your own life?

What do you learn from Jesus’ encounter that you can apply to your own life in terms of resisting temptation?

The author of Hebrews states that Jesus is our High Priest and that He’s experienced temptation just as we have, and yet did not sin! This gives us confidence to boldly approach God’s throne. What does it look like for you to boldly approach God’s throne? What are some practical ways you have done that in your own devotional life with God?

NOTE: For more on this topic, check out this online article from Dr. Lawrence regarding Ten Temptations of a Leader”  

 

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Biblical Warning: Round 2

Hebrews 3

1And so, dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are bound for heaven, think about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s Messenger and High Priest. 2For he was faithful to God, who appointed him, just as Moses served faithfully and was entrusted with God’s entire house. 3But Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a fine house deserves more praise than the house itself. 4For every house has a builder, but God is the one who made everything.

5Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house, but only as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. 6But Christ, the faithful Son, was in charge of the entire household. And we are God’s household, if we keep up our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ. 7That is why the Holy Spirit says,

“Today you must listen to his voice.

8Don’t harden your hearts against him as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested God’s patience in the wilderness.

9There your ancestors tried my patience, even though they saw my miracles for forty years.

10So I was angry with them, and I said, ‘Their hearts always turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’

11So in my anger I made a vow: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”

12Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13You must warn each other every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. 14For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. 15But never forget the warning:

“Today you must listen to his voice. Don’t harden your hearts against him as Israel did when they rebelled.”

16And who were those people who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Weren’t they the ones Moses led out of Egypt? 17And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom was God speaking when he vowed that they would never enter his place of rest? He was speaking to those who disobeyed him. 19So we see that they were not allowed to enter his rest because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:1-19, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few days ago, I wrote my thoughts about a warning that was included in Psalm 95. You can read my thoughts here.

Just two days later, I came to this passage in Hebrews 3, in which the author quotes the very text I had read from Psalm 95 and highlights the same warning that I mentioned a few days ago.

Coincidence?

Actually, these kinds of random biblical cross-references happen more often than you might think when you’re following the Grant Horner Bible reading plan.

So what is happening in this passage and why is the author referencing Psalm 95 to issue this warning?

The theme of the letter to the Hebrews could be labeled as “Jesus is Better than…”

The audience, as the name of the letter implies, is Hebrew Christians. These believers were in danger of reverting back to their Jewish rituals and customs as a means of appeasing God and gaining His favor.

So the author erects an outline, detailing in point by point fashion that Jesus is better than everything associated with the Old Testament religious system.

In chapter 1, the author demonstrates that Jesus is better than the angels, and now in this chapter, the author takes on the greatest icon within the Jewish religious system, Moses himself.

The author states that Jesus is better than Moses in the same way a builder of a house is better than the house.

The author then develops their argument by stating that Moses was faithful in God’s house but only as a servant. Jesus, on the other hand, is in charge of the household because he is a son, not a servant. I wrote about the implications of slaves/servants as opposed to sons here, in a blog post which referenced a passage from Galatians.

The point is that in the household of God, Moses was a servant. Yes, he was important and he played a key role and he was faithful in his duties. But Jesus is a SON in the household and therefore deserves more glory because as a son, He is the heir to the household. He is the owner!

The author then says that we (people) ARE God’s household. Our choice is that we can follow Moses who is a servant in God’s household, or we can follow Jesus, who is a son in God’s household. Which person makes more sense to follow?

It’s at this point that the author references the warnings from Psalm 95.

The warning can be paraphrased as follows:

    • We must listen to God’s voice today
    • Don’t harden your hearts as the Israelites did when they rebelled (see the Psalm 95 blog post here to read about the incident in which the Israelites rebelled against God)
    • The consequence for their rebellion was that they were not allowed to enter into God’s rest – they were not allowed to enter the promised land.

Starting in verse 12, the author of Hebrews begins to unpack the warning of Psalm 95 a bit more, demonstrating the implications of how the warning applies to his readers.

Remember, the recipients of this letter were being tempted to forsake Jesus as the object of their faith and trust for salvation and revert back to the Old Testament legal system, with its many rules and regulations as a means of achieving a righteous standing before God.

The author then elaborates on the warning, saying:

    • Make sure your hearts are not evil and unbelieving
    • This results in turning away from God
    • You must warn each other so that you won’t be deceived by sin and hardened against God
    • This hardening results in a lack of trust in God (unbelief)
    • Unbelief is characterized by disobedience

So the pattern is as follows: sin, hardening (lack of openness to God), distrust, disobedience.

When this pattern fully develops into disobedience, we will no longer experience the benefits of God’s rest. All of the benefits Jesus wants us to experience now as His beloved children and followers will fail to materialize.

How do we avoid the hardening, distrust, disobedience cycle?

It starts with listening to His voice, a command the author reiterates again in verse 15.  When we listen to His voice, we learn who He is and we learn to trust Him. We also learn what He wants from us and we learn how to follow Him.

When we don’t listen to His voice, it means that we’re listening to another voice, whether it’s our own or that of the culture or someone else. At that point, we’re no longer following God but we’re following ourselves.

How then do we listen to God’s voice?

It’s possible God may audibly speak to you but I would say that is not typical. The primary way in which God speaks to us today is through His word, the Scriptures. If you want to listen to God’s voice, to know Him and understand what He expects, then read the Scriptures. It’s through God’s word that we understand what is sin and what isn’t. It’s through His word that we understand who He is and who He isn’t.

If we fail to appeal to God’s word as our means of listening to His voice, it is quite likely we will be deceived by sin. We will begin to follow our own ideas about what we think is right and wrong. We may even attribute our new moral values to God Himself. Indeed, it’s quite common today for people to reject certain moral standards from the bible and replace them with more updated, contemporary values that speak to today’s cultural norms.

It is also common for these same people to claim to be God worshipers and Christ-followers. But if they are creating their own morality while rejecting what God explicitly says, they are in effect, creating their own version of God. This is the modern day equivalent of idol worship. I wrote about this in a previous post here.

This is deception, which leads to a hardening of the heart, which is characterized by not listening to God. This results in unbelief which is characterized by disobedience.

This cycle is alluring and it’s easy to fall into, which is why the author exhorts the audience to “warn each other every day”.

We are ALL susceptible to deceiving ourselves and falling into this religious trap.

Hence, the author says again in verse 15, “Never forget the warning”!

Reflection

In what ways are you tempted to harden your heart towards God?

What are some examples in today’s culture where you see people forsaking biblical moral values and substituting them for something that seems to fit our current culture better?

The author says that those who reject God because of their unbelief will not enter God’s rest? What do you think that means? What would it look like to not enter God’s rest?

What are some ways you could heed the author’s warning and ensure that you are listening to His voice today?

What can you do to ensure that you don’t harden your heart towards God?

 

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