Thursday, December 29, 2011



Every generation of young people seem to go through the stage of pulling away from their faith and religious affiliation. This stirs up a continual fear among parents and religious leaders everywhere. It's natural and has always been a rite of passage for young people, but this time around there seems to be a difference. This time the youth aren't returning back to their religious upbringing and this time many of these youth are expressing an unusual hunger for spirituality, while rejecting the homegrown answers of their childhood.
A few years ago a successful children's filmmaker approached me. He was interested in making a children's video on the Bible and he was told that I would make it all about Jesus. It was a fascinating encounter, forcing me to find out what is happening in religious instruction for children. From my somewhat limited vantage point, all I could see was that we have spent so much time rehearsing the biographical stories out of the Bible, but only inserted Jesus at the "You-all-want-to-go-to-heaven-don't-you time!" So I moved into research mode.

My first sampling was to ask two of my most "churched" grandchildren what their favorite stories of Jesus were. They were 7 and 9 at the time. Much to my surprise, they were stumped for an answer. Then Luke said, "Jesus was born!" "Yes!" I said. Then Luke added, "And we get presents!" Well, he had the right answer, but maybe his application was a little weak. After that outburst, there was nothing more to be added by my two samples.

I moved into gear and told them about Jesus losing his best friend, Lazarus, and then after Lazarus was really dead, Jesus brought him back to life. "And Jesus had his best friend again!" they said. I then made my way into the wedding feast where Jesus turned the water into juice. "Apple juice?" "No, it was actually grape juice." I showed them how much water was used by outlining a room in their house and they were amazed.

After taking this sampling of what is taught to our children, I met with the Children's Pastors of three local mega-Churches. When I asked how much they actually teach the children about Jesus, they all answered, "Every week!" Then as I pressed in on the studies, they all realized as I had that they do not teach much about Jesus at all. It was a shocking moment for us all!

It's no wonder our youth are leaving the Church and not coming back. What are they going to come back for? The re-telling of the old stories? The old stories just aren't enough to hold a person's commitment and devotion. There must be something more.

You see, I think what we've been doing for so long is to teach children about our religious systems, doctrines and traditions, but have left Jesus out of the equation. Oh, we all know Jesus is around. He actually hasn't left the building yet, but there is little to introduce a kid to this amazing and irresistible Jesus. And if a child doesn't get to know Jesus, other than praying the sinner's prayer, that child will not learn to follow Jesus with his life. Why introduce kids to Church or your religious persuasion without Jesus? There is something fundamentally wrong with this picture.

As I have been writing this book, JESUS PLUS NOTHING, two observations quickly come to mind. First, our children need to get to know Jesus. They are the most receptive to this most authentic person. Jesus even repeatedly teaches that unless one becomes like a little child, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. The answer is not to teach our children better or more, so they can defend and propagate their faith. The answer for our children is to be introduced to Jesus.

Second, our children are most indelibly marked by their parents and other significant adults in their lives-not by going to a religious instruction class. Parents can be so critical of the religious institution, yet it is in the home where the most significant lessons of life and of Jesus are taught or not taught. Kids desperately need to see and hear Jesus from their parents and significant adults in their lives. More than anything else, kids need to get the sense that their models are sincerely following Jesus with their lives. It's more than teaching. Jesus is both taught and caught!

If your children aren't sufficiently turned off in the elementary years, there is a significant opportunity for them to be rescued from their wandering from God and satisfying their deepest spiritual longings through an active youth group. It's within this context that there is a greater opportunity to be influenced by others who have come to know Jesus in a personal way and are not boxed into a system of do's and don'ts and religious verbiage that serve to turn the youth away.

If you as a parent, a youth worker, a teacher, a coach, a mentor or a neighbor, join the Jesus movement and embrace "Jesus plus nothing" for yourself, you will be the best answer for the young seekers around you. In fact, when you touch a child with the powerful message of Jesus, you are planting a seed that has the potential to transform a generation. Note that I'm not speaking religiously, but personally. "Jesus plus nothing" is a personal matter. The person is Jesus!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011



After growing up in a Western Christian culture with lots of love and good Church and family experiences, I met Jesus. He was different than I expected. He was different from the faculty that educated me, different from the religious crowds that flocked around me at speaking events and conferences, different from the many spiritual friends that deserted me during my down times. Jesus was the one who stayed. He was the one who didn't shake his head in disappointment, didn't turn away in disgust. He is the one who knelt down, picked me up, dusted me off. He is the one who embraced me. It was then I realized that the Jesus I had first embraced was different from the one who was embracing me now.

And I realized something else. That Jesus I could follow. That Jesus I wanted to follow, needed to follow, couldn't help but to follow.

Not the Jesus who is wrapped up in a religious system of do's and don'ts. Not the Jesus who is used to raise money to build more and more buildings or fill the religious treasuries. Not the Jesus who was highjacked for the violent Crusades-persecuting, killing, and even mass murdering Jews, Muslims, all non-Christians, and even other Christians who disagreed with them. Not the Jesus who is embraced by a political candidate or party to impress the people. Not the Jesus who wants you to join his club. Not the Jesus who puts a heavy guilt trip on you for not performing. Not the hell-fire-and-damnation Jesus. Nor the meek-and-mild Jesus.

This Jesus is the one I never really knew. The one without Christian verbiage. The one without religious baggage. The one without self-righteous garbage. This is Jesus plus nothing.

This Jesus is the Jesus that the early followers, called disciples, got to know. For three-and-a-half years they were in an apprentice relationship with Jesus. In their system of education they never made the grade of being chosen by a rabbi to follow in his steps, so they had returned home to work the family business. But this rabbi, this Jesus, this new guy in town, he chooses them to follow him. He picked uneducated, untrained, ordinary men to come along with him and learn from him. In a sense, Jesus chose those who hadn't made the cut, walk-ons, as the team he wanted on the field in the most important game in the history of the world.

From those early beginnings, the Jesus movement continues to be the largest in the world today. This all-encompassing movement consists of people from every culture and religion on the earth-Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Pantheists, Agnostics. When Jesus is not boxed into any religious system or wrapped up in a package marked "exclusive," he has proven to be universally attractive throughout the world. People from every culture embrace Jesus, simply Jesus, whether religious or not.

Take Gandhi, for example. He was so captivated with the life and teachings of Jesus that he became one of the greatest followers of Jesus ever. One of the most common descriptions of Gandhi was that he was so "Christ-like." Gandhi discovered that his cultural background as a Hindu was enhanced by Jesus. "I shall say to Hindus," he once said, "that your life will be incomplete unless you reverentially study the teachings of Jesus. Make this world the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything will be added unto you." Gandhi, whose goal in life was to live the Sermon on the Mount, said, "It was that sermon that has endeared Jesus to me." And, about Jesus' death on the cross, he said: "A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act." And finally the quote that was probably his most famous: "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

The current Dalai Lama is another example. He has expressed his love and respect for Jesus in many ways and on many occasions. Many of his teachings reflect those of Jesus. As the example and leader of the Buddhist community, the Dalai Lama is called His Holiness, yet he says he is not worthy to even untie the shoes of Jesus. In an OP-ED article for The New York Times, the Dalai Lama wrote: "In my readings of the New Testament, I find myself inspired by Jesus' acts of compassion. His miracle of the loaves and fishes, his healing and his teaching are all motivated by the desire to relieve suffering."
Both Gandhi and the Dalai Lama revere Jesus as the greatest teacher and example who ever lived.

Looking at the long history of Jewish thought, some of the most prominent rabbis have come to revere Jesus as possibly the most influential Jew who ever lived. Dr. David Flusser, in his book, The Sage From Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus' Genius, broke down many barriers that have kept Jews from studying Jesus. Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists in the world said this about Jesus: "As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word."

Agnostics are another group of people who have many in their ranks who follow Jesus. In my experience they are perhaps the most open to Jesus when presented without all the religious baggage. Agnostics have a vacuum in their hearts. In my experience, this seems to be a God-shaped vacuum. I continually enjoy conversing with agnostics, once I am able to convince them that I don't want to discuss religion. It seems that this group is better able to view Jesus separated from the religious wrappings. They've already rejected the religious trappings and were left empty. But, when introduced to Jesus without religious baggage, so often they respond by saying: "I can follow this Jesus!"

The "self-help movement" is another group of people who revere Jesus, some going as far as to follow him. Even in our highly educated, secularized society, the principles of Jesus are the basis for most of the self-help and motivational principles. Though they may not use his name, they do use his teaching and his example.

In many ways this is nothing new. Jesus has always worked with people from every culture and found them to be attracted to him. The problem in the First Century was the religious jealousy of the "gate-keepers" of Judaism. When Jesus presented his message of love and compassion to the non-religious and to all other non-Jewish nations of the world, he was resisted, ridiculed, and ultimately rejected.

Yes, Jesus plus nothing-Jesus without religious baggage or boxes-is attractive and can be satisfying for everyone everywhere.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011



From the very beginning of writing the book, JESUS PLUS NOTHING, I have had so many people challenge the assertion: "Jesus plus nothing." Although I can't go into my answers to these challenges exhaustively in a daily podcast as I did in the book itself, here are a few thoughts for your consideration.
The challenges were basic to the discussion: What about prayer? Don't you need to pray? Yes, but who are you conversing with when you pray? Jesus!
What about the Scriptures? Don't you need Jesus and the Scriptures? Well, Jesus made it pretty clear, when criticizing the religious leaders that they were studying and memorizing the Scriptures and missing him in the process. The written Word speaks of Jesus, but only Jesus, the living Word, can give eternal life (John 5).

What about Church membership? Well, besides the fact that there is nothing in the Scriptures requiring Church membership, the church or gathering of Jesus happens when two or three come together in his name. So, Jesus is all you need-the one, the only one to gather around, whether you are gathering in a living room or assembling in a massive Church service. That's again Jesus plus nothing!

What about Jesus plus the Holy Spirit? What a person is really saying here is, "Aren't you forgetting the Holy Spirit by asserting Jesus plus nothing?"
Check out what Jesus says of the Spirit and the Father in the 15th and 16th chapters of John: "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me, because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you."

Do you see the pre-eminence of Jesus acted out in the play? When it comes to the Holy Spirit, Jesus is the marquee character. And the spotlight is always on him! So, again, "Jesus plus nothing" works!

This Vine and branches visual is powerful. When Jesus taught about the dynamic relationship he wanted with his disciples, he used the illustration of the vine and the branches. He clearly taught in this section that the relationship he wants and the only one that matters is for the disciples (the branches) to cling to and stay connected to Jesus (the vine). He even went further to say, "Without me you can do nothing." Nothing. What don't we understand about nothing? How much clearer could Jesus have said it?

Jesus says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He lifts up every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15)."

This all happens in the name of Jesus with nothing added. Not Miracle Grow on the leaves. Not mulch on the roots. Just Jesus. Note that it's not that you can do nothing without the Spirit, but it's without Jesus you can do nothing. You just can't short-change this. It is clearly Jesus plus nothing!

Two other thoughts come to mind here. First-every person he encountered, touched, healed or raised from the dead are convinced that Jesus alone is enough.

Second-After Paul listed out his major religious accomplishments when writing to the Philippians, he made it crystal clear that Jesus plus nothing else is all you will ever need. Check out what Paul said: "If others think they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things."


Monday, December 26, 2011


If Jesus presented himself as enough, and those he touched believed he was enough, why do we miss this point, which is the very essence of the Good News of Jesus? Jesus plus nothing else added on is all we need, yet we seem to miss it.

We are able to develop entire belief systems around Jesus, enlist the masses to join our organizations around Jesus, judge those who do not quite see eye-to-eye with us about Jesus, and propagate these belief systems, organizations and dogma as the only way to life, yet all without getting to know this Jesus personally.

Today there is a Jesus movement that is popping up all over in the many cultures of the world. This Jesus movement is just that-a movement that is all about Jesus who is not packaged within any institutional, religious structure. The Jesus movement is attracted to and revolves around simply Jesus without being wrapped up in religious traditions or trappings.

Participants in the Jesus movement have been confused and even turned off by these wrappings. In order to fuel the Jesus movement in such a way, so as to keep the primary focus on Jesus without religious baggage, we have been creating materials, embracing the theme of JESUS PLUS NOTHING. It's a movement that is moving to a different beat than most religious groups; it's a Jesus beat!

Today, we are introducing many to Jesus, yet these new "followers of Jesus" quickly become distracted away from the simplicity and purity of walking with Jesus and walking with others. They can easily become distracted by the religious terminology that just doesn't matter in comparison to knowing and following Jesus. Instead of embracing Jesus and growing in Him, they tend to grow into better Bapterians, Presbytists and Episcolics. Simply Jesus or Jesus plus nothing is what these new followers of Jesus need and are looking for.

A lady said to me last week that when she attends one of our studies about Jesus plus nothing, she feels like she has just come back home. Jesus resonates with her; religiosity does not. It distracts her and confuses her and leaves her with her feet firmly planted in mid-air spiritually.

This is exactly what happened to me several years ago. Whenever I spent time with others who were highly focused on Jesus, I felt so at home with this Jesus who was being discussed. It was the most attractive and satisfying experience ever. They spoke about Jesus as if they had just had breakfast with him that morning.

Why had I been missing out on knowing this Jesus for so many years? There are three subtle ways in which this occurs, in my opinion.

First, there is a tendency to add something unnecessary to Jesus. This "something" takes the form of man-made commandments and long-standing traditions; in other words, Jesus with additives.

Second, there is a tendency to hold something sacred that has become a substitute for Jesus. These substitutes can be your sacred scriptures, your revered saints, your religious services, your particular organization or denomination, your cultural identification or religious icons.

Third, there is a tendency to leave Jesus behind. Whether it is in newsletters, religious services, sermons, articles, prayers, or worship experiences. Jesus is embarrassingly left behind! Even where two are three are gathered together in his name, he is so often left out of our conversations. These tendencies take away from the message of Jesus. They diminish Jesus by adding something unnecessary to him, by replacing him with something, and by leaving him and his message behind. These tendencies amount to a deadly triad that keeps us from seeing Jesus clearly. If we can't see him, how will we ever be able to know him? And if we can't know him, how will we ever be able to know if this Jesus plus nothing is enough? This was Paul's primary concern, when he said: "I am afraid lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, that your minds might be led astray from the purity and simplicity of devotion to Jesus." When we move away from the purity and simplicity of Jesus, the natural results are the many Jesus additives. Whatever you are reading, studying and discussing, be sure to make it all about Jesus.

Third, there is a tendency to leave Jesus behind. Whether it is in newsletters, religious services, sermons, articles, prayers, or worship experiences. Jesus is embarrassingly left behind! Even where two are three are gathered together in his name, he is so often left out of our conversations.

These tendencies take away from the message of Jesus. They diminish Jesus by adding something unnecessary to him, by replacing him with something, and by leaving him and his message behind. These tendencies amount to a deadly triad that keeps us from seeing Jesus clearly.

If we can't see him, how will we ever be able to know him? And if we can't know him, how will we ever be able to know if this Jesus plus nothing is enough?

This was Paul's primary concern, when he said: "I am afraid lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, that your minds might be led astray from the purity and simplicity of devotion to Jesus." When we move away from the purity and simplicity of Jesus, the natural results are the many Jesus additives. Whatever you are reading, studying and discussing, be sure to make it all about Jesus.

Sunday, December 25, 2011



One of the most familiar quotes about results is credited to Albert Einstein. It is "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Results are rarely neutral. Either you have great expectations for certain positive results or you have great dread about the possibility of certain negative results.

Results seem to come in three versions-good, bad or none at all. Sometimes it's the "none at all" that can be most difficult. I really like the t-shirt that says: "For every door that closes there is another one that always opens, but the hallways can be hell."

Results are everywhere. They cannot be avoided. Results are the consequences of life, whether we cause them or they just happen to us. Results do happen!
Not only do we all have life results that we feel we must negotiate, the bible is filled with the good, the bad and the non-results in the lives of the many characters. Ananias and Sapphira had some very good results. They sold a piece of property and made a lot of money. However, these good results were made into bad results when they acted as if they were giving the entire amount they gained into the local treasure, yet were holding out on God. They lied in an attempt to gain some praise and affirmation. Daniel was being faithful to God by praying daily and through the conniving of some jealous men in the kingdom ended up in the lions' den. Bad results for sure, yet God was at work in the midst of these bad results and saved Daniel's life.

Then in Hebrews 11 there is an interesting paragraph regarding a great men of faith who experienced a lifetime of non-results: 13 All these people (Enoch, Noah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

There are two basic problems with results. The first problem is that there is a tendency to wallow in the bad results which ends in depression. The second is to rely on the good results, relishing in them as if they were produced by us, resulting in pride. So, we end up trusting and hoping in our results, gambling on them to be the answer to our problems.

If you focus on your results, you will never be free from the stresses of it all. Here are some thoughts on how to handle your results: FIRST-Do the best you can do. This is your primary responsibility and nothing more.

SECOND-Leave the results entirely in the hands of God. You can't control your results anyway. In fact, results are none of your business. I am convinced God is personally at work in the midst of your results.

With Jesus it's always personal. This is why He continually makes it clear to those who are listening who He is. His many I AM statements and claims about Himself place Him into the middle of your life results.

Jesus uses results in your life to do the following: 1. To teach you something through it. 2. To work together with something else for God's glory and your good. 3. To get you through the worst of it all. He delights in getting you through it.

So, there are three cautions: 1. Don't allow yourself to be slammed by the bad results. 2. Don't allow yourself to take credit for the good results. 3. Don't allow yourself to be discouraged by the lack of results.

Jesus is the only result worth your time and energy!

Friday, December 23, 2011


The Christmas holiday season is filled with parties, invitations and Evites looking for a response. We have attended several parties this season and also quite a few charity events. This year we have looked forward to each of the parties and have enjoyed them all.

Jesus, being the reason for this Christmas season, the one who is ultimately the reason for any and all of the parties of the season, had an original party that was the party of parties. I want to briefly walk through the many party invitations sent out for the anticipated birth of Jesus.

In the first chapter of Luke's Gospel two invitations were sent out in an indirect sort of way. Zacharias and Elizabeth were invited to the birth of God's Messiah. They were notified that they were going to have a child who would prepare the way for the Messiah. And when it came to naming their baby, instead of naming him after his father (according to tradition) they went with their instructions and named their son John.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was invited in a dramatic way, naming her as the one God had chosen to bear this baby in her body. But her invitation didn't stop there. Her fiancé, Joseph, was also given a special invitation by God to this supernatural birth. The angel explained to Joseph that Mary's pregnancy was a God-thing and not a sinful or negative thing at all. And, just like John was not named after his father, so Mary's son was to be called Jesus, not Joseph. Can you imagine what went through Mary and Joseph's mind with these special invitations to the birth of God's Messiah?

A special group of shepherds in the hills of Bethlehem were sent a dramatic invitation while tending their flocks. In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." (Luke 2:8-20)

There were two people who were looking for God's Messiah to show up during their lifetime. One was a priest by the name of Simeon and the other is a prophetess by the name of Anna. They apparently were very familiar with the specific prophecies of the prophet Daniel and believed God's Messiah was about to show up. Their enthusiasm was intense upon finding Jesus.

One more invitation is the most fascinating to me. There was a group of religious astronomers who received an invitation to this unique event-the magi. This was probably a group of serious astronomers who were researching when God's Messiah was going to appear. They were studying the stars for this information. Their invitation came in the form of a star. Note what they said when they came to the region. Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." (Matthew 2:1-2)

Three observations come to mind here: #1-You are the sum total of the invitations you accept in life! #2-Some invitations are more important than others! #3-God has sent you an invitation-inviting-calling-everyone to follow after Him through Jesus. Think of it this way. Jesus has a special calling on your life. What will you do with this invitation? Accept it? Reject it? Or will you simply ignore it?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


As we work our way through the stresses of life, I feel the need to share with you three promises that can get you through your day-every day! I not only frequently use these for myself, but I also share these with people everywhere with great success! Let's walk through each one briefly.

FIRST-THE PROMISE OF GOOD ENDINGS-This is found in Romans 8:28-"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." This promise is all about PROCESS that takes time to unfold. God will take all of our failures, crises and circumstances and work them together with something else for our good. "Together" is the operative word. The loss of a loved one is not good in itself, but God will cause this loss to work together with something else to bring about good. Divorce is not good. An addiction is not good. A disease is not good, BUT GOD intervenes and uses it to bring about good in your life, IF you love Him (your heart is bent toward Him) and you are called according to His purpose (you are plugged into His will and His purpose or, that you are walking with Him).

SECOND-THE PROMISE OF GREAT ESCAPES-This promise is found in I Corinthians 10:13-"No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." This promise is all about PERSEVERANCE that is the most important ingredient when going through difficult times. When your life situation seems insurmountable like you are facing a high mountain range that blocks you from getting through it, God offers you a mountain pass. Note this is not a bailout, but it is the escape provided so that you will be able to get through it (endure it). You see, contrary to public opinion, THE BEST WAY OUT IS THROUGH!

THIRD-THE PROMISE OF GREAT EXPECTATIONS-This promise is found in Paul's letter to the gathering of believers in Philippi (Philippians 1:6)-"For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." This promise is all about PERMANENCE that is a welcome sight for those of us who live within a temporal world system. Paul expresses his confidence to the believers in Philippi that what God began in their experience (in their hearts) He will complete. And He will complete it in this life up until Jesus returns. This is an amazing earthly promise, not in the sweet by-and-by, but in the nasty now-and-now. What God began in the hearts of your family, He will complete in your friends, in your fellowship. The vital issue here is "WHAT GOD BEGAN", not what you began. It is speaking about the work of God in your heart. Maybe the greatest problem in recognizing God's work in your life is that you are.

1. Out of touch with Him and insensitive to His promptings. 2. Out of touch with His fellowship and indifferent to the touch of His people. 3. Out of control in your life and find yourself wandering aimlessly.

NOTE that the promises are only as good as the Promiser! It's too easy to be caught up with the promise without being captivated with the One Who promises. The same is true of blessing. We embrace the blessings in our lives without being totally grateful to the One Who blesses! It is our nature to go for the prize without the process, without the perseverance and therefore we don't sense His permanence and presence in our lives. Want some help handling your stresses? Hang on to the promises of God, Himself, and He will get you through it!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Do you remember the first "City Slicker" movie with Billy Crystal and Jack Palance. Palance is the seasoned cowboy who is leading the city slickers on a cattle drive. He gives them lots of advice, but there is a time when he holds up one finger and says, "This is what life is all about. It's just one thing." He didn't explain clearly, but it is indelibly printed on my mind. 

Well, Jesus made a similar statement, but He clearly spells what the one thing is. In fact, He did this kind of thing on several occasions, yet those who heard it just didn't have ears to hear. In John 5 Jesus is speaking with the Jewish leadership and He points out to them that they have spent their lives memorizing and studying the Scriptures, thinking they will find eternal life, but they will not. He says, "The Scriptures speak of me and I will give eternal life, but you don't seek me." They kept on burying themselves in their study of the Scriptures and missed the one thing-Jesus!

I am continually drawn back to the John 15 image in Jesus' teachings about the vine and the branch. Let me share it from the new re-translation we did this year: 15:1-8 -"I am the real vine, my Father is the vine-dresser. He lifts up any of my branches that are not bearing fruit and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit to increase its yield. Now, you have already been pruned by my words. You must go on growing in me and I will grow in you. For just as the branch cannot bear any fruit unless it shares the life of the vine, so you can produce nothing unless you go on growing in me. I am the vine itself; you are the branches. It is the man who shares my life and whose life I share who proves fruitful. For the plain fact is that apart from me you can do nothing at all. The man who does not share my life is like a branch that is broken off and withers away. He becomes just like the dry sticks that men pick up and use for firewood. But if you live your life in me, and my words live in your hearts, you can ask for whatever you like and it will come true for you. This is how my Father will be glorified-in your becoming fruitful and being my disciples."

There are several stages of fruitfulness mentioned here. First-no fruit. Even though most translations translate the verb "cut off", it actually means to "lift up". It is the same verb that is used to describe Jesus being lifted up. You know how it is when a tomato plant droops down and touches the ground. Touching the ground will destroy the plant and make it unfruitful. So, the vine-dresser lifts it up in order to allow the branch to be fruitful.

Second-there is the stage of being pruned. Now, when a plant is pruned, it is not only the dead wood that is cut; the pruning must also include part of the live plant as well. Even though this is most certainly painful, the end result is fruitfulness.

Third-there is the stage that brings about greater fruitfulness. This is brought about by a closer connection between the branch and the vine. Jesus says: "But if you live your life in me and my words live in your hearts, you can ask for whatever you like and it will come true for you."

In the middle of this teaching Jesus brings up a simple yet vital principle. Jesus says: "Without me you can do nothing!" Even though Jesus' teaching here is clear, very few actually believe it or take it seriously.

You see, it's all about Jesus! What is the gospel or good news message of God? It's Jesus, simply Jesus.

More than anything else Jesus and the Father want us to become fruitful disciples. And they will do anything necessary to help us be fruitful-lift us up when we have no fruit, prune us for a greater fruitfulness and nurture us with His life flowing through our connection with Him, the Vine. The Father is positively reflected when we are fruitful and act like followers of Jesus. All you must do is hang on, embrace and enjoy your connection to the vine; He will do the rest! Make like a branch and hold on for dear life-your life-to the vine-Jesus.

I just saw this and I love it. Jesus alone is enough. Jesus plus something is nothing. Jesus plus nothing is everything! Life is about one thing! It's not your Church, your cause, your doctrinal beliefs, the 2nd coming, healing, supernatural gifts or prayer. Life is all about Jesus. He is the one thing that matters most! Without Jesus you can do nothing! Do you really believe this?

Monday, December 19, 2011



One of the topics Jesus taught from the beginning and throughout most of His teaching was the Kingdom. The Kingdom is all about God's presence among us. The Kingdom is the way of living life according to and in the presence of the King-Jesus. We seem to ignore this kind of thinking much of the time. I want to suggest three observations that may be helpful here. 

FIRST-Jesus came to dwell among us-TO BE WITH US: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "GOD WITH US"). (Matthew 1:23) GOD WITH US! Christmas is all about God wanting to come down here and make Himself at home with us.

SECOND-Jesus called a few TO BE WITH HIM: He appointed twelve that they might BE WITH HIM. (Mark 3:14-15) Jesus set out to accomplish the work God, the Father, had asked Him to do-to be with the few the Father brought to Him and to teach them about His name. Jesus said: "and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:26) Imagine that! The love with which the Father loved Jesus can be in us and Jesus be in us at the same time!

THIRD-Jesus continues TO BE WITH US TODAY. Jesus shares with us the plan for continuing to dwell WITH US today: "If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever-the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home (our dwelling place) with them." (John 14)

Jesus also shares with us how He will show up and make Himself known among us. "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will show up in their midst." Jesus will show up as a few of us gather in His name. He still is inviting a few for Him TO BE WITH THEM today!

You see, Jesus through His Spirit is present WITH US right now and welcomes us. After seeing how the Gentiles (the non-Jews) readily believed Jesus enough to follow Him, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him." (Acts 10:34-35)

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, Jesus gave His disciples one final command to make disciples of all nations and cultures. He envelopes this command with these words: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations." Then he said: And surely I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS, to the very end of the age." (MT 28:19-20) He doesn't say I will be with you again someday. He says "I am with you always-right now on into eternity!"

Jesus came as Immanuel-TO BE WITH US and HE IS STILL HERE WITH US today, therefore: · We don't have to ask Him to be with us! He already is! · We don't have to ask Him to bless us! He already has! · We don't have to look for Him! He is invisible, but dynamically present! · We don't have to conjure Him up through powerful charismatic experiences! He is the one who has powerfully come to dwell WITH US! · We don't have to be anything other than we are! He wants to dwell with you just as you are!

A friend in Jesus recently said it this way: Jesus became like us so that we might become like Him and He came to live WITH US for a time so that we might live WITH HIM forever. And guess what? Forever starts the moment you realize that Jesus is Immanuel and you decide to follow Him.

Now to me, this makes Christmas the merriest of holidays! GOD WITH US started 2000+ years ago and He continues to be WITH US today. This is why I talk to Him throughout the day. This is why I am in a constant conversation with Jesus asking a very simple question, "What do you have for me today, Jesus?" And when I ask, He shows up. And when I don't ask, I don't see Him or even think of Him. Since I know God is WITH US, I am so much more at ease about my day. GOD WITH US!

Sunday, December 18, 2011



One of the all-time bestselling series was LEFT BEHIND. It was based upon bible prophecy with the premise that someday those who are faithful followers of Jesus will be snatched away and the non-believers will be left behind. Although Jesus used the context of "in the days of Noah" where only the believer/followers were the ones left behind and not the non-believers, this teaching is very pervasive today.

Whatever teaching is true-Jesus' words or the popular prophets of our day-I am more concerned about Jesus being LEFT BEHIND. I especially think about this at the two most revered holidays within the Christian world-Christmas and Easter.

As you know we have set out to do the most difficult thing we've ever done in our lives. We are trying to follow the teachings and principles of Jesus and embrace Jesus as a lifestyle. One of the reasons for not being able to do this in the past is that we had our focus on something closely related to Jesus year after year, yet quite different with disappointing results. We were either adding something to Jesus as if He needed our additions or we were diluting the awesomeness of Jesus by packaging Him in our comfortable, spiritual boxes. Because our focus was not on simply Jesus, many times we have caught ourselves just going through the motions of the spiritual life. We had effectively left Jesus behind as we set out to live our lives.

I found out the hard way that leaving Jesus behind proved to be disastrous. Life doesn't work well without Him and I didn't know what to do to work well for Him. I kept leaving Jesus behind!

This Christmas I want to suggest the three most common ways of putting Jesus in the position of being left behind in your life. FIRST-We tend to leave Jesus behind in the manger! Jesus is no longer in a manger or cattle feeding trough. Both the Bible and the Qur'an teach that Jesus was born of a virgin and He is called the Word of God. In the first chapter of John it says the "Word" became flesh (not a book nor a religious organization), grew up and "dwelt" among us (made Himself at home among us), being full of grace and truth. Jesus is not still in the manger, so don't leave Him there. Learn to relate and interact with Jesus out of the manger.

This reminds me of the program for a Christmas pageant several years ago that listed out all of the actors by name. When it came to Jesus, it said, "The baby Jesus is played by a 60 watt light bulb." When you leave Jesus behind, an impersonal light bulb may be the only light you'll be able to see and share.

SECOND-We tend to leave Jesus behind on the cross! Whether you are Catholic with Jesus visibly hanging there or you relate to Jesus with the symbol of an empty cross, the story and dynamic of Jesus is so much more than a cross. He's been there-done that and now wants you to enjoy Him as the resurrected one-the one who knows you best and loves you the most!

THIRD-We tend to leave Jesus behind in the clouds! Those who are so focused on Jesus' 2nd Coming tend to be looking up into the clouds and looking ahead to the sweet bye and bye. So life becomes all about Jesus coming in the clouds to get us out of this mess. This is not what Jesus taught and lived. He wants to dwell among us as our King-our Master-right here in the nasty now and now. There is no escape clause for those who believe and follow Him. And, if Jesus does snatch those who believe and follow Him out of this world, it is only to bring us right back down here to dwell in His amazing presence on earth. In other words, there's a U-turn right back to earth. That's where the streets of gold, etc. will be-right here!

So, why do we tend to leave Jesus behind in the manger, on the cross or up in the clouds? Three simple things come to mind. It seems to be a natural, human tendency to leave Jesus behind or leave Jesus out. To do this (1) localizes Jesus to some place where we can visit or not, (2) limits Jesus from doing things that might be out of my comfort zone, and (3) leaves me alone to my own thinking, so that I can salvage some sort of fantasy of being in control.

To leave Jesus behind is to worship an impersonal God. And, if He is impersonal, then we tend to worship and lift up religiosity, traditions and man-made commandments. Hey, this Christmas do everything you can do to make it all about personalizing Jesus. Release Jesus from the manger. Remove Him from the cross. Refocus your eyes out of the clouds and be a part of what Jesus is doing right here on earth right now. Jesus is awesome, alive and actively desiring to make Himself at home in your life. Will you let Him do just that this Christmas?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Skeletons in Jesus' Closet

The space-time event in history of the birth of Jesus is filled with so many highlights. And everyone has his or her favorite thing to share about the Christmas story. Jesus was born on time and in the little town of Bethlehem according to the many ancient Prophets.
What fascinates me most about the birth of Jesus is how it all came about through a variety of unlikely players. The Jews very carefully kept track of their genealogies as they relate to the godly line of the Messiah. In Matthew the genealogical record is most likely that of Joseph's and the genealogical record in Luke seems to be that of his Mother Mary.

What is so amazing is that after all of the care to follow each step of the way of the Messiah's godly line, God purposefully inserts some very unlikely people. Let's call these skeletons in Jesus' closet. A skeleton in the closet usually has to do with the uglier side of our family line. Jesus had 7 skeletons in His closet that all have a potential ugly side. Let's look at each of them:
FIRST-Mary, His mother. Mary was a sinful woman just as any other woman on the planet. She was an admitted sinner by calling her son her Savior and was surprised at the choice of the angel to create the Messiah through her. This is the least ugly of the 7 skeletons and yet was a definite application of the grace of God to choose her. She clearly recognized that she personally was in need of the Savior she was to birth.
SECOND-David. Although we know David is known as a man after God's own heart, he was guilty of horrific sins. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and then set in motion the plan to have her husband, Uriah, killed in order to cover up his sin.
THIRD-Abraham. Remember, Abraham was a Gentile and God chose him to be the father of a new nation altogether-the people of Israel. Abraham's life was not a clean one, even though he was to be the father of all who believe. Two different kings brought Abraham's wife, Sarah, into their harems, because out of fear Abraham lied to each of them, saying that Sarah was his sister. What a horrible and shameful way to treat Sarah.

Even though David and Abraham were miserable sinners, Jesus the Messiah is known to be the son of David, the son of Abraham and proud of it. Then, within the genealogy of Jesus in a culture where genealogies were mostly dominated by men, there are four women, probably all Gentiles, who are included in the godly line of Messiah Jesus.
FOURTH-The first woman is Tamar, the Canaanite daughter-in-law of Judah. She resorted to deception, prostitution and even incest when she was unable to have a child. She tricked Judah into having sexual relations with her and she had twin boys, Perez and Zerah. Tamar and her son, Perez, both are included in the godly line of Jesus-both part of His sacred family tree.
FIFTH-The next woman who was also a Gentile was Rahab. She made prostitution her livelihood. Rahab risked her own neck to hide the spies of Israel when she lived in the ancient city of Jericho. Because of her faith and action on God's behalf, He agreed to spare her life and the lives of all her family during the battle of Jericho. She became the wife of Salmon and the mother of a godly man named Boaz. Boaz was David's great-grandson. By this marriage Rahab was inserted into the Messianic godly line that would produce Jesus.
SIXTH-The next Gentile woman, a Moabite, was Ruth. Although she was a former pagan and a Moabite, having no right to marry an Israelite, God's grace brought Ruth into the family of Israel, and through Boaz into the royal line. She became the grandmother of Israel's greatest king-King David.
SEVENTH-The final Gentile woman who was surprisingly in the godly line of Messiah Jesus is Bathsheba. Now get this! She entered the godly Messianic line through adultery with David. Their first son died in infancy, yet their second son was the great King Solomon, who was successor to David's throne.

As you can see the story of Christmas has some amazing surprises in it. These undeserving, Gentiles not Jewish, people were inserted into the godly list solely and completely by the grace of God.

So, in the birth of Jesus the Messiah, the skeletons in the closet turn out to be all about grace-amazing grace! This is the story of Christmas: That God's Messiah has come to deliver whoever will come to Him. This is truly what the Good News is all about. Jesus accepts and loves anyone and everyone-no matter your origin, ethnicity or religious beliefs. Jesus proves His love and acceptance by including four sinful women in His family tree. By the way, this means Jesus accepts you and loves you unconditionally, too. Therefore you can celebrate your brokenness, your ways of falling short, the many times you've missed the mark. Jesus simply overlooks all of your negative stuff and wants you to accept His light into your life that you might be whole. Now, that is a Merry Christmas that gets you ready for a very Happy New Year!

James 5:19-20

The last two verses of James are so powerful to me. It's all about restoration and recovery! James sets up the blueprint for GOD'S RESCUE SQUAD: 19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
The probability of straying from the truth is anticipated here. We must start here. People will stray. In fact, it may be better to start from your own heart. You have the capacity to do almost anything, any time, anywhere! We must not be surprised when a believer strays from the truth! It will usually come in one of two flavors: COMMISSION-Playing God! OMISSION-Leaving God out!

This straying might be based upon an opinion-opinions are usually man-made add-ons. Be careful of embracing another's opinions. Straying might be based upon specialists-experts and gurus and bible teachers that seem right. Or, this straying might be based upon dilution-watered-down.

Along with the probability of straying, there is the possibility of saving that person for the sake of Jesus and His kingdom. If one strays and one turns him back, he will actually be saving his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. I am reminded of Galatians 6:1: 1 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5 For each one will bear his own load.

Restoration is encouraged by those who are spiritual. Restoration is not a popular theme throughout the churches; shooting the wounded is more like it. Yet restoration is at the very core of salvation. It's almost like we must sneak salvation back into the churches.

NOTE an effective progression here might be to express the balance of compassion for people and commitment to truth. COMPASSION FOR PEOPLE is experienced when you: 1. Go to him only after you look at yourself (Gal 6:1, 7). 2. Go to him personally-(Matthew 18:15). 3. Go to him for what's best for him/her. The word restore has to do with mending that which is broken or putting something back that was out of joint.

NOTE it is not "rebuke" him or "reject" him, but restore such a one. Restoring a brother or sister is like bringing back to them the practical application of salvation to their souls. It's being a friend. A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and sings it back to you when you've forgotten the words!
RESTORATION requires that you be like Jesus-full of grace and truth-have a compassion for people and commit to the Truth! Start with Grace and Side with the Truth!

No doubt there are all kinds of relationships around you who are candidates for a rescue using the spirit of restoration. As you are aware, you will find yourself saving lives wherever you go.

The most common straying and the most strategic restoration revolve around the same issue-a personal focus on your relationship with Jesus. Paul was concerned when he wrote to the Corinthians: "I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, that your minds might be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Jesus." That is the ultimate straying-leaving Jesus out of your life equation.

Therefore, the most important thing you can do to restore someone is to reintroduce him back into a relationship with Jesus. This relationship may begin at any level-seeking, walking with or loving Jesus. Just encourage them to get to know Jesus without any religious baggage. It's Jesus plus nothing!

James 5:1-18

When I look at these 18 verses as a whole, it seems to be moving in one direction-we must pray (13). Prayer is simply talking and listening to God. The primary purpose of prayer is to exercise TRUST in the Lord. It's interesting to note that in the case of nearly two-thirds of the prayers offered in the bible, the people praying already knew the answer but were praying anyway. Praying is trusting! When you pray, you are bending your heart along with your knee toward the Lord saying that you are trusting in Him for whatever it is that you are bringing before Him. 

Here James is exhorting the believers who are trusting in something other than God or doing things in response to their life conditions other than trust. Let's look at each one: 1-Why pray (trust in God) when you can trust in your own riches? 1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! 4 Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabbath. 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.

There is a horrendous responsibility on those who are rich. First of all, because of their riches it makes it impossible to get into the kingdom of God. Their riches can buy people, places and things for their enjoyment. This then leads toward trusting in those riches. Fortunately, God can do the impossible, so He makes it possible for rich people to be able to put their trust in Him rather than in their riches. Instead of just enjoying their people, places and things amassed by their riches, they learn to use these riches for the kingdom and to meet the needs of those God puts in their paths.

NOTE James says that those riches will rot, be devoured and your precious things will rust, because you have stored up for yourselves your treasures. What good is it if a man gains the whole world and loses his soul?

Secondly, the rich tend to treat poorly those who are not rich. James points out that those who work for the rich will someday testify as to how they were treated. To be skimpy in what is paid, to withhold pay over something petty, to demand something for so very little; it's like committing a fraud against these people. James says, "You have fattened your hearts in the day of slaughter." You have lifted your lifestyle to the greatest luxury on the backs of people you have treated poorly or wrongfully.

This reminds me of the well-known text in I Timothy 6:10: For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

2-Why pray (trust in God) when you can worry with impatience? 7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. James urges those who are impatiently stewing in their worries to pay attention to how life works. Check out the farmer. The farmer waits! The Lord will come through on your behalf and you must wait.

3-Why pray (trust in God) when you can complain against one another? 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. 10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. Impatience and worry will inevitably produce a constant flow of complaining. NOTE the examples: 1. Of the prophets who endured. 2. Of Job's endurance with a great outcome. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy and NOTE Jesus, the Judge, is standing right at your door listening to all of your complaints and stewing.

4-Why pray (trust in God) when you can make deals (swear oaths) that trick people into something you want? 12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.
YOU MUST TURN TO PRAYER-trusting the Lord in the midst of your troubles. 13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises [Even if you are not in trouble and are cheerful, still turn to prayer and sing praises.]. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.

NOTE the connection between sickness and confessing your sins. There is a psycho-spiritual-physical dynamic within each of us. Sins will affect your psyche and your physical health as well. So, make it a habit of confessing your sins (being open about your life) to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed. NOW HOW MIGHT THIS HAPPEN? By paying attention to the 3 habits of walking with Jesus, walking with others and waiting for Jesus to lead out. These habits present the perfect opportunity for you to be open and honest with someone you trust.

NOTE "the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" statement. It is not the techniques of prayer (how or when you pray), but the emphasis is upon who is praying-a righteous man. When you are walking with Jesus and doing what He would do-walking, loving and thinking like Jesus, you are a righteous man/woman who has the ear and heart of Jesus in all you think and do and ask. So, pray!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

James 4


Now that we see the destruction of bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, James continues to move toward the root cause of conflicts among us-even the cause of wars on the planet. In chapter 3 we saw the comparison between earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. Here in chapter 4 James compares the human ways (do it my way) with God's ways. Doing things according to your way or the way of the world will end in quarrels, fights, interpersonal conflicts, stepping on one another, cut-throating in the marketplace, etc. He simply lays out the primary cause and the cure in these matters.

THE CAUSE-(1-5)-selfish desires. 1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. [You lust after something and take on a murderous disposition of anger in order to get it.] You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. [You want something you can't have or don't have and become disagreeable and quarrelsome.]

You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. [From God's perspective, you don't have for two reasons-(1) you do not ask and (2) you ask with the wrong motives-to satisfy your selfish desires. You are not seeking things from God, but are acting like people of the world system who live outside the kingdom of God.]

4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever, wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ``He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us''? [Friendship with the world (even acting as they do) makes you an enemy of God. Don't you get it that God passionately desires His work within you-that He will do anything to hold on to you?]

NOTE your selfish desires are directly opposed to the desires of God. Your selfish desires want all kinds of things to be spent on your earthly, temporal satisfaction. His desires are to continue to dwell in and among you, so that He can work His work in and through you for earthly/eternal benefits in the kingdom.

NOTE that the word for pleasures or selfish desires is the word from which we get Hedonism. Hedonism has a built-in pride-the progression goes like this. 1. My way is the best way! 2. My way is the only way! 3. I want to do it my way! 4. I want you to do it my way!

"Do it my way" is a reminder of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness by the Devil himself (Luke 4)! NOTE his involvement here:

THE CURE-(6-17)-submission to God. 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ``GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.'' 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble! If you are going to win in the struggle with your selfish desires, you must pay attention to the following: (1) Submit to God-all that you are/do and give it to Him! (2) Resist the devil-and he will flee from you-Devil=Pride! (3) Seek after God-a closer relationship with him in your soul

Seek after Him by drawing near to God, by cleansing your hands, you sinners, by purifying your hearts, you double-minded and by sobering up. Be miserable, mourn, weep, due to your pride. Humble yourself and He will exalt you. Humility is like underwear; you should have it, but shouldn't show it.

Humble yourself and soak up the grace of God. NOW, rather than humbling myself and soaking up the grace of God, I tend to end up struggling with His grace and doing it my way!

Your humility triggers God's grace that in turn gets you through the struggles you face with your own selfish desires. There are two enemies that will militate against your humility and God's grace-how you use your tongue and how you view your time!

Your tongue: 11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

Your time: 13 Come now, you who say, ``Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.'' 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, ``If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.'' 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

FAITH IN THE GRACE OF GOD IS A CRUTCH. YOU CAN USE IT, WHEN YOU ADMIT THAT YOU NEED IT! This is the struggle with the grace of God. You just don't want to see your faith as a crutch that you need. I have come to the conclusion that I don't just need a crutch to depend upon, but an IRON LUNG. That's the kind of dependence I need to struggle with my selfish desires (doing it my way).

God wants it done His way. Satan wants it done his way. YOU GET TO MAKE THE CHOICE!

"Alex Haley, the author of ROOTS, has a picture in his office, showing a turtle sitting atop a fence. The picture is there to remind him of a lesson he learned long ago: 'If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he had some help.'" Says Alex, 'Any time I start thinking, WOW, ISN'T THIS MARVELOUS WHAT I'VE DONE! I look at that picture and remember how this turtle-me-got up on that post.'"


James 3


Today in James we are looking for a bigger and better mouth-trap.

1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. NOTE that when you are a teacher, people will hold you to a stricter judgment. It is so easy and inevitable that as you teach you will misspeak in some way. AND, your audience has difficulty remembering much of what you said, but they will not forget the mistakes you made in speaking. (I hate when that happens! This is why I continually say to myself, "Stick to your notes. Be careful of having a 'bright idea' in the middle of your teaching without thinking through the consequences!")

The tongue is so powerful-the power to bring on depression or to encourage contentment. FIRST-It's inconsequential yet most important of all. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

SECOND-It's influential. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!

THIRD-It's inflammable. 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by gehenna (the cursed garbage pit).

FOURTH-It's insubordinate. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

FIFTH-It's inconsistent. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

If the tongue is good, there is nothing better. If it is bad, there is nothing worse. If the tongue is to be good, it must be tamed by loving heavenly wisdom and hating earthly wisdom. NOTE how James paints two pictures-earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. He defines each very specifically.

13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

EARTHLY WISDOM-14 But if you have bitter jealousy [sharp & cutting words] and selfish ambition in your heart [divisive, factious, all about their own self-interest], do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

NOTE that "bitter jealousy" and "selfish ambition in your heart" become an earthly, putrid fountain for earthly wisdom. Then, note the flow out of this dirty fountain-Earthly-limited to this planet, nothing from heaven. Natural-soulish-the best humanity can do. Demonic-from the pit of the most cursed garbage dump in all of Israel!

THEN NOTE that an additional flow from this sort of fountain is "disorder" (restless confusion) and "every evil thing" (worthlessness-good-for-nothingness). Keep in mind that the ultimate flow from this fountain of earthly wisdom is a tongue that is out of control and dangerous, therefore it can destroy people!

HEAVENLY WISDOM-17 But the wisdom from above is first pure [holy-single-minded-on a mission], then peaceable, gentle [equitable-fair and open], reasonable [able to be approached-to consider things without quick reaction], full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering [unprejudiced and consistent], without hypocrisy [as good as your word]. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace [Only in peace is the fruit of righteousness found-a tongue tied to heavenly wisdom is a seed sown in peace that will produce a Jesus-kind of lifestyle.]

So, a tongue-check is really a heart-check! To tame your tongue, you must learn to love heavenly wisdom and hate earthly wisdom in the same way a gardener loves plants and hates weeds! You must be tongue-tied-your tongue must be tied to heavenly wisdom; meekness is the knot that holds it together ("in the gentleness of wisdom"-verse 13).

Thursday, December 08, 2011

James 2:14-26


14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,'' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. Here we are back to that most powerful statement." Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone."

18 But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

The tension between faith and works is pervasive among believers and it always has been. The tension takes the form of doctrine versus demonstration-belief versus behavior and theological versus experiential. The same tension is found in two main heresies or extreme opinions-perfection by performance (legalism) versus perfection by experience (Gnosticism).

Throughout the Scriptures this tension takes the form of WHAT GOD DOES versus WHAT MAN DOES. Check it out! By faith Abraham believes God (WHAT GOD DOES) and moves out (WHAT MAN DOES). By faith in God's word (WHAT GOD DID) Noah built a boat (WHAT MAN DID). Every one of the miracles of Jesus has this element-disciples fill up the water pots (WHAT MAN DID) and Jesus changed it into wine (WHAT GOD DID).

MAN DOES WHAT HE DOES BY FAITH IN WHAT GOD DOES. GOD does 100%-Man does 100%. (Now don't get nervous, God's 100% is much greater than your 100%.)

Paul addresses both of these tensions by writing two balanced books: Romans--in chapters 1-11 he lays out WHAT GOD DOES and 12-16 he lays out WHAT MAN IS TO DO. Ephesians--chapters 1-3 deal with WHAT GOD HAS DONE and chapters 4-6 deal with 33 things for MAN TO DO.

He takes Romans and writes the book of Galatians-to counteract the extreme of MAN DOES IT ALL. He takes Ephesians and writes the book of Colossians to counteract the extreme of GOD DOES IT ALL. In the first few chapters of Romans and Ephesians, Paul is saying, "Look what God has done for you!" And in the last few chapters he says, "Now act like it!" WHAT GOD HAS DONE-that's where your faith comes in; NOW ACT LIKE IT-that's where your works prove out your faith!

There is a great visual that illustrates how the balance of the two can work and how one without the other doesn't. Suppose you are in a row boat with 2 oars--one is faith and the second is works. If you row with either one without the other, you will only go in circles. If you use both, you will make progress.

This entire tension between faith and works comes down to: God's work (believe it-faith) demands your response (just do it-works). You do (works) the possible by faith that God will do the impossible.

SO, how is your faith working?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

James 2:1-13


In chapter 1 we learned that pure religion is more than the muttering of prayers and rituals-more than being externally oriented. Pure religion has to do with visiting orphans and widows and keeping oneself unstained by the world. Keeping yourself unstained by the world begins with preventing yourself from being a hearer only (1:19-21), but an effective doer of the word of truth (1:22-25). In other words, being a hearer only tends toward definition without demonstration that leads to the worship of doctrine. But even sound doctrine by itself tends to put people sound asleep! James is appealing to be unstained from the world and the world's ways by not doing things by lecture, but by a lab that demands definition and demonstration!

Now, James continues his theme of keeping yourself unstained by the world when he turns to the subject of showing partiality. Don't hold your faith with an attitude of partiality toward others! 1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," [Your value system is false.] 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? [You are practicing discrimination.] 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? [You fail to honor the poor whom God honors.] 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? [You favor those who oppress you.]

INSTEAD, fulfill the royal law. 8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF," you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, "DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY," also said, "DO NOT COMMIT MURDER." Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

NOTE verse 5-LOVE GOD, and now verse 8-LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR. The royal law is an interesting term. Literally, it is the "law of the king" or the law that is fit for the king or a kingly law or the law of the king and kingdom. Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-40 that the entire Mosaic Law rests on "loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself", so here this is a fitting reference to the royal or kingly or kingdom law.

Instead of having an attitude of partiality, seek to fulfill the royal law of Jesus! 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

So, speak and act (do): FIRST-Because you will be judged by the law of liberty (judged by the law that set you free from bondage and slavery, so reflect this gratefulness in your actions toward others).

SECOND-Because mercy wins out over judgment (literally, mercy celebrates, even boasts, triumphs over judgment).

NOTE there are two kinds of judgment that Jesus taught (Matthew 7): 1. Condemnation judgment 2. Conclusion judgment-discernment Here James is clearly speaking of the "condemnation" kind of judgment that is merciless!

NOTE the logic of this as it relates to being stained by the world. This is much like the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-27). The question is "Who is my neighbor?" The answer is anyone in your path that has a need you can address. So, today: 1. Many people suffer affliction of all kinds. 2. Many believers never relieve affliction for others, due to the stains on your heart and mind. So, believers find themselves going through the following process of ignoring the needs of those around them, even though (a) they were positioned there by God, (b) they were aware of the person's condition, (c) they were capable of meeting the person's needs and (d) they each had good rationalized excuses.

What is desperately needed is for people of true faith to remove the stains of the world that remain on their hearts and minds. To say it another way, I think Jesus is looking for SPOT REMOVERS!

You know what's interesting, Jesus never saw a prostitute; He sees through the stains! Also, Jesus lived out the royal law and therefore was and is always GOOD NEWS for everyone without partiality!

HOW CAN YOU BE A SPOT REMOVER? #1-Receive your own spot remover for the stains in your life-His love for you! #2-Reciprocate your love back to Him in gratefulness-your love God! #3-Release your love to others-your love for your neighbors!