What Really Needs to Change in Your Life

For all of us, something or someone runs our lives. When this happens we find ourselves not living the life God has called us to. When we stop long enough to catch our breath, we realize how tired we are, how much debt we have, how we said yes to things we should have said no to.

If we aren’t careful we simply jump from “I need to lose weight”, to “I need to get out of debt”, to “I need to slow down”, and we try to make changes in those areas. We get on the latest diet, sign up for a financial class or clear our calendar for a week.

If you are like most people who try this approach, a month from now you’ll look up and see the same problem.

The question becomes, “What then?”

In most church counseling sessions we would look at the sins in your life. We would talk about your addiction to porn, your willingness to give your heart and body away in relationships, the pace that you keep, how you go into debt buying stuff you can’t afford, how you always gossip, or why you push yourself and your kids to be the best and attain a certain kind of lifestyle. We often want to move to fixing those things and think, “I’ll just stop doing them.”

If you’ve ever tried this approach, you know it doesn’t work. We can’t simply change our behavior and see lasting change. Until we understand why we do something, change and freedom will continue to elude us.

Have you ever been to a buffet – one where the plates are stacked, and whenever you pull a plate off, they all move up? Think of your life and sins as being like that stack of plates. Most of the time when we sin or hear about sin in a sermon, it is about the plate on top. To see true change, to see the things that crowd out our lives get conquered by the power of Jesus, we have to keep pulling up plates until we get to the last one, what we’ll call the sin under the sin.

If we aren’t careful this sin under the sin starts to drive our lives. What makes this easy to miss is that it is often something good that we give prominence to in our lives. Things like our kids, a job, money, keeping a clean house, retirement, a dream house or another goal.

These things are what drive us to go into debt, to run at an unsustainable pace on our calendar, which leads to an unhealthy lifestyle. This is the why.

Let me put it another way: often when we sin, without realizing it we are looking for meaning. We sin from a place of emptiness.

We sin from a place of wanting to be filled up, a hope to feel better, more alive, a part of something, or to take away the fear of missing out on something.

As well, for many Christians we pursue changing the wrongs things. We change what we see, what is obvious to ourselves and those around us. The image of an iceberg comes to mind.

In How People Change by Paul David Tripp & Timothy Lane said:

Many Christians underestimate the presence and power of indwelling sin. They don’t see how easily entrapped they are in this world full of snares (Galatians 6:1). They don’t grasp the comprehensive nature of the war that is always raging within the heart of every believer (Romans 7). They’re not aware of how prone they are to run after God replacements. They fail to see that their greatest problems exist within them, not outside them.

 The surface of our lives is what we see and present to others. Confidence, fear, approval, control or a drive to succeed. These things come from a place deep within us, we don’t experience change until we get to the source. We don’t experience change until we get to the last plate.

Letting Go of Shame

Shame.

We begin to hear it and feel it as children.

Being the last picked for dodgeball, not being asked to the dance, parents telling us “we should be ashamed of ourselves.” Boys don’t feel that. Girls don’t do that.

As adults, it grows and gains ground in our souls.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface that many of us feel from things like abuse, abandonment, divorce, isolation. As we push those down, and they inevitably find their way to the surface, we wonder, “What else am I hiding? What else am I forgetting?”

What we often overlook is how much shame shapes our identity and our lives. It becomes a driving force in our lives, how we work and how we relate to others and God.

In Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God, John Piper says shame comes from three causes:

1. Guilt. This is the one many of us know well. The addiction, the hidden sin, the abuse we don’t talk about, the affair, the divorce, the poor parenting, our failure at work and in life. We carry around guilt for ourselves and often without thinking, for others. When guilt becomes public knowledge, we have shame. Now we are known for what we have feared.

2. Shortcomings. Shortcomings and failures are something all of us experience. Some of them are real and others imagined. Some are life shaping, and other shortcomings we simply shrug off. It is the ones that are life shaping that lead to shame. When our frame of mind says, “You are a failure, you aren’t good enough, you aren’t beautiful, strong enough or worthwhile”, we experience shame.

3. Improprieties. These are the experiences in our life where we feel silly, look stupid or are embarrassed. We make a mistake, and it feels like everyone knows about it.

What hope do we have with our shame?

After all, Romans 10:11 tells us that if you are a follower of Jesus, you will not be put to shame. But we feel shame. Many of us see ourselves as shame.

I think Jesus’ first miracle is telling. It is often talked about as a miracle about wine, but more is going on here.

Jesus’ first miracle wasn’t just about wine—it was an act of purification from the Messiah, one that saved people from generations of sin and shame.

It wasn’t until working on a sermon on John 2 that I began to see the significance of Jesus’ first miracle. A miracle that, according to Tim Keller, can be seen as simply fixing a social oversight, but has so much more going on:

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. –John 2:3–11

During this time, marriage was an enormous event. The entire town would be invited and the celebration would last for up to a week. This was not simply about the couple, but was a sign of the strength of the town and community.

For the wine to run out was not a simple party oversight. This would be seen as an insult to the town and the guests. The ramifications of this happening could be felt for decades to come in terms of standing in the community, business dealings, and overall appearance. The shame heaped upon this family would be no small thing. In the same way, the shame in our lives that we carry around often comes from things in our family’s past. We feel the effects of an abusive grandfather we have never met or an alcoholic grandmother who is whispered about.

But Jesus didn’t just change water into wine to save this family from embarrassment and shame.

You see, for the Jewish people, weddings were a sign of the Messiah. Weddings were a picture of his coming, of what heaven would be like. There were also prophecies in Joel, Hosea, and Amos indicating that wine would flow freely over a barren, dry land from the Messiah (Joel 2:24, 3:18; Hosea 14:7; Amos 9:3). This imagery would not be lost on the Jews who saw this miracle.

John also points out that Jesus had them fill up purification jars. This was not what they normally used for wine, as these were the jars the Jews used to cleanse themselves to worship God, to enter the temple, to purify them. Jesus, at a wedding, which is a picture of the Messiah coming, with wine. Using purification jars that are used to make one right with God, turning guilt and shame into joy.

Later in the Gospels, Jesus will bring his disciples together for a Passover meal, hold up wine and declare it to be his blood (Matt. 26:28). Then, in Revelation 21, John tells us that when Jesus returns, it will be as a bridegroom at a wedding (Rev. 21:2).

It is easy for us to miss all this without the history and picture. But, we do another thing that hinders our joy. When we read in the Gospel and Epistles of John about God loving the world or Jesus taking away the sins of the world, we picture “the world,” a globe filled with people. We don’t picture ourselves.

How do we apply this to our lives? Can I suggest six ways to apply this passage and the message of grace that combats our shame?

1. Name your shame. If you don’t name something, it takes ownership of you. This is a crucial step. You must name the hurt, the guilt, the shortcoming, the impropriety, the embarrassment, the abuse, the loss, the misstep, the sin. If you don’t, you stay stuck.

I’ve met countless people who couldn’t say the name of an ex, name the situation of hurt or talk about something. This doesn’t mean that you are a victim or wallow in your pain, but naming something is crucial. Without this first step, the others become difficult to impossible.

The saying, “Whatever we don’t own, owns us”, applies here. This is a crucial, crucial step.

2. Identify the emotions attached to it. Many times when we are hurt, we are an emotional wreck and can’t see a way forward. All we know is that we are hurt, that life isn’t as we’d hoped, but we aren’t sure what to do.

What emotions are attached to your shame? Is it guilt? Loss? Failure? Missed opportunity? Sadness? Hopelessness? Indifference?

Name them.

Name the emotion that goes with your abuse, abandonment, divorce, failed business, dropping out of school, not meeting your expectations or the expectations of someone else.

Often times we feel shame when we have a different emotion attached to it, but shame is far more familiar to us. Do you feel neglected or hurt or sad? What emotion is conjured up from a memory.

3. Confess the sins that are there. Do you always have sin when you feel shameful? No. Sometimes it is misplaced shame. It is shame you have no business owning. You didn’t sin; someone else sinned against you.

Sometimes, though, there is a sin on your part. You may have sinned, and that’s why you feel shame. Sometimes your sin might be holding on to that person or situation.

Sometimes you need to confess that your shame is keeping you from moving forward and keeping you stuck.

Bring those sins to light.

4. Grieve the loss. When we have shame, there is a loss. This loss might be a missed opportunity or missed happiness. It might be bigger than that and be a missed childhood, a loss of your 20’s, a loss of health or job opportunity.

It might be a relationship that will never be, something you can never go back to.

As you think about your shame, what did you lose? What did you miss out on? What did that situation prevent you from doing or experiencing? What hurt do you carry around? What will never be the same because of that situation.

5. Name what you want. This one is new for me, but it has to do with your desires.

Often the reason we stay stuck is because we know what stuck is. We don’t know what the future holds. Beyond that, we don’t know what we actually want.

We carry shame around from a relationship with a father who walked out. Do you want a relationship? Do you want to be in touch?

We carry shame from a failed business. Do you want to get back in the game?

Can you name, in the situation associated with your shame, what you want?

Sadly, many people cannot.

If you can’t name what you want, if you can’t identify a desire, you will struggle to move forward.

6. Identify what God wants you to know about Him. When we carry around shame, we carry around a lie. In identifying that lie, we are identifying the truth that God wants us to know about Him.

If you feel unloved, the truth that God wants you to know is that you are loved. If you feel unwanted, God wants you to know you are wanted. If you feel dirty, God wants you to know the truth that in Him you are clean.

All throughout scripture we are told that God is a Father, that He is as close to us as a mother nursing her child, that God is compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, gracious, tender, strong and for us.

The list goes on and on.

In that list, though, is the truth, the antidote to your shame and what you need to remind yourself of to move forward and live into the freedom of Jesus.

Freedom is hard.

Let’s be honest, freedom is difficult. Living in sin, shame, guilt and regret is easy. It is what we know. It is where most people live and reside.

Freedom is scary. Freedom is unknown. Freedom leaves us vulnerable. Freedom leaves us not in control.

Yet, this is what it means to be a child of God. To live in freedom. Overflowing freedom.

Getting Unstuck in Life

The fog.

It hits us in our prayer lives. We pray and pray and it seems like nothing happens.

We look for clarity in decisions, figuring out God’s will, what to do with this marital situation, this career move. Do we have kids now, get married now?

The fog.

It comes around us and paralyzes us, and it keeps us stuck.

Life isn’t meant to be a fog. Faith isn’t meant to be a fog.

Are there times when it is difficult to see through something? Yes.

Does God use those times to teach us some incredible lessons? Yes.

One of the best ways that I’ve learned to see through the fog of life and faith is through distance and relationships.

We need distance from what is holding us up or causing a struggle in our lives. We need to remove ourselves from that place and pull back. Mark Batterson says, “Change of place + change of pace = change of perspective”, and he’s right.

Distance allows us to see things in a new perspective. Distance also allows us to let go of things that stress us out or seem difficult. If you look back on your life, you can see how there are some things that were a big deal in the moment, but now you wonder why you lost sleep over it.

That’s the benefit of distance.

The second thing that helps to clear the fog is relationships.

Other people bring a perspective that you don’t have. They are able to see things you don’t and push on things you might miss. They are also able to remind you of truths that you can easily forget. This is crucial as you wrestle through past hurts or navigate a choice that can change your life in dramatic ways (like marriage or a cross country move).

What Christmas Tells Us

The emphasis on light in darkness comes form the Christian belief that the world’s hope comes from outside of it. The giving of gifts is a natural response to Jesus’ stupendous act of self-giving, when he laid aside his glory and was born into the human race. The concern for the needy recalls that the Son of God was born not into an aristocratic family but into a poor one. The Lord of the universe identified with the least and the most excluded of the human race. -Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ

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.