It is not a temptation if it does not pull on our sinful desires. I have never been tempted to jump out of an airplane. I had the thought once, but it did not take any will-power to resist. A temptation grabs my attention and must be resisted. Eve was tempted to grow wise outside the will of God. The fruit looked good and it came with a promise (Genesis 3:6). It attracted her enough to defy the God who created her and fellowshipped with her. James wrote that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (1:14).


It is not a temptation to be moved to read the Scriptures. That is an invitation, not a temptation. We are tempted to say with a temptation, “It’s not wrong,” or “Not that wrong,” because we know it is.


God tests us to bring us into new places of victory. Satan tempts us to step outside of the will of God. James wrote, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (1:13). 


The serpent managed to put doubts into the mind of Eve about God. He made her think that God was a bit too controlling, selfish, manipulative, unwilling to share His wisdom. Every temptation is an assault on God’s character. It maligns Him, like He is holding back from us something we have a right to have: “One more drink is not that big a deal.” “Speeding won’t hurt me.” “She said she was a religious person.” “You would have done the same thing if you were in my place.” “It was something that I simply could not resist.”  We must justify it in our mind, so we boldly challenge God in order to give in: “He is not looking out for me.” “He is not as faithful to me as I expected.” “He doesn’t answer all my prayers.” “I’ve waited long enough.” “My life has been too hard.” “I need a harmless break.” Listen to your self-talk. It is coming against God.


“Desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). It is never profitable to give in to temptation. Satan will tell us that it is harmless, that it affects nothing. Giving in to temptation IS a big deal and is step one toward death. Not a good idea. Every sin has the seeds of death in it. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Obedience brings life, disobedience brings death, one sin at a time. One look at porn seems so harmless, but two months later when the addiction takes us away the Scriptures and into deeper sin, our mind is dulled from saying “yes” to God, and Satan wins big. There’s a better way: “Submit to God; resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).


The word “regret” comes from an old English word “greet,” which means “to weep.”  The “re,” meaning “again,” suggests ongoing weeping. Webster defines regret as “sorrow or remorse over something that has happened, especially over something that one has done or left undone” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). At first glance, regret seems hardly dangerous and certainly not deadly. But on closer examination, we can see the folly of regret and the potential to feel its crippling impact. Regret sentences us to live in the past.  It can bury us in remorse and keep us from investing in the future. The ‘re’ of regret tells us that it often hangs around longer than it should. Regret often includes the words “if only:”

“If only I had passed my test.”

“If only we had not broken up.”

“If only they had not forgotten to pay the bill.”

“If only I had taken that position instead of moving.”

Why is regret dangerous?

  1. Unlike repentance, regret doesn’t have a terminal point. Repentance leads to forgiveness, and forgiveness deals with the past effectively.  Forgiveness brings release and usually a lifting of the sorrow. Regret hangs on like a cloud, darkening the atmosphere with an ambiguous gloom.
  2. Regret can lead to repentance, but often it doesn’t.  It is a poor substitute for repentance because it doesn’t bring the same relief.  

It is possible to regret something appropriately.  When we are unable to attend a friend’s graduation, we can say politely, “I regret that I cannot attend.” Not something to repent over. And that kind of regret doesn’t camp out in our soul.  But it can, and sometimes it does, putting a haze over the present and shielding us from the future.

Paul wrote, “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it.  Though I did regret it–I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while–yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.  For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done” (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).  

Paul examined the fruit of two kinds of sorrow: regret and repentance. Regret leads to death, while repentance brings a wealth of potential fruit.  He calls the two sorrows worldly or godly. Worldly regret includes such emotions as anger, self-condemnation, discouragement, depression, and blame, and those emotions do not convert to positive change. (Part 2 will show us what godly sorrow produces).


…take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12).  A friend at seminary asked me, “If Satan wanted to take you out, what would he use?” I said, “Pride.” Then I asked him the same question and he said, “Sex.” He was right. He divorced a godly wife who had given him four wonderful children and chose a single woman instead, leaving the ministry and a trail of suffering behind him. He knew enough to answer correctly but not enough to deal with the issue at hand. Sad, stupid and selfish. What do you tell his kids?

I wish he had a mentor that helped him to walk in the light, confess his sins, and deal with his problems. Might have saved a lot of people from a ton of pain. I ask young men I mentor to tell me their strengths and the weaknesses. Then we discuss them–in detail. I want to see if they know what could take them out and what they are doing about it now. Many of those who have good plans for their future and leadership gifts never get there. They are sidelined for a host of reasons. If they had been taking heed, maybe they could have prevented the fallout. If they had coaches to help keep them on track with probing questions, they might have learned to be on guard.

We are looking for older, wiser men and women who could help steer these young people into a bright future. Too many in their seventies think it is time for them to sit back and be spectators. Or perhaps the church they attend makes them feel that way. We desperately need mature fathers and mothers prepared to be a shining light with millennials who need their example and wisdom. Dear older friends, let your pastor know that you are available to work with young people one on one.

I am sad for every pastor who experiences a moral failure. That wasn’t on their agenda when they were ordained and took vows of ordination and when they were married and made promises to their spouse. Somehow, they didn’t take heed–and they fell. The potential is in every one of us. A man after God’s own heart created pain in his family for years through moral fallout. He was forgiven, but the consequences played themselves out for decades.

What could keep you from your God-appointed destiny? The master called three servants and gave them jobs. Two did well and were commended. The third buried his talents and had a miserable ending. The master called him a “wicked and slothful servant.” That was not a compliment. He was both mean-spirited and lazy. He didn’t take heed–and he fell hard.

“Taking heed” includes:

1) Vulnerability. James urges us: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Walking in the light means that we don’t have secrets. If we have a secret for more than a week, it has us.

2) Awareness of Satan’s sinister plans. He wants to take us out. Oh how Satan rejoices when someone with a successful ministry is picked off. Paul called it “craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14). We are called to “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). May you stand–as you take heed!


The elder brother of the prodigal had them too–and didn’t know it. If you are a controlling person, you probably don’t see it–but everyone near you does. They feel it when you try to control the time, the conversation, the meeting, the phone call.

“The fruit of the Spirit is…self-control.” The more self-control you possess, the less you need to be controlling. The more out of control you feel, the more you may try to control whatever you can. If you struggle with needing to control other people,

1)  You feel entitled to your opinion, but you don’t want theirs. You trust your outlook.

2)  You assert yourself with anger, one of the major methods of controlling. And you are mad when people don’t follow your advice or expectations. The elder brother was like the Pharisees, who were out of control but presented themselves as in control. Controlling others masks insecurity. Think Martha, who tried controlling her sister.

3)  You don’t plan on changing, but others need to. Unfortunately, you are clueless to your control. You just have better ideas and more wisdom, and you want to mentor others and show them how it is done. The Pharisees thought they had things to teach people. In fact, they had nothing right, nor did the elder brother.

4)  You have many relational conflicts, which should be a clue to your problem, but you tend not to see your issues while you point out the flaws of others. The elder brother had a conflict with his brother and with his father. He didn’t know how to do relationships. The prodigal and the father did. The emphasis of controlling people is more on functions than on relationships. The prodigal was mending a relationship. The elder brother had no idea relationships needed mending. He didn’t know his father as a father; he was his boss. Entitlement reduces a relationship with God from father to boss. And their picture of Him is skewed by their wounding, perhaps a demanding mother or father. The elder brother had a good father but but he didn’t know it. He tried telling his father how to run the family, how to control his over-the-top younger brother

If you have read this far and think you might have some control issues, you probably do, and they are most likely bigger than you think. Here are some helps to walking in freedom from the need to be the CEO of the universe:


  • Focus on yourself. Notice Paul calls it “self-control.” You are not required to control others, and you are not as good at it as you may imagine. Every one of your problems has a common issue–you. Quit thinking the world is out to get you. It just wants you to quit trying to manage their life. That is demoralizing and degrading, especially since your life is out of control. Think about it: the more we walk with self-control, the less need we feel to control others.
  • Consider God. He is the most powerful person of the universe–and the least controlling. The father of the prodigal is a picture of God. The son made an illegitimate request–and the father honored it. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe he could see that the son had already left and needed to learn what the world was really like. He did–and he came home to experience non-controlling compassion. So will you.



…sneaks up on us. “I am entitled to some free time because I worked so hard.” “I am entitled to more respect, because I am holding this marriage together.” The disciples thought they were entitled to time with Jesus, so they excused their rudeness to a needy woman. They also wanted to send a crowd away because they were hungry and entitled to food.

People living by entitlement make God their employer. “Give me my paycheck; I’ve earned it.” Think elder brother. He deserved a party, because he had worked for his dad and never disobeyed him. Whoops. He had just refused to come inside. Entitled folks are blind to their irresponsibility while claiming their rights.

Entitlement gives you a boss instead of a father. The elder son never used the word “father” when talking to his dad as the younger brother did. He clocked in every morning, then expected to be paid. You get what you deserve. He had the right to a party, not with the boss man but with friends. He didn’t even want to be with “the boss.”

Meanwhile, the young son knew that he didn’t deserve anything, but he got it all—a party, new clothes, new shoes, a ring. Far from deserving it, he planned his confession: “Treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:19). That is where his brother ended up by entitlement. When you think you are entitled, you lower your status from son to servant and God’s from Father to Boss. The relationship morphs from personal to professional, from relational to functional.

We may wonder why we don’t feel close to God. Perhaps we feel entitled to a blessing because we are serving Him. Maybe we shouldn’t get sick like others or miss our plane. Servants of the King should be treated better. Thoughts creep in that rob us of grace and reduce us to slaves with a hard-driving master who expects us to work hard, then doesn’t even give us what we deserve, like a party. Check out the servant who called a happy, generous master “a hard man” (Matt. 25:24). He deserved a break, though he had buried what was given him to invest. Entitlement often makes people lazy, passive victims (see John 5:7),  though they expect others to come through for them.

Grace doesn’t make sense. There’s no free lunch. Why would love be poured out on a brother who shamed the family? It made big brother mad. But the father, who never stopped loving either son, preferred grace to condemnation. “Mercy triumphs over judgment” in the father’s house.

A Pharisee, proud of his record, came to the temple to boast. He had earned points by fasting and tithing. By contrast, the tax collector “beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’” (Luke 18:13). He received what he asked for. Jesus told the parable “to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else. Entitlement doesn’t endear us to the Father, nor to our brothers and sisters. And it wreaks havoc on relationships. While an outlook of grace levels the playing field and puts us all in the same position of needy brothers and sisters, entitlement puts some in a higher place, like the Pharisee and elder brother placed themselves. Not a good thing to do. Choose grace instead and live above entitlement!


Public speaking, terminal illness, flying, growing old, failing a test. Someone just got afraid reading this list. As a boy I didn’t go to bed—I flew. That way I avoided the bad guy under the bed. I overcame that fear by the time I married Karen. Some fears hang around our whole life. The story of David and Goliath gives us some lessons on fear.



Goliath measured in at nine feet. That means slam-dunking without leaving the ground. He wasn’t the friendly kind of giant: “He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel… Choose a man for yourselves…If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail…they you shall be our servants” (I Samuel 17:8,9). Response: “When Saul and all Israel heard these words…they were dismayed and greatly afraid (11).


Ignoring him didn’t work: “For forty days the Philistine came forward” (16). Fear unchallenged grows. Saul, the biggest in Israel, should have taken the challenge, but walking in disobedience brings fear, not faith.



Fear attacks at our most vulnerable point. The Philistines were perennial weeds in Israel’s garden patch. Fear reduces us to subjection, making us afraid to act, to fly, to talk, to lead.


Fear makes us flee. “All the men of Israel…fled from him and were much afraid” (24). God allows fear to grow faith. Fear is faith in reverse, believing the worst rather than the best. Fear produces a sinister imagination. These soldiers chose flight over fight.


Fear makes us fight—the wrong people. When David showed up at camp and expressed interest in taking on Goliath, his brother argued, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness?” (28). Anger is a more respectable response than fear. When we feel like failures, we might go after those wanting to make a difference.



We face him. The longer we ignore fear, the deeper the roots grow. David didn’t give it a chance to take root. Some prefer living with fears to accepting the painful challenge of confronting them.


We trust in the Lord. The soldiers compared themselves to the giant. David compared the giant to the Almighty: “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the bear will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine” (37). Past defeats can paralyze us, but past victories turn tests into testimonies. Affirmations of faith help trust to grow: “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head” (46). Face it, fight it, faith it!


During seminary I developed some fears that immobilized me. Normal things like answering the phone or raising my hand in class became difficult. I looked up Scripture references on fear and quoted them out loud when the giant showed up. It took months of declarations, but the fears did subside. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Fear comes by hearing the word of Satan.


David didn’t go against Goliath because he thought he was a better fighter but because he learned with tests to upgrade his confidence in the sovereignty of God. Worked for him. Trust leads to courage. “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1). (Computer crashed. Lost all files. Praying to recover them.)


God is the most uncontrolling person in the universe. Yet He maintains full control. Some parents and bosses are controlling because their lives are out of control. When Nebuchadnezzar realized he could not control three young Jewish men, he became uncontrollable. Control and controlling, close in the dictionary, are polar opposites.

Satan is the most controlling person in the universe. He controls by manipulation, intimidation, accusation, deception, and temptation. If he gains full control of people, he robs them of their identity and possesses them, expressing his own personality through the use of their body.

God, on the other hand, fills us without possessing us. We maintain our own personality, remain in substantial control, and are given freedom to make decisions. God makes truth available, guides with the quiet voice of the Spirit, and shows agape love to persuade us that His way is best. If we choose evil over good, He does not stop us.

When some would-be followers left Jesus because of His hard words, He asked His disciples if they would leave as well. They said, “Where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” They had been captured by truth, not by force. No one is more gentle than Jesus—and no one more powerful. The strength of love trumps the power of aggression. Some are attracted to force because they did not learn love. For them, weapons of warfare beat the fruit of the Spirit. But not for long. The kingdom of God [His rule and reign] is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Controlling parents are testifying to their insecurity and lack of control. They control with volume of voice and shameful words. They abuse by manipulation because they did not learn or trust a better way. Maybe they were students of controlling parents. So because they were not in control, they seek now to control the one way they know.

God exercises control because He is all-knowing and all-powerful, but He is also uncontrolling. Satan wanted control, so he tried force and lost control. The only control he has presently is what God temporarily gives him and what people vote for through his deception. Revelation 12:9 says that Satan “leads the whole world astray.” Rev. 13:3 says that “the whole world was astonished and followed the beast;” Rev. 13:8 says that “all inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life.” The end of time gives him a level of sinister satisfaction, that he has a level of control—until Christ returns to take over.

Watch yourself when you are losing control. You will be tempted to borrow Satan’s methodology to regain it. It is not comfortable to be out of control. But knowing that God, not Satan, is in full control, that He is the Lord of the universe, exercising His control through unlimited power and love, we can trust His design and His decisions. When ill health, untimely problems, or opposition at work show us that we have little control, that is the time to upgrade our confidence in the sovereignty of God. We remind ourselves that we are not on the throne and certainly not Satan. He is! And He shall reign forever and ever!


“Hey, Elijah called down fire from heaven. We could too.”

What was positive about James and John wanting to torch the Samaritans for resisting Jesus on His way to Jerusalem? Clearly, they demonstrated great faith. That action has never occurred to me.

What was negative? They misread Jesus’ character and mission. His way of retaliating with people who oppose Him is to forgive them, to let the sun keep shining on their crops. We do not overcome evil with evil, as in calling for judgment. With the God of all grace, “mercy triumphs over judgment.”

We use fire, for sure, but not the way James and John were thinking. Jesus said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled” (Luke 11:49). He was speaking of the fire of His passion and death (v. 50). Showing the kindness of the cross pours hot coals on the opposition. It gets their attention and provokes a response. Jesus had a far more effective way than judgment on the spot; it was judgment at the cross. He took the beating the resisters deserved. So we get even with love. A conspiracy of kindness beats a jury of judgment.

The world needs to “see your good deeds” in order to “glorify your Father who is in heaven.” God does not relish sending people to hell. It isn’t even being constructed for them. It is for the devil and his angels. God would much rather save than destroy.

The disciples demonstrated skewed ambition. They were offended, as if they expected everyone to buy into their agenda or else. Better have a significant supply of fire. Not going to happen. God doesn’t take up offenses. He is too healthy emotionally to live in the reaction mode with people trying to ruin His day. He doesn’t say, “Okay, no more rain on your garden, no sun today on your vegetables.”

He continues to show love, because “it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance’ (Rom. 2:5), not the judgment. Judgment on the world is punitive, on the church corrective. The world doesn’t normally say in a time of disaster, “That must be God; I need to repent.” It swears and rails against heaven.

The trigger response of judgment happens when pagans act like like pagans. It’s a hard call. Whenever God chooses to judge an individual, city, or nation, He always does it for just cause. Yet a merciful God gets more satisfaction seeing the blood of the Son applied to sins than seeing the wages of their sin ending in death. And Jesus sees “the fruit the travail of his soul and is satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11).

Be careful of a knee-jerk reaction when people get out of line. They don’t know what line they are in. If we get offended, we are too personally involved. Our unhealthy emotions will take us on a detour from the main thing. Jesus could not be sidetracked from His mission to die. “He turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village” (Luke 9:55,56).

It is not your problem to defend God. He can stand up under attack. Their reaction showed self-righteousness, pride, independence, a false need to defend Jesus, and a messiah complex, which said that they were more important than their message.

Let’s make sure our faith makes us gentle and humble, not hard on people. We don’t want them to get what they deserve but what Christ went to Jerusalem to win for them.


When I was a kid, we’d say to those who called us names, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  Like fun!  Names hurt us more than any stick ever did. Words shaped like weapons wound far more than a piece of wood.  Job asked his so-called friends, “How long will you torment me, and break me in pieces with words?” (Job l9:2).

Words have launched wars.  They have broken up countless marriages, separated life-long friends, split churches, and sent children down the lonely road of depression.

But they have also healed cancer, prevented suicides, restored friendships, stopped wars from breaking out, and brought the emotionally imprisoned into liberty.



“If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies.  Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs” (James 3:3,4).  James gives us two examples to show us that small can be significant.


A BIT. A broken and bridled stallion makes a beautiful sight, and a little bit goes a long way!  The flick of the wrist by the master turns the mighty beast in an instant.  His will has come under the control of his rider, and a ninety-pound girl can rule a great racehorse.

James likewise says that a controlled tongue makes possible the direction of the whole body. If you want to obey your Master, start with the tongue. It’s downhill from there.

A RUDDER. On a vacation, my wife Karen and I sat at one of our favorite restaurants along the San Pedro harbor and watched mega-oil freighters cut their way into quiet waters and dock.  Amazing as it is, the direction of these huge ships is determined by a relatively small rudder, operated by one man’s hand.


“So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire.  The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell.  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:5-8). Again, James gives us two examples.

FIRE. I watched the l993 Southern California fire on TV.  Our close friends, the Guldseths, saw it for real. It wiped out their guest house, tool shed, and several cars. One match can do great damage; so can one word.

Pyromaniacs can make a crime look like an accident.  James removes any doubt about the origin of fires ignited by the tongue—the pit of hell.  We may say that it started with a prayer request or a little criticism.  James corrects us by saying that it was fueled by the fires that will rage for an eternity.

POISON. A quiet and controlled lady once put her troubled daughter in our church school at Trinity Lutheran. The girl lasted only a few weeks. As the principal explained why she was compelled to dismiss the child, the mom listened impatiently.  When she decided that she had heard enough, she stomped out of the room, spilling poison and profanity along the way. Mrs. Cool morphed into a serpent in a few seconds.

A snake exists in South America that is called the two-step. If you’re bitten by one, two steps and you’re dead.  The poison works about that fast, paralyzing the nervous system. A deadly tongue poisons reputations, kills futures, and destroys relationships. Call it the “tongues movement” at its worst.

In his hard-hitting letter, James does not deal with predestination or the nature of the Church.  He talks about temptation, anger, shining it on with the rich, and now how I speak.  He doesn’t let me off the hook. He wants reality without religious clothes, and inconsistencies bother him immensely. He says, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing” (James 3:l0a).  His friend Paul tells us that carnivorous Christians will sooner or later be eaten alive themselves:  “If you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:l5).

So the challenge comes to do what I am already told I can’t–tame my tongue.  But Jesus can.  His words were always rightly chosen, bringing grace and truth. I must surrender this organ to the Master, trusting more than trying, believing that He can and will do this work of maturity in that moving member halfway between the head and the heart.