Letters

Why Jesus Turned James & John Down


James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’ side in glory. They wanted to be close (and, given the context, they wanted to be big shots).

[They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”][Mark 10]

Jesus said No.

Curiously, he wasn’t saying “No” to the desire to be a big shot. In the next breath, he shows them how to aspire to greatness appropriately. [Mark 10:42-45]

I’m thinking that Jesus said No because sitting on his right and left was too far away for his preferences. That means they’re separated, that means there’s (a little) distance between him and them.

He didn’t want them to be separate from him, even if they’re right next to him. He wanted them united in him [John 14:20, 15:4, 17:21]. He didn’t want them seated on the throne right next to his. He wanted them – just like he wants you and me – right there on his throne with him, in him [Ephesians 1:20]

So go ahead and aspire to greatness. Go ahead and aspire to “become great,” as Jesus encourages.

Just do it his way. Just do it from your place IN him. Don’t aspire to be separated, next to him. You are in him! Go with that! It’s way better than “next to”!


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Letters

Adjusting the Target

Adjusting the Target

Anybody who lives in this world knows some people who are hurting. I know I do.

I saw some posts recently, “Pray for me,” and “I am needy!” So I looked through their wall for some sort of explanation. And that’s when I heard Holy Spirit’s whisper.

You see, their pages had lots of God’s promises posted, Bible verses, encouraging statements. In the midst of all those promises, Holy Spirit whispered to me, “They’re looking to the Word, but not to Me. Their target is falling short.”

He schooled me, and I could feel the compassion in his heart in the process.

“Focusing on their pain, on their need, blurs their vision, they can’t see me clearly. So they look to my promises instead of to me.

“They think that the promise of what I will do for them when they come to me is enough to blunt the pain, but they stop at the promise; they don’t actually come to me to let me heal them.”

I could feel his tears.

And in this, I’m reminded that it’s our job to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith [Hebrews 12], to think about what is true and noble and excellent and praiseworthy [Philippians 4].

It’s not only counterproductive to put our attention on the need, on the hurts and betrayal, it’s downright contrary to Father’s clear instruction. The reason, I think, is because of the principle, “What you fix your attention on, you empower in your life.”

It’s because looking at the wrong part of the picture inhibits our ability to receive what we need from our Father who loves us!

It’s not the promises of God that heal our heart and provide for our needs. The promises point to our God, our Father, who heals our heart and provides for our souls.

It’s easy, when we’re looking at the pain, at the need, for our eyes to fall short of Him.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!"
~John 5:39
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Letters

Target Fixation



I’m pretty careful about where my attention goes, and about how I handle my words. God’s instructions are pretty clear, and I’ve learned over the years that there’s reason for his instructions.

That command shows up in at least two places:

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.”

The other is in Hebrews 12:1& 2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

There’s a common thread in these: Guard what your attention is on. You know, I think he’s serious about this.

Have you heard of “Target fixation”? Whatever you focus your attention on, you tend to become like.

In these passages, God’s telling us to focus our attention on stuff that – should we actually put our attention on them – we’d become “excellent” and “praiseworthy” in our character; we’d become Christ-like.

That’s an excellent goal in itself.

But regardless of the result, it’s still a command. “Do this.” “Think about such things.” “Fix your eyes on Jesus.”

I take him seriously. :)





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Letters

The Cutting of the Lord


Jesus promised us that our growth would be rewarded with pruning. We think, “Pruning? That’s cutting! That’s taking things away! That can’t be good!”


Here are some details about pruning.

• Pruning carefully will drastically increase the fruitfulness of the pruned tree. Cutting back results in a dramatic increase of fruit!
• Pruning at the right spot strengthens frame of the base plant. Pruning makes you stronger.
• Pruning is not actually optional (John 15:2). If we bear fruit, we will be pruned. If we do not bear fruit, we’ll be cut back very severely (but not killed), so that when we grow back, we’ll grow fruit. And when we do, we’ll be pruned for even more fruit.

So how does he prune us?

In John 15:3 Jesus says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” So him speaking his word to us is part of our cleaning, our pruning. This is him speaking to us, mostly through the Book, and a lot of that is about how to respond to the crap in our life.

In Luke 13:8, he gives us more detail. The conversation is about pruning, and in that parable, Jesus says to the Father, “Leave [him] alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it....”

Fertilizer in that day was manure: animal poo. So pruning may show up as crap in our life.

Here’s an example: in Luke 9, the boys are arguing about who's greatest. That's poo. The ambition to be great is actually good. The competition apparently is the poo.

So in 9:48, Jesus prunes them. “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

This is what pruning looks like. That’s not as bad as we feared, is it?


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Letters

The Cutting of the Lord


Jesus promised us that our growth would be rewarded with pruning. We think, “Pruning? That’s cutting! That’s taking things away! That can’t be good!”


Here are some details about pruning.

• Pruning carefully will drastically increase the fruitfulness of the pruned tree. Cutting back results in a dramatic increase of fruit!
• Pruning at the right spot strengthens frame of the base plant. Pruning makes you stronger.
• Pruning is not actually optional (John 15:2). If we bear fruit, we will be pruned. If we do not bear fruit, we’ll be cut back very severely (but not killed), so that when we grow back, we’ll grow fruit. And when we do, we’ll be pruned for even more fruit.

So how does he prune us?

In John 15:3 Jesus says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” So him speaking his word to us is part of our cleaning, our pruning. This is him speaking to us, mostly through the Book, and a lot of that is about how to respond to the crap in our life.

In Luke 13:8, he gives us more detail. The conversation is about pruning, and in that parable, Jesus says to the Father, “Leave [him] alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it....”

Fertilizer in that day was manure: animal poo. So pruning may show up as crap in our life.

Here’s an example: in Luke 9, the boys are arguing about who's greatest. That's poo. The ambition to be great is actually good. The competition apparently is the poo.

So in 9:48, Jesus prunes them. “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

This is what pruning looks like. That’s not as bad as we feared, is it?


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Letters

Reflections on Some Influencers

I was reflecting on some of the guys who have influenced my life in God over the years. None of these guys had a position of “leader,” but all three of them were competent leaders.

I knew a man who studied God, and God’s ways, for decades. He could put all kinds of letters after his name, including DMin, and PhD. He understood the Bible better than anybody else I knew at the time.

When I listened to him, I thought, “What a learned man. What a great foundation! I need a foundation like that.”

I knew another man who didn’t have a degree, but had spent a couple of under-funded decades among a people who didn’t even know who God was: teaching some, discipling a few, and desperately depending on God every day, for his meals, for his ministry, for his family’s lives.

When I listened to him, my heart melted. I prayed earnestly, “Father, I want to know you like this man knows you!”

I knew another man who came from the streets, and even that was just recently. He had not the slightest shred of education, and it showed. But he spent hours, many hours, just sitting in God’s presence, listening to his heartbeat, talking with him about what was on his heart.

When I listened to him, I realized that he had some ideas that were pretty messed up, and the first guy could help him with that. And I saw that he had some serious insecurity issues, identity issues, and the second guy could really help him with that.

But when he talked, he blew my mind. He healed the sick regularly, got words of knowledge effortlessly, and unbelievers listened carefully when he talked about his Jesus.

When I listened to him, I thought, “Father, is this really possible? Can your children walk in this kind of revelation, this kind of power, in this day and age?”

I learned some things in this reflection.

I really do love meditating on the things God has done in my world, in my life. The angel in Revelation 19 was right: the testimony of Jesus, who he is, what he's done, really is the spirit of prophecy. Mmm mmm. So good.

Different people have imparted different strengths into my life. If I only listened to people like me, I would certainly not be who I am today. Since both my wife and I like who I am today, this would be a bad thing.

Even people that make me uncomfortable can have a great impact on my life, provided I’m willing to learn. It's that "willing" part that I wrestle with sometimes.

It’s not enough to know ABOUT God. I must know God. And there’s more to know than I have any idea, even now. What a big heart!

It’s not enough to know God. I must also know ABOUT God if I aspire to trust him, to be like him. And again, there’s more to know about him than I even believe is possible.

When God invests himself into a person, he doesn’t necessarily make that person tidy, neat, clean, respectable. My ideas for what a “Good Christian” is were woefully inadequate, which means they are probably still woefully inadequate today. (Yet again I am reminded: He is NOT a tame lion.)


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Letters

Reflections on Some Influencers

I was reflecting on some of the guys who have influenced my life in God over the years. None of these guys had a position of “leader,” but all three of them were competent leaders.

I knew a man who studied God, and God’s ways, for decades. He could put all kinds of letters after his name, including DMin, and PhD. He understood the Bible better than anybody else I knew at the time.

When I listened to him, I thought, “What a learned man. What a great foundation! I need a foundation like that.”

I knew another man who didn’t have a degree, but had spent a couple of under-funded decades among a people who didn’t even know who God was: teaching some, discipling a few, and desperately depending on God every day, for his meals, for his ministry, for his family’s lives.

When I listened to him, my heart melted. I prayed earnestly, “Father, I want to know you like this man knows you!”

I knew another man who came from the streets, and even that was just recently. He had not the slightest shred of education, and it showed. But he spent hours, many hours, just sitting in God’s presence, listening to his heartbeat, talking with him about what was on his heart.

When I listened to him, I realized that he had some ideas that were pretty messed up, and the first guy could help him with that. And I saw that he had some serious insecurity issues, identity issues, and the second guy could really help him with that.

But when he talked, he blew my mind. He healed the sick regularly, got words of knowledge effortlessly, and unbelievers listened carefully when he talked about his Jesus.

When I listened to him, I thought, “Father, is this really possible? Can your children walk in this kind of revelation, this kind of power, in this day and age?”

I learned some things in this reflection.

I really do love meditating on the things God has done in my world, in my life. The angel in Revelation 19 was right: the testimony of Jesus, who he is, what he's done, really is the spirit of prophecy. Mmm mmm. So good.

Different people have imparted different strengths into my life. If I only listened to people like me, I would certainly not be who I am today. Since both my wife and I like who I am today, this would be a bad thing.

Even people that make me uncomfortable can have a great impact on my life, provided I’m willing to learn. It's that "willing" part that I wrestle with sometimes.

It’s not enough to know ABOUT God. I must know God. And there’s more to know than I have any idea, even now. What a big heart!

It’s not enough to know God. I must also know ABOUT God if I aspire to trust him, to be like him. And again, there’s more to know about him than I even believe is possible.

When God invests himself into a person, he doesn’t necessarily make that person tidy, neat, clean, respectable. My ideas for what a “Good Christian” is were woefully inadequate, which means they are probably still woefully inadequate today. (Yet again I am reminded: He is NOT a tame lion.)


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Letters

Prophetic Exercise: The Chair by the Fireplace

Here’s an exercise, if you’re willing.

Imagine a comfortable room, a quiet room. There’s a big fireplace in the room, with a roaring fire, and next to the fireplace is a big chair. A Papa chair.

Father is sitting in that chair, relaxed. His eye, with a sparkle in it, is on you. He reaches a hand out toward you.


You can curl up on his lap, if you like, and rest your head on his mighty shoulder. Or you can curl up at his feet if you prefer. But this is a good time to be quiet and to rest with him, however that works best for you.

In the silence, you can hear his heart beating gently, peacefully, strong. His hand is on the back of your head, fingers in your hair, caressing gently.

You can feel the stuff of your day drain out of you, like dirty bath water vanishing down the drain: gone, never to be seen or heard from again, and in its place, you feel the presence of peace on you, like the warmth of the crackling fire.

Be still. Shhh…. Maybe you drift off to sleep for a bit. The quiet is all around you.

After a long time, you realize it’s not quite absolutely silent; you can hear his soft, deep voice whispering your name, over and over. Do you hear him?

Then he speaks to you, quietly, his words like a warm blanket over you. That feels nice.

What do you hear him saying to you?


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Letters

Prophetic Exercise: The Chair by the Fireplace

Here’s an exercise, if you’re willing.

Imagine a comfortable room, a quiet room. There’s a big fireplace in the room, with a roaring fire, and next to the fireplace is a big chair. A Papa chair.

Father is sitting in that chair, relaxed. His eye, with a sparkle in it, is on you. He reaches a hand out toward you.


You can curl up on his lap, if you like, and rest your head on his mighty shoulder. Or you can curl up at his feet if you prefer. But this is a good time to be quiet and to rest with him, however that works best for you.

In the silence, you can hear his heart beating gently, peacefully, strong. His hand is on the back of your head, fingers in your hair, caressing gently.

You can feel the stuff of your day drain out of you, like dirty bath water vanishing down the drain: gone, never to be seen or heard from again, and in its place, you feel the presence of peace on you, like the warmth of the crackling fire.

Be still. Shhh…. Maybe you drift off to sleep for a bit. The quiet is all around you.

After a long time, you realize it’s not quite absolutely silent; you can hear his soft, deep voice whispering your name, over and over. Do you hear him?

Then he speaks to you, quietly, his words like a warm blanket over you. That feels nice.

What do you hear him saying to you?


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Letters

Stupid Chickens

Chickens.

I have some chickens. They make good eggs and good soup.

But chickens are dumb. Stupid. Completely unintelligent. Goldfish are smarter than chickens. And so I learn a lot about myself from them.

These chickens are domesticated. Really domesticated. They know me as their provider, almost as if I were their god. Any time I open the back door, which they can see from their chicken yard, they cluster around the near side of their pen, eyes on me.

Any time I come near the chicken yard, they cluster around near me, knowing that I am their provider, knowing that very often, when I show up, I bring good things for them to eat. 

They’re constantly looking to me for their provision: what will I bring them today? They remind me of the apostle’s promise, “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights,” only in this case, every good and perfect gift comes from me.

The other day, I brought a large handful of their favorite vegetable, kale, and I tossed it into their pen. They ignored the kale. They didn’t even notice that I’d tossed their favorite veggie into their pen. They just kept their eyes on me, knowing that I might give them something good to eat.

I explained to the brilliant birds: “I already brought you something good to eat. I have already provided for you. Go enjoy what I’ve already given you!”

And they clustered even tighter around that side of their fence, watching to see what I’d give them.

They were so intently focused on the fact that I am their provider, focused on what I might provide for them, that they completely missed the fact that I had already provided for them.

And as I watched them, I heard Father clearing his throat, drawing my attention to their actions. And I knew I was guilty.

There have been times that I’ve been so focused on God, who is my good provider, focused on what God is going to provide for me, that I completely miss what he’s already provided for me.

I’m learning to give thanks more, and to solicit provision less.


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Letters

Stupid Chickens

Chickens.

I have some chickens. They make good eggs and good soup.

But chickens are dumb. Stupid. Completely unintelligent. Goldfish are smarter than chickens. And so I learn a lot about myself from them.

These chickens are domesticated. Really domesticated. They know me as their provider, almost as if I were their god. Any time I open the back door, which they can see from their chicken yard, they cluster around the near side of their pen, eyes on me.

Any time I come near the chicken yard, they cluster around near me, knowing that I am their provider, knowing that very often, when I show up, I bring good things for them to eat. 

They’re constantly looking to me for their provision: what will I bring them today? They remind me of the apostle’s promise, “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights,” only in this case, every good and perfect gift comes from me.

The other day, I brought a large handful of their favorite vegetable, kale, and I tossed it into their pen. They ignored the kale. They didn’t even notice that I’d tossed their favorite veggie into their pen. They just kept their eyes on me, knowing that I might give them something good to eat.

I explained to the brilliant birds: “I already brought you something good to eat. I have already provided for you. Go enjoy what I’ve already given you!”

And they clustered even tighter around that side of their fence, watching to see what I’d give them.

They were so intently focused on the fact that I am their provider, focused on what I might provide for them, that they completely missed the fact that I had already provided for them.

And as I watched them, I heard Father clearing his throat, drawing my attention to their actions. And I knew I was guilty.

There have been times that I’ve been so focused on God, who is my good provider, focused on what God is going to provide for me, that I completely miss what he’s already provided for me.

I’m learning to give thanks more, and to solicit provision less.


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Devotionals, Letters

The Law Of The Spirit Of Life In Christ Jesus Has Made Me Free From The Law Of Sin And Death.


In the New Testament times, the biggest threat to the New Covenant was “The Circumcision Party,” also known as the Judaizers. They were trying to drag New Covenant believers back into the bondage of the Old Covenant Law.

That’s still happening today.

There are people all over social media, in every congregation, working to drag free believers back into bondage to the Law. Sometimes they’re aware that they’re bringing people under the bondage of the Law, but most of the time, they’re not aware that they’re being a tool for bondage: they’re just excited about things that they can DO that the Bible described as once being about being part of a covenant with God. They’re excited about their works.

Nowadays it’s not so much about circumcision. These days, the Judaizers appear to be most often focusing on the Old Covenant dietary laws, or Old Covenant holidays. “Keep the Father’s commands!” they say. “Jesus followed these laws!” they say.

They conveniently miss the fact that the Old Covenant was still in play when Jesus walked the earth. So yeah, he mostly followed those laws. The New Covenant wasn’t in place until his Resurrection, and the Old Covenant was completely annihilated in the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD (as the Bible foretold).

But the modern Judaizers teach, “Torah means direction, teaching, instruction.” The literal word “torah” means “teaching,” yes.

But the application of the word “Torah” is “Old Covenant Law.” They say, “This isn’t a ‘Law.’ It’s just how God wants us to live.”  

But this is the very thing that Paul preached against over and over again: the attempt to bring free New Covenant believers under the bondage of the Old Covenant Law. It’s been the same with the Pharisees in Jesus’ day and in Paul’s day and in our day.  

And when people teach, “Following these “teachings, instructions” will make God happy with you,” or “...will get you closer to God,” they’re replacing the grace of God with the works of man. They’re teaching a very literal anti-Christ doctrine. This IS the Anti-Christ spirit that the New Testament warns believers against. These are the ones about whom Paul writes, “I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated!”

Let’s say it clearly: Anyone who teaches that keeping this bit of the Old Covenant Law will please God is, by definition, teaching that your works are what pleases God. But Scripture teaches that it’s Jesus’ works, not yours or mine, that connect us with God.

So when someone pressures you to not eat bacon because it’s against Father’s commands, whether intentionally or not, then they’re working to drag you away from your freedom in Christ and back into the bondage of legalism, of the Law of a dead covenant. If you don’t want to eat bacon, don’t eat bacon. But don’t do it to please God. That’s rubbish.

So when someone encourages you to celebrate an Old Covenant holiday because that’s a thing that God wants us to do, then whether intentionally or not, they’re working to drag you away from your freedom in Christ and back into the bondage of legalism, of the Law of a dead covenant. If you want more excuses to celebrate, then have a grand time. But don’t do it because it was part of the Law. That’s a dead-end road.

So when someone declares tattoos to be ungodly because it’s against Father’s commands, then whether intentionally or not, they’re working to drag you away from your freedom in Christ and back into the bondage of legalism, of the Law of a dead covenant. If you don’t like tattoos, that’s fine. But don’t hold up “Leviticus says so!” as a reason.

Just say no to returning to the Law. Just say no about returning to the jail that used to hold you tight.


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Devotionals, Letters

The Law Of The Spirit Of Life In Christ Jesus Has Made Me Free From The Law Of Sin And Death.


In the New Testament times, the biggest threat to the New Covenant was “The Circumcision Party,” also known as the Judaizers. They were trying to drag New Covenant believers back into the bondage of the Old Covenant Law.

That’s still happening today.

There are people all over social media, in every congregation, working to drag free believers back into bondage to the Law. Sometimes they’re aware that they’re bringing people under the bondage of the Law, but most of the time, they’re not aware that they’re being a tool for bondage: they’re just excited about things that they can DO that the Bible described as once being about being part of a covenant with God. They’re excited about their works.

Nowadays it’s not so much about circumcision. These days, the Judaizers appear to be most often focusing on the Old Covenant dietary laws, or Old Covenant holidays. “Keep the Father’s commands!” they say. “Jesus followed these laws!” they say.

They conveniently miss the fact that the Old Covenant was still in play when Jesus walked the earth. So yeah, he mostly followed those laws. The New Covenant wasn’t in place until his Resurrection, and the Old Covenant was completely annihilated in the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD (as the Bible foretold).

But the modern Judaizers teach, “Torah means direction, teaching, instruction.” The literal word “torah” means “teaching,” yes.

But the application of the word “Torah” is “Old Covenant Law.” They say, “This isn’t a ‘Law.’ It’s just how God wants us to live.”  

But this is the very thing that Paul preached against over and over again: the attempt to bring free New Covenant believers under the bondage of the Old Covenant Law. It’s been the same with the Pharisees in Jesus’ day and in Paul’s day and in our day.  

And when people teach, “Following these “teachings, instructions” will make God happy with you,” or “...will get you closer to God,” they’re replacing the grace of God with the works of man. They’re teaching a very literal anti-Christ doctrine. This IS the Anti-Christ spirit that the New Testament warns believers against. These are the ones about whom Paul writes, “I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated!”

Let’s say it clearly: Anyone who teaches that keeping this bit of the Old Covenant Law will please God is, by definition, teaching that your works are what pleases God. But Scripture teaches that it’s Jesus’ works, not yours or mine, that connect us with God.

So when someone pressures you to not eat bacon because it’s against Father’s commands, whether intentionally or not, then they’re working to drag you away from your freedom in Christ and back into the bondage of legalism, of the Law of a dead covenant. If you don’t want to eat bacon, don’t eat bacon. But don’t do it to please God. That’s rubbish.

So when someone encourages you to celebrate an Old Covenant holiday because that’s a thing that God wants us to do, then whether intentionally or not, they’re working to drag you away from your freedom in Christ and back into the bondage of legalism, of the Law of a dead covenant. If you want more excuses to celebrate, then have a grand time. But don’t do it because it was part of the Law. That’s a dead-end road.

So when someone declares tattoos to be ungodly because it’s against Father’s commands, then whether intentionally or not, they’re working to drag you away from your freedom in Christ and back into the bondage of legalism, of the Law of a dead covenant. If you don’t like tattoos, that’s fine. But don’t hold up “Leviticus says so!” as a reason.

Just say no to returning to the Law. Just say no about returning to the jail that used to hold you tight.


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Devotionals, Letters

Two GOOD Trees in the Garden

A friend asked a really good question recently: Why the heck was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the Garden in the first place if it was evil? Wasn’t the Garden perfect?

He got me thinking! (I love it when that happens!)

Knowledge of good and evil is a fine thing. But it’s a lousy way to live my life. It’s a poor choice for First Place in my life.

I suspect that AFTER Adam & Eve had eaten of the tree of life (like they were supposed to), they would have understood how to use the tree of knowledge of good & evil properly. That knowledge, when rooted in Life, would be useful.

I look at that whole scene as a choice for How I’m Going To Live Life. Am I going to choose to feed on stuff that brings life? Or am I going to choose to feed on the rules: right & wrong, good and evil, obedience & disobedience. Which principle is the foundation for my life.

Any time I build my life on knowledge, I’m in trouble. Paul said “Knowledge puffs up.” He didn’t say, “Knowledge of sin puffs up” or “Knowledge of popular movies puffs up.” It’s knowledge itself – if that’s the foundation for my world, I’m in trouble.

Worse, if I build my life on judging what’s good and what’s evil, I’m in greater trouble. There’ll be a day for that, and we do play a (minor) part in it, but that’s a hideous foundation for my life.

On the other hand, if I’m building my life on bringing life – to myself, to people around me – then knowing what’s right & wrong has its place. In that situation, the knowledge of good and evil can be used to bring life.



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