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.

How to Trust God When Life Hurts (Jonah 2)

Maybe you still struggle with the question, “Can I trust you, God?” After all, when we sin we are telling God we don’t think we can trust him.

It’s a question Jonah wrestled with as he prayed in the belly of the fish in Jonah 2. The disciples wrestled with trusting God in the New Testament.

What is helpful for us is how people in the Bible handled it. When they came to this question, they looked backwards. They looked to their past to see how God worked not only in their life but in the lives of others.

If you’ve grown up in church, you know the story of Abraham, and our knowledge of his story kind of takes away some of the amazingness. In Genesis 12 we have this man named Abram. He all of a sudden appears in the pages of Scripture. He is out in the desert and he hears a voice, a voice he may have heard before, but maybe not. We aren’t told. This voice, God from heaven, tells him to pack up what he has and move “to a land I will show you.”

Now picture this: Abram goes home and tells his wife Sarai that they are to pack up and go to a land that this voice (God) will show them. I always wonder what that was like. If she was like most wives, she probably asked him how long he’d been hearing this voice. Has it said other things? Did it give any directions? Any hints on what lay ahead?

No, Abram would tell her. Only that we are to start walking and stop when he says.

What God does tell Abram is that he will one day be a great nation and that all the people of the world will be blessed through him. The irony of this is that Abram has no children and is 75 years old.

Finally, as he walks to this land, there is a fascinating promise given to Abram in Genesis 15. Time has passed, and Abram and Sarai still do not have a child. From their perspective they are not any closer to being a great nation than when they left their home. So Abram does what we would do. He whines to God. Complains, actually.

God takes it and is incredibly patient with Abram through this entire conversation. As Abram unloads his feelings of despair, lack of faith, anger, and hurt over his desire to be a father, but yet not having this desire met (are you beginning to see the connection between not trusting God and giving in to temptation or other sins?), God tells him to look to the heavens and number the stars. Abram can’t number the stars, as there are too many of them. “So,” God tells him, “shall your offspring be.”

God doesn’t just stop there. He tells Abram what he (God) has done. What is interesting to me is that when God gives commands in Scripture, in particular the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, before giving a command, he reminds the people of what he has done. God is about to make a covenant, a promise with Abram, but before he does he reminds Abram of what he has done so far. He hasn’t just led him to a new place and promised him a son; he has guided, provided, and protected him and his family.

Then and only then does God give commands or make covenants. In Exodus 20, before giving Moses the law, he reminds him, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (20:2) This is the foundation of the commands of God, his promise and the freedom that he provides.

In Genesis 15, after reminding Abram, he makes a covenant with Abram. We aren’t told in Scripture if Abram asked for it, but he was at least doubting and wondering if this was going to happen. He was complaining to God, as we would do. This has always been a comfort to me, that God doesn’t strike down questions in the Bible, but listens and answers them.

God tells Abram to bring him a heifer, a female goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. Abram did and cut them all in half. In this time period when two people made a covenant, they would kill the animals and cut them in half, and then they would walk through the animals, saying, “If I don’t keep my end of the covenant, may I end up like these animals.”

It was getting late and Abram fell asleep. Then God made a covenant with Abram, while he was asleep. As the sun set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between the pieces. Abram never passed through the animals; only God did.

This is the extent to which God goes to keep his promises as our Father. He makes the promise and keeps it, even when we don’t. Even in our moments of failure, doubt, and fear, he is still strong and sure.

The prophet Habakkuk is another one. One of the things that I find most fascinating about Habakkuk chapter 3 is how Habakkuk reminds himself of how God has moved in the past. He recalls how the nation of Israel began, how God brought the nation of Israel out of slavery in the book of Exodus and gave them the 10 Commandments.

What Habakkuk is doing is reminding himself of how God has moved in the past. Often our struggle is with trusting that God will show up. Habakkuk is showing us, “God worked in the past, so I can trust He will work now and in the future.”

This doesn’t mean that God will work in the same way as he did in the past. It doesn’t mean He will work on our timetable, but we do know He is at work.

You may be in a place where you need to remind yourself of how God has worked in the past of your life. Maybe you need to journal or make a list of things he’s done and prayers he has answered. If you are new to faith or maybe your list isn’t very long yet, look at the lives and faiths of others. How has God worked in their lives? How has God worked in Scripture that you can hold on to?

Being Content with Where You Are in Life

Do you love where you are in life? Do you love the job, house, family and life you have?

Would you change anything?

If we’re honest, most of us would change some things. But is that right? Should we be content with what we have, with where we are?

If we were sitting together at Starbucks, you would ask me if that is simply settling.

It can be, but my guess is it isn’t.

It is learning to be content.

If you are anything like me, you struggle with being content.

I always want more. Not in a prideful way, although that sometimes happens, but in a, “I know I could have more, I know I could be more” way.

In your 20’s this is simply growing and trying to move into adulthood. Once you start to move past 40 and into your 50’s, if you aren’t careful this can lead to burnout and disillusionment, because the goals you had never panned out. The dreams you were so sure you’d hit have fallen by the wayside.

Let me ask you something.

At first you will disagree with what I’m going to say, but hear me out.

What if the life you have right now (the house, the family, the career, the finances) is exactly the place God has you?

Depending on your perspective, that might be kind of depressing, but it isn’t meant to be.

You see, one of the reasons we aren’t able to move forward or move on to something is because we haven’t learned all that God has for us where we are. We become so consumed with what’s next, we don’t live in what we have. We don’t learn all we can where we are. We aren’t faithful with what we have, we always want the next thing.

But the reason we often get stuck is because we are so focused on what we don’t have that we miss what we do have.

The people who live life to the fullest are the ones who are filled with the most joy.

Do you know where that joy comes from?

Yes, the answer is Jesus.

But to give that more of a specific answer, it is contentment.

Paul says this in Philippians 4:

I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.

It is the key to joy.

What would being content with where you are mean for you? What would being content, enjoying the life stage you are in, mean? Not longing for the next thing or looking back at what you had, but being content. Here. Now.

 

How to Share your Faith

Inviting someone to church or sharing your faith about Jesus can be awkward. It is nerve wracking, scary and often times not what many followers of Jesus want to do.

Yet, the reality is if you are a follower of Jesus, you are to be a witness of Jesus. (Acts 1:8) That is a key and crucial piece of your new identity in Christ.

It is not optional.

Yes, some people are better at it than others, but all followers of Jesus are called to pray for people who don’t know Jesus and share their faith with them.

But how?

How do you know when you should share your faith or invite someone to your church?

There are clues to listen to when you talk to someone. Andy Stanley calls these “the not cues.” When you hear a person say something like, “Things are not going well.” Or, “I’m not prepared for…” Or, “I am not from here; we just moved to the area.”

When you hear any of these, you know it is worth the risk. Often the person who says these things is searching for something. They may not think it is Jesus, but it is.

Something crucial to not miss.

Recently, a friend told me this: If you meet someone who isn’t a Christian, you should assume that God wants to use you to help them become a follower of Jesus.

That stopped me in my tracks.

Let me say something to the Christians who are always asking for deeper preaching or a deeper Bible study or say, “I want to grow.” The best way for you to grow, to go deeper in your faith, is to share your faith. To be asked questions you don’t know the answer to and you’ll have to study. To have to stand there in a conversation and ask the Holy Spirit to tell you what to say. Those will grow you in ways that a class won’t.

So, how do you live more proactively on mission?

Here are some ideas:

  • Go to the same restaurants, coffee shops and the same classes at the gym. Frequency gives you the chance to build a relationship to share Jesus.
  • You can’t be a disciple without knowing people who don’t know Jesus.
  • Have people who don’t know Jesus into your house. People are longing for community and connection.
  • Keep your kids on the same team and in the same groups to make those connections. But what about changing teams and groups so they can get a scholarship? They won’t do that. Your job is to keep your family on mission.
  • Hand out the best candy on Halloween.
  • If you get invited to a party or BBQ by non-Christians, go. And take the best food and drink.
  • Talk to the person who cuts your hair, and if a Christian cuts your hair, switch and find a non-Christian.
  • Pray that God would move you into a neighborhood, get you a job or send you to a gym or to a school with people who need Jesus.