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

Matthew 16

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

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

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

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

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


The Daily DAVEotional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

 

Photo by Amol Tyagi on Unsplash

 

Can the Church Usher in a Utopian Society?

Matthew 13

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

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

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

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

. . . . . . . . .

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

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

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


The Daily DAVEotional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

What are some practical ways for turning weeds into wheat?

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

 

Photo by Tim Matras on Unsplash

Keys to Thriving

Psalm 1

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Daily DAVEotional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

 

The Decisive Issue in Following Christ

Matthew 7

21“Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. 22On judgment day many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized.’ (Matthew 7:21-23, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Matthew 7 is part of a larger discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount, which begins in Matthew chapter 5.

In this section of scripture, Jesus gives many well-known teachings related to the theme of righteous living.

In this particular passage, Jesus highlights a key characteristic of those who claim to be His followers. “The decisive issue”, Jesus says, “is whether they obey my Father in heaven.”

Think about it. Many people today claim to be Christians and devout followers of Christ. Yet Jesus explicitly says that there will be many people who called Him ‘Lord’ who will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. How is this possible? Don’t people simply have to confess Jesus is Lord and then they’re saved from the punishment of hell?

Yes, and no.

Yes it’s true that we cannot be saved unless we put our trust in Jesus. But Jesus is saying that just because someone makes the claim that Jesus is Lord doesn’t mean that He really IS their Lord.

If Jesus is your Lord then that means He is your master. And if Jesus is your master then that means you are His slave, or as Paul puts it, His bondservant. If Jesus is the master and I am the slave, then that implies that what He says goes. Jesus makes the rules and He is the ruler. We are subservient to Him AND His rules.

Yet according to Jesus, many people who call Jesus Lord are not really obeying the Father. They have a duplicitous nature, claiming that Jesus is Lord, but not fully obeying Jesus and the Father.

The critical issue in following Jesus is obedience. Unfortunately, many people who go to church and act religious are not truly following. In today’s culture, it is quite common for people to claim to be Christians but not do what Jesus says. There may be no area more apparent with this issue than the sexual arena.

You might be thinking, “well nobody is perfect! How can we possibly be expected to live up to some idealistic standard?”

We’re not meant or expected to live up to some ideal. We will sin. That’s not really the issue. Jesus has paid for sin and we can experience ongoing forgiveness by bringing our sin to the cross and confessing it. See my blog post “Walking in the Light Simplified.”

The issue is when we deny that we’ve sinned. In 1 John 1:10 (from my post “Walking in the Light Simplified”), John says:

“if we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.”

The problem is when we change the rules so that we don’t agree that what we’re doing is sinful. In this scenario, we don’t confess our sins to Jesus because we no longer believe these actions or attitudes are sinful.

This is what I refer to as “Salad Bar Religion”, which I wrote about here. Salad Bar religion occurs when we pick and choose the things we want to obey while discarding the things we don’t want to obey.

Jesus’ words may seem harsh to some but He’s crystal clear on this: we are not authorized to change His rules and guidelines for what constitutes righteous living. Those who do change His rules in order to suit their own personal preferences may find themselves in the unenviable position of being rejected by Jesus when the time comes to give an account of our life and our choices.

Reflection

In what areas of Scripture do you find it most difficult to obey? What are some of the “rules” that you are most tempted to neglect, ignore or change?

What is your response to the thought that Jesus may reject entrance to the Kingdom of heaven to some people who have claimed to be Christians in this life?

If obedience is the decisive issue, how do you account for the fact that all of us as Christians still disobey God at times? How would you explain to someone who argues that you are being legalistic by setting up an impossible standard that cannot be met?

What steps can you take to ensure that you are not a follower with a duplicitous nature, claiming to follow Jesus verbally but internally, following your own preferred rules of living?

 

Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

Does God Help Those Who Help Themselves?

Matthew 5

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, NIV)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever heard someone say that “God helps those who help themselves”?

It’s a popular notion that’s been around for years. But is it biblical?

To be fair, there are numerous passages in the Proverbs that extol the virtues of hard work and the foolishness of being lazy. (See Proverbs 10:4; 12:24, 27; 13:4; 19:15, among others)

Additionally, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul issues this admonition:

“Even while we were with you, we gave you this rule: “Whoever does not work should not eat.”

However the sentiment of this popular bit of cultural wisdom is not meant to discourage laziness but instead, it promotes an attitude of self-sufficiency and rugged individualism that is associated more with American culture than biblical values.

Jesus teaches the exact opposite. Instead of teaching that “God helps those who help themselves”, Jesus teaches that ”God helps those who CANNOT help themselves.”

To be poor in spirit means to recognize your own spiritual need; to recognize the poverty of your own soul. The New Living Translation says it this way:

“God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.” (Matthew 5:3, NLT)

The reality is that we are all broken and there is nothing we can do to help ourselves. Many people mistakenly believe that we come to Jesus only to be rescued from an eternity in hell.

While Jesus does save us from the judgment we deserve, we still need Jesus every day, even beyond our initial conversion experience. We are broken and only Jesus can empower us to live the kinds of righteous and holy lives He desires. Only Jesus can provide fullness of life.

Jesus doesn’t just promise to save us from hell. He promises us LIFE. REAL LIFE. Unfortunately, we cannot experience that life if we subscribe to the idea that we must help ourselves first. NO. We cannot help ourselves. We need Jesus to help us every moment of every day!

Reflection

What are some ways our culture promotes the kind of attitude that is expressed in the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”?

In what ways have you seen this kind of thinking filter into our church and Christian doctrine?

Besides your conversion experience what are some other times or situations where you recognized your own brokenness and need for Jesus?

What are some ways that people can cultivate an attitude of being “poor in spirit”?

 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Compromise Isn’t Always Good

Revelation 2

12“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Pergamum. This is the message from the one who has a sharp two-edged sword:

13“I know that you live in the city where that great throne of Satan is located, and yet you have remained loyal to me. And you refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you by Satan’s followers. 14And yet I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you who are like Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to worship idols by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. 15In the same way, you have some Nicolaitans among you—people who follow the same teaching and commit the same sins. 16Repent, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

17“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 of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:12-17, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Though the book of Revelation is filled with figurative language describing apocalyptic events that will occur in the future, the first couple of chapters describe real events that were happening at the time the author penned his words.

In chapters 2 and 3, John is instructed to write down messages that were to be delivered to 7 different churches. These were real churches and the messages were a combination of praise for the things they were doing well and rebuke for those things they were failing to do as true followers of Jesus.

In this passage of Revelation, John is writing to the church at Pergamum. The people in that church had done some things that were worthy of praise, most notably, they had remained loyal to Jesus despite cultural pressures that existed in their city.

But there were some things that were not pleasing to the Lord. The text calls them complaints. The biggest issue in this church was that they were compromising on their moral values, particularly in the area of sexual purity.

The Lord references two obscure biblical characters to lodge His complaint. He mentions Balaam as well as a group referred to as the “Nicolaitans”.

Balaam was a prophet whose story is found in Numbers 22-25. Balak, the king of Aram had seen the vast people of Israel encamped near him and he sought the help of Balaam in bringing a curse upon the Israelites. The short story is that even though the king of Aram offered up an incredible amount of riches in exchange for Balaam’s curse, Balaam only blesses the Israelites instead.

A quick reading of the story might lead one to conclude that Balaam was a good guy who followed the Lord’s leading. However, we find out in subsequent chapters that even though Balaam did obey the Lord by not cursing the Israelites but blessing them instead, he also conspired against the Israelites by suggesting to Balak a way to do an end around God’s blessing of his people.

It was Balaam who suggested to king Balak that Israel would easily defile themselves if their men were encouraged to pursue foreign women as wives. Balaam knew that these men, in their physical lust, would forsake the Lord and worship the gods of these foreigners. Though Israelite men were forbidden to sleep with foreign women or take them as wives. Balaam urged Balak to take this course anyway, knowing that it would be the first step to leading the whole nation away from the Lord.

The other group also referenced in this passage is the Nicolaitans. This group was not praised and there are at least two passages that reference this group and warns about them.

So who are the Nicolaitans and what was wrong with their doctrine?

Most of what we know about the Nicolaitans is from early church fathers who wrote that the Nicolaitans were followers of Nicolas, who taught a doctrine of compromise.

One view is that because it was mentioned in Acts 6:5 that Nicolas was a proselyte from Antioch then he must’ve had a background in the occult and pagan religions. It’s speculated that he taught that one did not need to relinquish all ties to former religions when coming to Christ. He, and his followers, had one foot in Christianity and another foot in the world.

In other words, pagan practices were not discouraged or spoken against and therefore, there was a compromise of character and conduct that didn’t match Jesus’ teachings and the expectations of the early church.

One thing we know for sure, the church at Pergamum was rebuked because of their compromise in the sexual area. The Lord cites the example of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the Israelites by enticing them to fall into sexual sin, as well as the example of the Nicolaitans, who according to this passage, committed the same sexual sins.

Many commentators believe that the 7 churches in these chapters, though real churches, are also representative of all churches throughout the ages. In other words, every church will generally resemble one of these churches in terms of the issues it struggles with.

We live in a culture that is very progressive in its views of sexuality and sex. Just about nothing is off limits any more. And some of these sexual views have crept into the church so that many Christians are no longer holding fast to traditional biblical views on sex and sexual immorality. In short, we are seeing quite a bit of compromise.

I recently wrote about “The Recipe for Salad Bar Religion”, in which I looked at a passage from 2 Kings 17 that showed that the people who had been transplanted in Jerusalem were taught how to worship the Lord but they never forsook their old worship practices. Hence, their understanding of God was simply added to the pantheon of religious views and practices they already held.

In a way, this is the problem for the church at Pergamum and for us today. We have some doctrinal views about God and Jesus and particularly salvation that we hold to but when it comes to our daily practices, we often adopt the practices of the world. We therefore end up with a faith in which we appear loyal to God intellectually and doctrinally but in our daily practices our lives often are more reflective of the culture around us.

The message Jesus has for us today is the same message He had 2000 years ago to the church at Pergamum. The Lord may well tell us the same thing He vocalized to His people then – that He is glad we are remaining loyal in the midst of a wicked culture but He is upset with how easily we compromise our moral standards, particularly when it comes to the area of sexual fidelity.

Reflection

What are some moral areas in which you see Christians compromising today?

What are some of the ways you see the culture influencing Christians to compromise regarding their views and understanding of sexual immorality?

How would you summarize the biblical view of sex and sexual immorality to a new believer? What scriptural references would you use to support your views?

What steps can you take to ensure that you are not rebuked by Jesus for compromising your moral values?

 

Photo by Joshimer Biñas from Pexels

The Recipe for “Salad Bar” Religion

2 Kings 17

24And the king of Assyria transported groups of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. So the Assyrians took over Samaria and the other towns of Israel. 25But since these foreign settlers did not worship the LORD when they first arrived, the LORD sent lions among them to kill some of them.

26So a message was sent to the king of Assyria: “The people whom you have resettled in the towns of Israel do not know how to worship the God of the land. He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped him correctly.”

27The king of Assyria then commanded, “Send one of the exiled priests from Samaria back to Israel. Let him teach the new residents the religious customs of the God of the land.” 28So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria returned to Bethel and taught the new residents how to worship the LORD.

29But these various groups of foreigners also continued to worship their own gods. In town after town where they lived, they placed their idols at the pagan shrines that the people of Israel had built. 30Those from Babylon worshiped idols of their god Succoth-benoth. Those from Cuthah worshiped their god Nergal. And those from Hamath worshiped Ashima. 31The Avvites worshiped their gods Nibhaz and Tartak. And the people from Sepharvaim even burned their own children as sacrifices to Adrammelech and Anammelech.

32These new residents worshiped the LORD, but they appointed from among themselves priests to offer sacrifices at the pagan shrines. 33And though they worshiped the LORD, they continued to follow the religious customs of the nations from which they came. 34And this is still going on among them today. They follow their former practices instead of truly worshiping the LORD and obeying the laws, regulations, instructions, and commands he gave the descendants of Jacob, whose name he changed to Israel. 35For the LORD had made a covenant with the descendants of Jacob and commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow before them or serve them or offer sacrifices to them. 36Worship only the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt with such mighty miracles and power. You must worship him and bow before him; offer sacrifices to him alone. 37Be careful to obey all the laws, regulations, instructions, and commands that he wrote for you. You must not worship any other gods. 38Do not forget the covenant I made with you, and do not worship other gods. 39You must worship only the LORD your God. He is the one who will rescue you from all your enemies.”

40But the people would not listen and continued to follow their old ways. 41So while these new residents worshiped the LORD, they also worshiped their idols. And to this day their descendants do the same. (2 Kings 17:24-41, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

About 700 years before Christ, the Assyrians, who were the dominant world power at the time, invaded and conquered Israel, the northern kingdom.

A common template for a conquering army was exporting the defeated nation’s people back to the nation of the invading army where they would be assimilated and/or acculturated into the dominant culture.

At the same time, it was common for the conquering power to bring its own citizens in to occupy the conquered land, thus expanding their cultural reach even further.

This is what’s happening in 2 Kings 17. The Assyrian army has conquered Israel and shipped off most of its citizens to the motherland. In exchange, people from various parts of the Assyrian empire are brought into Samaria in order to repopulate the area with those who are already assimilated into the Assyrian way of life.

But there’s a problem. These new people don’t worship God. They have their own regional deities whom they worship. So the Lord sends in lions to kill some of the inhabitants.

When the king learns that some of his selected subjects are being taken down by lions in his newly acquired province, he’s told that the reason is because the people don’t understand how to worship the local deity (God) and so they are being punished by lions that have been sent to kill them.

The king decides to send an exiled priest back to Israel to instruct the new inhabitants in how to worship the Lord, thus hoping to appease the local deity and quell the lion attacks.

This exiled priest does what he’s asked to do. He instructs the new inhabitants in the proper ways to worship the Lord.

The new inhabitants are quick to comply. After all, who wants to get killed by a lion?

The problem is that even though these new inhabitants begin worshiping the Lord according to the pattern they are taught by this exiled priest, they never give up worshiping their previous deities. They worship the Lord but neglect to forsake their former gods.

It occurred to me that we do the same thing today. We may not have regional deities we’re worshiping in addition to God as these people in 2 Kings 17 did, but we may have things besides Jesus that seduce our affections and take priority in our lives.

The truth is that not much has changed in the 2700+ years since this was written. Many people come to church and add Christianity to their philosophical library but they neglect to forsake their former idols and previous ways of life.

As a result, many people end up with what I call a “salad bar” approach to their religious views. I call it a salad bar because if you’ve ever been to a place like Souplantation or a similar buffet-line style eatery, it is a great illustration for how people develop their religious views.

In a salad bar or any kind of buffet line, you grab your plate and you walk down the food line and you put food on your plate that you like and you pass over the foods you don’t like. You pick and choose the things you enjoy while rejecting the things you don’t prefer.

When you reach the end of the buffet line, you pay the cashier and you walk to an open table holding a plate that has all of the delicious items and tantalizing desserts you prefer without any of the foods you dislike.

This isn’t true Christianity. It’s more like what we see here in 2 Kings 17. Just because a person says they believe in Christ and they worship Jesus doesn’t mean they have forsaken all of their previous idols and it doesn’t mean that they have abandoned all of their previous wordly philosophies and dogmas.

The true Christ-follower recognizes that Jesus is calling us into a relationship that is best illustrated as a marital covenant. I wrote about that here.

As is true of any marriage relationship, there is an underlying expectation that both parties will be faithful and true to their one and only partner.

When we add Jesus as just another side dish on our plate of religious philosophies, we have not really made a true commitment to Jesus because saying “yes” to Jesus requires us to first and foremost, forsake all others.

Reflection

What were the idols or gods in your life that you worshiped or gave priority before you came to Christ?

What are the things that tend to compete for you affections as you seek to make Christ Lord in your life?

What are the views or teachings of Christianity that you have a hard time believing – those beliefs that if they were in a salad bar, you’d prefer to pass over instead of putting them on your plate?

Also, what are some views and thoughts from the culture or your previous way of life that you’ve had a hard time discarding from your plate, even though they may stand in contrast to clear biblical teachings?

What are some things you can do to avoid a “salad bar” theology?

 

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

A “Twilight Zone” Episode from the Old Testament

Rod Serling narrates The Twilight Zone – Season 2, Episode 2 – “The Man in the Bottle”

2 Kings 8

7Now Elisha went to Damascus, the capital of Aram, where King Ben-hadad lay sick. Someone told the king that the man of God had come. 8When the king heard the news, he said to Hazael, “Take a gift to the man of God. Then tell him to ask the LORD if I will get well again.”

9So Hazael loaded down forty camels with the finest products of Damascus as a gift for Elisha. He went in to him and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad, the king of Aram, has sent me to ask you if he will recover.”

10And Elisha replied, “Go and tell him, ‘You will recover.’ But the LORD has shown me that he will actually die!” 11Elisha stared at Hazael* with a fixed gaze until Hazael became uneasy. Then the man of God started weeping.

12“What’s the matter, my lord?” Hazael asked him.

Elisha replied, “I know the terrible things you will do to the people of Israel. You will burn their fortified cities, kill their young men, dash their children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women!”

13Then Hazael replied, “How could a nobody like me ever accomplish such a great feat?”

But Elisha answered, “The LORD has shown me that you are going to be the king of Aram.”

14When Hazael went back, the king asked him, “What did Elisha tell you?”

And Hazael replied, “He told me that you will surely recover.”

15But the next day Hazael took a blanket, soaked it in water, and held it over the king’s face until he died. Then Hazael became the next king of Aram. (2 Kings 8:7-15)


The Daily DAVEotional

I grew up watching reruns of the classic TV series “The Twilight Zone”. Every black and white episode was introduced by series creator and narrator Rod Serling, who, in his classic opening line of “Imagine if you will…” posed a seemingly normal scenario that ultimately ended with an ironic twist of fate that often left the audience wondering if the next installment might be as paradoxical as the last.

This section of scripture from 2 Kings reads like an old Twilight Zone TV script.

Elisha goes to the King of Syria who lays in bed sick and is wondering if he’ll get better. The king tells his servant Hazael to take a gift to Elisha so that they might consult him regarding God’s outcome for his illness.

As Elisha interacts with Hazael, there is an awkward exchange where Elisha breaks down in tears. When asked about the reason for his sadness, Elisha reveals to Hazael that he’s weeping because he foresees the future, and in this future he sees all the evil things Hazael is going to do to the people of Israel.

Hazael doesn’t think too highly of himself as he refers to himself as a “nobody” but he seems to express some excitement at the prospect that he might actually accomplish these “great feats.” Still, he wonders how it’s possible.

Elisha tells him that God has informed him that he will become the king of Aram.

This revelation seems to set forces in motion for Hazael as he tells the king that he WILL recover from his illness but then promptly murders him the next day, replacing him as king of Aram and thus fulfilling Elisha’s prophetic vision.

The question is: did God simply foresee events that would happen and then tell Hazael what He saw, or was this revelation the seed that CAUSED Hazael to take the action that he did?

In the Twilight Zone, the viewer is often left to ponder for himself this very question. One could make an argument either way, which is one of the reasons there was wide appeal for the show, which, even more than 50 years later, are still running daily on local TV stations.

So which is it? Is it divine foreknowledge? Or did God cause the events? It’s the age-old debate: does Hazael freely choose his path or did God fore-ordain it?

It’s both. Clearly God sees everything. And clearly God is sovereign over everything and is able to orchestrate people and circumstances to accomplish His purposes.

What is interesting to know is that back in 1 Kings 19:15, Elijah was told by God that he was to anoint Jehu to be king of Israel, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram and anoint Elisha to be his successor.

Immediately after that passage, we see Elijah calling Elisha to be his successor, but we are not told what happened with Jehu and Hazael.

Now in 2 Kings 8, we see the rest of the story unfold. God’s plan was always for Hazael to be king; we just weren’t informed how and when it would come about.

From the story, it appears that Elisha’s revelation to Hazael plants the seed in Hazael’s mind that he can be someone of greater significance than he previously had imagined.

God, in His sovereignty is able to orchestrate events to fulfill His ultimate purposes, but at the same time, Hazael acted of his own free will when he decided to murder the king and take his place.

Like the Twilight Zone ending, we are left to ponder exactly how these two separate but equally true realities intersect: God knows all and yet is able to accomplish His purposes through people who are completely and fully responsible for their own actions which are made of their own free will.

Reflection

When is a time when you saw God orchestrate circumstances to accomplish a purpose? What are some examples in your own life of events unfolding that seem to coincidental to be anything other than God’s intervention?

God first told Elijah to anoint Hazael king in 1 Kings 19 but we don’t actually see him do it. We see the fulfillment of Hazael becoming king of Aram eleven chapters later. Why do you think there is a such a gap in this story? 

Most people do not have the luxury of having a prophet of God tell them their future. What are the voices you are listening to regarding your future and your destiny? Short of having a prophet visit you, what are some ways you can get God’s perspective on your life and future?

What do you think we can learn from studying the lives and decisions of these kings who lived over 2500 years ago? How can we apply these stories to our own lives and our own culture?

 

Screenshot from Dave Lowe

Can a Person Love Jesus but Hate His Followers?

1 John 4

7Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8But anyone who does not love does not know God—for God is love.

9God showed how much he loved us by sending his only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

11Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love has been brought to full expression through us.

13And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. 14Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15All who proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 16We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in him.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world.

18Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and this shows that his love has not been perfected in us. 19We love each other as a result of his loving us first.

20If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen? 21And God himself has commanded that we must love not only him but our Christian brothers and sisters, too. (1 John 4:7-21, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

“I love Jesus….I just don’t like His followers!”

Have you ever heard someone say something like this?

This sentiment, that Jesus is cool but his followers aren’t, has become widespread, especially among young adults (those classified as Millennials and Gen Z), who, according to Barna research, are leaving the church in record numbers.

What is going on?

There are a number of reasons why young people are leaving the church. According to Barna, some of the reasons include: seeing the church as too shallow, experiencing the church as being over-protective and fearful of everything outside the church, seeing the church as not being in touch with real-world problems, and viewing the church as being antagonistic toward science.

Whatever the reasons that might cause a person to step away from the church, is it legitimate to “love Jesus, but not His followers”?

Not according to John.

In my last post, I shared some thoughts from 1 John chapters 2 and 3, in which the author shared that one of the marks of the God-follower is love for one another, specifically, love for other Christians.

This issue of loving one another must be a big deal to John because in the next chapter, he once again exhorts his audience to love one another.

The reasons he gives in chapter 4 are as follows:

    • God is love
    • If we say that we are “in God”, then His love should be in us and it will be perfected (made complete) within us
    • Hence, those who say that God is in them should be loving because God IS love.

This line of reasoning lays the foundation for John’s final point, in which he states:

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen?

The bottom line is that one cannot claim to love God (or Jesus) but hate His followers. It’s an oxymoron because God IS love and therefore, if we love God, we will love His children (other believers).

Additionally, John points out, we’ve been commanded to love our Christian brothers and sisters.

So the idea that we can love God (or Jesus) but no love his followers doesn’t compute and reflects a fundamental lack of awareness of what the Christian life is all about.

We are living in perilous and confusing times. Unfortunately, churches aren’t always as reflective of Jesus as we might like. Sin has a way of ruining our expectations, unfortunately.

But the solution isn’t to bail on Christ’s church because it is filled with sinners who are a constant reminder of our need for Jesus in the first place.

As difficult as it may be, the solution is to find some other Christ followers and begin to live out the command to love one another in the context of an authentic community.

If this kind of community doesn’t exist then there is nothing stopping you from creating that kind of community.

One of the interesting arguments for the triune nature of God is the fact that He is a God of love and that His loving nature has been expressed for eternity in the context of a trinity of relationships. In other words, if the nature of the Godhead is singular, how would it be possible for love to be expressed as there would be no object for that love?

A similar line of reasoning could be expressed here. If a fundamental characteristic of the Christian life and knowing God is loving one another, how can that love be expressed in isolation?

It can’t.

Hence, the idea that one can love Jesus but hate His followers or one can love Jesus without being a part of a church community is not biblical. This issue is so important that John spends a major portion of his first epistle reinforcing this concept that Christians are to love one another….and that’s not possible if we are not in community with them.

Reflection

Do you know some people who claim to still be Christians but no longer are connected to a church? If so, what are the reasons given for why church is no longer a part of their Christian experience?

What response would you give to someone who says they love Jesus but they cannot be a part of His church because of all the hypocrites and scandals they see in the church?

How can the church address those who say that the church is either not concerned with or is not effective in dealing with real-world problems?

What steps can you (or a person you’re advising) take to be a part of the kind of community where the command to love one another can be freely expressed?

 

Original Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash (edited photo by Dave Lowe)

 

How Can You Know if You’re Really a True Christian?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

1 John 2

7Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment, for it is an old one you have always had, right from the beginning. This commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. 8Yet it is also new. This commandment is true in Christ and is true among you, because the darkness is disappearing and the true light is already shining.

9If anyone says, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. 10Anyone who loves other Christians is living in the light and does not cause anyone to stumble. 11Anyone who hates a Christian brother or sister is living and walking in darkness. Such a person is lost, having been blinded by the darkness.
(1 John 2:7-11, NLT – emphasis added)

1 John 3

11This is the message we have heard from the beginning: We should love one another12We must not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because Cain had been doing what was evil, and his brother had been doing what was right. 13So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.

14If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to eternal life. But a person who has no love is still dead. 15Anyone who hates another Christian is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them. 16We know what real love is because Christ gave up his life for us. And so we also ought to give up our lives for our Christian brothers and sisters. 17But if anyone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help—how can God’s love be in that person?

18Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions. 19It is by our actions that we know we are living in the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before the Lord, 20even if our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
(1 John 3:11-20, NLT – emphasis added)


The Daily DAVEotional

How can you know for sure if you’re really a Christian?

Perhaps you’ve grown up going to church and you can’t ever remember a time when you weren’t a Christian. Or maybe you drifted away from God but have recently turned back to the Lord and you’re wondering if God still accepts you.

John’s short letter of 1 John is packed with a number of “identifying markers” that are good indicators that you are indeed “in the faith.”

In 1 John chapters 2 and 3, John gives another of his litmus tests that are designed to give his audience confidence that they truly are a part of God’s family.

In this particular passage, John says that the proof “that we have passed from death to eternal life” is our love for other Christians.

John’s argument can be summarized as follows:

    • We’ve been given a new command to love one another
    • This command to love is based on the example of Jesus, who demonstrated his love by dying for us
    • Jesus is light and in him there is no darkness, so living for Jesus is “living in the light”
    • Since Jesus died for us (all of us), it means he loves us (all of us). Therefore, to be living in the light of Jesus means we should love people as Jesus loves

The real litmus test then is how do you think and feel about other Christians? Do you love them as Jesus loves them? John says that those who say they love God but hate their Christian brother or sister is “living and walking in darkness.”

Darkness is always used by John in reference to sin or disconnected fellowship with God. Hence, the person who says they love God but hates their fellow Christian, for whatever reason, is not connected to God.

John takes the illustration even further when he says that “Anyone who hates another Christian is really a murderer at heart.” OUCH!

So one of the identifying markers of a true follower of Christ is their love of other Christians.

Yes, I know! Some “other” Christians are not easy to love. Perhaps they share different political views than you or they’re involved in activities of which you don’t approve. Maybe they just have an annoying personality that rubs you the wrong way.

Regardless, John’s logic is irrefutable: Jesus loved us all, which is amazing because we were not very lovable. In fact, Jesus loved us in spite of the fact that our sin made us his enemies.

Since Jesus is able to love “the unloveable”, we should be able to as well, since we have His Holy Spirit living within us.

Therefore, we should demonstrate love to everyone, even those whom we might consider “difficult to love”, for whatever reason.

Our ability to love other Christians is an evidence of God’s work in our life and provides strong evidence that you really are a part of God’s eternal family!

Reflection

If someone were to come to you with doubts about whether or not they were genuinely a Christian, what would you tell them? How would you go about helping them to affirm their place in God’s family?

John specifically talks about our need to love other Christians. Why do you think he emphasizes the need to love other believers but doesn’t mention non-believers?

Some people are easier to love than others. What are some possible reasons why you might be challenged to demonstrate “love to some people?

John urges us to “really show it [our love for others] by our actions.” What actions show love to you? What are some actions you could begin to implement in your spheres as a means of demonstrating love toward other believers?

Suppose someone says to you, “I love Jesus, I just can’t stand his followers.” What would you say to this person? Do you think this person can be a Christian? Why or why not?

 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash