Is God Unfair in How He Treats People?

Matthew 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Daily DAVEotional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

 

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Can Golf Nourish Your Soul?

Proverbs 11

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


The Daily DAVEotional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is training in righteousness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

 

Photo by Courtney Cook on Unsplash

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

Matthew 16

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

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

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

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

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


The Daily DAVEotional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

 

Photo by Amol Tyagi on Unsplash

 

Can the Church Usher in a Utopian Society?

Matthew 13

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

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

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

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

. . . . . . . . .

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

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

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


The Daily DAVEotional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

What are some practical ways for turning weeds into wheat?

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

 

Photo by Tim Matras on Unsplash

Keys to Thriving

Psalm 1

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Daily DAVEotional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

 

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 Discipleship Do-Over

They say that if you watch baseball long enough, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before. That adage held true in a recent game when the Dodgers faced the Pirates.

In the bottom of the first inning, Pirates rookie Ke’Bryan Hayes, hit a long fly ball to right field that was ruled a home run. Just like that, the Pirates had an early 1-0 lead.

But immediately after the play, the cameras showed scurrying in the Dodgers dugout, followed by the umpires moving to the headsets for an official review. It was unclear why the Dodgers would dispute the ruling as every replay clearly showed the ball hitting the foul pole, which is considered fair territory. There was nothing to argue….or so it seemed.

After a very brief review, the main umpire removed his headset and clenched his fist, indicating that Hayes was being called out. Just like that, the home run was wiped away, the run was taken off the board and the Dodgers were no longer losing.

Things became clearer when the announcers showed replays of the runner rounding the bases. In his excitement, Hayes neglected to step on first base as he rounded the bag. The Dodgers noticed it and the replays confirmed it. Since he didn’t touch all the bags, the home run was negated and the runner was called out.


Incidentally, the announcers explained later, that a play like this, where a home run was reversed because a runner had not touched all the bags, had not occurred since 1971.


Ke’Bryan Hayes of the Pirates neglects to step on first base as he rounds the bag on a home run. He was called out after a challenge confirmed the gaffe.

The cameras zoomed in on a stunned Hayes in the Pirates dugout. At that moment, I’m sure he was wishing he could have a Do-Over.

As we coach and mentor Young Professionals, it seems like we’re often encountering people who wish they could have a do-over.

Many don’t like their jobs or are struggling with their career choice. Others lament the amount of debt they committed to, having believed their education would ensure them a well-paying job that would render such large financial obligations moot.

Unfortunately, we can’t go back in time and change our decisions, but we can seek to leverage our experiences and all of our learning for God’s kingdom purposes going forward.

That’s what our friend Grace is doing.

We actually knew Grace from our days back in Davis when she was an engineering student involved in our Cru ministry. Grace graduated and got a job working as an engineer.

Grace is living in our area and Jen reconnected with her a few years ago when we started ministering to Young Adults. Though Grace had worked for many years as an engineer, she didn’t really like it. When layoffs forced her out of a job, she took some time to consider what she really wanted to do.

I realize that not everyone is in a position to be able to consider a career change, but Grace was in a situation that allowed her to consider what was important to her and how she could best utilize her talents and passions to serve the Lord and make a difference in the lives of others.

Grace is an artist at heart and she’s looking for ways to use her creative abilities to minister to others.

Jen and Grace meet in person for the first time in over a year!

Recently, Jen asked Grace if she would connect with another Young Adult Jen has been coaching. Jen thought it might be helpful for this person to have someone else in their life who could provide additional spiritual input and emotional support.

It turns out this other Young Adult also has a creative bent, allowing Grace to connect with her in a way Jen could not.

Our vision is to help Young Adults thrive spiritually and live with purpose. We want to multiply our lives into others so that we might see an army of Young professionals mobilized to make a difference in their families, their jobs, and in their communities.

We are constantly reminded that ministry is messy. We’re no longer ministering to students who have limited responsibilities and unlimited dreams. Instead, we’re coaching and counseling Young adults, who sometimes are struggling to meet the increased demands of life and who often are facing the stark realty that life is not exactly how they imagined or expected it to be.

Our hope is to help them experience Jesus in their current reality and imagine new dreams that would enable them to make a significant contribution to God’s Kingdom purposes!

Would you pray with us as we seek to see Young Professionals like Grace mobilized to multiply their lives into others?

We are grateful for you!

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