God’s Love for You

One of the strongest and clearest messages throughout the Bible is God’s love for us. We are reminded that God doesn’t forget us (even though many of us feel forgotten), that God is close to us (even though He often feels far away), and that not only has He created us in His image but He knows us, and that doesn’t scare Him away (although we always fear that the moment someone truly knows us, they’ll bolt).

And yet, many of us still struggle to believe God loves us.

We believe God loves the world. We believe that through Jesus God will redeem and restore the world, but we have a hard time placing ourselves in that.

So we run, we hide, we put up fronts, wear masks, beat ourselves up for past mistakes, try to earn God’s love, try to prove ourselves worth God’s love, and all the while God’s love sits there.

If you’re like me, you can relate to this.

The problem for many of us is that we read verses about God’s love for the world and us (John 3:16), that Jesus loves us (John 15:9), that God predestined us in love (Ephesians 1:4 – 5), that God sings over us (Zephaniah 3:17), that God loved us first (1 John 4:19), that God draws us to Himself (John 6:44). We read the apostle Paul saying over 160 times that as a follower of Jesus, we are “in Christ”, and yet we live each and every day as if God is disappointed in us, indifferent towards us, mildly happy with us or just “likes” us.

We’ll say things like, “I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.” Or, “Yes, God loves me, but I can’t love myself.”

When we say those things, we have made love and forgiveness something it is not. We have based that on our own definitions and life.

Over the last two years, if there is one message that God has put on my heart for me to learn, it is this: His gracious, unrelenting, never stopping love for me.

Personally, I keep going back to Luke 15 and the stories that Jesus told. A shepherd who goes after a lost lamb, a woman who searches for a coin and a father who runs out to meet his son who doesn’t deserve grace, let alone a party. Through this passage, God has softened my heart to understand and feel His love.

Some of us (at least I did) balked a little at this because it seemed too emotional, made God too close and personal, and we feared it would take away His transcendence and power. He’s God, Creator of the universe. Yes, and He’s also a personal God who created you in His image and sent His Son to die in your place so He could rescue you and so you could know His great love for you.

Here’s my challenge to you. Spend as much time as you need, months or years. Dive into Luke 15 and the passages listed above and ask God, “Show me Your love for me; help me to understand and feel Your love for me.”

How to Know You’re a Christian

One of the struggles many people have is the question of assurance in their salvation. Maybe you grew up with a fear of your salvation. “Am I really saved? Because I did this or that, am I still saved?”

On the other end of the spectrum is a group that thinks they are right with God but aren’t. It might be because they try to be a good person, go to church, be generous or vote a certain way that makes them think they’re a Christian, but there isn’t anything different in their life or anything that shows any fruit.

Over and over in the New Testament, particularly from Jesus and John, we’re told that followers of Jesus will bear fruit, fruit that lasts.

But what is that fruit?

Paul tells us in Galatians that fruit is from the Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22 – 23)

Here’s a simple question: Do you see yourself growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?

A follower of Jesus isn’t given an option. You don’t get to say, “I’m just not a joyful person like so-and-so.” Or, “I’m just not very gentle.” Or, “I have an angry personality and I’m not very patient.”

Here’s a simple clue on where you stand in your relationship with God: Do you desire to grow in these? Do you desire to see this fruit show up in your life? Does it grieve you when they don’t? Do you see growth not only in showing this fruit but also in your desire for it in your life?

There are some of those in Galatians that, because of your personality and gifts, are easy for you, and others that are a stretch. The ones that are a stretch are the ones God wants to grow you in.

Here’s my challenge to you: Which of these do you not have a desire for? Which of what Paul lists do you need to grow in? Ask God.

What you will find is that God will not give you patience in the way you would think of it, but the opportunity for showing patience.

How to Love the Things of God

Growing up in the church, I always heard things like, “we don’t do that, that’s of the world.” Or, “we don’t love the things of the world, we love the things of God.” This sounds nice and good, but when I asked what specifically those things were I would hear things like Easter eggs, alcohol, dancing, gambling or Christmas trees. Interestingly, other things like TV or electricity weren’t things of the world (although they were for some people in my community as I grew up near many Amish communities).

There is a desire many people have to love God and love the things of God, but we often don’t know how.

How do we know if we’re loving the right things? How do we know if we love the world and the things of the world or the things of God? (see 1 John 2:15 – 17)

Two writers help us understand this.

Augustine said, “What really makes you what you are, is not so much what you say, believe or behave, but what you love.” And James K.A. Smith more recently said, “You are what you love.” Our loves define us, not what we say we believe, but our loves. Our loves get our time, attention, talent, and finances. You can say you love friends and community, but if you never make any time for them because of other commitments, do you really love friends and community? Many men say they love their families and yet make commitments that keep them from their families.

What I never heard growing up is that after John tells us not to love the world or the things of the world, he tells us what those things are.

Three things: desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes and pride in possessions.

First, The desires of the flesh. John is speaking of a few things here.

He is speaking at misdirecting our sexual desire outside of God’s design. This can be sex outside of marriage, porn, fantasizing about someone you aren’t married to, getting emotionally involved with someone you aren’t married to, wishing your spouse was different, looked different, or acted different.

This also applies to your personal feeling of your own body and the elevated desire you have to look a certain way or have a certain body type.

This also points to what we are willing to do for love; the distance we will go for someone to love us. Or, how we will manipulate someone by withholding love to get what we want.

Here’s another way to think about the desire of the flesh – a desire to always get your way, especially in relationships.

In marriage, you stop pursuing your spouse and pursue porn or someone else. When a man pulls away from his wife and looks at porn, he shouldn’t be surprised when she pulls away from him, even if she doesn’t know why. She knows he is pulling away from her.

You stop opening up to your spouse and slowly start pulling away from them to the point that you never talk or share your dreams, hurts and joys. If you’re married, you should know your spouse’s storytheir past, their hurts and joys. You should know their dreams and how to help them fulfill those dreams.

Second, The desires of the eyes. This is the desire of what can be seen. A certain life, a certain lifestyle.

In many ways, this is your ideal and dream Instagram account, whatever that is. It could be a certain kind of house, certain kind of family, certain kind of grill, workout equipment, cars, vacations, food, clothes, closet space, hiking, or boating.

Now, John isn’t saying that cars, shoes, grills, houses or vacations are evil. They are morally neutral. It is our desire towards those things. Why? Because that desire consumes us and takes over. We do whatever we can to have a certain life or appear to have a certain lifestyle. We all have this. This is a desire of having everything. So many of us have bought the lie that you can have it all.

Men believe they can climb the ladder, have the perfect family, friends, hobbies and God. And yet, something breaks on the way up the ladder.

Mom’s kill themselves for this lie. They believe it is possible to have it all and look like you have it all so that people behind your back say with jealousy, “she has it all.” That woman who “has it all” is often cracking and dying from the pressure and the sadness that she really doesn’t have it all, but no one knows.

This can be the workaholic, taking on too much. Never stopping to ask, do I want this life? Should I say yes to this assignment or promotion? If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to? There is always a trade off.

Kids sports teams, there’s always a trade off in your life. A friend recently lamented the loss of his evenings and life as he and his wife try to juggle three soccer teams for their three kids. He’s miserable, their kids are exhausted. But there is a life he is chasing, a life they either want to have or want people to think they have. It is a dangerous place.

This is the person who can’t slow down because they’re afraid. They are afraid that if they stop moving and doing stuff, what will they do? I had a woman tell me once that she couldn’t take a day off or rest because she was afraid of the thoughts that would flood her mind. She was running.

If you’re a parent, this could be the desire you have for your kids to behave a certain way, get certain grades, or get a scholarship. We kill ourselves for that, we push our kids to insane lengths for that. Why? We say it is for them, but deep down it is a desire to be seen a certain way. Why? Because the people they are and the people they become are a direct reflection of our parenting. We want people to know that aren’t flaky parents, we are incredible parents.

Third, Pride in possessions. Again, John isn’t telling us possessions are bad. He is telling us that loving them and having pride in them is bad. Being driven by them will destroy us.

This is the desire to appear important.

This is wanting to appear smart, successful.

This is why many are in debt, or workaholics.

This is why people take certain jobs and careers. Appeasing a parent or a spouse seems more important. They give up a dream, a God-given call for something safer.

Too many of us find pride in what we acquire, what we have or the drive to get those things and it becomes incredibly dangerous.

So what do we do?

Right before these verses, John reminds us that as followers of Jesus our sins are forgiven, we know the Father, we have overcome the evil one. He tells us twice we know the Father and we have overcome the evil one. This is crucial because it takes the wind out of the sails of loving the wrong things. John is saying, young mom with young kids, in Jesus, you are enough.

To the one trying to have it all, in Jesus, you have it all.

To the one who is dying for your mom, your dad, your spouse to say “I’m proud of you”, in Jesus, God is proud of you.

To the one who is trying to climb the ladder to accomplish some unforeseen goal that is always out there, in Jesus, you are complete. In Jesus, the work is done.

To the one that struggles to believe they can be free from that porn addiction, gossiping, loneliness, anxiety, in Jesus, your sins are forgiven. In Jesus, you have the power to overcome the evil one.

To the one who is worried about how your kids will reflect on you as a parent, in Jesus, your reflection is set.

To the one who wants to be known and stop being lonely and alone, in Jesus, you are known and you have your Father in heaven from the beginning.

To the one who feels lost and left out, in Jesus, you are found. You have been brought in and you know the Father.

Why we Need Confession and How to Practice It

Jerry Bridges said, “Don’t believe everything you think. You cannot be trusted to tell yourself the truth.”

When it comes to our lives, few of us see ourselves accurately. We are often the last person to figure out what we’re good at, where we should spend our energies and talents, what dreams to pursue, when we’re making a poor decision or when we should act.

We think we’re good at figuring it out, but we rarely are.

That’s why perspective outside of ourselves, perspective from God and community, is so important.

Here’s why this is a problem.

We often make poor choices. We date the wrong person, take the wrong job. We find ourselves stuck in addictions that we wished we could let go of. We find ourselves spending our time with people and in places we wished we didn’t. In the end, this often leads to regret, shame, feeling forgotten, guilt and bitterness.

In 1 John, John is writing to his church that is struggling with sin and seeing themselves correctly.

There was a group in his church that, when it came to sin and struggles, thought they didn’t sin, they weren’t sinful (or as bad as our culture talks about it) and that there were no consequences to their sin. It didn’t do anything or harm anyone.

Now, no matter what you think of sin, you do things wrong. In fact, there’s a good chance that in the last hour you’ve done multiple things wrong. You may not call them sins. You might call them mistakes or failures or missed opportunities. But (and this is crucial) if we don’t see them correctly, we will miss God’s grace and forgiveness. And if we don’t see them correctly, we will end up with regret, shame, guilt and eventually bitterness.

This is why John points us to confession in one of the most popular verses in the Bible.

1 John 1:9 is a great reminder: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Confession is being honest with yourself and God about who you are and who He is.

It is seeing yourself through the lens God sees you, which is the only path to freedom.

This path takes us away from comparison, being the victim and even moping around. It takes us to freedom, because through confession we are able to let go. We are able to drop our bags of sin, guilt, shame and regret.

Completion.

Did you know that God’s goal for us is to be complete? (James 1:2 – 4; 1 John 1:4)

Complete.

1 John 1:4 says complete joy.

Everything in our lives is the pursuit of completion.

We want the end.

We move as quickly as possible.

We get angry when things take so long.

We describe relationships in terms of “they complete me.”

Interestingly, our goal is the same goal God has.

The difference?

We go about it differently than God.

What John tells us in 1 John 1 is that completion will come through the transformation of Jesus and in community.

James tells us in chapter 1 of his book that completion comes through trials.

For us, we try to find completion on our own, away from community and certainly not through trials.

Why?

Community and trials are difficult. They are painful.

The reality is, you can’t find completion and joy without community and trials. We must engage them.

Right now complete joy for you is on the other side of trials and community.

What will carry you through? The transformation and change found only in Jesus.

It is the redemption, grace and love of Jesus that will give us the courage and power to walk through trials and the difficulty of community. It is what gives us the power to face our stories and our hurts and not allow them to become bitterness and anger, but become beautiful.

I know it is not easy to face your story and hurt. There are things in your past you want to pretend didn’t happen. You are tired of facing your past. You are tired of feeling “this way or that.” Yet, as a mentor told me, “Our breakthrough is often right on the other side of the decision not to quit.”

Here’s what we’re chasing after: Joy.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, Joy is something very deep and profound, something that affects the whole and entire personality. In other words it comes to this; there is only one thing that can give true joy and that is contemplation of the Lord Jesus Christ. He satisfies my mind; He satisfies my emotions; He satisfies my every desire. He and His great salvation include the whole personality and nothing less, and in Him I am complete. Joy, in other words, is the response and the reaction of the soul to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

How to Apply the Bible

When we read the Bible, we want to understand it and apply it. We want to know what the Bible says and how it affects our lives. We want something to happen, we want to get something out of it.

But we’re often left frustrated and wondering what we missed.

The following questions come from Matthew Harmon’s book Asking the Right Questions: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible. I’ll add a few ideas to each one.

Before we can apply the Bible, we must understand it. I can’t stress this enough, because too often we jump to applying it to our lives, and when we skip this first step, we will often miss what God has for us and what the Bible actually says. For some ideas on how to understand the bible, see this post.

Hebrews 4:12 says, For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Here are 4 questions from Harmon on applying the Bible:

1. What does God want me to think/understand?

We do what we think and understand. We act based on our thoughts. If we think something, we go for it. God wants to shape and mold our thinking.

Remember, Hebrews 4 says that the Bible shapes our thoughts and the intentions of our hearts.

2. What does God want me to believe?

Connected to our thinking, God wants to change our beliefs.

We believe many things about ourselves that are not true. We believe we aren’t good enough, not lovable. We also believe we are too good.

3. What does God want me to desire?

We never sin without following a desire.

That desire could be for love or adventure. In this step we need to evaluate our desires. Are our longings, hopes, dreams and desires from God? Sometimes they are.

A desire for leadership can be a good, godly desire; it can also be a prideful desire.

A good question when it comes to desire is, “Will this further God’s kingdom or mine? Is what I’m desiring a need or a want?”

4. What does God want me to do?

Notice, this is last. Too often this is where we start, and when we do we miss what is actually happening in the Bible.

God wants us to do something based off what we read, what we understand about Him, about ourselves and our world. He is calling us to something. The Bible creates movement in us because the Holy Spirit is moving and active. Remember Hebrews 4.

How to Understand the Bible

When we read the Bible, we want to understand it and apply it. We want to know what the Bible says and how it affects our lives. We want something to happen, we want to get something out of it.

But we’re often left frustrated and wondering what we missed.

The following questions come from Matthew Harmon’s book Asking the Right Questions: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible. I’ll add a few ideas to each one.

Before we can apply the Bible, we must understand it. I can’t stress this enough, because too often we jump to applying it to our lives, and when we skip this first step, we will often miss what God has for us and what the Bible actually says.

1. What do we learn about God?

In this question we are looking for God’s character (who he is, what he is like), God’s conduct (what he is doing) and God’s concerns (what things, events, people, he is concerned about).

We are trying to understand who God is. Since we believe that the Bible is God’s inspired, true and authoritative word, without error, we want to know who God is and what He is like.

2. What do we learn about people?

In this question we are looking for what it means to be created in God’s image, but also our fallen condition as sinners in need of grace. We are also looking for any insights into how God’s people should live.

We are beginning to look at what is happening in the text. Are they in a city or a village? Understanding the context of every single passage, the original audience, and what is happening on this page of the Bible is crucial to understanding the Bible.

3. What do we learn about relating to God?

The Bible is not just about God but how we relate to Him. Once we see who God is and who we are, we see how those roads cross. In this step you can begin looking for things to praise and thank God for and for sin to confess and repent. Don’t think about other people at this point. Don’t think about who you are going to share this verse with. This is for you and God right now.

You can also look for promises and truths to believe. It’s also very important to see if the promises God has given to us in Scripture are for us or for the original audience; what transcends all time and what was specific for that time. If we miss this, we can cling to things in a way we aren’t supposed to.

4. What do we learn about relating to others?

Most of the Bible is written to groups of people, about groups of people, especially the letters in the New Testament. When you get to there, look for how we should interact with and treat others, ways to pursue reconciliation with others and specific ways to love, serve, and care for others, not for how they can do this for you. Too many times we want others to do what we are called to do, especially in an age of social media when we are quick to talk about what Christians should be like without asking, “Am I doing that? Am I treating my friends and enemies the way God calls me to?”

After understanding the passage you are reading, it is then time to move into applying the Bible (which I’ll unpack in another post).

Why Read the Bible

If you go to church, you’ve heard a pastor say you should read your Bible. But why? What is the point?

If you want to be a better parent, spouse or leader, aren’t there books more helpful than the Bible?

This especially comes up when pastors are surprised that our REVcommunities (our small groups) discuss the sermon. They tell me how mad their people would be if they couldn’t discuss a parenting or prayer book. I get those questions in our church. I’ll get asked, “Why can’t we do a parenting book or a book on prayer? Josh, are you against books on prayer?” No, but it depends on the book.

The reality is, you don’t need another book or Bible study. They are helpful, but you don’t need marriage advice, money advice or parenting advice. It’s not like you don’t know how to pray, be married, handle money or be a parent.

I’ll give you some examples:

Take marriage. What does the Bible say? Love your spouse more than yourself. Keep your marriage bed pure. It says more, but if you did those two things relentlessly, do you think your marriage would change?

Or dating. Don’t date someone who doesn’t follow Jesus. Don’t marry someone who doesn’t follow Jesus. Why? If you don’t agree on the life shaping, central truth of your life, you will be in trouble. But they’re so cute. One day they’ll be old, fat and saggy. But they complete me. No they don’t, and you know it. You are grasping at straws.

Money? Where your treasure is, there your heart is. The Bible talks about not being in debt, giving back to God before you save, spend, go out, or do anything. Don’t envy what others have. Would giving to God 10% right at the beginning and then living off 90% change things in your finances? Some of you are thinking, “I couldn’t do that.” Why? Did God get it wrong? Do you think living by God’s standards financially would change your finances and bring them under control?

Teach your kids biblical truth everyday. Don’t punish your kids out of anger. Don’t provoke your kids to anger. Don’t push them away, but instead like a good father, pursue them. If you did that, would things change in their lives? Would relationships be different?

Hebrews 4:12 says, For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

It shapes us.

That’s why (one of the why’s at least) we should read the Bible.

“But, I Worry about Everything.”

All of us worry.

About everything.

We worry about our kids, our spouse, our friendships. We worry about our parents’ health, our kids’ health, our spouse’s health, our friends’ health, our health. We worry about finances, education, job prospects, making ends meet. We worry about conversations we’re going to have, conversations we’ve had and conversations we only imagine having.

We worry when we get into a car, when we take a walk, go to the gym, when we get on a plane, train or boat.

We worry.

We worry in the woods, in a cabin, an apartment or at a beach house.

Around every corner is disaster and calamity.

Some of us worry more than others.

The other day I was talking to someone and he told me, “But I’m anxious. I was born this way. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

As we talked, he had a lot of anxiety. Much of it was about real things, but some of it was about imagined things, things that had not happened.

Most of our anxiety is about imagined things. Yes, we worry about things that are actually happening, but the conversation we’re worrying about having we haven’t had yet. Our kids haven’t walked through all of life that we have imagined for them yet, but we still worry.

As my friend and I talked, I asked him about some of the promises of God, like Jesus telling us in Matthew 6:25 to not be anxious about your life, or Paul telling us in Philippians 4:6 to not be anxious about anything.

He shook his head and said, “But this is how I am. What am I supposed to do?”

The reality is, he is a worrier, about everything. That is his tendency.

So I asked him, “What is a sin, something in the Bible that we’re told not to do, that you don’t struggle with?”

Once he told me, I asked, “What if I told you people think they are just that way in the same way you think you are anxious and that’s who you are?”

All of us have some kind of tendency.

Some of us are more prone to struggle with sexual sin, greed, being stingy, being a workaholic, being dependent or isolating ourselves in relationships. We don’t struggle with all those things.

The reason I know is because some of you read that last sentence and thought, “I don’t struggle with that.”

The point is, just because you struggle with something doesn’t mean you get a pass or you can disregard a verse about that or think that you can’t change that in your life. Jesus can.

 

7 Ideas to Help Your Kids Grow Spiritually

How do you help your kids grow spiritually?

As our kids have gotten older, this is a question Katie and I get on a regular basis. It is one we’ve gotten right in certain seasons, and in others we’ve wandered around lost. Sometimes things that we do work really well, and other times they fall apart.

Here are seven ideas for you as a parent to help your kids grow spiritually:

1. Model your spiritual life to them. The reality of anything related to parenting is that you pass on what you do. If you want to pass anything on to your kids spiritually, you must model it for them. They will watch you for 18+ years. They will see you read your Bible (or not), how often you pray and what your prayers contain (so much is taught in this), how often you attend church and how important spiritual things are to you.

2. Involve them in a church. Just like the first one, they will often do what you do. So do what you’d like to see them do.

What if they don’t like church? Many parents will talk about how their kids don’t like to attend church, attend a worship service or something else. Many times I’ll hear parents say, “I don’t want to force spiritual things onto my kids.” This is often from a place of fear as a parent because you don’t know what to do, but also the fear that your kids will reject it and want nothing to do with Christianity. The problem with this is that we don’t apply this to anything else. We force our kids to do math, learn a language, eat broccoli, turn off their electronics and take a nap, often when they hate every moment of it.

If you don’t involve them in a church, when do you think they will learn that? If they don’t understand an aspect of a worship service, explain it to them. If you don’t know what to tell them, do some research together.

I think it’s important as often as possible for kids and students to be involved in small groups, serving in a church and attending the worship service in a church. Is every kid different? Yes. Should you force your kids to do something they dislike? Sometimes.

Our kids take out the trash and dislike it, but they still do it. I don’t think they’ll be scarred as adults because of that.

3. Read the Bible together. Part of why kids dislike church is they don’t understand the relevance of the Bible and the things that happen at church. It is something their parents do, apart from them. So do it with them.

I know this is difficult, and they don’t always want to sit still, but doing something is better than nothing.

For our family, we’ve tried things like the Jesus Storybook Bible when the kids were younger to using a catechism now so we have a question each week we are working through as a family. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do something.

4. Read books to them. One of the things you can do is read books to your kids and discuss the spiritual themes in them. Whenever we watch a movie, we always talk about how it is like the one true story we see in Scripture. What are the themes and how do those themes influence us?

5. Listen to their questions. This might be one of the most overlooked aspects of your kids’ spiritual life because it is out of your control as a parent and doesn’t come on a schedule. But your kids have questions, and when they ask them, engage them. Don’t shoo them away or scold them for asking a question. If they are skeptical or have doubts, talk with them.

This is an incredibly powerful message you are sending them as their parent. You are telling them it is okay to ask questions, to wonder about something, to be unsure.

If you don’t know the answer, tell them and then study it together.

Ask them why they are curious about that. This engages their life. Is it in a book, a show, from a friend? This is an important window into their world.

6. Interact with their friends and talk with your kids about how to pick friends. Don’t sit on the sidelines when it comes to their friends.

You have an enormous impact on their spiritual lives, but so do their friends. Be involved in that.

7. Pray for them. If you’re a follower of Jesus you know this, but it is easy to overlook the power in it.

If you aren’t praying for your kids, who do you think is?

Pray for them. Pray with them. Ask them what you can pray for, even if they say nothing, which will often happen as they get older.

Are these sure fire ways to make sure your kids grow spiritually? No.

There isn’t a sure fire answer to almost anything in parenting, but parenting is about involvement and trying and faith. Lots of it.