Simple is Best


I don’t really love to cook.  I do cook, however, because I would rather do that than starve. So, when looking for new recipes to try, one of my top criteria is that the recipe be uncomplicated.  If I’m reading through one and it has more than a handful of ingredients, I immediately dismiss it.  Especially if it contains ingredients that I cannot easily find or don’t already have.  I don’t want a complicated, gourmet experience.  I want simple, nourishing, tasty food.  I won’t be any better fed by a complicated recipe than a simple one.

In the same way, we need to make learning God’s Word simple, nourishing and tasty.  Many times, the simplicity of God’s Word has been complicated (probably by publishing companies or TV preachers looking to sell books.  What??  Did I just say that out loud??).  You don’t need to know the Greek meaning, Aramaic translation or conjugate the verb tense to learn Scripture.  I do not mean to say that studying these things is wrong.  Of course not, they are all valuable.  But they can also be unnecessary complications to learning Scripture.  I want to share with you three simple ways to approach learning Scripture.

Come like a little child

Matthew 18:3  “…I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven..”

Jesus is using children here as an example to us of the simplicity of the Gospel.  Think about kids for a minute.  They are very literal.  I used to tell my kids I had eyes in the back of my head so I could see what they were doing in the car even when I was driving.  Of course, this was never true. The reason I ‘knew’ what they were doing is by making educated guesses based somewhat on my own childhood behavior in the car.  But the point is, they BELIEVED that I had eyes in the back of my head for several years.  They simply accepted what I told them and acted accordingly.  Kids think in simple terms.

This concept of childish simplicity is vital to learning Scripture.  Take the Bible at face value.  Believe what it is saying as it’s written.  You don’t have to know the genealogy of every person involved in the story to pick up on the simple truths being illustrated.  Scripture simply means what it says and says what it means.  Approach learning it with this kind-of childlikeness.

Learn Scripture by making it a Filter for your everyday decisions

When we fear we will not understand something, we usually avoid it.  This is a very rational thing to do!  (And why I avoid all math above Pre-algebra.)  God does not intend for us to fear approaching His Word.  What if you looked at Scripture in the following way:

Let’s say you hear or read a Scripture such as the Fruit of the Spirit passage in Galatians 6.  Now, you could find a study that would explore in detail each of the fruits mentioned.  And this would be a totally fine thing to do.  But you could also simply take these fruits (or characteristics) and filter any given situation of your life through them.  For example:  You could ask yourself, “Are these fruits present in my working life?”  Or “Are these fruits growing in my relationships?”  You could take an upcoming purchase that your family is thinking about and ask yourself, “Will this purchase produce these fruits in our family or uproot them?”  You could go through the regularly scheduled activities of your family and ask, “Which of these activities produce these fruits and do any of them hinder the growth of these fruits?”  Then take action accordingly.

This is applying Scripture to your life.  And it is not complicated.  The most complicated part of it is choosing whether you’ll obey Scripture or give in to your own desires and impulses.

If you ever need to understand something complicated, the Holy Spirit will make sure you do

Yep, it’s that simple.  It’s his job.  His role.  It’s what he takes joy in doing.  Depend on it!

John 16:13  “…but when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…”  This is part of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples about the Holy Spirit.  God intends for the Holy Spirit to be our greatest tool in learning Scripture.  Don’t complicate what is intended to be a simple system by adding in extra tools that the Bible really doesn’t.  I totally understand why journaling, inductive Bible studies, concordances and commentaries are good tools.  But ask yourself this, ‘Who taught John, Peter, Paul or James the meaning behind everything Jesus taught?  And who led them in writing these things down in Scripture that we have today?’

That’s right.  It was the Holy Spirit.  And he’s the same today as he was then.

God longs to reveal himself to any person who is willing.  Don’t miss out on this because you were convinced it had to be complicated!  Learning Scripture is just like a good recipe, simple is best!

Christmas Traditions

advent-pictureAs a mom, I love Christmas!  For the most part.  Sometimes it is a little bit overwhelming and frustrating to be responsible for completely redecorating your house for a month with overly shiny, twinkly paraphernalia that I would not normally choose for decoration. On the other hand it is very fun to buy gifts that you anticipate will bring delight and bake yummy things that you know will.  I value our family’s Christmas traditions and I thought I would share one of these with you.

We like to have advent calendars that count the days until Christmas.  Our favorites are the ones that offer a small piece of candy for each day.  A few years ago, I thought I would really like to make sure my kids heard the Bible’s account of what we’re celebrating at Christmas, the birth of Jesus.  And not just the second chapter of Luke, which is familiar to many of us.  I wanted them to also hear some of the prophecies about Jesus, Mary’s response to God’s news to her, and the rejoicing of two old saints upon seeing Jesus as a baby.  So, I went through some Scriptures, typed them out and created an advent calendar of my own.

I print these pages, cut the individual verses into strips and then tie these together with red ribbon.  I place these little scrolls of paper on varying branches of our Christmas tree.  Then we choose one each night and read it together.  I don’t number these, we just choose them at random, but you could number them if you wanted to.

Below you can print these pages of verses for yourself and use them for your family this year.  And if you’re already a couple of days behind, no worries, just leave some of the verses together on the strips when you cut them to make as many days as you need.  I hope this simple advent calendar helps you to lead and teach your kids about Jesus! 

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Advent verses

Dear Target


Dear Target:

I have enjoyed shopping at your fabulous stores for many years now.  I hate to bring our relationship to an end but that’s where I’m at.  And it’s definitely you, not me.  I’m still willing to be a faithful customer, strolling your aisles for delightful finds.  But I can’t.  I can’t put my three daughters and myself at risk.  You see, Target, we’re women.  And you have insulted us.  As powerful, free and bold as women are in our day and age some facts remain.  Men are stronger than us.  They CAN hurt us.  They CAN overpower us.  They CAN abuse us.  Now why would you expose women to that kind of danger?  I just CANNOT understand that!  If a man has completed his transition  –  and by completed I mean completed  –  you get the drift?  Everything that made him a male, OFF!  Then I can see why he would use the women’s restroom.  But leaving it up to customers to choose?  Putting women at that kind-of risk?  I wonder how long it will be until you face a lawsuit by one or many of your women customers who will become victims of the abuse you have exposed them to. 

I think you made this decision to be somehow morally superior to all of the supposed ‘haters’ out here.  I’m not a hater.  I LOVE my daughters!  I DON’T want them hurt.  And just like I would tell my daughters NEVER to stay with a man who abused them, hit them, hurt them, I won’t hang around a store that makes that possible.  This is a COMMON SENSE issue!  You have abandoned yours.  So, break-up letter complete. 

Your former customer,


Battlefield of the Mind (Chapters 12-15)

Here are the notes for my Life Group that got cancelled due to the weather on 2/25/16…

Battlefield of the Mind Chapters 12-15 notes for blog

An Anxious and Worried Mind

God wants us to constantly be casting our cares upon him.  He will give us certain responsibilities in life, but the abilities to complete those and anything beyond them is in his hands.  He gives us his peace and assurance that he is in control so that we can live stable, contented lives full of joy.

What kinds of anxieties or worries attack you the most often? 

Worry and fear are a natural human condition.  But we are not called to live the natural, human life.  We are living supernatural lives through Jesus in us.  It is not ‘normal’ for a Christian to be full of anxiety, worry or fear.  There are two ways satan works at us with anxiety.  One is in the form of irrational fear; panic attacks, taking on worry from someone else’s life, etc.  The other is when we have legitimate things to worry about; health concerns, money, kids, etc.

We have a choice to make when faced with either of these attacks.  We can choose to worry, trying to figure out what to do ourselves, (Joyce with her bills) or we can choose to cast our care and rest in God’s peace.  This is easier said than done!!

READ:  First 4 paragraphs on first page of the chapter

READ:  Portions of Matthew 6 on page 113-114

Jesus is without question acknowledging that there will be daily occasions for us to be confronted with worry.  The solution is learning to cast our care upon him trusting that he cares for us.

What are some obstacles (arguments, lofty opinions) in your thinking that try to stop you from casting your care by making you doubt that God does see you, knows your need and is acting?

We may have strong arguments in our own minds against trusting God.  We may even be able to produce evidence from our lives of times we feel that he failed us.

Casting your care upon God, trusting him, inevitably involves submitting to his answer.

READ:  I Peter 5:6,7  page 116

Have you ever had to accept an answer from God that wasn’t what you thought the plan should be?

Let’s talk about two more areas of this:

How do we enter God’s rest?

READ: Last 4 paragraphs on page 117

What responsibilities do we have in casting our care? 

READ:  Worry, Worry, Worry section from page 118 to bottom of page 119

Some things God’s Word says we are responsible for:

  • Working to provide  (Exodus 35:2, I Corinthians 15:58, I Timothy 5:8)
  • Maintaining good relationships with others (family, church, work, community) (Romans 12:18)
  • Tithing/Giving (Malachi 3:8-10, II Corinthians 8:7; 9:7)

God does want us to carry out our responsibilities.  But He never expects us to do this in our own power or strength.  We can do what God has put in our hand to do and then wait on him to do what we cannot.

A Judgmental, Critical and Suspicious Mind

Judgment is to be left to God alone.  We can realize that someone is living sinfully and even confront that sin in them without judging them.  We must be careful not to allow our thinking about someone to concentrate on their faults and so become hyper-critical of that person.  Criticism will lead us to judge.  Being suspicious is often born out of previous hurt and rejection.  We must allow God to heal us so we can enjoy peaceful, loving relationships with others.

Our culture uses the phrase often and loudly, “Don’t Judge!”  What the culture means by this and what God means by this are two totally different things.  The culture means, “Don’t make a judgment call between what is right and what is wrong.”  This is NOT what God means by don’t judge.

READ:  Galatians 6:1-3 on page 126

God does not want us to judge by putting ourselves in a superior position to someone else.  Like this, “I can’t believe they would do that!  I would never do anything like that!”  Completely ignoring the many other things we have done which have been just as sinful.  God DOES want us to and expects us to make judgment calls between right and wrong using what he has declared in his Word as our source.

READ:  Matthew 7:3-5 on page 129

This is how Jesus illustrated us thinking, “…I would never do that!” about someone else.

READ:  Proverbs 4:23, page 132

How do you think you can guard your heart against judgmental, critical attitudes?

What kind-of life experiences do you think can lead to a stronghold of suspicion in your mind?

READ:  I Corinthians 13:7, page 132

As we interact with people in life, I guarantee 100% that each of us will be taken advantage of and hurt at some point, probably at many different points.  What can we do?  Suspicion tells us to protect ourselves at all costs from the hurt ever happening again.  Love tells us to trust God with our hearts.  If they are broken & hurt He will mend them.  This keeps us healthy and able to continue to enjoy relationships.

Are there ever times when we do need to distance ourselves in certain relationships?  How can we do this in a Godly, healthy way?

READ:  Last paragraph on page 133

READ:  John 2:23-25, page 134

A Passive Mind

When we refuse to take responsibility for our thoughts or only do what we feel like doing, we are dealing with a passive mind.  We may not actually be participating in any sinful behavior by having a passive mind, but we are allowing thought processes that are ungodly to grow in us.  We must be renewed in our minds so that Godly thoughts can stir us to action.

READ:  First page of chapter

Our natural selves are driven by our emotions.  In fact, if you think about it, the 10 commandments deal with a lot of sinful behavior brought about by people giving into their emotions of the moment.  Couple this natural tendency in all of us with a culture that encourages us to be ruled by our emotions and you can have quite a mess.

In what ways do you see our culture encourage our natural sinfulness in the area of emotions?

Have you ever heard yourself saying, “I just feel dead” talking about your spiritual life?  Have you ever connected that to being passive?

Here is a phenomenon I have observed many times in my life.  An exciting spiritual event takes place.  Usually in the form of a revival or camp type experience.  It’s exciting.  There are a lot of people involved.  It’s emotional.  Great things happen.  People are feeling very happy about their relationships with God.  They are feeling like everything is going the way it should, spiritually speaking.  These kinds-of events are good.  Often times, people’s lives are brought to a moment of change during events like this.  But it cannot go on forever.  All events like this will end at some point.

Once the event has ended, some people involved begin to feel disappointed.  It may be a vague feeling at first, but soon they find themselves thinking things like, “I just feel so dead!  I wish I felt like I did during (insert event)!”  After a while, they begin to look around and feel that their church is not as spiritual as it once seemed.  That nothing is really ‘going on’.  They may even drift along spiritually until another large event takes place.  Or, they’ll feel a persistent feeling of ‘un-spiritualness’ because nothing else is really ever as spiritual as that one event was.

This is passivity.  Ignoring or discounting the daily, steady growth God is doing and fantasizing about the one big event that might or might not come again.  It is emotionally driven and can give the devil a place in our lives because we begin to measure God’s work by that one meaningful experience.  God often uses mundane, seemingly small, daily events in our lives to bring about real growth and change.  Events are like Birthday Cake;  great & fun but you can’t make a nourishing diet out of cake.

READ:  Read ‘Overcoming Passivity’ section on pages 140 -142

What did you think of the example Joyce uses from Dave’s life?  Is it easy for you to ignore God’s steady, consistent work in you and be on constant look out for a big, emotional experience?

READ:  Last 3 paragraphs on page 145

READ:  Colossians 3:1,2 on page 146

The Mind of Christ

READ:  I Corinthians 2:16 on the first page of the chapter

READ:  First 2 paragraphs on page 152

Our thoughts and emotions can be good indicators of what may be ministering death or life to us.  Satan is sneaky!  He will use odd, aberrant, random thoughts even activities, friendships, entertainment that seem like they’re no big deal initially.

Have you ever discerned something that was ministering death to you?

I..Think Positive:

Look at pages 154-156.  What are your thoughts on Joyce’s teaching on depression?  What did you find helpful?

There are times in life where depression is a normal response like in a grief situation.  But when depression is ongoing or defining or is present without any real reason, this is not a normal condition.

II..Be God Minded:

READ:  Isaiah 26:3 on page 157

We must spend time with God and his word.  Not around him, or learning about Him but actually with Him.  Jesus talked to His Father, knew His Word, used His Word.  Filling our minds with His Word will keep us focused on Him.  It is literally His voice in our head.

III..Be “God Loves Me” Minded:

READ:  I John 4:16 on page 159

READ:  Page 160

I often find that I believe God loves me or not based on my own circumstances, feelings or performance.  Joyce is teaching something very powerful here.  That we should fill our minds with God’s Word about His love for us.  Then let that inform us.

Is it ever hard for you to believe that God loves you?  Or do you find yourself more often feeling like God puts up with you?

I love my children.  They delight me.  I enjoy being around them.  I want to hear from them.  I want to equip them for life.  I want to see their dreams succeed.  Does God feel this way about me?  Sometimes it’s difficult to really believe, but according to his Word, YES he does.

IV..Have An Exhortive Mind:

Have you ever purposely chosen your words toward someone to be encouraging?  Do you feel like you are as conscience of being encouraging as you could be?

READ:  3rd paragraph on page 164

V..Develop a Thankful Mind:

READ:  Psalm 110:4 on page 164 then Hebrews 13:15 on page 165

Being thankful is a powerful weapon.  We can train our minds to concentrate on and choose thankful thoughts to drive out negative ones.  If we struggle with passivity, we can train our minds to be filled with thankfulness as well.

Can you remember a time when you offered a ‘sacrifice of praise’?  A time when your praise & thanksgiving cost you emotionally?

VI..Be Word-Minded:

Meditate on God’s Word.  Compare your thoughts with God’s thoughts.  Do they match?  Are you spending a lot of time concentrating on something that God considers a waste of time?

VII..Be Submitted

Joyce does not teach on this specifically, but I think it is vital to understand that above all else, Jesus’ mind was submitted to His Father’s will.

READ:  Matthew 26:36-46

Jesus struggled 3 distinct times with God’s plan.  And every time He submitted His will in obedience to God’s.  We must do this as well.  Having the Mind of Christ begins and end with submission.

Waiting on Utopia


Does it seem to anyone else that a whole lot of people are looking for a utopia? I’ve picked up on a theme in our culture that goes something like, “If only ________________ would happen then everything would be perfect.” You could fill in the blank with a lot of options, depending on your passion of choice.

If only nature could be returned to its pristine, primordial condition. If only there were no more weapons of mass destruction. If only they would make good movies again. If only our kid’s test scores would equal or beat Chinas. If only the whole world had clean drinking water and canvas shoes. If only parents were perfect and would raise their children to be happy. If only my political party would win. If only everyone would serve God. If only everyone was gluten-free. If only people could marry whoever and however they want to. If only bakers and photographers and county clerks could be forced to participate in those weddings. If only the government would take over every area of our lives and keep us safe.

Recognize any of these visions of milk and honey from our own culture? There is a tide of thinking that if only these things would happen we would all be able to usher in some kind-of peaceful, fulfilling, utopic existence. (Maybe like star trek minus the fashion of body suits, The Klingon Empire and that insufferable Kirk.)

But is a perfect world possible? The Bible doesn’t teach a perfect world will ever exist. Sin ruined the perfection God intended at the beginning. Only when Jesus returns to the earth will we experience a perfect government. And only when He creates the new heaven and the new earth will a perfect existence on all levels become possible.

But it is tempting to hope that a utopia is possible in the here and now. Even Christians can be caught up in the thought processes of culture and start looking for utopias. Or worse, we give up even trying to live in the here and now and become merely satisfied with existence.

Jesus said,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Why do we concentrate so much on the trouble part? We fret because things are not perfect. Discouragement rides around in our thoughts until we sound just like everyone around us. We wonder if we should even bother with things like getting married, starting careers, raising children because the world is so dark. The world is full of trouble so is anything worth the effort?

Jesus is not unaware of the trouble. Instead He is basically saying to us, “Stop freaking out about the world! Settle down and live where I put you.”

After all, I don’t remember choosing to be born, do you? But I was because God determined to put me here. Not only that, he determined to put me in this century, in this nation, among these people, with this family, with my particular talents. Get it? God was intentional in my creation. He was intentional in the creation of my purpose. He was also just as intentional with you.

So, how can we throw off the useless utopian obsession and instead choose to live?

Recognize that your life is not your own

God gave you your life. He did not do this accidentally or on a whim. There is no sense in feeling guilty because you have more than someone else, have been well loved, excel in an area that others may struggle in or are simply happy. Instead, ask God what he wants you to do with those things. And then do what he says.

Submit and commit to God’s way of living

The Bible reveals God’s plan of salvation – the repentance of and forgiveness of sin through Jesus – to us. But it also reveals how God intends for the human race to live. And more specifically, how Christians are intended to live. God created us to be married. God created us to, as a married couple, raise children to follow him. God created us to live in fellowship (churchy word meaning together) with other Christians. God created us to serve others with the gifts he gives us. Don’t be sucked in by our culture’s ‘anything goes’ mentality when it comes to structuring your life. There is a best way. Live it.

Dwell in the land

You can dwell in a world bent on evil and still fulfill the purpose God has in putting you here. You don’t need to fear the evil or be overwhelmed by it. If you faithfully follow Jesus, your life can be different. Life on an earth filled with trouble – IS NOT HOPELESS – for a follower of Jesus.

Don’t wait for a utopia to open up in a town near you. Don’t concentrate on all of the trouble that will never be solved by a utopia. Spend all your time, energy, effort and whatever else ‘ya got on pursuing God’s Kingdom in your life.

Where Would I Find Something True?

Something interesting happened this past Sunday in our 1st – 4th grade class at Pathway. We were learning about allowing God to renew our minds. That we can choose what we think about on purpose and that God desires to train our minds to think like He thinks.

We read Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

As we were reading I stopped at ‘whatever is true’ and asked, “Where can you find something that is true?”

The top three answers from the group were:

  • Yourself
  • Your Heart or Your Mind (which is a variation of answer number one)
  • Your Mom & Dad

Does this surprise you? At first it surprised me. I mean, these are a bunch of church kids after all. You would imagine that asking a bunch of church kids, ‘where can you find something true’ would result in a resounding answer of ‘The Bible’. Possibly the kids would have even proclaimed this answer with one voice while an angelic host sang in the background. Okay, the angel host might be a bit much, but it doesn’t seem like such a stretch to assume the answer to the question would be ‘The Bible’.

What was going on here? Had our entire kid’s ministries been failing these kids? But the more I thought about it, a light dawned. What was going on here was culture. Think about it. If you have seen even one kid’s movie in the past 20 years, especially any movie featuring a princess and talking animals, you’ve heard this message about truth:

Follow your heart. The only way to be happy is to be and do whatever is inside of you to be or do. Are you truly brave? An ogre? Defiant? Be true to it. If you’re true to yourself, rabbits will hop around your ankles, birds will tweet with joy, snowmen won’t melt, fame and fortune will seek you out, various animated townsfolk will twirl and leap to the theme song of your life, etc., etc.

I have yet to see a kid’s movie that did not contain this message. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good movie. And I defy you to name a movie featuring above mentioned princesses that I haven’t seen. (I have three daughters, enough said.) But the message about truth is poisonous.

It is a lie that you will find truth within yourself. In fact, the Bible reveals that we will often find within ourselves mixed motives, double mindedness, judgmental attitudes or hatred for others, fear, unbelief, greed and selfishness. Consider this truth:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

Our insides are full of our sin nature. We need a savior to transform us and create in us His own nature. Read these words from the prayer Jesus prayed for his disciples shortly before his death;

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)

I encourage you to ask the kid in your life, ‘where could I find something true’ and see what answer they come up with. Then counter the message they’re receiving from culture with truth from God’s Word.


I’ve been thinking a lot about Hope lately. It seems our world and especially our culture are experiencing a downright famine of Hope. And because I live in this culture sometimes I’ve found myself feeling hungry for Hope. So, I made myself a grocery list of Hope. Maybe it will feed you too.

As Christians, we have reason to Hope because:

We are not Alone – Even if our own families abandon us, we are a part of God’s family (commonly called the church). If you feel like you’re not a part of this family or don’t fit in, that’s not true. Press in harder. There is a place for you!

We are not Lost – God has given us his Word so we can always be sure which way is best for our lives. God is very clear about how we should live in relation to him and each other. Any confusion we feel about this is because we are trying to change God’s ways to make things easier for ourselves.

We are not Voiceless – Ever feel like you are? I do. I find that extremely frustrating. But NONE of us is voiceless. We are invited by God to approach his throne boldly, to make requests, to be persistent. And on top of that, Jesus prays for us! Your voice in prayer is louder than media, culture, doubt, fear, temptation…you name it.

We are not a Passing Fad – Seems like there are many who would like us to be. But think about this, God is the same. Yep, the same. He does not change. What he set in motion is still in motion. The purposes he determines will be accomplished. God does not pass from the scene. He is the scene. Always.

We are not Doomed – Whatever we may face in this life, whether it is something that lasts a few minutes to something that drags on for years, it is temporary. Keep your eyes focused on eternity. Put your hope there. Remind yourself that your Father has prepared a place for you. And think about this, never needing to say good-bye to someone you love again. That right there is enough for me to look forward to.

So, this week, feast on Hope!

“May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with Hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 15:13


Bad Mixes – James 4:1-12

Download this study in pdf form here Bad Mixes James 4 verses 1-12 

Bad Mixes

James 4:1-12

Some things should just not be mixed together. Mint chocolate chip ice cream and peanut butter spring to mind.  I don’t know why really other than they don’t mix well!  We all know oil and water don’t mix.  Neither do a parked car and a moving train.  I recall a favorite pastime of some in my generation was making what was called a ‘suicide’ at a fast food soda fountain.  This was done by mixing a bit of every flavor of pop available at said restaurant and then drinking the fizzy concoction.  Gross!

James opens chapter four with a strong teaching on mixture. We cannot serve both God and the world.  Don’t forget, He is still the same God who said, “You shall have NO other God’s before me!”  How can we live 100% for Jesus and still exist in a world 100% against him?  Let’s see what James has to say.

Read: James 4:4-5

These two verses are the heart of this passage. You cannot be friends with God and friends with the world at the same time.  James is revisiting the idea of mixture that he started in chapter three.  Here he is stating even more strongly that a mixture of worldly values and attitudes with Godly values and attitudes is not to be found in a Christian’s life.

In the Old Testament God was constantly calling Israel back to faithfulness to him. Israel would have some righteous leadership and follow God for awhile.  Then they would begin to compromise.  They would intermarry with idol worshippers.  As these foreigners came to live with their new families they brought their beliefs and customs.  Soon, small amounts of ungodliness would spring up.  Eventually this spiritual adultery reached a crescendo ending with the nation of Israel being conquered by Assyria followed a bit later by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin being conquered by Babylon.

I have always been struck by how easily this idolatry seemed to spread. Until one day it dawned on me that this happens all of the time in our own society.  Let me explain.  Let’s say there is a Christian family in a community that many others know well.  Maybe their kids are involved in a lot of activities, maybe they coach, maybe they’ve just been around forever.  This family is well liked, even respected.  And they are good people.  But there is just a bit of compromise in their Christianity.  Just a bit of idolatry.  Just a bit of unfaithfulness.  Yet in spite of this they continue to live what seems to be a productive life.  Other Christians notice this.  Soon another family is reasoning to itself, ‘well, so & so does this and nothing’s really gone wrong for them so it must be okay.’  And now there are two Christian families in the community compromising.

Do you see it? It’s so subtle!  And this is the very way idolatry spread in the Old Testament times.  Nobody marched into the center of town and demanded that everyone now worship their particular idol.  People would have resisted that.  No, they just persistently practiced their own compromising lifestyle.  Soon, others were following their example.

Have you ever noticed this pattern of compromise in our culture? How have you seen it play out?

Read: Exodus 12:17-20

Last summer we visited Washington DC. One of the places we made sure to see was the National Archives.  Inside a beautiful vaulted room you can view original documents such as the Constitution, Bill of Rights and The Declaration of Independence.  Here are the founding ideas of a Nation.  And this is what we are reading in these verses from Exodus.  The founding of the Nation of Israel.  Until now Israel had been a chosen family then slaves ruled by others and now a people that God was going to form into one Nation.

God makes it clear to Israel right from the beginning of their Nationhood that they are to function as no other people group around them. God himself sets in place their laws, ceremonies, festivals and rulers.  Here, He is giving instructions for celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  (This becomes known as Passover because it commemorates the Death Angel passing over the houses of the Hebrews in Egypt during the 10 plagues.)  God is extremely specific that there must be no yeast eaten or even found in the house during this Feast.

God is using this object lesson to point out to Israel year after year that they were specifically chosen and called out. They are not like everybody else living in the Middle East.  They are His People.  He preserved the lives of their firstborn sons.  He delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  He is now leading them to their Promised Land.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread was to remind them that there must not be any yeast of compromise in their lives as they followed him.

As Christians, we are also set apart. We are called out, separated from those who have rejected the message of Jesus.  We are referred to as ‘found’ (Luke 15:1-7), ‘chosen’ (Jn 15:16, Eph 1:4), ‘adopted’ (Eph 1:5).  Our lives should reflect this difference.  And why is God so determined that our lives be pure, without mixture?

Because mixing worldly attitudes with Godly truth results in unfaithfulness. Everytime.  Contained in the original language of verses 4 & 5 of chapter 4 is the idea of faithfulness in marriage.  The word translated ‘adultresses’ is originally the feminine form of that word.  Why is this?  Because the Bible denigrates women?  No!  You must understand how God sees himself in relation to first Israel and then the Church.

God often uses marriage imagery to illustrate Israel’s unfaithfulness to him in worshipping idols. The entire book of Hosea is a peek in the windows at a marriage gone bad.  God asked Hosea to marry a known adulteress to expose Israel’s spiritual adultery.  The reason this picture is poignant is all of us have expectations about marriage.  You expect faithfulness from your spouse and they expect it from you.  Any compromise on this by either one of you is devastating.  In fact, many marriages do not survive this ‘mixing in’ of another person into the marriage relationship.

Friendship with the world results in unfaithfulness to God. And just like unfaithfulness in a marriage, this can be devastating to a person’s relationship with God.  Eventually, the relationship may not survive or survive in an altered, less satisfying state.

What attitudes and behaviors have you seen a mixture of God and the world produce in someone’s life?

Read: James 4:1-3

Whoa Nelly! Remember, James is talking to a group of Christians here.  They’re quarrelling, fighting, coveting and killing?  (James is probably not referring to actual murders among the church members rather using strong language to point out that hatred of a brother is equal to murder.  He could also be referring to murders that do definitely happen in the world due to jealousies and quarrels making the point that the same attitudes should not be in the church.)  Even leaving out the murders, this kind-of stuff is surely rare and doesn’t happen often; Does it?

Our sinful natures don’t just disappear when we are saved. Becoming like Christ is a process not an event.  And that process progresses at different rates in each person’s life.  (The important point being that the process is progressing.)  As each of us becomes more like Jesus, sinful behaviors and attitudes will surface.  These are opportunities for us to allow the Holy Spirit to deal with us on these issues.

We know from James’ earlier teachings and for that matter Jesus’ own teachings that the way we treat each other is a mile marker of sorts in our discipleship progress. Failing to love our fellow Christians exposes our immaturity.  Persisting in jealousy fueled quarrelling exposes the existence of worldly attitudes.

Jealousy likes to skulk around in corners, whispering in ears. It’s favorite phrase is, ‘That’s not fair!’  It is rarely upfront or honest.  Have you ever heard someone say when discussing a situation, “Well, I’m not jealous but…”?  That statement alone reveals jealousy.  For some reason, we don’t like to admit to jealousy.  We would rather make up all kinds of reasons why we don’t like another person than to honestly say it’s because we’re jealous of them.  Maybe we feel it’s childish to confess to envy.  Maybe we feel like it’s acknowledging an embarrassing trait like an extra toe on one foot.  You know it’s there but will do everything possible to keep someone else from seeing it too!  Jealousy is a master at disguising itself as something else.  The people James is writing to were not admitting to jealousy causing their fighting.  James was pointing this out to them.

Why do you think jealousy is so prevalent? Why is it so hard to admit to and overcome in ourselves?

In verse 3 James brings up prayer. This does seem logical.  What to do when you’re green with envy?  Pray about it.  The teaching to love others if very basic to Christianity so you don’t have to be very far along in your journey to realize jealousy of others is wrong.  But these prayers mentioned by James are not full of Biblical submission.  Instead they approach God full of worldly wisdom.

Praying with wrong motives is to approach God like a heavenly Santa Claus or worse an idol. Giving God your list of wants expecting to receive them because surely you’re on the nice list!  Making ‘trades’ with God as if he were a fickle deity like the Greek gods instead of the God of Creation who does not change.  These kinds-of prayers come out of worldly thought processes.  It is an example of us trying to understand God on our own terms instead of believing who God says he is and approaching him accordingly.  This is why the prayers in verse 3 are unproductive.  They are born of worldly emotion.

So, what can we do? Pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and eradicate jealousy and worldly attitudes from our lives?  Go ahead and try this.  You’ll soon find yourself frustrated.

Read: James 4:6-7

These are two of the most freeing verses in Scripture. Something to understand about your sinful nature – it is powerful!  You will not conquer it on your own.  Even the strongest among us only succeed in conquering the behavior.  The secret attitudes of the heart, however, remain.

So God gives us grace. Grace is his power working in us.  Freeing us from bondages.  Cleaning up the messes caused by our sinful natures.  Sometimes grace can be a confusing topic.  It seems mystical.  How do I tap into God’s power?  Is there some kind-of chant or dance or something?  Or maybe you’ve tried to rely on God’s grace only to become frustrated because change didn’t come fast enough or you experienced repeated failure.

Look at the twin James adds to grace, submission. This is the key in the lock.  God’s job is grace, our job is to submit to Him.  We stop the power of God’s grace when we continue to try to make our own way.  Provide for ourselves.  Wrestle with our sin natures on our own.  To be effective, we must receive God’s grace from a position of submission.  God’s grace will not mix with our pride.

Submitting to God can mean many things depending on the situation. It could mean staying married when your feelings for your husband are dead as a doornail.  It could mean disciplining your kids when you’re tired and it would just be easier to overlook.  It could mean being quiet when everything in you wants to scream and curse.  It could mean saying no when your emotions want to say yes.  It could mean thanking God for what you have instead of demanding he give you what someone else has.  When you purposely choose to submit to God in _____________________ (you fill in the blank) situation, God’s grace is activated giving you the power you need.

Think of it like a coupon code for your favorite online store. When you get to check-out there is always a box somewhere for you to enter your coupon code.  But how ridiculous would it be if you went ahead with your purchase and never entered the code.  As you were reviewing the final screen, you would be confused to see that no discount had been given.  Why not?  Don’t these people know you have a coupon!  The coupon won’t work until you enter the code.  Just having one in your possession doesn’t activate it.  It’s the same way with submission and God’s grace.

Submission also has power over the devil. Satan cannot continue to be effective in a person’s life who is submitted to God.  His plans are thwarted.   He is always able to tempt but the cycle of desire, temptation then sin is stopped by God’s power working in the submitted person.  James tells us here that as soon as we choose submission to God in our area of struggle, Satan will flee from us.  Run away.  Retreat.  Pack it up and head out.

This process of grace filled submission is vital to understand. Living your life for Jesus will require this.  Here are some examples of submissive prayers from the Bible:

Matthew 6:5-15 –  Jesus teaches submission in the Lord’s Prayer

Matthew 26:42  –  Jesus submits to his Father’s will at the Garden of Gethsemane

Acts 4:23-31 –  The disciples pray for God’s will to be done in spreading the gospel

Submitting to God and relying on his grace enables a Christian to live an overcoming spiritual life. Unencumbered by friendship with the world.

Have you ever had these twins of grace and submission work in your own life? How?

Read: James 4:8-10

Now James gives the prescription for turning away from worldly attitudes and beginning to live out a Christian life full of grace and submission. You can sum these verses up in one word – repentance.  Repentance is more than just saying you’re sorry.  Repentance involves turning away previous practices.

The Greek definition of metanoeo (repentance) is: Change, think differently, change of the inner man especially in reference to acceptance of the will of God.

I will never forget ‘Jake’. He was a young husband and father in a congregation Scott & I pastored.  His life was full of addiction and sin.  However, he faithfully came to church on Sunday.  Every few weeks the conviction of the Holy Spirit would be too much for him and he would come to the altar at the end of service to cry and repent.  Sometimes these sessions would be loud and full of sobbing.  Folks would gather around to offer their support.  But his wife would often stand back with her children and watch, not pressing in to pray with him.  She had seen this pattern before.

After several times of observing these sessions, I begin to suspect that something wasn’t adding up with ‘Jake’. He seemed very repentant.  His tears were copious.  He used a lot of Kleenex.  He hugged everyone who had been praying for him with intensity.  But once he left that moment, nothing changed.  Even when the church succeeded in getting ‘Jake’ some professional help he eventually was asked to leave the program because of his refusal to submit to the rules.

What went on in ‘Jake’s’ head, I don’t know. But I guarantee it wasn’t true repentance or submission.  True repentance brings change.  This is what James is pointing out.  If you’ve realized worldly attitudes are at work in your life, repent.  Depend on God’s grace to change.  James even breaks down the repentance into two parts.

Wash your hands  –  this indicates changing your behavior.   If you’re not sure what the first step is, ask God to show you.  I can tell you, though, that it will involve putting a stop to speech or behavior that God says no to in the Bible.

Cleanse your heart  –  this indicates changing your attitudes and thinking.  Often this requires us asking God to reveal to us where we’re off.  Worldliness in our attitudes is not as obvious as worldliness in our behavior.  So, the same advice applies, ask God to show you the first step and search Scripture about your heart condition. 

Read: James 4:11-12

At first, these verses don’t seem to fit with all James has been saying very well. It almost seems like he should have put these verses in chapter three when he was teaching on the mouth.

When you think about it though, it does make sense. Sometimes when someone finally decides to repent and turn from mixing worldliness with Christianity, it becomes a perfect opportunity for criticism and gossip.  It can also become an opportunity for pride to grow in our own hearts.  As we hear about the failures in someone else’s life and we secretly think, “Well, I would have never done that!”

James is warning us to guard ourselves against this kind-of self-righteousness. Remember from studying chapter three, our mouths indicate what is going on inside of us.  When a fellow Christian truly turns from sin and is repentant it is our job to use our mouths not in judgment but in encouragement.  It is our chance to thank God for his grace at work in our own lives, otherwise we could easily end up exactly where they’ve been.

Have you ever, in a reflective moment, recognized God’s grace in your life that has kept you from leaping into sin? Have you ever taken time to thank God for his grace and acknowledge His keeping power?