Facing Your Fears

Fear can be paralyzing. It can keep us from moving forward in life. It can keep us from finding freedom from past hurts, past sins. It can keep us from reaching all the things God dreams for us to accomplish, and ultimately it can keep us from living. Why? Because fears will often make us run and hide.

One author said, “Fear is the silent destroyer of dreams.”

Where this really comes out is if you are pessimistic in your life. Maybe you are always making situations out to be worse than they are, expecting something to not work like it should.

This is one reason I have always identified with the book of Joshua.

The name Joshua means, “God is my salvation.” So, in the name of the book, and my name, is this reminder of where salvation comes from. What is interesting is that God seems to say, “Joshua, fear not.” “Joshua, don’t be afraid.” Always followed by, “For I am with you, I am your God.” It seems to be on every other line of the book. Sometimes it feels like that line is on every other page of my life.

Throughout the book we see over and over how God is with Joshua, keeps His promises and ultimately is his God and his salvation. In chapter 12 it lists the names of the Kings Joshua defeated in battle.

31 kings defeated in battle.

I wonder if we often miss what God has done in our lives. The power He has shown when we don’t know where He is in a situation. I often think God brings us through hard times so they can stack up as a reminder, something to look back on to say, “Remember how God brought us through that before? I believe He can do it again because we didn’t know if He could before. We didn’t know where He was before.”

Then in Joshua 13 it lists what lies ahead for Joshua.

Once we are able to exhibit faith, show our belief in God and not be paralyzed by fear, we are able to move forward and get to work. As long as Joshua is paralyzed, he won’t move forward.

Here are some questions to consider:

  1.   What are you afraid of?
  2.   What do those fears reveal about you?
  3.   What do those fears reveal about what you believe to be true about God?
  4.   As you look at the answer to #3, does that line up with what the Bible tells us about God?

If we aren’t careful, we will allow fear to become the lens through which we look at life. I know I can very easily do it. I can start to make decisions out of fear, live my life and relate to others out of fear.

If you tell a Christian about fear, they will often point you to Joshua 1.

Why?

Because God tells Joshua to be strong, to be courageous, to not be afraid.

But why? How is Joshua supposed to do that?

Joshua is supposed to be strong and courageous because God says, I will never leave you or forsake you.

Stop right here.

Many of our fears can be traced back to this verse and our inability to believe it.

What is interesting to me is how Joshua is supposed to know that God will never leave him.

God tells him to look at what He has done in the past. We can see this not only in our lives as we look back to see God at work, how He has answered prayers, rescued us, done things we were unaware of, but also in the lives of others. God tells Joshua to look at the life of Moses, but He also tells him to meditate on His word.

Day and night.

This is more than a simple reading of a verse or devotional thought. This is taking a verse or phrase and thinking on it throughout the day, stewing on it as you turn it over and over in your heart and mind. Asking God to show you how to be strong and courageous (or whatever you are facing).

The antidote to fear is faith, faith through meditating on God’s word. Day and night.

Don’t Grow Weary in Doing Good

Last night was date night for Katie and me. Over the years, we’ve made it a habit to go to the same places for things: grocery store, coffee shops, places to eat.

We do this for the purpose of meeting the people who work there and building relationships with them. Learning their names, hearing their stories, and building trust.

At restaurants, we always sit in the same server’s section so we get to know them.

Over the years, we’ve had some amazing conversations as people have opened up about their lives, shared some incredibly heartbreaking and amazing things.

We’ve walked with people through divorces, loss of family members, breakups, career shifts.

These are incredibly holy moments as you sit in gyms or other places of work.

Last night, one of those conversations happened and we were able to invite one of the managers we met to church on Sunday.

When I sit at conferences or listen to sermons, pastors always make sharing your faith sound easy. I met this person one day, told them about Jesus and boom. They become a Christian, on the spot.

It doesn’t always happen like that, sometimes it does, but most of the time, it is slower.

I’m reminded this morning of Galatians 6:9 that says, Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.

Today, you have a great opportunity to do good, to love people, to listen, to show them God’s love and the power of Jesus. But it can be tiring. People are hard to love, can be unresponsive or simply difficult. You are also tired and don’t want to do those things sometimes. Keep going.

For in the proper time, God will reap for us through His power and our faithfulness and presence. What a powerful reminder.

Confidence & What Holds You Back

Have you ever struggled to have confidence in life? In your relationship with God?

It might be around a decision, a relationship, a choice you’ve made, but now that assurance and confidence you had seems to be shaken.

Where does that come from?

The answer for many people might surprise you.

Idols.

Each person has a default idol of their heart, what pushes them to make the decisions they do, both good and bad. Tim Chester points out in his book You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions that each of us has an idol that is either for power, control, comfort or approval. They overlap and we might have all four at different times, but these four things push us to sin, succeed and live our lives.

The hope we have is that they will bring us the fulfillment we long for.

For example, when a man works a ton of hours to provide for his family, he is doing a good thing to provide for them. But he might be doing it so that his family will approve of him or that he will have the comfort he longs for.

Or, when one tries to control a situation through organizing every detail, keeping things in order, they might say they are organized or a detailed person, which might be true. It might also mean that it comes from a place of insecurity where they need to control everything instead of trusting in God.

Here are some questions we worked through tonight to discern what the idols of your heart are:

  1.   What do I worry about?
  2.   What do I use to comfort myself when life gets tough or things don’t go my way?
  3.   What, if I lost it, would make me think life wasn’t worth living?
  4.   What do I daydream about?
  5.   What makes me feel the most self-worth?
  6.   What do I lead with in conversations?
  7.   Early on, what do I want to make sure people know about me?
  8.   What prayer, unanswered, would seriously make me consider walking away from God?
  9.   What do I really want and expect out of life?
  10.   What is my hope for the future? What will complete me?

Often our lack of confidence and trust in God stems from an idol, and it keeps us from trusting, risking and experiencing all that God has for us.

The One Thing You’d Change if You Could

What is one thing that, if it was different, would make your life better?

Better is a hard word to define, because we often compare our life to someone else’s life, what we imagine someone else’s life is like or even what we wish our life would be like.

Better isn’t always better, but what if, in this case, better would be freer? More life. The life Jesus promised He came to give us in John 10:10.

Overflowing.

Abundant.

Uncontainable.

For most of us that’s more of a mirage than reality.

But as a follower of Jesus, that is what we have in Jesus.

So how does that happen?

How do you change that habit? That sin or negative emotion? How do you forgive that person you can’t seem to let go of?

One word.

Overcome.

In 1 John 5 it says:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of him. This is how we know that we love God’s children: when we love God and obey his commands. For this is what love for God is: to keep his commands. And his commands are not a burden, because everyone who has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith.

John adds a great word to the descriptions of Christians: overcomers. Victors.

But how?

Victory is found through love and obedience.

The first is love for God and the things of God. We know we are children of God because we love God. We love God because God loved us first. We didn’t do anything to gain God’s love, we didn’t go looking for it. God found us and rescued us.

This is important when it comes to change because we often think of change as a rock we’re pushing up the hill, but in reality we’re really trying to keep up to what God is doing.

When we see this, we start to see obedience to God’s commands as freedom.

When we think of commands, we often think of a strict parent keeping us from fun.

Think about it like this: Have you ever found yourself stressed because of a sin in your life? You have because you tense up every time you are on the highway and a cop shows up behind you with their lights on. Which brings freedom in this situation? Follow the traffic signs or speeding?

The answer is easy, but how often do we think we know better?

How often are you worried that someone will find out about a secret sin? “If they only knew,” we think. That isn’t freedom, and yet we keep doing it because we know better than God.

But we don’t.

Victory. Freedom is found through love (of God and others) and obedience (to the commands of God).

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.