Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Tomb Was Not Empty

This weekend, while working on our next book, it occurred to me that two phrases I’ve heard and said for many years are not true.  These are things that are part of our vocabulary, often repeated, and as such are accepted without challenge.

The first is something you hear every Easter.  We often rejoice because on Easter morning the “tomb was empty.”  Not true.  In fact the Bible record is very clear on this subject.  The tomb was NOT empty.

According to Luke 24:12, “But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.”

In his account, John provides a little more detail, “So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.” (John 20:3-7)

You can see that the tomb was not empty.  At the very least, the linen and face-cloth used to wrap Jesus’ body were still inside.  So, what difference does that make?  Well, if someone stole the body, they certainly would not have unwrapped it first.  Remember, this is three days later.  Unwrapping a body that was in a tomb three days would be… Not a good idea. 

My feeling is that the linen in the tomb is further evidence that Jesus’ body was not stolen, but that he rose from the dead.  Next time someone tells you that the tomb was empty, tell them the whole truth.  The tomb was not empty, and the items left in the tomb attest to the truth of the resurrection.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Understanding James using a Center-Out Outline

In the previous post (dated October 21, 2012) I discussed the outline of James.  After studying conflicting outlines from several different scholars, my conclusion was that the letter from James uses a Center-Out approach instead of the traditional Left-to-Right flow.  The difference may be difficult to understand since this writing style is so unique.

To help you adjust, let me give a good example based on James’ instruction to those in humble circumstances as found in James 1:9-10a (NASB).  “But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation…”  The rest of this instruction, in verses 10 and 11, continue to talk about the rich man.  There is no further discussion of the poor. 

Based on Verse 9 we know that the poor, often considered in a low position, should take glory in their high position.  However, James doesn’t provide any reason or cause for this unusual attitude.  He does continue to discuss the rich, but not another word about the poor.

In a traditional Left-to-Right outline we would expect James to give more detail about this attitude change in the following verses.  However, since this is a non-traditional outline, James leaves the subject without giving a full explanation.

But wait, in Chapter 2 we find another discussion about the rich and the poor.  This time, in Verse 5, James gives a very convincing reason for the poor to glory in their high position.  “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5, NASB)

Why should the lowly glory in their high position?  They should rejoice because God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith.  And, they should remember that those who love Him are heirs of God’s kingdom.

This is a great example of James’ writing style.  His letter doesn’t flow from topic-to-topic in sequential order.  Instead, he set down an anchor point, “various trials,” in the second verse.  From this anchor he moves through many different challenging situations.  Very often he skips from topic to topic with no warning.  You will have a much, much better understanding of this important letter, once you appreciate and apply the Center-Out, or Hub-and-Spoke outline format.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Outline for James

If you search the Internet for an outline of the epistle of James you will find a wide variety of interpretations.  In my searches I have found some who suggest the outline of James consists of two or three main points.  At the other end of the spectrum, I found outlines with up to 13 main points.

Why is there such a discrepancy in creating an outline for a short letter with only five chapters?

There are several reasons why James is a difficult book to describe.  First, James had a unique writing style.  His style was very different from Paul.  Since Paul wrote many of the letters included in the New Testament many people try to impose Paul’s style on the letter from James.  Second, in our Western society we are trained from an early age to use a topic outline starting with Roman numerals.  In this outline form you have the main topic, then the sub-topic, followed by sub-sub-topics.  The letter from James simply does not follow this pattern.  Depending on which outline you follow, there are either many main topics, or many sub-topics.  In either case, the writing style of James does not follow a traditional Western outline style.

The main reason the letter from James is difficult to outline is that his writing does not flow from left to right.  When Paul wrote a letter he began with foundational truth and then he progressed to instruction based on those truths.  The letter from James is filled with instruction, but the teaching is not based on some previously explained doctrine.  Instead, James gives instruction combined with foundational truth.

Simply put, James does not follow a Left-to-Right writing style.  The way I describe James’ writing is Center-Out.  You can picture this outline as a wheel with a hub and many spokes.

The center, or hub, of James letter is found in the second verse:  “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”  From that starting point James writes about many potential obstacles which the readers may face.  These various trials become the spokes in the wheel.  As you read this letter, at the beginning of each new topic remember the main theme, various trials.

To help you visualize this hub and spoke type of writing style, I have created a diagram which shows six major topics found in the book of James.  You can find that diagram here:

A second diagram which shows the main topics and the specific verses related to each topic can be found here:

Once you understand James’ writing style the entire letter makes much more sense.  This is the approach we took to our new study guide, “Every Lap A Victory Lap.”  This guide covers every verse in the letter from James, but it takes a Center-Out format, rather than a Left-to-Right approach.  You can order this new study guide at

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Single-Minded or Double-Minded

Sadly, it has been four months since I've added a new post.  I'm very sorry.

However, I have been working very hard on our latest study.  This study combines the Epistle of James with the bone-jarring action of Motocross Racing.  No, I'm not kidding.

We've been using this study with a group of 10 men throughout the summer.  And, we're looking forward to releasing the book, God willing, in September.

Here is a sample of one section we call "Mechanics' Area."  At the races, the Mechanics' Area is the behind the scenes section where the bikes are repaired and maintained.  For our study, the Mechanics' Area focuses in on the sub-themes of the book of James.  These are the subtle recurring themes that are easy to overlook.  This particular section covers the theme of being single-minded (or pure) or being double-minded (or unstable).  Please enjoy, and be sure to let me know what you think.

Mechanics’ Area
Single-Minded or Double-Minded
Before each race every bike is adjusted and tuned for maximum performance.  Different riders, different makes, different engine sizes, and different courses all require specialized settings.  The mechanic works with the rider and coach to determine the exact settings for each particular race.

James understood that having the exact mindset for each situation was essential.  One of the most common sub-themes in his letter is the importance of purity, having a single-minded focus.  In fact, this sub-theme is found in the very second verse of the first chapter.  “Consider it all joy,” can also be understood as “100% pure” joy.  In other words: all joy and nothing but joy.

Later in the first chapter James continues his thoughts on purity, or being single-minded.  In Verse 5 he describes God as being a generous giver; or one who gives liberally.  The word translated “generous” comes from a word which denotes “singleness.”  God’s single focus in giving is in direct contrast to the double-minded man in Verse 8.

In the verses below highlight every word that describes someone who is single-minded, pure, or focused.  Also highlight words showing characteristics of someone who is double-minded, doubting, or unstable.

JAMES 1:5–7  (WEB)
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach; and it will be given to him. [6] But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. [7] For let that man not think that he will receive anything from the Lord. 8 He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

JAMES 1:17  (WEB)
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor turning shadow.  

JAMES 1:27  (WEB)
Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. 

JAMES 3:8–10  (WEB)
But nobody can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. [9] With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the image of God. [10] Out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.  

JAMES 3:16–17  (WEB)
For where jealousy and selfish ambition are, there is confusion and every evil deed. [17] But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.  

JAMES 4:4  (WEB)
You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.   

JAMES 4:8  (WEB)
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-mined.

JAMES 5:12  (WEB)
But above all things, my brothers, don’t swear— not by heaven, or by the earth, or by any other oath; but let your “yes” be “yes”, and your “no”, “no”; so that you don’t fall into hypocrisy.  


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Rich Man and A Merchant

One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is the encounter between Jesus and the “Rich Young Ruler” as recorded in Luke 18:18-23.  It is a fascinating interaction because the rich man seems to ask the right question regarding eternal life.  However, after just a short conversation the young man goes away “very sad.”

Over the years I’ve often wondered what went wrong.  Why did this man who was asking about eternal life end up so disillusioned?

The other day I was reminded of a parable Jesus told about a merchant, a pearl, and an exchange.  This parable is found in Matthew 13:45–46.  When you compare the merchant with the “Rich Young Ruler” you can gain insight into the parable, the challenge Jesus gave to the rich ruler, and our own lives. 

The first thing we notice about both men is that they are seeking something of value:
A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18)
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls …”  (Matthew 13:45)

The requirement for both men was to make a complete commitment, a total investment:
When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor …”  (Luke 18:22a)
“…and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had …”  (Matthew 13 46a)

The result of selling all they had is the opportunity to gain something of much greater value:
 “… and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  (Luke 18:22b)
“… and bought it.”  (Matthew 13 46a)

Unfortunately, unlike the merchant, the young ruler was not willing to sell all his possessions.
But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  (Luke 18:23)

So, what is the difference between the two men?  The merchant realized the great value of the pearl.  He understood that the pearl was worth more than all his possessions.  The ruler, on the other hand, placed more value on his possessions than he did on possessing treasure in heaven.

Both men had to make a decision regarding value and making an exchange.  The merchant serves as a great example of trading something of value for something of greater value.  The ruler warns us about the danger of being so possessive of our possessions that we miss out on that which is of true, eternal value.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Epistle of James and Motocross Racing

To understand the Epistle of James you need to understand Motocross racing.

Hub and Spokes
The Apostle Paul wrote in a fairly straight line, point-to-point.  It is pretty easy to create an outline for his letters.  James, on the other hand, wrote in a style that is more like the hub and spokes on a motorcycle wheel.  Verses 2–4 provide the hub:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4, NASB)

In these verses we are introduced to the “hub” of this letter: various trials.  The remainder of the letter is an exploration of different kinds of trials.  The outline of James is simple to understand if you remember that everything in the letter is related to the hub: various trials.

Bumps or Jumps
The second aspect of motocross that you need to understand is the layout of the track.  A motocross course consists of a dirt path with many carefully constructed mounds of dirt.  Each rider encounters these dirt mounds as they try to race around the course faster than the other riders.

When the riders encounter a dirt mound they have to make a choice.  If they completely ignore the “speed bump” and continue at full speed, then they may crash into the dirt and flip their bike.  If they stop and refuse to cross the obstacle, they will lose the race.  They may choose to slow down and safely ride over the bump, but that will greatly reduce their speed.

A mature rider knows how to use the bumps as a jump.  Experts actually speed-up just as they reach the mound. This allows them to jump over one, two, or even three obstacles.  By knowing how to jump the bumps, riders not only avoid flipping their bikes, they can gain ground on their competition.

In his letter, James describes various obstacles that we may face in our lives.  He describes the challenge, and he provides insight into how to correctly maneuver over life’s dirt mounds.

Here are a few examples of challenges we may face, all of which all start with the word “if” or present a question:
James 1:5 – if any of you lacks wisdom
James 1:26 – if anyone thinks himself to be religious
James 2:2 – if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes
James 2:15 – if a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food
James 3:14 – if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart
James 5:13 – Is anyone among you suffering?
James 5:14 – Is anyone among you sick?

By studying this guide from James we are able to prepare for obstacles we will encounter in our life.  We can prepare for bumps in the road and turn them into jumps.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Rich Man, New Wine, and Old Wineskins

In our small group Bible study last week we were discussing Mark 2.  We came to verse 17 where Jesus makes a few short observations regarding new wine and wineskins. 

“No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”  (Mark 2:22, NASB)

Over the years many people have discussed the meaning of this simple parable.  In fact, there are more than 100 books listed on written about this teaching on wineskins.  Much of the discussion is centered on the meaning of new wine and old wineskins.  And, many people try to explain the implications of new wine and old wineskins in modern times.

While I was reflecting on this verse during the week it occurred to me that there is a great real-life example of this parable in an encounter Jesus had with a man who “owned much property.”  During their conversation Jesus presented the man with a significant challenge.

Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  (Mark 10:21, NASB)

Unfortunately, the man rejected the challenge and “went away grieving.”  Do you see how this event demonstrates the danger of trying to put new wine into old wineskins?  How do the teachings of Jesus represent new wine?  How do the possessions of the man, and his refusal to give them up, portray  people who try to put new wine into old wineskins?