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One of my favorite Bible verses is James 1:27, which says, “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” As religions go, this list of requirements seems extraordinarily short. Yet there’s so much to discover in this little verse.

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Jesus didn’t come to instill a new religious order on earth. Rather, He came to establish a way of life. All Jesus wanted, and still wants, is for people to seek God with all their hearts (Matthew 6:33). Everything else falls into place once we get that part down. Why then does James call out requirements for religion God will accept, a true religion?

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This entire blog is predicated around becoming a disciple of Jesus. But what does discipleship look like? How do we know if we are getting closer to the mark? I would say first, discipleship is a standard to be pursued, not a target to be hit. There will never be a day when you can sit back and exclaim, “Ah! At last I’ve reached discipleship!”

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Being a disciple of Jesus is a process that will consume your entire lifetime. To be a disciple signifies nothing ever will mean more to you than desiring to live a life mirroring the life of Jesus. Discipleship is the total dedication of your life to His calling and purpose. To be a disciple is to be daily engaged in the mission of Christ.

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Every so often, I like to increase the amount of hate mail I receive. There’s no better way to assure this than discussing the faith (or grace) vs. works topic. As I have stated previously, I don’t fall into either the faith or works camp. I believe one without the other is useless, and believe there is strong Scriptural support to say the answer isn’t either faith or works, but rather faith and works. James says plainly in his letter faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).

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Coming from the brother of Jesus, I’m going to consider him a strong authority. There’s more to say about this, however. To those in either the faith or works camp, I urge you to keep reading. Not so I might persuade you to agree with me, but rather to take an honest look at what Scripture says about this and consider the eventual logic behind each view.

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Each of us possess an unconscious bias towards others. Some bias is the result of past experience, some the way we were brought up, and some the result of our culture and environment. Regardless of the source, we all look at the world through a lens colored by our unconscious bias. The problem is, our bias generally does not reflect the way God looks at people.

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He has a very conscious bias with which He looks at every soul on the planet. God’s bias is love. What I want to do as a disciple of Jesus is replace my own unconscious bias with His conscious decision to value people and always seek to serve them. I wish this were as easy as it sounds, but an unconscious bias is difficult to recognize and harder still to tame.

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At its core, this blog is about discipleship. It’s about living your life wholly devoted to Christ so you can live out the life He created you to live. What this looks like in practice will vary from person to person, but the one thing all disciples have in common is obedience to God.  By definition, obedience to God implies you have to do something in order to be His disciple. This isn’t a works based salvation; it’s works because of salvation.

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As A.W. Tozer once said, “Salvation without obedience is a self-contradicting impossibility!” Many people have bought into the teaching of salvation through grace alone to the exclusion of any responsibility for works of obedience. That’s a cheap and easy salvation never put forth by Jesus.

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In “Counter Culture”, David Platt writes, “When we observe our churches today, do they look like groups of people who gather with one another as they give their lives to spreading the gospel among unreached people, impoverished communities, abandoned orphans, lonely widows, dying babies, sex slaves, and suffering brothers and sisters around the world?” His conclusion is the same as my own: we do not.

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His question comes straight from the Bible (Matthew 25:31-41; James 1:27; Isaiah 58:6), and reflects God’s will for each of our lives. It’s sad enough most of us are not dedicating our own lives to this, but absolutely tragic we as a body of believers are not marshalling our forces to combat these evils in the world.

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I’m seeing a disturbing trend in Christendom…  Somehow sin is becoming “okay”. I’m not picking on any individual sin because it’s all equal in the eyes of God. Jesus demonstrated this when He said anyone who has lusted has committed adultery in their heart and anyone who has harbored anger has committed murder in his heart. I don’t think I’d be going too far out on a limb to then conclude, if not for the merciful covering of the blood of Christ, we would all be adulterers and murderers in the eyes of God.

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I say this to make it known up front I am the worst of sinners. What’s worse than an adulterer and murderer? So I am throwing no stones at any other sin or sinner. My only premise is it should never be acceptable or even possible for a Christian to find sin acceptable. Sin is not okay.
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One of the greatest gifts God has given us is time. Time is life. There is no living without it. Originally we were created to live outside of time, but our rebellion against God led to us being bound by the limits of time as we now know it (Genesis 2:16-17). We will all die (Hebrews 9:27), and so we must all maximize the time we have been given to further the mission of Christ and to build the Kingdom of God.

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This is why each of us was created, and it is the will of God for each of our lives. The trouble is, few live as if time were indeed limited. We dream of somedays and plan for next year. Rarely do we focus on what is most important right here and right now.  Knowing the clock is ticking, I have to ask, why are you wasting time?

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In Part I of “Your Best Year Ever” we discussed how the most important thing you can do in the coming year is to spend consistent time in God’s presence each day. Most have probably heard this advice before, but many struggle in determining what to do during the time they set aside. I want to share a few of my own habits (and new commitments) in hopes they will be helpful for you or at least inspire some new ideas for your own time with God.

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Remember the time set aside for Christ should be all about Him. It’s easy to consume the time praying for all your needs and desires, but that means it’s all about you. You are the follower, not the followed. When you become God, it can become all about you. Until then, let’s focus on Jesus.
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C.S. Lewis once said, “Remember that the ‘bottomless sea’ can’t hurt us as long as we keep on swimming.” That’s important to remember when we are going through dark times in our life. Jesus never promised a life spent pursuing Him would be easy. In fact, He told us it would be anything but easy (John 15:18-20, John 16:33, 1 Peter 5:10, James 1:2-3).

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Still, it is easy to question where God is in the midst of our struggle. We feel as if we’re drowning and see no way to get back to the surface. I can think of no better advice than what Lewis gave: just keep swimming! God is always closer than you think. He’s right beside you, reaching out His hand (Matthew 14:27-31).
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