Doers Get More Done

The management team at Home Depot must have read the book of James.
Their advertising slogan sounds downright Biblical.

James had a lot on his mind when he sat down to write a letter to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations. Suddenly free from the burden of Mosaic law, the new Christian community still needed some guidance on how to live this redeemed life in Christ. Brother James put down into succinct words a handbook of sorts: “How to Live Like a Christian”. Or maybe he was preaching to himself.

James kicked off his letter with a section on unbelief and doubt, testing and trials, and temptation. Were these topics top-of-mind because he had firsthand experience with them? Did James struggle with anger, an uncontrolled tongue, selfish ambition? Was he a good religious Jewish boy who went through the motions, but found religion worthless?

These were the things on James’ mind as he composed his letter.
The remedy?

Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James 1:22

Yes, we need to hear the Word, read the Word, sing the Word, pray the Word, preach the Word, memorize the Word, and meditate on the Word. But the way to inject real vitality into our spiritual lives is to be a doer of the Word.

Another James — James Moffat, Scottish Bible scholar — had something to say about this pithy, convicting verse.

When the sermon is done, it is not done;
something remains to be done by the hearers.

Perhaps this should be painted on the inside frame of our church doors, making it the last thing we see as we leave.

When the Word has been read,
and the sermon has been said,
and the songs have been sung,
the doing isn’t done, it’s begun.

Sweet Baby James

Back in 1970, James Taylor wanted to give his newborn nephew and namesake something special, so he wrote the babe a lullaby. That song, “Sweet Baby James” was the title track for the album that catapulted Taylor to fame and fortune. He still sings the song at the end of almost all his concerts. “Sweet Baby James” ended up being pretty sweet for Uncle James.

I’ve been humming that song because my Bible Reading Plan for 2023 kicked off with a stroll through the book of James. Before diving into the first chapter, I had to stop and think about the writer of this letter. Who was he? Why did he write it? To whom did he write?

The book of James was written by Jesus’ half-brother. No other book of the Bible was written by someone who knew Jesus as a child or who lived in the same house as teenagers.* The two boys grew up together, played together, did chores together. They probably shared a bedroom, or bed, or mat. Three more brothers were added to the family and at least two sisters. (Mark 6:3) That had to have been one lively household.

We are not given a peek into the early home life of Joseph and Mary’s family, so we are left with conjecture and holy imagination. However, it couldn’t have been easy for James to follow Jesus, the Son of God, in birth order. Having the sinless one as an older brother might have been challenging.

None of Jesus’ younger half-siblings were part of His earthly ministry. They are rarely mentioned in the gospels and when they are, it isn’t in the best light. “When his (Jesus’) family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.'” (Mark 3:21)

It appears that not one of Jesus’ brothers or sisters were at the execution of their oldest sibling. From the cross, Jesus entrusted his mother Mary into the care of John, the disciple.

Then, in Acts 1:14, there’s a breakthrough. “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” His brothers! James even got a one-on-one encounter with his brother after the resurrection. (1 Cor. 15:7)

By the time James wrote his handbook on how to live like a Christian, he had fully accepted Jesus’ Messiahship, calling Him “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1) . Not once did James portray Jesus as anything less than Lord. There were no old childhood memories dredged up. The division in the family over Jesus’ ministry was not mentioned. The words “Mom always loved you best,” were never recorded. James saw the glory and he became a believer and leader of the early church.

James’ death is not recorded in the New Testament, but historians believe he was either stoned to death or beaten to death with a club. All for love of his Brother, the Savior.

Are you reading along with me?
What has James been teaching you?

*I stand corrected. James is not the only book of the Bible that was written by someone who knew Jesus as a child or who lived in the same house as teenagers. The short book of Jude was also penned by a half-brother of Jesus. I’m so grateful for someone who not only reads, but also checks up on me! Thanks, friend!


I have a confession to make. I sample the grapes in the grocery store before I buy them. I usually swipe just one, to make sure they aren’t sour or soft. I suppose that counts as stealing, but I did the math — at $1.49 per pound (Aldi price this week), one grape costs 3/10th of 1 cent. It’s ok, right?

PB pruned our little row of grapevines this week, so I’ve been thinking about grapes a lot lately. Grapevines, vineyards, vines and branches are a big theme in the Bible. Jesus talked about them frequently. He told several stories about vineyards and on the night of His arrest, Jesus told His disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

I have another confession to make. Sometimes I dump out all the grapes at the bottom of the bag — the ones that didn’t hang on to the vine — and put the nice tight bunches back in the bag. Certainly the store figures in the inevitable loss of a handful of grapes. That’s ok, right?

Here’s the thing.
I’ve never gone into a grocery store to buy one grape.
They come in bunches.

And PB didn’t plant one solitary vine.
There is a whole row of vines that twist around each other.
They grow together, supporting each other.

One single grape
won’t make more than a few drops of juice.
A healthy vineyard
can produce barrels of wine.

What is the lesson here?

I think we are meant to be people who are twisted up and entangled with each other’s lives. It seems we’re supposed to bump up against each other and encourage each other to hold on to the vine. Certainly, we are intended to be an offering, poured out and fragrant to a world longing for a taste of goodness.

Apart from Him, we can do nothing.
Apart from each other, we can do very little.
Find yourself a cluster and hang on.

Tree of Life

Trees are a big deal in the Bible. In fact, apart from God and humans, trees are the most frequently mentioned living thing in the Holy Scriptures. You can hardly read one page without running into a tree of some kind. They are sneaky, though. If you aren’t looking for them, they are easy to miss.

Trees were the first gift given to the freshly created man and woman. “Then God said, ‘I give you every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.'” (Gen. 1:29) How kind of God to welcome them to the neighborhood with some fresh fruit.

Not only were the trees good for food, but they were also “pleasing to the eye.” (Gen. 2:9) Beauty was as important to the Creator as the bounty.

One of the most famous trees in the Bible is introduced in the beginning pages of the Word — the Tree of Life, planted by God Himself in the middle of Eden. It shows up again in the final pages of Revelation, as the central focus of the New Jerusalem. We are told this amazing tree will yield a crop of fruit every month and its leaves will heal the nations.

We could use some of that right now.

Until that great and glorious day, the closest thing we have to the biblical Tree of Life might be found in Bahrain, a small island nation off the northeast coast of Saudi Arabia. Out in the middle of an arid desert stands a 32 foot mesquite tree that flowers twice a year and has green leaves all year round. Scientists have been baffled for centuries by the aptly named “Tree of Life”, as it keeps growing despite any visible source of water. This mysterious tree is the only green plant for miles around.

Some believe this is the sight of the original Garden of Eden. At least, that’s how Bahrain’s tourism department is promoting their one and only attraction. Over 50,000 tourists visit the site each year. There are no vendors selling T-shirts that say, “I went to the Tree of Life and all I got was this lousy T-shirt”. But there are public restrooms and a security guard posted around the clock. You won’t find interactive videos or tour guides with a spiel, however there are rumors that an ice-cream truck might show up on weekends.

Due to vandalism in 2007, an iron fence now surrounds the tree. It’s too bad God didn’t put one of those up around that other tree in the Garden.

Travel blogger Anthony Middleton wrote succinctly about the sight of this lush tree in the Arabian Desert:

“It’s just you,
a tree,
and your imagination.”

In case a sight-seeing trip to Bahrain is not in your future,
another Tree of Life is right here in America.
At Disney World.
It’s a fake.
I think you can get T-shirts there.


Before God made the sun, moon and stars, He made trees.

Before God made birds and fish, He made trees.

Before God made livestock, wild animals and people, He made trees.

Trees were the first living things on the newly created earth.

We can learn a lot from our elders.

PB and I have a small square of woods — ash trees, pines, oaks and maples. We love walking in the woods, especially on beautiful fall days. We have to stick to the path, though, because the woods haven’t had much attention for a long while. There are dead trees that have fallen over, there are broken branches that hang precariously, but mostly there is undergrowth — brambles and thickets and stickers and thorns. It’s hard to walk through it without getting scratched and poked.

PB decided to do something about this problem. He hired a guy with a big tree-eating machine to clean up our little square of woods. In a matter of hours, all the brush was gobbled up. The transformation was remarkable.

Early the next morning, a doe and her twin fawns came through, looking bewildered. PB and I watched from the porch as the fawns suddenly kicked up their heels in a morning sunrise dance. They seemed to celebrate the wide open space, running without fear of thorns and prickers. I almost went out there and joined them in their new-found freedom.

Not all growth is good growth.

The wild, thorny undergrowth crept in and we barely noticed. Then one day, we took a walk with a three year old and she was entangled in briars and thistles. It was no fun. There were tears. We couldn’t dance.

That’s when we knew it was time to clear away the undergrowth.

Lord, I haven’t given my spirit enough attention. There are dead areas that need to be hauled out. There is my old enemy, pride, dangling precariously overhead. And there is undergrowth — bristly words that poke and hurt. Send Your Spirit through my heart and mow down all “that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1)

It’s time to dance.

Low Battery

PB and I have been listening to Lectio 365 for the past 2 years. It is a free devotional resource that helps us pray the Bible every day. It is written by the leaders of the 24-7 Prayer Movement and we highly recommend it. (

One morning we did our usual thing. PB made coffee while I turned on the little bluetooth speaker and opened up the Lectio365 app on my phone. We went out to the back porch with our steaming cups and started listening. That morning the devotion was a reflection on one of the names of God in the Old Testament: El Olam, the Everlasting God. We settled in.

“I choose to rejoice in God’s consistency today…”
The soothing voice was rudely interrupted with a harsh robotic sound coming from the speaker.


The irony caught our attention.

“Everlasting God, You are the same, yesterday, today and forever. In the midst of life’s fragility and changeability, I cling to Your name and Your unchangeable nature….”


The contrast was arresting.

“The Scriptures go on to describe a God of everlasting strength, everlasting kindness, everlasting love….”


The lesson was obvious.

My speaker was drained of energy and needed recharging.
That happens to me sometimes.

When I don’t consistently plug in my devices, they stop working.
Oh, me too. Me too.

But God is different.
He doesn’t need plugging in.
He doesn’t need recharging.
He never shuts down.
He never takes a day off.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the beginning and end of all things,
who is, and who was, and who is to come.”

To-Die-For Red Dye

What would you do if you wanted to dye something red?
You’d buy one of these, I suppose.

What would you do if you lived in Israel in 700 B.C.
and you wanted to dye something red?
You’d go look for some bugs.

Let me tell you about the coccus ilicis,
a.k.a. kermes vermilio,
a.k.a. scarlet worm.

  • When the momma bug gets ready to give birth to her young, she finds an oak tree, climbs it and willingly attaches herself to it permanently.
  • Then she deposits her eggs and they are kept safe under her body. As the eggs grow into larvae, they suck the life out of their mother and she dies.
  • For three days after her death, scarlet fluid drips down the tree, staining the wood. She has to die to produce dye. (This fluid from the dead bug is what was used in ancient times to create crimson dye.)
  • On the fourth day after her death, the bug’s head and tail come together forming a heart shape and her color transforms from red to white.

What a compelling picture.

  • Jesus willingly went to the cross. “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” John 10:18
  • Jesus died so we could live. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
  • Jesus bled on the tree. “In him we have redemption through his blood.” Ephesians 1:7
  • Jesus’ blood cleanses us. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18

Do you have goosebumps yet?
There’s more.

When Jesus was on the cross, he quoted Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” In Jewish tradition, if someone quoted the first verse of a psalm, it was understood that he was referencing the whole thing. Because most of the psalms were memorized, the listeners knew what came next. It would be similar to us singing the first line of a song, like “God bless America, land that I love…” and everyone knowing exactly what those lyrics go on to say.

Psalm 22 foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus in many ways:

“I am poured out like water…
my heart has melted within me…
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth…
they divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment…”

But I’ve never noticed this before:
“I am a worm and not a man, scorned and despised by the people.” (v. 6)

The word for worm is coccus ilicis,
a.k.a. kermes vermilio,
a.k.a. scarlet worm.

And there you have it-
the gospel
in the life
of a bug.

Heaven and nature sings!
Whoever has ears, let them hear!

The Helmet

“Where’s my helmet?”
Those are the first words this little guy says when he comes to our house.

He wears it for walks in the woods.

He wears it while watching TV with Opa.

He wears it while riding in the boat with his sissy.

It’s a good idea to wear a helmet these days.

protect the minds of our little ones.
Help them to seek truth and goodness and beauty.
Help them to walk in Your ways and think Your thoughts.
Guard them from hollow and deceptive philosophy.
May the helmet of salvation keep them safe.

“Put on the full armor of God.
Take the helmet of salvation.”
Ephesians 6

Sink or Swim (or Walk)

Almost two months ago, I left Peter precariously sinking
and Jesus joyfully reaching. (See last post.)

Looking back, I think I wrote that because I was in the same boat.

On June 30th, PB and I stepped out of full time ministry after serving churches for 35 years. We weren’t sure how to walk into this new thing called retirement. The solid ground of schedules and Sunday services and cyclical seasons gave way to uncertain footing, wind and waves included. Two months have passed and although we haven’t sunk, we still feel a bit precarious, so I finally returned to Peter to see what happened after Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.

“And when they climbed into the boat…” (Matt. 14:32)

Think about it.
Jesus pulled Peter out of the swirling waters.
And then they walked together back to the boat.
On the water.

They didn’t swim back to the boat. Why would Peter dog-paddle when Jesus was standing there, holding his hand, smiling? Of course they walked back to the boat! On the water! In the wind!

“And when they climbed back into the boat, the wind died down”.

All of this change and restructuring of daily life will eventually die down. We will get the hang of this new season. In the meantime, wind and waves won’t take us down if we are holding on to our Life Preserver. Instead of focusing on the uncertainties, we will fix our eyes on Jesus and walk with Him wherever He leads.


I’m glad Peter stepped out of the boat and walked on water.
He showed what it looks like to walk by faith.

I’m even happier that Peter began to sink.
He demonstrated what to do when faith falters.

But when he saw the wind,
he was afraid and,
beginning to sink,
cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Matthew 14:30

We don’t know if Peter took two steps or twenty.
We aren’t told how far he got from the safety of the boat.
It is not reported if the water came up to his knees or his neck.

All we know is that Peter panicked and thought he was going down.
So he shouted that magnificent prayer: “Help!”

“Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.”
Matthew 14:31

Jesus caught the fisherman.

And He did it, according to this artist’s rendering, with a smile on His face.

There is no tsk-tsk-ing, no disappointed sigh, no frown of rebuke.
Instead, Jesus rejoices in any step of faith, even if we flounder.
He smiles and catches us so we can try again.
And again. And again.

In my distress I screamed to the Lord for his help.
And he heard me; my cry reached his ears…
He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
He drew me out of deep waters.
Psalm 18:6, 16