Category Archives: Spiritual Formation

Living it Out

(This is a re-post since I’m working through the book of James again.)

I have often stated that teaching is information for transformation. But what is the opposite? What happens when we teach or when we learn but are not transformed?

In a conversation with George May (Pastor of Counseling and Family Ministries at Calvary Church), he used the following quote (I need to find the author):

Information without Application leads to Deception.

We are reminded in James 1 that God’s goal for us is not comfort or happiness but completeness and maturity (James 1:2-4).

So, when we face trials our primary response should not be “get me out” but “grow me through.” Our prayer should be, “Give me wisdom and grow my faith through the circumstances of life” (James 1:5-8).

The more God grows our faith, the more steadfast we will be under trials (James 1:12).

The challenge is to continue to trust God even when the trial seems endless or unbearable. We should not be deceived, God is the giver of all good gifts (James 1:16-18) and is not the One tempting us to sin (James 1:13). It is our own strong desires that when not surrendered to God lead to sin, lack of self-control and all sorts of evil (James 1:14-15, 19-20).

In contrast, the individual who in meekness received the implanted Word of God (James 1:21) is to be a doer of the Word, not just a hearer only which leads to self-deception.

Therefore, information without application (the “doing”) leads to deception.
Deception of ourselves–we are not who we think we are and therefore tend to be judgmental of others
Deception of others–we are not who they think we are, but are wearing a mask of information to impress

James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (ESV)

James 1:23-25 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (ESV)

Information without Application is Deception

What then honors God and gives evidence of a growing faith?–obedience. An obedience that is evident in how we speak and react (James 1:19-20) and how we reach out (James 1:26-27).

James 1:26-27 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (ESV)

Information without Application is Deception

So we must engage with God and His Word and extend to others as a means of growth and evidence of growth.


Yesterday I heard the sad news that a couple I know years ago are getting divorced.

My instinctive action, is to be heartbroken and then to be critical of the man who would leave his wife, his vows to her and the Lord.

But as I have been reflecting in my study of the book of James, rather than speculating, criticizing or condemning I am forced to ask–is there a part of my heart in which I am self-deceived?

  • What areas of strength are not guarded well so that I am actually self-deceived in my own strength?
  • What areas of weakness have I excused so as to be self-deceived to the danger I might be in?
  • Do I really believe that I am one decision away from failure?

As is the case with some temptation and most sin–we don’t just suddenly fall into it unknowingly. Though the euphemisms we use make it sound that way–“he fell into sin”–as though someone was walking backwards and fell into a big hole they didn’t see coming.  The only real surprise is probably the consequences that we experience from sin, not necessarily the reality of sin.

So how am I self-deceived?

James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (ESV)

James 1:26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. (ESV)

Jeremiah reminds me that my heart is inherently wicked–that I can not trust my own flesh-driven impulses or motivations.

Jeremiah 17:9–10 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? 10 “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (ESV)

I must remember that I can be self-deceived since I am not able to understand my own heart motivations all the time. Therefore I must be ruthless in allows the Holy Spirit to rout out areas of sin or growing temptation and respond to the convicting of the Helper.

John 16:7–11 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (ESV)

But…We are not hopeless or helpless!

We are promised that if we place our trust in Jesus Christ as our only means of entering into an eternal relationship with God we are given new life and made new creatures in Christ. And that life is intended to be a guilt-free, grace-drive, honest open relationship with God through which progress transformation of our whole being is taking place–the abundant life (John 10:10).

We should never let our guard down nor should we ever yield to the false belief that we are helpless when it comes to temptation and sin.

So the sin of another should result in more than just heartbreak, it should result in positive self-evaluation:

Have I done my part in seeking to help another brother in sin?
Am I willing to get involved in the messiness true Christ-centered fellowship/relationships? For the long haul?
Am I doing my part in checking the condition of my heart?
Am I effectively investing in my own relationship with the Lord?
Am I practicing the spiritual disciplines and developing the habits that the Spirit can use to fuel my transformation into the image of Christ?
Am I proactively investing in my own relationship with my wife? Am I seeking to love her more each day? Do I show it?
Do I have others in my life who will ask me the hard questions?
Do I have others in my life who will relentless pursue me if I begin to walk down the wrong path?

Union with Christ

Union with Christ perhaps the most significant theological concept of the Christian life that is the least taught, understood and believed.

Union with Christ is the linchpin of Paul’s teaching on sanctification. Below is a short but dense summary of union with Christ.  I’ve added Scripture references to enable me to not only think deeply about these awesome truths, but to ensure my thinking is not just informed by Scripture, but formed by it.  And though the truths are pervasive in Paul’s writing, I’ve concentrated on Colossians having just finished studying and teaching though this wonderful letter. (But I couldn’t help but add Romans 6!)

From John Murray in his Collected Writings [volume 2: Systematic Theology, page 289]:

“We are compelled to reach the conclusion that it is by virtue of our
having died with Christ,
and our being raised with him in his resurrection from the dead, {Colossians 2:11-15; Romans 6:1-4}
that the decisive breach with sin
in its power,
and defilement
has been wrought,
and that the reason for this is that Christ
in his death
and resurrection {Colossians 3:1-4; Romans 6:3-11}
broke the power of sin, {Colossians 1:21-23; Romans 6:11}
triumphed over the god of this world, {Colossians 1:15}
the prince of darkness,
executed judgment upon the world and its ruler,
and by that victory
delivered all those who were united to him from the power of darkness, (Colossians 2:15)
and translated them into his own kingdom. {Colossians 1:13-14}
So intimate is the union between Christ and his people,
that they were partakers with him in all these triumphal achievements,
and therefore died to sin, {Romans 6:6-7, 11}
rose with Christ in the power of his resurrection, {Colossians 1:12}
and have their fruit unto holiness,
and the end everlasting life. {Colossians 1:21-23}
As the death and resurrection are central
in the whole process of redemptive accomplishment,
so are they central
in that by which sanctification itself is wrought in the hearts and lives of God’s people.” {Romans 6:12-14}

Preparing for Easter

Many of us have been in the habit of preparing for Christmas.  We do Advent readings, we plan, we shop, we get excited and we celebrate.

But when it comes to Easter, it seems like it sneaks up on us.

Well, maybe not all of us–but at least those of us who did not grow up in a church that followed a regular church calendar or common lectionary.  I have talked to some who did not grow up observing Lent, then began observing Lent because they needed a means to get ready for Easter.  But for me, the idea of “giving something up” in preparation for remembering the cross-event of Christ, feels like I am trying to earn or pay back the cost of Christ’s sacrifice. (I know that is not true for all.)  And I know I did not deserve it–that’s why it’s called grace…and I could not earn it or pay it back.

But, the Lent Season does give a structure for preparing both to remember and celebrate the life-giving, world-transforming, substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Today, I purchased a resource to help me do just that.

The Final Days of JesusStudy Guide for "The Final Days of Jesus"

Get it in paper or Kindle (just $5.99)

Two free resources: a study guide and a Bible reading plan.

Description and additional resource–see Justin Taylor’s blog.

Walk With Jesus During His Last Week on Earth

On March 29, AD 33, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem and boldly predicted that he would soon be put to death—executed on a cross, like a common criminal. So began the most important week of the most important person who ever lived.

Nearly 2,000 years later, the events that took place during Jesus’s last days still reverberate through the ages. Designed as a day-by-day guide to Passion Week, The Final Days of Jesus leads us to reexamine and meditate on the history-making, earth-shaking significance of Jesus’s arrest, trial, crucifixion, and empty tomb.

Combining a chronological arrangement of the Gospel accounts with insightful commentary, charts, and maps, this book will help you better understand what actually happened all those years ago—and why it matters today.

Contrast: Character Determines Influence

On Sunday at Calvary Church, Pastor Beau Eckert started our series, Contrast, with a look at Matthew 5:1-16.

The Beatitudes in the first section focus on the Character of the Righteous.


The list of characteristics together form a progressive picture of what those rightly related to the King look like.  And by correlation, they serve as an encouragement to us to pursue the characteristics God affirms.

Here is my attempt to show the progression:

  • The poor in spirit are those who understand their own lack of righteousness (bankruptcy) and need apart from God–they trust Him alone and His will–they experience the current reality of the kingdom
  • Because of their own lack of righteousness they mourn–but will be comforted with eternal riches
  • The clear understanding of who they are and sorrow causes them to be meek, not seeking their own–but shall inherit it all
  • Because they are meek, they are then able to take their eyes off themselves and hunger and thirst for righteousness–they will be satisfied with perfect righteousness in the kingdom
  • Those who desire to be righteous will develop mercy toward others, because they see their own need for mercy
  • This lack of a judgmental spirit leads to being pure in heart–they shall see their heart’s desire, God Himself
  • They then are peacemakers because they are not seeking their own benefit but that of others–God takes notice
  • Which will cause others to be convicted and persecute them–the ultimate Judge will reward them in the eternal kingdom with everlasting comfort

The second section challenges us with the reality that those rightly related to the King are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.”

So what kind of influence will we have?

Character Determines Influence


Faithlife Study Bible

Many know I'm a fan the the ESV Study Bible (and since it is too big to carry around, I take advantage of the online version).

Another resource that some might be interested–particularly if you are in an intentional relationship for growth (small group, accountability group, memtoring relationship or adult Bible class) is the new Faithlife Study Bible. It's free through 2014.

It is produced by the makes of the Bible study software that I have used for 20 years–

The iPad app is excellent.

The videos below lays out some of what it can do–but the exciting part is actually the interactive Study Bible.

Also see these features.

This video shows the functionality of the Study Bible.

We’re reinventing the study Bible for the digital age. While print study Bibles are limited to a few study notes per page, the digital FSB provides much, much more:

  • 3 layers of study notes (over 1.4 million words total)
  • Lexham Bible Dictionary (2,500+ articles)
  • Lexham English Bible Shared reading plans
  • Shared notes
  • About 400 photos, videos, and infographics
  • Access to Faithlife, the new Christian online community.







Daniel 7–Small Group Questions

In Daniel 7 we return to a prophetic section.

This chapter is parallel to chapter 2—both focus on a panorama of prophecy which concludes with the Kingdom of God, the Most High in total control.

Small Group Questions

Engage—connect with each other

1. What excites you about the future?

What worries you about the future?

2. How often do you think about the coming the end of time?

What do you anticipate most about the coming of Christ?

Examine and Explore—what the passage says before you decide what it means, then begin to discuss the implications of this passage

3. In the first half of the chapter, Daniel records his dream then seeks an interpretation.

What does he seem to focus on?

4. What elements of the dream worry Daniel? Why?

Encounter—read God’s Word to get to know Him

5. Notice the descriptions of God and His throne, Daniel 7:9-10. What is emphasized?

6. Notice the descriptions of Christ, Daniel 7:13-14. What is emphasized?

Embrace—What is the one thing you need to know or do?  What is your next step in response to this passage?

7. How does knowing that God will accomplish His plan in the end, encourage you?

8. What should our current attitude be and what should our current motivation and actions be, if we are on the winning side?