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

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

Who’s Your Daddy?

John 8

31Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings. 32And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33“But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone on earth. What do you mean, ‘set free’?”

34Jesus replied, “I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free. 37Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because my message does not find a place in your hearts.38I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.”

39“Our father is Abraham,” they declared.

“No,” Jesus replied, “for if you were children of Abraham, you would follow his good example. 40I told you the truth I heard from God, but you are trying to kill me. Abraham wouldn’t do a thing like that. 41No, you are obeying your real father when you act that way.”

They replied, “We were not born out of wedlock! Our true Father is God himself.”

42Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me. 43Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It is because you are unable to do so! 44For you are the children of your father the Devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning and has always hated the truth. There is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me! 46Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin? And since I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47Anyone whose Father is God listens gladly to the words of God. Since you don’t, it proves you aren’t God’s children.”

48The people retorted, “You Samaritan devil! Didn’t we say all along that you were possessed by a demon?”

49“No,” Jesus said, “I have no demon in me. For I honor my Father—and you dishonor me. 50And though I have no wish to glorify myself, God wants to glorify me. Let him be the judge. 51I assure you, anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!”

52The people said, “Now we know you are possessed by a demon. Even Abraham and the prophets died, but you say that those who obey your teaching will never die! 53Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? Are you greater than the prophets, who died? Who do you think you are?”

54Jesus answered, “If I am merely boasting about myself, it doesn’t count. But it is my Father who says these glorious things about me. You say, ‘He is our God,’ 55but you do not even know him. I know him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But it is true—I know him and obey him.56Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.”

57The people said, “You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham?”

58Jesus answered, “The truth is, I existed before Abraham was even born!” 59At that point they picked up stones to kill him. But Jesus hid himself from them and left the Temple.
(John 8:31-59, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In 2004, after two consecutive outings in which the rival Yankees had roughed up Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez, the future Hall of Famer quipped,

“What can I say? I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.”

From that moment on, whenever Martinez took the mound against the Bronx Bombers, the fans would chant, “who’s your daddy?” as a means of heckling the oft-dominant hurler.

The phrase, “who’s your daddy?” has come to be associated with dominance over an opponent and is often expressed as a way to mock or ridicule.

In John chapter 8, Jesus doesn’t use the phrase, “who’s your daddy?” with His audience, but He does bring to the attention of His listeners that they are under the ownership and influence of either one of two possible “father” figures.

As was often the case with Jesus, many of those who followed Him never really believed He was God’s Son. Despite the many miracles Jesus performed, His sinless lifestyle and His authoritative teaching, there were many skeptics who were simply looking for a reason to prove that Jesus was the religious charlatan they always had believed Him to be.

This group of people had already made up their minds about Jesus and nothing that Jesus could say or do was going to change their view of Him.

In this chapter, Jesus has another such encounter with the crowds, in which Jesus states that those who truly want to be His disciples will obey His teachings and “the truth will set you free.”

Some in the audience take issue with Jesus’ verbiage, claiming that they have never been slaves and therefore have no need to be set free and also appealing to Abraham as their father.

Jesus’ spiritual message is obviously lost on these folks but Jesus uses this opportunity to explain to his challengers who their true father really is.

According to Jesus, those for whom God is their father are characterized by this one quality – an openness for truth. Those who oppose truth cannot be from God and God cannot be said to be their father because God is a god of truth.

Jesus then explains to his critics that even though they technically are descendants of Abraham, they don’t follow his example, because if they did, they would not be seeking to kill Him simply for telling the truth.

When His enemies continue to resist and argue, Jesus brings the hammer down, telling them that the reason they can’t understand what He’s saying is because they are unable to do so, “For you are the children of your father the Devil, and you love to do the evil things he does.”

This exchange between Jesus and His adversaries underscores a critical question – what happens when a person is confronted with truth that contradicts their current understanding?

For those who claim to be followers of God, Jesus says that they will be open to the truth that confronts them, recognizing that all truth is God’s truth because God is a god of truth.

Those who resist God may employ any number of strategies and tactics to hold on to their preferred narrative. One such tactic is to employ confirmation bias, which is to take in only information and facts that support your preferred narrative while discarding anything that would challenge it. I wrote about a biblical example of confirmation bias here.

Another tactic is to place oneself in an echo chamber, which is the scenario in which a person surrounds themselves only with people who agree with you and who don’t challenge your thinking, even when you’re wrong. I wrote about an Old Testament Echo Chamber here in my previous post.

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches. He states clearly that those who reject the truth that is right in front of them are not God followers. Instead, their father is the devil, who is the father of lies. The reason people reject God and resist truth that plainly points to God is because they are under the influence and authority of Satan, who owns them and is thus, their father!

So, who owns you? Is it God or is it Satan?

Or to put it in today’s vernacular, “Who’s your daddy?”

Reflection

What are some examples from your own life where you or someone you know has rejected plain truth in order to preserve their own personal viewpoint?

None of us really like to be wrong. So the idea that we might resist new information that would challenge our thinking is not reserved for just some people but is a struggle that any of us can have. What are your typical responses when one of your views is challenged?

How do you handle personal feedback and criticism? What factors make it harder to digest? What circumstances might make it easier to handle?

What steps can you take to ensure that you are one of Jesus’ disciples who obeys Him and is open to truth instead of being one who claims to follow Him but is actually resistant to truth?

 

Photo from TheLowedown Collection on Topps Bunt21 (a digital card collecting app available in the App Store or Google Play store)

An Old Testament Echo Chamber

We create an echo chamber when we manipulate our environment in such a way that we avoid any opposing views while engaging only with those who agree with us.

1 Kings 22

1For three years there was no war between Aram and Israel. 2Then during the third year, King Jehoshaphat of Judah went to visit King Ahab of Israel. 3During the visit, Ahab said to his officials, “Do you realize that the Arameans are still occupying our city of Ramoth-gilead? And we haven’t done a thing about it!” 4Then he turned to Jehoshaphat and asked, “Will you join me in fighting against Ramoth-gilead?”

And Jehoshaphat replied to King Ahab, “Why, of course! You and I are brothers, and my troops are yours to command. Even my horses are at your service.” 5Then Jehoshaphat added, “But first let’s find out what the LORD says.”

6So King Ahab summoned his prophets, about four hundred of them, and asked them, “Should I go to war against Ramoth-gilead or not?”

They all replied, “Go right ahead! The Lord will give you a glorious victory!”

7But Jehoshaphat asked, “Isn’t there a prophet of the LORD around, too? I would like to ask him the same question.”

8King Ahab replied, “There is still one prophet of the LORD, but I hate him. He never prophesies anything but bad news for me! His name is Micaiah son of Imlah.”

“You shouldn’t talk like that,” Jehoshaphat said. “Let’s hear what he has to say.”

9So the king of Israel called one of his officials and said, “Quick! Go and get Micaiah son of Imlah.”

10King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah, dressed in their royal robes, were sitting on thrones at the threshing floor near the gate of Samaria. All of Ahab’s prophets were prophesying there in front of them. 11One of them, Zedekiah son of Kenaanah, made some iron horns and proclaimed, “This is what the LORD says: With these horns you will gore the Arameans to death!”

12All the other prophets agreed. “Yes,” they said, “go up to Ramoth-gilead and be victorious, for the LORD will give you victory!”

13Meanwhile, the messenger who went to get Micaiah said to him, “Look, all the prophets are promising victory for the king. Be sure that you agree with them and promise success.”

14But Micaiah replied, “As surely as the LORD lives, I will say only what the LORD tells me to say.”

15When Micaiah arrived before the king, Ahab asked him, “Micaiah, should we go to war against Ramoth-gilead or not?”

And Micaiah replied, “Go right ahead! The LORD will give the king a glorious victory!”

16But the king replied sharply, “How many times must I demand that you speak only the truth when you speak for the LORD?”

17So Micaiah told him, “In a vision I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd. And the LORD said, ‘Their master has been killed. Send them home in peace.’”

18“Didn’t I tell you?” the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat. “He does it every time. He never prophesies anything but bad news for me.”

19Then Micaiah continued, “Listen to what the LORD says! I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the armies of heaven around him, on his right and on his left. 20And the LORD said, ‘Who can entice Ahab to go into battle against Ramoth-gilead so that he can be killed there?’ There were many suggestions, 21until finally a spirit approached the LORD and said, ‘I can do it!’

22“‘How will you do this?’ the LORD asked.

“And the spirit replied, ‘I will go out and inspire all Ahab’s prophets to speak lies.’

“‘You will succeed,’ said the LORD. ‘Go ahead and do it.’

23“So you see, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouths of your prophets. For the LORD has determined disaster for you.”

24Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah walked up to Micaiah and slapped him across the face. “When did the Spirit of the LORD leave me to speak to you?” he demanded.

25And Micaiah replied, “You will find out soon enough when you find yourself hiding in some secret room!”

26King Ahab of Israel then ordered, “Arrest Micaiah and take him back to Amon, the governor of the city, and to my son Joash. 27Give them this order from the king: ‘Put this man in prison, and feed him nothing but bread and water until I return safely from the battle!’”

28But Micaiah replied, “If you return safely, the LORD has not spoken through me!” Then he added to those standing around, “Take note of what I have said.” (1 Kings 22:1-28, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In this digital age of social media and misinformation, the term “echo chamber” has become popularized. It refers to the scenario where a person only encounters information and only engages with opinions that reinforce their own views.

In this chapter of 1 Kings, we see an ancient example of the echo chamber. The nation of Israel had become divided after the reign of Solomon, resulting in two kingdoms – the southern kingdom consisting of the tribe of Judah, and the northern kingdom that consisted of the rest of the tribes of Israel.

Though these two related nations were often at odds, at this point in time, there is peace between them. Ahab, the king of Israel (the northern kingdom) asks Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah (the southern kingdom) if he will join him in going to war against the Arameans.

Jehoshaphat agrees but first asks if they could hear from the Lord on the matter.

Ahab summons 400 of his prophets to come and tell them if the Lord will give them victory over the Arameans. All of the prophets concur that the Lord will give them a “glorious victory.”

Jehoshaphat must realize that these prophets are not spokesmen for the true God because he asks Ahab if there is not a prophet of the Lord available that they could consult.

Ahab says there is one guy, Micaiah, but since he never gives good news, Ahab doesn’t listen to him.

This is an ancient example of the modern phenomenon we call the “echo chamber.” Ahab had already decided what he wanted to do and he was going to do it no matter what. His prophets had learned to tell him what he wanted to hear. This is obvious as Micaiah enters the scene and Ahab’s messenger tells him:

“Look, all the prophets are promising victory for the king. Be sure that you agree with them and promise success.”

Ahab is not really interested in knowing what the Lord thinks or says about the matter. Instead, he surrounded himself with so-called prophets who simply validated the plans he was going to implement anyway.

Unfortunately, we do the same thing today that Ahab does in this passage. Whether it’s our social media feeds, our network of facebook friends, the books we read, the news we consume or the people we choose to actively connect with, we often shield ourselves from people and opinions that might contradict or challenge our views, while at the same time, listening only to those people who will put a rubber stamp of approval on anything we might say or do.

This method of manipulating the counsel we receive is an indication of a proud spirit and a stubborn heart.  It demonstrates that the person’s will is not inclined to the Lord and is not open to truth.

And when a person is not open to the truth, Jesus says that person is actually evil (see John 8)!

Reflection

What are some current issues or topics where you might be susceptible to living in an echo chamber instead of engaging with opposing views?

Describe a time when someone asked for your advice but ignored it, doing what they wanted to do anyway. How did that make you feel?

Why do you think people tend to ask for advice from only those people they know will agree with them?

What are some steps you can take to avoid living in an echo chamber? How can you ensure that your heart doesn’t become hardened and resistant to truth? How can you cultivate a heart and spirit that is open to the Lord?

 

Photo by Andi Mihailescu on Unsplash