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

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)

Dealing with Differences of Opinion

Is one day more important than another? Paul answers this question and others in Romans 14.

Romans 14

1Accept Christians who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2For instance, one person believes it is all right to eat anything. But another believer who has a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3Those who think it is all right to eat anything must not look down on those who won’t. And those who won’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4Who are you to condemn God’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. The Lord’s power will help them do as they should.

5In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. Each person should have a personal conviction about this matter. 6Those who have a special day for worshiping the Lord are trying to honor him. Those who eat all kinds of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who won’t eat everything also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7For we are not our own masters when we live or when we die. 8While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. 9Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died.

10So why do you condemn another Christian ? Why do you look down on another Christian? Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God. 11For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,‘every knee will bow to me and every tongue will confess allegiance to God.’”

12Yes, each of us will have to give a personal account to God. 13So don’t condemn each other anymore. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not put an obstacle in another Christian’s path.

14I know and am perfectly sure on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. 15And if another Christian is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. 16Then you will not be condemned for doing something you know is all right.

17For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. And other people will approve of you, too. 19So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

20Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. But it is wrong to eat anything if it makes another person stumble. 21Don’t eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another Christian to stumble. 22You may have the faith to believe that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who do not condemn themselves by doing something they know is all right. 23But if people have doubts about whether they should eat something, they shouldn’t eat it. They would be condemned for not acting in faith before God. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.
(Romans 14:1-23, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In Romans 14, Paul is dealing with a common issue among Christians – how should we handle issues on which we disagree?

In a previous post on this chapter of Scripture, I addressed the issue of whether Paul was advocating moral relativism. The short answer is “No”, but you can read my thoughts and explanation in my post “Does Paul Advocate Moral Relativism?”.

In this post, I want to focus instead on Paul’s admonition that we not condemn one another by arguing about minor doctrinal views and personal preferences. For some reason, probably pride and arrogance, people everywhere have this tendency to think all of their views and preferences are correct. Christians are not immune to this phenomenon, so we can tend to think that all of our doctrinal views and religious preferences are also correct, whereas those who may disagree with us or think differently must be wrong in their thinking and understanding.

As a result, we can fall into the trap of trying to correct every view and idea of others that differs from our own.

Paul says that when we condemn other Christians for their actions and preferences which differ from ours, we are potentially putting an obstacle in their path. Instead of taking on the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others, we should let God do the work of convicting and transforming.

Several years ago, in my first ever seminary class, I learned some valuable principles that I think apply here.

Alan Scholes, in his book “What Christianity is all About” outlines three different categories of thought that we can place almost all of our views and positions into. In the book, these categories were talking about doctrinal positions but I think the categories can extend beyond just our doctrinal views and can include other views and positions as well.

The first category is what Scholes refers to as Opinions. Opinions are thoughts and beliefs I have regarding a particular topic or issue but I recognize that others may have different views and I don’t assert that my view is necessarily correct or the only view that a person can have.

The second category is what Scholes calls Persuasions. A persuasion is stronger than an opinion. I may have done some research on an issue and therefore may be persuaded that my position is logically correct, but I still allow for others to hold different positions.

The third category is what he calls Convictions. A conviction is a persuasion that is so strong that if someone were to disagree with me, it could impact or hinder my relationship or my ability to be in fellowship with that person.

Scholes argues that for followers of Christ there should be a limited number of doctrinal issues that we hold at a conviction level, which would limit our ability to partner with or fellowship with that person.

It doesn’t mean I couldn’t have a relationship with them but if we differ on these critical conviction issues, it may limit my ability to work with and partner with them.

Most other issues I should hold at an opinion or persuasion level.

The problem that many Christians experience is we too often elevate opinion level preferences to conviction level status. Paul gives several examples of this happening in his own experience. He first gives the example of whether you can eat meat or not, and then follows up with the example of whether worship should be reserved for a specific day for everyone.

Paul says that these issues are not critical. It’s ok to have your own opinion and you may even be persuaded that your view is right, but you shouldn’t impose your opinions and persuasions on others who may have a different view. On these non-critical issues, we should allow for a diversity of views and allow God to work in people’s hearts and minds if a change in view is required.

You may be wondering what constitutes a “non-critical” issue. Couldn’t someone argue that we should allow for a diversity of issues on just about any doctrine and position?

The answer is no, we shouldn’t allow for diversity in every doctrine and there are definitely issues we should hold at a conviction level. If you want to know what those issues are, just familiarize yourself with the scriptures because they are clearly spelled out.

For example, Paul leaves no room for people to hold a diversity of views on the nature of God or the person of Jesus. Those who taught a divergent view of Jesus were labeled as false teachers by Paul and other New Testament writers. See my posts here and here regarding this.

In general, if a person’s doctrinal viewpoint results in false teaching or an inaccurate or deficient view of God, Jesus or salvation, then it should be rejected. But if the person’s view has no impact on our view of God or our understanding of critical doctrines such as the doctrine of salvation, then some latitude should be allowed.

In Paul’s examples, you can see that whether or not a person eats meat is not relevant or critical to our understanding of God or salvation. Similarly, the exact day of the week that is reserved for worship has no impact on our understanding of salvation.

Paul’s advice on how to deal with differences of opinions can be summed up well by verse 19, which states:

So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

Reflection

What are some critical doctrines that you think you should hold at a conviction level, meaning that if others disagreed with you it would negatively impact your ability to fellowship with them or even consider them to be legitimate followers of Jesus?

What are some opinion-level issues that you see Christians today elevating to conviction level status?

What are some issues or views that you personally hold at a persuasion level? What makes it a persuasion for you rather than just an opinion?

What steps can/should you take if other believers are condemning you for views that you think are opinions or persuasions and not convictions?

 

Photo by Dave Lowe

Further Proof that Jesus is God

Titus 3

3Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled by others and became slaves to many wicked desires and evil pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy. We hated others, and they hated us.

4But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love. 5He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit. 6He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did. 7He declared us not guilty because of his great kindness. And now we know that we will inherit eternal life. 8These things I have told you are all true. I want you to insist on them so that everyone who trusts in God will be careful to do good deeds all the time. These things are good and beneficial for everyone. (Titus 3:3-8, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

“The Bible never claims that Jesus is God!”

Perhaps you’ve heard someone make this claim. The argument essentially says that the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus is God, but teaches that Jesus is something less than God, such as “Son of God”, or “Son of Man”, or “Messiah”, or “anointed one”, etc.

Because the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus is God, then Jesus must not BE God and therefore, the traditional Christian teaching that Jesus is divine must be false. Hence Christianity is false.

But is it true that the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus is divine?

No.

The evidence for the deity of Jesus is overwhelming and generally falls into three categories: 1) Direct claims of deity that Jesus made – I covered one such incident here.  2) Passages that show Jesus has attributes that only God could possess and 3) passages in which Jesus’ followers clearly identify Jesus as divine. This passage in Titus is one such example.

Jesus’ divinity is not hard to demonstrate from this passage and only a basic understanding of logic is necessary to prove that Paul believed and taught that Jesus was God.

Verse 4 says clearly:

“But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love.”

Verse 6 states that:

“He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did.”

So in one verse, Paul refers to God our Savior, while just two verses later, he refers to what “Jesus Christ our Savior did.”

These two verses show that God is Savior AND Jesus Christ is Savior. Therefore, Jesus Christ is God.

There are dozens of other passages that demonstrate that Jesus’ own followers saw him as divine and even worshiped Him. Keep in mind that for the Jew, worship was reserved for God alone. Therefore, when a Jewish person worships Jesus, they are doing so because they believe He is God and therefore worthy of worship.

This one passage may not be enough to convince your non-Christian friends that Jesus is indeed God, but it should help convince you. Jesus not only made direct claims of deity but His followers also ascribed deity to Jesus and promoted their understanding of Jesus’ nature to others.

Reflection

What has been your understanding of the nature of Jesus? In what ways have your views changed or been substantiated?

In what ways do you find the above logic regarding proof of Jesus’ divinity convincing? In what ways are you not convinced?

If you are not convinced that Jesus is God, what are your reasons for not believing? Conversely, what basis can you give to support the idea that Jesus IS God?

Why do you think it matters whether a person has a correct understanding of the nature of Jesus? What are the consequences for having a wrong understanding of who Jesus is? (For my thoughts on these questions, see my posts here, and here.)

 

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Is it Immoral to Be Wealthy?

Luke 12

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

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

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

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

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


The Daily DAVEotional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider the following facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the bottom line?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

 

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

 

What Can We Learn from the Temptations of Jesus?

Luke 4

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

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

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

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

8Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,

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

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

‘He orders his angels to protect and guard you.

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

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

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

Hebrews 4

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


The Daily DAVEotional

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

The Time God the Father Denied Jesus His Request

Mark 14

32And they came to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” 33He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be filled with horror and deep distress. 34He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me.”

35He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.”

37Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. “Simon!” he said to Peter. “Are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay awake and watch with me even one hour? 38Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak.”

39Then Jesus left them again and prayed, repeating his pleadings. 40Again he returned to them and found them sleeping, for they just couldn’t keep their eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.

41When he returned to them the third time, he said, “Still sleeping? Still resting?* Enough! The time has come. I, the Son of Man, am betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Up, let’s be going. See, my betrayer is here!” (Mark 14:32-42, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few years ago I was counseling with a student who was having major doubts about God. Not only was this young man from a strong Christian home, but he was a missionary kid, so his family’s commitment to church and to ministry was greater than most. Given his background and family, it was a bit surprising to hear that he was doubting whether God actually existed.

As I probed further, asking questions to determine the source of his doubt, I learned that the seeds were planted way back in high school when he was part of an overseas youth group.

The group was planning to take a missions trip to a neighboring country during a scheduled school break but the trip ended up being canceled due to civil unrest in the other country.

The leaders and the youth were all aware of the dangers and they knew the possibility existed that their trip would not be allowed by the government because of political tensions. So the whole group began praying, EARNESTLY, that God would allow the trip to happen. They prayed that He would work out the circumstances and arrange events so that their small group would be able to take their trip and complete their planned ministry events.

When the event didn’t happen, this student began to question whether God existed. It didn’t make sense to him why God would not allow the trip. After all, wasn’t God concerned about these people who did not know Him? Wouldn’t He WANT them to take the gospel to those who have never heard? We’ve been commanded to GO, and they were planning and preparing to follow God’s command, so it only made sense to them that God would miraculously orchestrate events to make it happen.

But He didn’t. So this student made the conclusion that because God didn’t act in a way that made sense to him, then perhaps God doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, this line of reasoning is more common than we might think and it underscores a major misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer.

In Mark 14, after the Passover meal but before Jesus is arrested, He goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Jesus is in distress and His soul is in anguish as He thinks about what is about to transpire. Verse 35 says that,

“He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by.”

In the very next verse, Jesus tells the Father that He knows that “everything is possible with you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me.”

Jesus goes back to the disciples, only to find them sleeping. Verse 39 says that He went back and repeated His pleadings with the Father. Jesus repeats the cycle a 3rd time, each time finding the disciples sleeping before returning and praying and pleading with God the Father regarding His impending suffering.

Jesus is clearly troubled. He said, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” Jesus clearly pleads for a way to avoid this suffering and He appeals to the Father’s ability to do the impossible. Jesus KNOWS that God can do anything, yet Jesus’ request, is not fulfilled. We know how the story ends and Jesus does not escape the suffering that was so distressing to Him.

So why didn’t the Father honor Jesus’ request? Why does Jesus not get saved from His suffering?

The key to this whole passage is in the words that follow Jesus’ request. Jesus does ask for the suffering to pass Him by, but He follows that up with the words “Yet I want your will, not mine.”

Jesus, in His humanity, was looking for a way to escape what He was about to endure. But in His divinity, He humbly submits to the will of the Father.

The point of prayer is not to get what we want. God is not a genie who is bound to grant our wishes and requests. The purpose of prayer then is for us to align ourselves with God’s will, just as Jesus demonstrates. Sometimes this is difficult because we may not be entirely sure what God’s will is in some situations. But this just provides us with a greater opportunity to trust God for the outcome.

My student friend thought he understood God. He determined that God should act in a certain way in a certain situation. He (and others) even prayed diligently that God would respond in the way that made sense to them. When He didn’t, instead of determining that God must have other plans, or God is bigger than we are and we cannot see and understand all the details as He can, this student made the determination that God must not exist.

I want to be clear that I think it’s ok to ask God to respond to our needs and our requests. There was nothing wrong with the students praying earnestly that God would arrange circumstances so that their trip would happen. The error, at least for my student friend, was in assuming that God was obligated to act in the way he desired. He is not. These students, or at least this one student, failed to understand that while God invites me to be honest and to share my needs and preferences with Him, He is not required to give me what I want. Instead, He invites each of us to trust Him and to align ourselves with His purposes and His plans.

Reflection

When have you viewed prayer as an activity in which you try to convince God to give you what you want?

What do you think is the root reason why people approach prayer as if God is a genie who just emerged from a lamp, or as if He’s a gentlemanly Santa Claus, who desires to make us happy by giving us our most desired gift?

How does this passage where Jesus prays to the Father give you insight and instruction on how we should be approaching and thinking about prayer?

What are some other passages and Scriptures that inform your understanding of prayer and your understanding of the nature of God?

 

Photo by Arina Krasnikova from Pexels

Did Jesus Need a Snickers Bar When He Cursed the Fig Tree?

Mark 11

12The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus felt hungry. 13He noticed a fig tree a little way off that was in full leaf, so he went over to see if he could find any figs on it. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.

15When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants and their customers. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the stalls of those selling doves, 16and he stopped everyone from bringing in merchandise. 17He taught them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

18When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so enthusiastic about Jesus’ teaching. 19That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.

20The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it was withered from the roots. 21Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Teacher! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

22Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23I assure you that you can say to this mountain, ‘May God lift you up and throw you into the sea,’ and your command will be obeyed. All that’s required is that you really believe and do not doubt in your heart. 24Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it. 25But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. ”
(Mark 11:12-25, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Mark 11 gives two different stories in which Jesus seems to go off for no good reason. The chapter begins with Jesus triumphantly entering Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowds praised Him. Everything seems to be going great, which makes the two stories that follow all the more difficult to comprehend.

The next morning, after the triumphal entry, Jesus is hungry. He sees a fig tree and since there’s no fruit on it, He curses it. The author makes a point of telling the reader that the tree only had leaves on it because it was too early in the season for fruit. In other words, the fig tree didn’t have fruit on it because it shouldn’t have had fruit on it. The fruit wouldn’t arrive until several months later.

Jesus had to know this, and yet He curses the fig tree anyway.

What’s going on with Jesus? I imagine one of those Snickers commercials in which the person who’s hungry takes on a completely different persona until a friend gives them a Snickers bar. After taking a bite, the person returns to their normal self. The commercial ends with the tag line, “You aren’t YOU when you’re hungry.”

The text says that Jesus was hungry. Did He just go temporarily crazy because He was hungry?

After cursing the fig tree, they returned to Jerusalem where Jesus went to the temple and began driving out the merchants. He’s knocking over tables and though the text doesn’t say this, I sort of imagine Him with a whip, driving out the money changers from the temple area in Indiana Jones fashion!

Will someone please get this man a Snickers Bar?

After Jesus’ episode at the temple, He and the disciples leave the city and the next morning, they see the fig tree. It’s withered from the roots. The disciples make mention of the tree to Jesus, who responds by telling them to have faith in God and they will be able to move mountains.

If you’re like me, you’re probably scratching your head while squinting your left eye and thinking, “what?”

We can probably dismiss the idea that Jesus was just raging because He was hungry. After all, He spent 40 days without food in the desert being tempted by Satan and He was able to withstand all of Satan’s efforts, so there’s no reason to believe that Jesus went into an uncontrollable rage due to some minor hunger pangs.

Remember that much of what Jesus did was for the sake of His disciples. He was always teaching them, often through object lessons. This is certainly the case here too as the text says, with regard to Jesus cursing the fig tree, that “the disciples heard Him say it.” The author makes a point of letting the reader know that when Jesus cursed the fig tree, the disciples heard Him. That seems like an important detail, otherwise there would be no need for the author to mention it.

Look too at the text and notice that the story of the temple is sandwiched in between the details of the fig tree – the fig tree is cursed, Jesus drives out the merchants at the temple and then the fig tree is withered. Certainly, this is not coincidental story telling by the writer, but intentionally written in order to make a point.

Yes, but what’s the point?

Let’s look at the details of the temple passage to see if we can make sense of it. After Jesus drives out the merchants, He says:

“The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

Jesus is angry because the temple is supposed to be “a place of prayer for the nations”, but it has been turned into “a den of thieves”.

The temple was a massive structure that had different sections for different purposes (Click here to read more about the different areas of the temple). Outside the temple was a courtyard that was divided into different areas, one of which was “the Court of the Gentiles”. This was the only place where non-Jews could come and worship the Lord at the temple, and yet it had been converted into a farmer’s market and mobile banking exchange center.

Imagine you are a Jew who wants to come to Jerusalem to make a sacrifice. You can take the long journey and bring your animals with you (doable but inconvenient) OR you can come without your animals and you can purchase your sacrificial animal when you arrive in the city (much more convenient). This is how business works – you figure out what people need, you provide that need for them and you make a profit off the sale.

This is what was happening here. The idea of providing animals for people was not what made Jesus angry. What was objectionable was the fact that their profits were exorbitant, hence, Jesus calls them thieves. Additionally, they were conducting business in the only place that Gentiles could access the temple for worship, thus negating the temple’s purpose as a “place of prayer for the nations.”

Jesus was not reacting to hunger pangs but to a pattern of unrighteousness and greed exhibited by the religious rulers and business leaders.

So what does this have to do with the fig tree?

Most commentators agree that the fig tree is representative of the nation of Israel. Jesus doesn’t curse the tree because He’s hungry and there is no fruit on it. He curses it as an object lesson for His disciples. The tree illustrates the nation of Israel, which was fruitless and had been for some time.

The curse illustrates that because of Israel’s fruitlessness, God’s judgment on Israel would be forthcoming. The temple was the center of religious life and what was happening at the temple was an example of the fruitlessness that existed and the fact that Israel had neglected their role in God’s greater purposes to be a light to the Gentile world.

The temple was destroyed in AD 70 and it has never been rebuilt. Thus, Jesus’ foreshadowing of impending judgment on the nation of Israel was fulfilled.

All this writing is making me hungry. I think I need a Snickers!

Reflection

How have you understood these stories in the past? What was your explanation for why Jesus cursed the fig tree and drove out the temple merchants?

It is clear that Jesus was angry when He drove out the merchants. How do you reconcile Jesus’ anger with the Biblical truth that He was sinless?

In what situations do you think it’s ok to be angry? What factors cause anger to be sinful?

What do you think are some effective and appropriate ways for dealing with anger?

While we are not under a curse like the nation of Israel was, it is clear from Scripture that God desires for His followers to bear fruit? What would bearing fruit look like for you and what steps can you take to ensure that you are not a fruitless Christian?

 

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

 

Two Opposite Pictures of Leadership

Mark 10

35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.”

36“What is it?” he asked.

37“In your glorious Kingdom, we want to sit in places of honor next to you,” they said, “one at your right and the other at your left.”

38But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of sorrow I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?”

39“Oh yes,” they said, “we are able!”

And Jesus said, “You will indeed drink from my cup and be baptized with my baptism, 40but I have no right to say who will sit on the thrones next to mine. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

41When the ten other disciples discovered what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 42So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. 43But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. 45For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
(Mark 10:35-45, NLT)

2 Samuel 11

1The following spring, the time of year when kings go to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to destroy the Ammonites. In the process they laid siege to the city of Rabbah. But David stayed behind in Jerusalem.

2Late one afternoon David got out of bed after taking a nap and went for a stroll on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. 3He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4Then David sent for her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. (She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period.) Then she returned home. 5Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent a message to inform David.

6So David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” 7When Uriah arrived, David asked him how Joab and the army were getting along and how the war was progressing. 8Then he told Uriah, “Go on home and relax.” David even sent a gift to Uriah after he had left the palace. 9But Uriah wouldn’t go home. He stayed that night at the palace entrance with some of the king’s other servants.

10When David heard what Uriah had done, he summoned him and asked, “What’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you go home last night after being away for so long?”

11Uriah replied, “The Ark and the armies of Israel and Judah are living in tents, and Joab and his officers are camping in the open fields. How could I go home to wine and dine and sleep with my wife? I swear that I will never be guilty of acting like that.”

12“Well, stay here tonight,” David told him, “and tomorrow you may return to the army.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13Then David invited him to dinner and got him drunk. But even then he couldn’t get Uriah to go home to his wife. Again he slept at the palace entrance.

14So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. 15The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” 16So Joab assigned Uriah to a spot close to the city wall where he knew the enemy’s strongest men were fighting. 17And Uriah was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers. (2 Samuel 11:1-17, NLT)

Philippians 2

5Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. 6Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. 7He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. 8And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. 9Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Today’s installment of the Daily DAVEotional includes 3 related passages that all appeared in the same daily reading based on the Grant Horner Reading Plan, which I’ve mentioned a number of times, including here, here and here.

Amazingly, these 3 different passages from different parts of the Bible provide an interesting commentary on one another, starting with the passage in Mark.

In this passage, Jesus is teaching His disciples a lesson about leadership. It actually starts in the verses prior to what I’ve listed here, when Jesus is talking again to His disciples about His death.

Immediately after this, James and John approach Jesus and instead of asking follow-up questions regarding what Jesus has just said, that He’ll be betrayed and killed before rising again three days later, these brothers begin jockeying for key positions of power in Jesus’ kingdom.

The other disciples catch wind of what James and John are talking to Jesus about and while they are indignant externally, internally they are probably kicking themselves for being beaten to the punch.

Jesus sees what’s going on and, of course He knows what’s going on in their hearts and minds, so He takes the opportunity to share a lesson on leadership in God’s kingdom.

The headline is this: Leadership in God’s kingdom is completely opposite of what you’d expect based on leadership in the world.

In the world’s system, kings (and officials) act like tyrants, using their power to get whatever they want in whatever way they deem necessary.

The passage in 2 Samuel 11, which happened to be part of the same daily reading, provided the perfect biblical example to illustrate what Jesus is saying. King David is known as a good king and was even said by God to be “a man after my own heart.”  But even though David is a good king overall, he has some major flaws, and in this situation, he uses his power to get something he wants regardless of whether it’s wrong or who it hurts.

David sees a beautiful woman bathing and he desires her, so he has her brought to him and despite knowing that she is the wife of one of his elite fighting men, he sleeps with her anyway.

His indiscretion backfires when Bathsheba reveals that she is pregnant. In an effort to cover up his sin, David has Uriah recalled from the battle field, hoping that he will sleep with his wife and thus think that the child is his.

But Uriah doesn’t comply with David’s scheme so David sends him back to the battle field carrying a message with the very command that gets him killed. What is often overlooked in this passage is that by having the front line attackers pull back so that Uriah would be killed, the text says that others were killed as well. So David, by his tyrannical actions, ends up taking another man’s wife, and murdering several people in order to cover it up.

This is the kind of leadership we see in the world even today. Though we have few monarchies, there can be no doubt that even in our current system, elected officials often take special privileges and enact rules on others that don’t apply to themselves. We shouldn’t be surprised, however, because Jesus tells us that “kings are tyrants and officials lord it over the people beneath them.”

This is how most leaders think and act – the people under them are there to serve them and their needs.

But leadership in God’s kingdom is 180 degrees different than what we see in the world. In God’s kingdom, leaders are servants whose purpose is actually to serve those under them. It’s completely flipped!

The Philippians passage, also appearing on the same day, provides a biblical example of servant leadership that is perfectly illustrated by the life of Jesus.

Jesus’ leadership was characterized first and foremost by humility. As God, one might expect that Jesus would come and demand worship and the kind of allegiance and attention that royals traditionally receive.

But Jesus didn’t come and start exerting His power and authority in order to serve Himself. The text says He gave up His rights in order to serve others. Jesus didn’t demand the worship and the kind of attention and fanfare that He deserves but instead, He fulfilled a mission of service, namely, going to the cross to die for the sins of humanity so that we might escape eternal judgment and be reconciled to God.

This is the kind of leadership Jesus tells us that we, as His followers, should exhibit. It’s a selfless leadership. It’s not self-serving or self-promoting. It seeks the needs of others and puts their needs and welfare above our own. As I look around the current cultural landscape, it seems to me that we could use more of this kind of leadership and a lot less of the worldly kind of leadership.

Reflection

What are some examples you’ve seen of the kind of worldly leadership Jesus describes, where kings (and officials) seek to serve themselves instead of their subjects?

What are some examples you’ve seen of leaders who exhibit the kind of godly, kingdom-oriented leadership that Jesus says His followers should exhibit?

What do you think are some reasons that make this selfless, servant leadership that Jesus promoted so difficult for people, even those within the church?

What are some steps or actions that would make servant leadership more likely for those who are in positions of leadership?

If you are in a position of leadership, are you using your power and authority to serve yourself or others?

What do you personally need to address in your own life in order to become the kind of servant leader who emulates Jesus’ example instead of David’s example?

 

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Was Jesus A Racist Who Needed to Repent?

Mark 7

24Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre. He tried to keep it secret that he was there, but he couldn’t. As usual, the news of his arrival spread fast. 25Right away a woman came to him whose little girl was possessed by an evil spirit. She had heard about Jesus, and now she came and fell at his feet. 26She begged him to release her child from the demon’s control.

Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, 27Jesus told her, “First I should help my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

28She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are given some crumbs from the children’s plates.”

29“Good answer!” he said. “And because you have answered so well, I have healed your daughter.” 30And when she arrived home, her little girl was lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone. (Mark 7:24-30, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few weeks ago I saw a Tik Tok video that was making the rounds on Twitter. It was posted by a Pastor from the San Diego area in which he said that Jesus was a racist because he used a racial slur when he called the Syrophoenician woman in this passage a DOG!

This pastor went on to say that the woman didn’t back down, but “spoke truth to power” and when she confronted Jesus with his racism, Jesus not only changed his mind, but “Jesus repents of his racism and extends healing to this woman’s daughter.”

That’s not all. This pastor said that he loves this story because it’s a reminder that “Jesus is human. He had prejudices and biases and when confronted with it he was willing to do his work.”

Are the claims being made by this pastor true? Did Jesus demonstrate racism and prejudice by calling the woman a dog? Is the point of this story to show us that Jesus is a human who had human flaws and prejudices like every human being does? Was this story told to be an example to us on how to repent when we are confronted with truth?

The short answer to all of these questions is an emphatic NO!

None of these “observations” and conclusions demonstrate the real point of the story.

Well then, what IS the point of the story?

If you know anything about the book of Mark, you know that most of the stories and accounts demonstrate Jesus’ teaching and miracles that He performed while in the presence of His disciples. Everything Jesus does is for the sake of the men who are following Him and learning from Him. Jesus is demonstrating to them WHO He is and what His ultimate mission is. At the mid-point of Mark, Jesus asks the all-important question of His disciples: Who do you say that I am? I wrote about that passage and their response to that question here.

Based on what you know about the Jewish mindset of that time, including the disciples, what do you think was their view of non-Jews?

The prevailing mindset of Jewish people, from the religious leaders to Jesus’ own disciples was that non-Jews were unclean. They were “dogs”. In fact, merely being in their presence could make one unclean.

We see this Jewish nationalism throughout the New Testament. In fact, Peter needs a vision from the Lord himself in Acts 10 to finally realize that Gentiles are not unclean and that salvation is not reserved only for the Jew.

In addition, a council was convened in Acts 15 to address this very issue: do Gentiles need to become culturally Jewish in order to be saved? I wrote about that Council and the context surrounding it here.

So why does Jesus compare this woman to a dog?

Jesus is using an illustration to explain to the woman that the priority of His ministry and His message regarding the kingdom of God was FIRST to his own family, the Jewish people. He is not saying that Gentiles can never receive the message, He’s merely saying that He’s not prepared to share His message and ministry to Gentiles YET.

In this illustration, Jesus uses the Greek word “kunarion” which means “pet dog”. The Greek word that was usually used to describe an unclean dog was the word “kuon” which meant “wild dog.”

Most Jews viewed Gentiles as “wild dogs”, unclean animals that were not worthy of salvation and were excluded from the promises and blessings of God.

Jesus, however, gives an illustration in which Gentiles are compared not to wild dogs but to the family pet. He does this to show his disciples that their view of Gentiles and their worthiness to experience the blessings of God is wrong. They are not unclean, mangy animals roaming the streets, pilfering through the garbage. They are a part of the family and they are loved.

Regarding the other observations made by this pastor, it’s clear that his conclusions are an example of importing current cultural views and concepts into the biblical narrative while ignoring observations that might contradict his views.

This pastor paints a picture of a bold woman standing up to a misogynistic, bigoted Jesus, but the text paints a much different picture. The text states that she heard about Jesus and came and knelt before Him. The picture the pastor paints could not be more opposite of what the text actually says.

Secondly, the woman says nothing in response to Jesus that would indicate she is confronting Him or rebuking Him. Instead, her response shows that she understands the ministry priority Jesus has shared and yet she requests consideration from Him anyways.

Jesus is impressed with her response and her resolve and in Matthew’s version of this same story, Jesus speaks of her “great faith” (see Matthew 15:28).

This pastor completely overlooks the faith of the woman and Jesus’ praise of her response and opts instead for an explanation based more on his current cultural views than the plain theological meaning of the text.

Phrases like “speak truth to power” and “Jesus did his work” are rather recent phrases that represent a progressive ideology and  agenda. There is nothing in the passage or the context that suggests that the woman “confronted” Jesus regarding racism or that she spoke “truth to power”.

Neither is there any indication that Jesus changed his mind or repented of some egregious sin.

Furthermore, this pastor’s views are an example of false teaching regarding the nature and work of Jesus. I wrote about the importance of one’s view of Jesus here, when evaluating an early church heresy that John wrote about in the letter of 1 John.

Think about the implications of what this pastor is saying.

First, how could the woman speak truth to power when Jesus himself IS the truth (John 14:6)?

Secondly, Jesus is God in human flesh. He lived a sinless life and and His death pays the penalty for the sins of the world.

If Jesus used a racial slur and thus sinned, how could He secure salvation for the sins of mankind? Even if He repented, as this pastor suggests, Jesus would not be qualified to pay for the sins of humanity if He Himself was a sinner. His sin would disqualify Him from being the Savior of the world.

So the point of this story is NOT that Jesus is racist just like we probably are and He gives us an example of how to “do the work” and “repent” when confronted with truth.

The point of this story is to demonstrate that Jesus’ ministry and message was to go to the Jews FIRST but that Gentiles were also a part of God’s plan. Jesus did this in a way that explained His priority to the woman, revealed to His disciples that their prejudicial view of Gentiles did not line up with God’s heart, or His kingdom purposes, and praised the woman’s response as being one of “great faith”!

One final reminder I would make is the importance of “doing the work” of understanding what God’s word says in its context instead of taking the word of someone who calls themself a pastor but is merely importing their own modern day bias and preconception into the biblical narrative.

As John revealed in the 1 John 4 devotional, there are many people promoting false views of Jesus. John labeled those preachers as “false prophets” and those who promote false views of Jesus today should be labeled the same way.

Reflection

If someone were to use this story to make a claim that Jesus was racist, how would you respond? What parts of the text would you use to demonstrate that Jesus was not racist?

What specific parts of the text prove that the woman was NOT rebuking Jesus?

What specific parts of the text demonstrate that Jesus in no way repented of some kind of wrong-doing?

One of the lessons of this text is the “great faith” of the woman. In what ways did she demonstrate faith? In what ways can we emulate that kind of faith? 

What is a current issue you are dealing with in which you need Jesus to intervene? What are some ways you can demonstrate faith toward God in your circumstances?

 

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