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1 2 3 7
applause, recognition

Jesus tells us the right way to give, pray, and fast in today’s Bible reading. He summarizes his instructions in Matthew 6:1, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven.” (CSB)

He lists three Spiritual Disciplines — probably the most public of the Disciplines: giving, praying, and fasting. He doesn’t say, “If you give”, “If you pray” or “If you fast”. He assumes that we will do these things “when” or “whenever“.

Each of these activities is important for a growing Christian life. Jesus warns us to not do these three things like hypocrites do; they do them so that they will be recognized by other people for their religious activities.


Jesus says that if we give, pray, and fast — only in public, like the hypocrites do — we will receive our reward just like they do: in public by the people we’re trying to impress. Jesus says, if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. But you won’t get any recognition from God.

I’ve said many times before, it’s all about relationship. Religion looks good. “Good works” looks good. But Jesus tells us plainly in today’s reading that our focus should be on our relationship with God and His Kingdom, not ourselves and our kingdoms. (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus cautions His followers that if we want to be recognized by God for our giving, our praying, and our fasting, we need to do them in secret, where only God knows what we’re doing. And then God will give His reward.

The bottom line is, whose applause do you want? Whose recognition do you want? Whose approval do you want?

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Jesus is tempted

In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 4, we see a familiar passage on Jesus’ temptations. In the first two temptations (Matthew 4:3, 6), the devil begins with, “If you are the Son of God….”

There are three ways that the Greek language conveys conditional (“if“) statements. It would be accurate to translate these two temptations, “If you are the Son of God — and we both know that you are…” or “Since you are the Son of God…” Satan acknowledged Jesus’ deity. He never called it into question. but he did try to get Jesus to submit to his temptations. Three times. And the three temptations are basically the same as the ones you and I face every day: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

And we can fight our temptations just like Jesus did: respond with applicable Bible verses that we have treasured in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), and remember that God is much more to be desired than anything the enemy can tempt us with (Psalm 16:11, Matthew 6:33).

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15 (CSB)


I believe it was Martin Luther who said, “I can’t keep birds from flying over my head, but I can keep them from nesting in my hair.” Looking at this and with today’s scheduled reading, it’s good to know that Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted. He knows the enemy’s schemes, yet he never sinned.

The next time you’re tempted to some sin — and you resist — don’t accept the enemy’s accusations that you’ve sinned. Being tempted is not sin. If it were, then Jesus sinned.

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In today’s Bible reading, John the Baptizer arrives on the scene, calling everyone to repent of their sins and produce works consistent with their repentance. (Matthew 3:8).

Note the order: Repent –> Works.
Nowhere in the Bible is anyone called to an order of Works –> Repent.

John warns his hearers that God is already preparing to sort the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 3:10) At this point, John says that he baptizes with water for repentance, but Jesus will come and baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Most Christians have heard of the baptism of the Holy Spirit; most frequently, we think of Pentecostals and Charismatics when we hear the term. However, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a wholly Biblical concept, seen most clearly in Acts 2 (fulfilling Joel 2), but it’s also mentioned in Acts 11:16, John 1:33, and Mark 1:8.

In Acts 1:5, Jesus says that the disciples will be baptized with the Holy Spirt within a matter of days, and we see the fulfillment of His prophecy in Acts 2 when they are filled with the Holy Spirit.[1] (Acts 2:4)

Being baptized with the Holy Spirit is a good thing. Baptism of the Holy Spirit what unites all Christians with Jesus and with each other.

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all given one Spirit to drink.(1 Corinthians 12:13 CSB)

Baptism of Fire

I remember discussing this passage in class in seminary. I openly disagreed with our professor in his interpretation that Jesus would baptize his followers with the Holy Spirit and would give us a fire to accomplish our calling. I pointed out the context that John wasn’t talking about a baptism to “fire up” believers, but a baptism to punish the unrighteous.

”The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove his sandals. He himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn. But the chaff he will burn with fire that never goes out.” (Matthew 3:10–12 CSB)


If you are a believer, you don’t have to worry about a baptism of fire for punishment. You will never receive that baptism. But if you are a believer, you have already received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Jesus took all of your punishment when He died for you on the cross. He was the (not an, but the) atoning sacrifice for your sins. (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 3:24–25, 1 John 4:10)

You don’t have to fear God’s wrath because
God’s wrath has been dealt with in its entirety in Jesus’ death.

That’s the good news of the Gospel!

[1] When we get to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I plan to discuss the baptism of the Spirit vs. the filling of the Holy Spirit.

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Today’s Bible reading is James 3. Like I said a few days ago, James is one of the most applicable books in the Bible. And this chapter is one of those that — if you let it — will “get all up on your business”, showing you that you aren’t all that you think you are. And that’s a good thing because we all stumble in various ways. (James 3:2) All too often, we’re so full of ourselves that we can’t hear the voice of God cautioning us. Encouraging us. Convicting us. Challenging us.

James says that if someone can control what he says, he’s a mature person. He points out that in every other part of nature, something is either one thing or another. A spring flows either sweet or bitter water. (James 3:11) A plant produces only one kind of fruit. (James 3:12) And yet, the tongue can both curse and bless. It ought not to be this way! (James 3:10)

Paul adds that believers should only speak edifying words, words that build up others (Ephesians 4:29). Jesus tells us that the basis for how well we speak to other believers is the condition of our hearts. And the condition of our hearts depends on our relationship with God.

A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Luke 6:45 (CSB)


Now, James, Paul, and Jesus aren’t talking about using what we would call “cuss words”. No, they’re talking about something far more sinister.

It could be cutting words. Wounding words. It could be outright gossip. It could be gossip that masquerades as “sharing prayer requests”. It could be “over sharing“.

They’re talking about any words (and any tone of voice!) that would be hurtful to a person, especially if you’re talking behind their back. It’s speaking the truth, but not speaking the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)


It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who struggles with this paradox. (James 3:2) But that doesn’t excuse it.

I often find myself paraphrasing Paul, that I find myself [saying] what I don’t want and I find myself not [saying] what I want. (Romans 7:18–19)

Paul says that everything we say should be gracious, seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6) so that we would know how to talk with other people. When you add salt to a dish, a lot of the flavors can emerge. Salt also causes thirst. And as we talk with other people, we should be ready to give people more grace with our words.

How about you? Are you like me in the way that you know you should only build up other people, but yet find yourself not doing it all the time?

Join me in repenting of this sin of the tongue, of not building up others. And let’s lean on the Holy Spirit of God to produce in us a new speech pattern that flows from an ever-freshly redeemed heart.

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olympic garland

James is one of the most practical books in the Bible. And yet, it is one of the hardest books in the Bible. In fact, Martin Luther didn’t think it belonged in the Bible. He felt some of James’ teaching seemed to contradict Paul’s assertions that we are saved by grace alone. We begin reading James’ letter in today’s Bible reading.

James urges his readers to have the right attitude about trials: Rejoice in your trials (James 1:2) because when you complete the trial, you’ll receive a crown. (James 1:12)

But this is not the kind of “crown” that we think of. When we think of a crown, we think of a diadem, the kind of crown a king wears. However, the word James chooses uses imagery of athletic contests, where the winner receives a garland to wear on his/her head. One of the symbols of the Olympics is this kind of “crown”.


James says that we should rejoice whenever we encounter trials. Not if we encounter trials, but whenever we encounter trials. And he is very clear in the way he describes these trials: they are various kinds or multi-faceted. Nowhere in Scripture are believers promised an easy life!

You’re going to encounter trials.
And God intends for you to face these trials with joy.

James says that God brings trials into your life to test you. Not to see if you’ll pass the test, but to burn off impurities, (Proverbs 17:3) things that don’t look like Jesus.

Paul says that God works out everything for the good of believers, and the “good” He works these things is that we would be more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

Believer, you will encounter various kinds of trials. These trials will make you more like Jesus. So don’t resist the trials. Rejoice!

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1 2 3 7

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