The Motive Trap


   As any good mystery or thriller writer knows, a potential criminal always has to have a motive for his crime. Let’s face it—blackmail, murder, kidnapping—none of them are very intriguing without a really juicy motive.

   Nevertheless, outside of criminal law, motives are often not even a factor in real life. But Jesus considers motives. In terms of Kingdom principle, motive is huge. When Jesus came along, he introduced a seismic shift in the understanding of motive between the Old and New Covenants. Under the OT law, for example, the Pharisees technically did everything right from straining knats to tithing their herbs. But still, Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs”. Why? Because their motives stank to high heaven: They were doing those things so that they could point to themselves as “righteous”. Yet when a widow had only a few pennies to give, he honored her because her motive was obviously to share with others, not just to give the minimum so she could check the tithe box.

   So what does this have to do with us? Two things. First, sometimes we beat ourselves up for having wrong motives when they’re not really wrong. Secondly, sometimes we judge other people’s motives and not only do we have no business doing that (unless we’re directly involved in the issue), but doing so can have very destructive consequences. Let’s take a look at several situations where the motive thing trips us up…

“Fake It Till You Make It!”

   Is that okay? Is it okay to act like you’ve forgiven someone or that you love people or whatever when you’re not really feeling it? Can you say, “Of course I forgive you” or “I love you” because you’re supposed to—but, well, you’re not really there yet?

   There are two camps: the “Absolutely not!” folks and the “Sure, it’s a start” folks. The “heck no!” people insist that to “fake it” for any reason is simply a lie and we should never! On the other side of the church is the philosophy that when we set our wills in gear, our emotions will follow, and that’s okay. We may not “feel” the love or the forgiveness in the moment but we’re trying to do what the Bible commands us to do.

   So what is the truth? Should we do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing—regardless of emotion? Or is that just unequivocally wrong—should we hold the hugs and the forgiveness until we’re really feeling it?

   The fact is, it’s pretty simple: It all boils down to our motives. Are we moving in faith toward real change or are we content just to coast through life going through the motions with no real transformation of heart?

   It’s not a trick question.

Parting With Our Cash

   Giving is not only a nice thing to do, but the Bible commands us to give. The thing is that in the OT, people were commanded to give a tenth of their income (a tithe), while in the NT, we’re instructed to give tithes as well as “offerings”—money over and above the ten percent. Of course, the word “offer” suggests that offerings are voluntary and they are: We don’t have to give them. However, if we do, there are those who insist that if our motive is “to give to get,” we may as well not give at all. Untrue. The Bible says that we’ll “reap what we sow” and that “The measure that you give will be the measure used to give back to you.” These scriptures imply that it’s okay to expect a return on what we give. How do I know?

   Because the principle of faith supersedes everything else.

   If we need provision or a return on an investment, we have two choices: We can sow our money into the world’s financial system such as the stock market, or we can sow it into the Kingdom of God. In the stock market, the general thinking is that while it can have its ups and downs, if you hang in there long enough, you’ll make some money. That means that investing in the world’s options will produce a return. And it’s not wrong to invest in the market—just not with our tithes and offerings; that money belongs to God. So, if we take that money and invest it in the Kingdom of God, are we guaranteed a return? Yes—because the Bible says so. However, many think that trusting in the Word of God is too risky an option so they don’t sow into Kingdom work. Conversely, those who do give to the Lord are trusting in God to provide a return on their investment. In other words, money talks. Wherever we choose to invest demonstrates that we have faith in that source.

The bottom line is this: Faith in God’s Word—for whatever reason—is never a wrong motive.

Using Our Gifts and Talents

   One of the most destructive judgments people can make is when they take it upon themselves to judge other people for using their God-given gifts and talents. This most often happens when a person’s destiny involves being visible or known. When a person steps out in confidence to do what God has called him or her to do, there are always going to be those judgmental busybodies who poke their heads up out of their holes to proclaim that this one or that one is “prideful”. We’ve all seen it. And it’s pathetic. Only the Lord can judge whether a person is being prideful or whether they’re simply moving, without apology, into their destinies. In order to prove we’re not prideful, do we have to go around feeling guilty for every success we’re blessed with? Absolutely not and those who insist that we do should probably check their own motives.

   Does this sound harsh? Perhaps, but judging people for being prideful has been the shipwreck of more destinies than we even want to know.

   Labeling motives as “prideful” has sidelined many a good and honest person for fear that, because someone says they’re prideful, then it must be true—so they quit.

   Here’s a fact: many Pharisees called Jesus names because he had the audacity to claim he was the Son of God and to forgive sin. And yet he didn’t apologize for it—he simply ignored them and moved in what he was born to do.

“Their Fruits”

   In terms of “judging” people for their fruit, here’s a good rule of thumb for deciding whether we need to be critiquing anybody: If the person’s words or actions don’t directly involve us (or they’re not trying to sell us something), we don’t need to be speculating on their motives. The only people who would need to do that are folks in authority whose job description includes “fruit inspector”—a pastor, parent, employer or District Attorney. Otherwise, other people’s motives are none of our business. Here’s a novel idea: If we think someone’s motives need an overhaul, pray for them.

   The end game is this: We need to be careful in judging ourselves and others for wrong motives. It’s destructive. There’s never been a tendency toward “wrong motives” that’s ever been cured by a beatdown. If we feel that anyone’s motives are in question, including our own, there’s only one Fruit Inspector we should be talking to.

   That’s the only way to be free of the motive trap.



“Resurrection!”—Details at Eleven.


“RESURRECTION!”—Details at Eleven

   My mother always used to say that it would’ve been so much easier to believe in Jesus if we’d lived when he lived. Me—not so much. In fact, I’m pretty certain I would’ve been in the Pharisee camp. I would’ve been afraid of being misled if I weren’t. Granted, Jesus did some pretty impressive miracles and no doubt he was an amazing prophet—maybe the best of the best—but the things he said?? Was it “safe” to believe in a man who claimed all kinds of outrageous things  but just didn’t appear to be what the Messiah was supposed to be? After all, that’s what the Pharisees said and that’s why they were paid the big bucks—to know those things. If I were alive back then, who would I have been to question them? What if Jesus wasn’t the Messiah? Certainly they would know that better than I. It was their job to rightly interpret the Scriptures.

   Except that they didn’t.

Jesus’ First Miracle

   Looking back, it’s no accident or coincidence that Jesus’ very first miracle was turning water into wine. His first public declaration was a prophetic act in which he brought new wine upon the earth, a harbinger of a new covenant between God and man. And how did he do it? In a way that would become his signature method of operation for everything he did: Not how we would expect.

   Nothing—not one single thing he ever did was done in a way that we could anticipate.

   New wine.

   Why did the Pharisees miss it? Apart from the fact that they were thoroughly corrupt, the reason is that they weren’t expecting “new wine.” Nor were they expecting any of the other unpredictable things that Jesus did.

   So what did Jesus do?

   Jesus said and did unprecedented things for one reason and one reason only: to save the Jewish people from their sin and he stopped at nothing to do that. But here’s what happened…

First Unpredictable Thing

   Jesus said he was the Son of God—not what anyone expected to hear; it was blasphemy and a capital offense. The problem with believing him—and the problem I might’ve had—is that this regular, blue-collar kind of guy just didn’t fit the profile of the coming king, the Son of David, the ruling Messiah. Everyone was expecting a real king with robes and a crown—and not one of thorns. But Jesus chose to upset the applecart (and the temple merchants’ tables) by appearing in a manner no one recognized. How could anyone even have imagined that the Son of the majestic God of Mount Sinai would materialize as an anonymous carpenter who would then choose to associate with the poor, the rejected, and the “unclean”? That was novel. But the Son of God came for a greater purpose than to conquer men. He came to change hearts. No one could have foreseen that.

   New wine.

Second Unpredictable Thing

   “’If you don’t eat my flesh and drink my blood, you can have no part in me.’”

   What?? WHAT??

   That was shamefully shocking and, yes—unexpected. And the day that Jesus proclaimed it, he lost many disciples. After all, had anyone ever said anything even halfway so outrageous? Miracles or no miracles, it just sounded wrong.

   The thing was, Jesus was speaking in a spiritual sense and a prophetic sense but few discerned that. I mean, who would? Such a declaration was unprecedented in Old Testament scripture. But Jesus was referring to a level of relationship with him that none, at that time, could even imagine. It was an entirely unfathomable idea.

   New wine.

Third Unpredictable Thing

   Jesus’ disciples thought he was coming to deliver Israel from Rome. And why wouldn’t they? Jesus had just told them at the last supper to round up swords. “Awesome!” they thought. “Finally—let’s go kill some Romans!” So when a man appeared trying to arrest Jesus, Peter did the logical thing: he cut off his ear. And what did Jesus do? He put the guy’s ear back on. Why? Because his mission was not simply to deliver his people from the tyranny of the Romans but rather to save them from eternal death in hell. But who knew? The disciples could not see beyond their desire to be free of the Romans and so Jesus’ irrational actions were a mystery—and a frustration—to them.

   New wine.

Fourth Unpredictable Thing

   “’On the third day, the Son of Man will rise again.’” By this time, even his disciples ignored his statement. Who knew whether he was speaking in parables again or not? After all, the “seed” that fell on “thorny ground” wasn’t really seed and the thorns weren’t really thorns. Plus, hadn’t he said that he would tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days? No doubt that was also some metaphor for who-knows-what? Their attitude was probably that if any of this stuff was really important, he’d get back around to it eventually in plain Aramaic.

   The fact was that Jesus meant that he was going to die a horrific death on a cross—which his disciples missed—and he was going to rise in three days—which they also missed. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been baffled about why he’d allowed some guards to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane nor would they have been grieving after he died. They’d have been checking their watches. In short, they didn’t get it—any of it. They didn’t perceive the new covenant that was about to be birthed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

   New wine.

New Wineskin or Old?

   Jesus has said that no one can put new wine into old wineskins because it would blow up the old wineskins and all would be lost (my translation). This means that new truth can only be received into hearts that understand that the “new wine” which the Lord brings won’t fit into the old wineskins of our old expectations. We cry out for God to do “a new thing” and then we don’t perceive it when he does. Moreover, the concept of “new wineskins” has nothing to do with how old we are; it has everything to do with whether or not we’re going to put God into a box and try to dictate whether a “new thing” is really him or whether we’ll declare it “not God.” In other words, will we be led by the Spirit of God or led by the spirit of the Pharisees?

   This Resurrection Day—and all of the days after it—let’s put aside the “old wine” of stale and obsolete expectations and receive the new wine that the Lord is ready to pour out.

   Just remember one thing: this new wine may not look like we think it will look.






More Than Conquerors?


   “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37 – KJ).

   For several years, I’ve been perplexed by Romans 8:37 and I’ve asked the Lord about it many times. “Lord, how is it possible to be ‘more than conquerors’? I mean, nothing is greater than a conqueror. Conquerors achieve victory in all things—what else is there to gain after victory? How then can we be greater?” Recently, the Lord answered my question and that revelation has made a total shift in my thinking. Here’s what He showed me:

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”

   A Conqueror gains victory over present conditions. An Overcomer brings victory to past circumstances.

   A Conqueror battles to win victory over others. An Overcomer battles to win victory over himself.

   A Conqueror battles with strength. An Overcomer battles with faith.

   A Conqueror takes territory. An Overcomer restores territory.

   A Conqueror defeats people. An Overcomer redeems people.

   A Conqueror requires submission. An Overcomer brings freedom.

   A Conqueror condemns the guilty. An Overcomer forgives the guilty.

   A Conqueror restrains violence. An Overcomer establishes peace.

   A Conqueror legislates righteousness. An Overcomer teaches wisdom.

   A Conqueror wounds in warfare. An Overcomer heals as warfare.

   A Conqueror battles in the physical realm against flesh and blood. An Overcomer battles in the Spirit against rulers, principalities and powers, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

   A Conqueror battles for an earthly kingdom. An Overcomer battles for an eternal kingdom.

   A Conqueror is good. An Overcomer is greater.

   We are more than Conquerors.




When God Is Silent


   I recently talked with a teenager I’ll call Dave who is not only angry at God, but claims not to believe in him at all. In other words, he quit God. This is because when Dave was younger and needed God in a very serious situation, he says God ignored him. He says he prayed and prayed and God refused to help him. Quite honestly, I didn’t know what to say to Dave because, while he didn’t share the situation with me, I sensed it went beyond your usual teenage trauma, and I didn’t want to give some pat answer that might trivialize his situation or pain. Lots of responses popped into my head about “God testing our faith” or “God using this when you’re older,” but I knew he wouldn’t understand. Lots of times as adults, we don’t understand: Why doesn’t God answer us when we need him so desperately and we’re praying our hearts out and yet all we hear is crickets?

Doesn’t God Care?

   This is one of the primary questions we ask when we’re hurting and God seemingly doesn’t answer: If God really cared about me, he’d answer my prayers, he’d deliver me.  

He’d show up.

   And yet, he doesn’t. At least, not in the way we would think. But in the midst of our pain and suffering—or, sometimes worse yet, the pain and suffering of someone we love—we see it that way. All we want is for the pain to stop. It might be physical pain, or illness, or emotional pain, or addiction, or broken relationships, or even perhaps a need for provision and yet we feel left hanging. God has let us down.

   But has he? There are some important principles to consider in those seasons of life that, whether they’re easy principles to accept or not, are true. I know. I’ve been through my share of heartache so I wouldn’t serve up some sorry cliché as an answer but, since the dust has settled, I have found some things to be truth.

Principle #1: God has a plan.

   We all know the scripture where God says, “’My ways are not your ways, and My thoughts not your thoughts,’” and we give it lip service. And we know the scripture that says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘Plans for good and not for evil, plans to give you a future and a hope.’” We nod our heads and exclaim, “We know that!” But when the pink slip comes or the kid goes prodigal or the marriage hits the fan or the diagnosis rocks us to the core, are we really thinking, “God has a plan!” Not probably. The thing is, he does. Still, because his way of thinking is far beyond our capacity to comprehend it, we don’t understand. Sometimes, after the fallout, we can look back and we get it, but in the season, we can feel abandoned and betrayed by the One who says he loves us. Maybe, like Dave, we quit God. After all, that’ll show him. But what’s it really show him? That we truly don’t believe anymore or that we’re trying to get through to him how devastated we are by his apparent tune-out? Sometimes we have a tantrum, much like a kid who yells at a parent, “I hate you.” But they don’t really. They just don’t understand their mom or dad’s thinking in the moment. You know what they say? “The older I get, the smarter my parents get.” Why? Because as we mature, we can see their big-picture reasoning for not giving us what we thought, as children, we had to have.

   Losing a loved one seems like the exception to the rule. “How can you say that God has a plan when my loved one died?” That was God’s plan?? That’s just insane!

   How dare you?

   I dare because I lost my mom before my second son was born. I dare because I watched her suffer terribly from lung and then brain cancer. I dare because I knew the pain and suffering my father endured, and I dare because my sons grew up without knowing their grandma. I dare because when I was going through one of the most painful times in my life, my mother was gone and my whole family had moved out of state.

   I dare because I get it.

   So what was God’s plan there? Sometimes it’s not about the person who died—here comes the cliché—they’re in a better place. Rather, sometimes it’s about us and how that tragedy changes us to change the world. Who knew that when John Walsh’s son was kidnapped and murdered, John would end up helping hundreds, if not thousands, of other children be saved by starting the TV show “America’s Most Wanted?” Who knew that after Abe Lincoln had lost election after election (probably close to a dozen), lost his fiancée and his parents, filed for bankruptcy, and had a nervous breakdown, that he would end up being the president who ended slavery in this nation? Who knew that Abraham and Sarah, after suffering the heartbreak and shame of infertility for decades would one day be the birth of a nation and the father and mother of millions of people who thrive to this day?

   God knew. And he knows his purpose for your tragedy and heartache, too.

Principle #2: God’s View Is Eternal.

   Yes, I know: “We have the mind of Christ.” But that doesn’t mean that every day, in all things, we understand God’s eternal mindset. Our stunted perspective limits our understanding of why trials and tribulations happen. Here’s one thing I do know:

This life on earth is just the beginning of our eternities—our missions and our purposes do not end when we die.

   Therefore, what we endure on this earth will have consequences for others after we die. Sometimes these consequences are evident while we’re alive on earth, sometimes they’re not evident on earth until after we die, and sometimes they’re not ever evident on earth; they affect eternity. Chew on that.

Principle #3: God Loves You!

   You may not feel it now—in fact, you may doubt it now, but nonetheless, it’s true. Our emotions and limited understanding do not shape reality or change the truth that God loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Even if we’ve pitched that fit and called God names and quit him in the midst of our confusion and pain, he still loves us.

   He still loves you.

   How do I know? Because there was a day when God purposefully created you. You weren’t just part of some mass package of human beings that fell off some random assembly line, but there was a moment when God deliberately and uniquely created you because he wanted you. And that’s the truth.

   One day we’ll understand the mysteries of the pain and tears that we suffer now and we’ll even understand the reason for God’s silence on occasion. Sometimes it’s simply so that we’ll dig deeper to know him more and believe it or not, knowing him trumps every other thing on earth.

   In those moments when God is silent, know that he will not forever be. There’ll come a day—even in this lifetime—when we’ll hear him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful one.” And that’s all that will matter.