Nothing In Return

Today’s reading is James 1-2.

The book of James is usually given credit to being written by Jesus’ brother James. There is so much Godly wisdom in this book…especially about facing challenges and the power of belief and prayers in the first chapter. I highly recommend a small group study by Francis Chan if you are ever wanting to dig in deeply.

At the end of James 1, and throughout the second chapter, James begins to discuss the importance of works to come along with your faith (James 2:14, James 2:17).  Life is about building relationships. The reality is we have to build relationships in the professional world, and often in even in sports, to advance and have the impact God’s called us to have. We should not feel bad about that, but we must also be mindful if we only build relationships and do things for others when we can get something out of it for ourselves. James makes it a point to discuss the problems with partiality (James 2:9), specifically to the rich over the poor (James 2:1-7), and the importance of helping others who can’t return the favor.

In James 1:27. he specifically talks about helping orphans and widows. I have been blessed to see an example of doing so by my father. He cared for both of my great aunts who were widowed with no children, as well as his mother and my Mom’s mother. One example for the care he showed is that while still running his State Farm agency, he would leave to get the mail and stop by to see my maternal grandmother with dementia every single morning before returning to the office. He would not only get her laundry, but do something as simple as clean her glasses everyday..even though she would not have known the difference. Now, he cares for a widow of no relation who has no living relatives after her sister passed. He’s helped her figure out ways to qualify for special assistance and programs so she can stay in her home which is very important to her and also so she can get by financially. When I was home last week, he purchased her a gift for her birthday. There’s nothing she can do in return for him, and I admire him so much for this. I think hardly anyone knows he does this…it comes from the goodness of his heart. Not to mention that he also helps my Mom who has challenges walking after a series of spinal cord issues. The Bible discusses spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12:6-8. I truly believe caring for widows is his. He does not stop there though. A few years ago while they were at Mayo finding out whether my Mom would ever walk again, he befriended a homeless man he met with an addiction to sniffing paint. He bought him a meal, got to know him, and helped lead him to someone an area at the hospital who could get him the help he needed.  He noticed and took action despite the challenges, uncertainty, and stress him and my Mom were facing.  I can’t help but also think of Hebrews 13:2 which we read yesterday. His example challenges me to not only use my spiritual gifts, but most importantly to bless others who can do nothing in return like James 1:27 and James 2 does.

Why should we bless others who can offer nothing in return? Surely, we should not do it because of a feeling of obligation, to get puffed up with pride by the “good deeds” we are doing, or to be noticed by others. We should recognize the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for us when we could offer nothing in return. He did so while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8)…even though we directly and repeatedly continue to disobey him. His heart should cause our heart to change and show the same sacrificial love that He did. Thank you, Dad, for modeling what Christ did for us and for showing a great example of this.

Youth Is No Excuse

Today’s reading on Thanksgiving is 2 Thessalonians 1-3 which is the entire, short book.

Paul is writing this letter to the church he founded in Thessalonica which is now part of northern Greece. In this letter Paul addresses how we must be ready for trouble and adversity from the Evil One before the Second Coming, as well as warning against idleness.  Since today is Thanksgiving, we will mostly focus on verses 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 where he gives thanks for them.

Thanksgiving

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers,[a] as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

Who do you think of when you read this? Today’s young people…we will say 15-25 year old’s get a bad reputation for being on their phones all the time, having everything given to them, and for being lazy. I have to laugh though because the same people that criticize youth for having everything given to them or always getting a trophy are the same ones that gave these things to them! A little ironic…don’t you think?

Although most would say our society is moving away from Christian and Biblical values as a whole, I have recently taken notice of a growing number in the 15-25 year old age group who are very convicted in their faith and living in a way that aligns with the Bible’s instruction. They read their Bible, attend church regularly, typically are involved in a Bible study or small group, listen to Christian music, and are also committed to keeping sex sacred to the marriage relationship. While I don’t have any specific numbers to back how many or the growth so to speak, it seems to me it is occurring. I don’t know whether a poll would say the number in this age group who believe are growing, but is my personal observation that the ones who are believers are actually living out their faith through their actions more so than previous generations who would have said they were believers, too. I’m not trying to start a debate or call one generation better than another, but rather pointing this out so we take notice. Not only should we give them credit and give thanks for them, but we can learn from them and their example even (1 Timothy 4:12).

Why is this occurring in this age group despite society trying to tell this age group they don’t need God  or biblical values and are free to live however they feel? I believe it is for a couple reasons. First, I believe God has planted it in our hearts and minds to know what’s truly right and wrong. Secondly, I believe there is so much confusion about what is the truth, young people (and all of us for that matter) are attracted to the one place we can go for all truth which is the Bible.

When you woke up this Thanksgiving and thought about what you were grateful for today, I doubt this group of young people was on your list. However, will you join me today in thanking God for them and also praying that will continue to stay convicted in their faith despite the adversity and ridicule they are likely to face now and throughout their lifetime? This generation will shape our future.

Perfect In Weakness

Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians chapters 12 and 13, as well as Galatians 1.

What is at least one thing you are self-conscious about? I have a few. One is my bow legs. As I grew, they got worse and classmates poked fun at me. I have to laugh though because my last name is Bandy and if you look up “bandy” in the dictionary it says “bandy-legged” means bow legged! It only stands to make sense that my brother, dad, and I have been smitten with this. The other item I became self-conscious about at a young age is my skinniness and lack of physical strength. I remember getting anxious about going to the weight room for football. I didn’t want my teammates and coaches to know that the kid who was competing for starting quarterback could hardly lift the bar in bench press. As I have shared before, I then broke my arm three times in two seasons. That obviously did not do anything to stop the jokes about my frailty but only poured gasoline on the fire.

Now that I’m an adult and married with four children, I should be past this right? To be straight, it’s still not easy. As a man, husband, and father, we still often measure ourselves by our physical strength and our masculinity. I should be able to lift or move something on my own, right…or use my physical skills to fix something around the house? That’s maybe a 3rd complex I won’t go into today..haha. We should also be able to physically protect our family with our strength if our family was ever in danger.

I have previously written about my spinal stenosis and ironically as I write this, I am getting ready to have my 5th surgery in a few weeks. As I’ve shared in the past, I have permanent loss of strength (about half) in my right hand, as well as motor skills, and now have had more surgeries including the one coming up to keep the same thing from happening to my left arm/hand. As you can tell, getting away from self-consciousness about my lack of strength because I now am old, no longer play sports, and work a job where I mostly use my mind and relationship skills is still not easy because now I still struggle with some of the basic things I want to do around the house for my family. I know it’s silly to be concerned about my physical strength at this point. Paul even tells us 1 Corinthians 16:13 physical strength is not what makes a man a man. He says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”

I don’t believe in coincidences, so I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 where Paul talks about an affliction he was given was part of my assigned verses as I prepare for my next surgery.

 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,[a] a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul states that his affliction (we are not sure what that affliction is) keeps him from being conceited. Is this the case for me? I don’t know..maybe. I know one thing..I’ve been blessed in my life with some things I don’t deserve that unfortunately not everyone has…loving parents, a loving and supportive wife, four healthy kids, financial blessings, and a stable career I love. If I didn’t have some “thorn(s),” would I even think I needed God? I realize God had His hand on my life when he led me into the field of financial planning, rather than dentistry/orthodontics, my original dream career, which I would not be able to do with my hand issues. If these surgeries were not possible due to modern medicine, I would be like the man at the pool in the Bible..paralyzed eventually. He led me to a surgeon and surgery options by His grace that were better than what Mayo even proposed. I can still throw a ball with my kids and type on a keyboard which is needed in my career.  I’m extremely grateful for His provision through all of this. I’m also grateful these challenges are mine and not my wife or my children.

Most importantly, as I look down and see my puny, almost withered right hand..I’m reminded what Paul says here in 2 Corinthians 13:10. When I am weak, then I am strong, and His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in my weakness. It’s all that matters and all I really need in life. Ironically,  another Paul, my good friend and Christ follower Paul Kelly, stated the following to me recently in a text message dialogue after a sermon…

“My desire to be the best version of myself will never be good enough. So..it’s in our weaknesses that God unveils our greatest gifts..His love is incomprehensively good and although I’ll never be worth it…I will forever be grateful.”

Thank you, Paul…no truer words can be said.

On Alert

Today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 5-6.

If you read these chapters not knowing when and where they came from, sadly you would likely think they were written to the current church. The Bible makes it clear that God hates sin..as we read just recently in Romans 6:23. Without Jesus’ saving grace, the wages of sin are death. In today’s reading we learn about how God feels about sin within the church, especially sexual immorality. We also learn about how He feels about sin to our own body.

Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin one commits is outside the body, but the sexual immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20

When God created the universe and everything in it, He said it was good. But, when he created man on the sixth day He said it was very good (Genesis 1:31). God loved us so much that He gave His Son Jesus for us..giving us grace for a price…His suffering..not ours. The church is often referenced as the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7). With these things in mind, it is no surprise God is especially disappointed with sin inside the church (1 Corrinthians 5:12-13), and sin committed to our own body.

Arguably, sins of sexual immorality are the most visible and prevalent in our world today. They are also prevalent inside the church with members of the clergy not only committing sins of sexual immorality, but some churches claiming to be Christian even going directly against what the Bible says. They are not only condoning certain sins, but even allowing those knowingly committing them to serve as pastors and elders. It is more important than ever that we let the Bible be our guidance system. We must constantly be making sure that our churches and pastors are following and preaching what the Word says. The world should not lead what our pastors and the church should do and say…the Word should. One letter…the letter “l” makes all the difference.

It is also more important than ever that we guard the eyes, hearts, and minds of our children. Sins which the Bible says are wrong are being condoned and even taught in some churches and schools. We must educate and teach them what the Word says. We can dislike the sin, but still love the sinner in the same way that God dislikes our own sins yet loved us so much that He let His own Son suffer and die for us. We are sinners ourselves and in need of grace. However, we cannot knowingly approve of sins the Bible says are wrong in the same way we cannot approve of the sins we commit ourselves.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6

This is not easy when we are getting told from TV, movies, advertising, schools…and even the churches what is acceptable that directly conflicts with Bible. We must stay on watch and fervently use the Bible as our guidance chip.

Be soberminded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

1 Peter 5:8

Perfect Love (God) Casts Out Fear

Today’s reading is Acts 27.

Have you ever been on ship or boat in the open ocean where no land or light was in sight? I remember going on a cruise with my parents and my brother and fellow Bible Journal writer Chad when I was under 10 years old. Standing outside at night on the deck with nothing in sight was not a feeling I can say I was particularly fond of. I remember thinking if I fell off the deck they would never find me. Feeling like this on a very large, world class cruise ship (where we had no storms) has me wondering how Paul and other passengers on these primitive first century boats must have felt with no electricity, GPS, limited provisions, and the terrible storms they faced.

During all these storms and troubles, what was Paul doing? Paul was still leading. Paul was still speaking the truth in what God was telling him to help others. I would guess Paul was still writing letters..some of which likely ended up as what is now part of the New Testament in the Bible. Many of his other letters we know were written while in prison. Paul was not focused on himself. Paul was focused on making an impact on others for God’s kingdom despite his circumstances.

This is the opposite of what human nature is. When I am facing challenging times, I become very self-focused and fearful. The fear is focused on me and what could go wrong in my life or the life of my family. It can consume me, and it’s all about me.

Paul was focused on God..not his problems. 1 John 4:16 says, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him.” Reading on, 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” Not only does verse 18 tell us when we are focused on love, and not on ourselves, we don’t fear, but since verse 16 tells us God is love…I like to trade out the word love for God in verse 18. It then reads… ‘There is no fear in God, but perfect God casts out fear.’ If we continue to read on in 1 John 4, we see more verses about how this focus on God means we are called to love others. 1 John 4:21 says,  “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Don’t hear me wrong, it is absolutely ok to come to God in prayer and ask for what we want when we come with a humble heart and the right intentions. Jesus makes this very clear, as well does the book of James. God wants you and your whole heart, and He wants you to come to Him with your struggles needs. My intention of having us reflect on our prayer life and thoughts is not so that we don’t come to God with our challenges, but rather a nudge for us to reflect further on our thoughts, hearts, and actions. I’ve written before that expectancy theory says that which we focus on expands. Are we focusing more on God which means we are focusing on love which leads to focusing on others causing fear to dissipate..or are we focused on ourself only causing our problems and anxieties to blow up so to speak?

We see in Paul that God can make the most of our seemingly terrible circumstances to bring glory to His Kingdom and bring others to Christ. We must remember in our challenges that someone is always watching. When they see our unfailing trust in God and how we continue to love on and bless others despite our personal problems, they see the love of Jesus in us. They will then want to know more about the ultimate sacrifice He made on the cross for us. They will desire that same peace that passes human understanding that’s rooted in His love

Do You Believe God Still Does the “Supernatural” today?

Today’s reading is Acts 11-12.

In these chapters we see what I will call the following “supernatural” events….

  • Jesus speaking to Peter in a dream and showing him a vision making certain foods now clean to eat and also representing that forgiveness is possible for Gentiles, not only Jews, through repentance and belief in Jesus.
  • A man declaring an angel had appeared to him to tell them to go to Joppa to get Peter who would give them a message to help their family be saved.
  • A prophet Agabus accurately telling of a future famine.
  • An angel freeing Peter from prison.
  • Herod being struck down and being eaten by worms because he did not give glory to God.

Where do you draw the line in what “supernatural” things God still does today? Do you believe angels still appear delivering messages and even physically helping people today? Do you still believe Jesus appears to people or that people hear the audible voice of God? Do you believe real prophets still deliver messages God gave them (I’m not talking about psychic call lines)?

I find most Christians, including myself, likely believe some of these things still happen today, but for some reason may question others. If someone told you one of these things happened to them today, you would either think the person was completely nuts, it was just a coincidence, they were dreaming, or they just imagined something?

In 2019, I was struggling to make a decision if I was going to step down from my role as a Managing Director and solely focus on financial planning for clients. In fact, I had been struggling for years with this decision. In September of 2019 I made the decision, although I still wondered if it was right and what the future would hold. I told our Managing Partner my decision and drove back from Champaign to meet with one our new advisors I was coaching. He proceeded to tell me that he normally doesn’t tell people this (because many would think he was crazy), but God had given him a spiritual gift of prophesy…not in his own life but for the lives of others. He told me that he was praying for me that week and God clearly laid it on his heart that I was going to have some major professional change, although he didn’t know exactly what, and that the change was going to be a great thing for my future. He felt he was supposed to and should tell me this. Because my Managing Partner and I agreed my decision was confidential and would not be made public yet, I some how kept it together until he left my office despite being absolutely blown away. Keep in mind, he would have had absolutely no idea that less than 2 hours previously I told my Managing Partner of my decision. I had told no one except my wife. When he walked out, I broke down and thanked God for delivering that message through him to give me peace and confidence moving forward.

I would say before this I believed in angels helping people, but someone hearing the audible voice of God or prophesying for the future..I wasn’t so sure I believed. But why? If God did those things in the Bible, why not today? Most in the Bible who experienced these events were regular people and some of the worst sinners (take Saul/Paul for example). Does God not have the same power now as then as well? Most Christians believe that God orchestrates seemingly normal events and occurrences for His purpose and plan. But doing “supernatural” things like those listed earlier..c’mon..get real.

I would challenge all of us to reflect on why we may put limits on what God either can or does do still today. Does this also reveal a lack of faith and add more stress, worry, and anxiety because we put limits on what God can and will do today in your life or our world? How would your life be different if you believed God can and still does “supernatural” things like those which occurred in the Bible today? If God did them then… again, why not now?

The High Priestly Prayer

Today’s reading is John 17.

Two weeks ago I wrote about figuring out if God is the king of our heart. While the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as a whole help us know Jesus’ heart, today we read what is known as The High Priestly Prayer where we get to listen in on a one on one conversation with Jesus and God the Father to hear and know Jesus’ heart. I’ve heard prayer called the ultimate wireless connection because it’s a direct line to God 24/7 and how cool is it that we get to listen in and hear Jesus talk to the Father.

What is your “why?” Have you ever been asked that question? It’s really another way to ask you what your purpose is in life. Many would say their children, spouse, parents, or to make impact in the world in some shape or form. And while those are all good things, it is very apparent here what Jesus’ “why” is.

Jesus says in John 17:4, “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave me to do.” A few verses earlier in John 17:1 he says,”…glorify your Son that the Son may glorify You.” Jesus’ “why” was very clear, He was here to glorify the God. Personal coaches will tell you that your “why” should resonate in your soul and push you through challenges and hard times to strive towards it. You will do nearly anything to accomplish your “why.” No set back will stop you from pursuing it. To me, Jesus had the ultimate “why” that we should all strive to have in some shape or form..to glorify God through our life here on earth and to be able to say at the end of lives like Jesus did in John 17:4 and John 17:2 that we accomplished the work God gave us to do and that God was glorified through it. Jesus glorified the Father by showing the Father’s sacrificial love through laying down His life for the forgiveness of our sins.

While I could (and maybe should) stop here, there are a few other big takeaways I had in reflecting on John 17. The first is that when we are in the midst of striving towards our “why,” we will probably have some big wins and successes in life where people tell you privately or publicly great job and maybe there are even big awards and trophies. When this happens, who do you give the glory? Jesus gives us a great example in John 17:7, “Now they know that everything that You have given Me is from You.” I used to not like it when an athlete was interviewed after a game and thanked God because I thought it seemed silly…does God really care about who wins a game? Did God want your team to win more than the other team? My perspective has changed on this. The person is not saying that at all typically. They are saying all their talents and gifts and abilities come from God. They are giving Him the glory..no different than Jesus here.

My last big take away here is how Jesus prayed for us. He knew we needed protection from the evil one. He prayers in John 17:15, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” In John 17:17 he says, “Sanctify them in the truth, your Word is truth.” We must fervently pray for our children and family and even our country and governmental leaders and the whole world to know God and His truth and will. How cool is it that Jesus prayed specifically for us and our protection?! We should do the same for our loved ones…not just from physical harm and for good health..but for protection from Satan.

Those who know me well know that in text messages I will commonly use an emoji that looks like a hand holding up the number one. My interpretation of this emoji is that it’s not a number one, it’s pointing to the sky. When people tell me good job or thanks on something, I can easily get puffed up with pride thinking it’s me. When there is a problem, I can commonly think this seems hopeless or there is no way out. This emoji reminds me that everything that I do should be to glorify God and anything that was accomplished was because of what He has done through me. It also reminds me through Him there is a way out of every situation and problem because everything is possible through Him. Jesus gives us this example in John 17. May He, and He alone, be glorified through all things.

King of My Heart?

Today’s reading is John 2. This chapter of John includes well known Scriptures about Jesus’ first public miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana and turning over the money tables in the temple. However, we are going to focus on the last 2 verses.

Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man.

John 2:23-25

In full transparency, much of my writing today is based off notes written in my Bible from a past sermon which was likely by Pastor Mike Baker from Eastview Christian Church. We must ask ourselves, what is the condition of my heart? As we read here in John 2:23-25, Jesus knows. There are 3 questions we can take a step back and objectively as ourselves to examine our heart.

  1. Where is my money going?

Matthew 6:21 clearly tells us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It’s been said that you can tell a person’s priorities by looking at their bank account or credit card transactions and their calendar.

  1. What fruit am I bearing?

Matthew 13:23 says, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the Word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Another way to examine this may be from my calendar question above or whether or not those around me in my family, business, or teams/organizations are yielding good fruit and impacting the world positively through the help of my leadership and guidance.

 

  1. What am I speaking? I would also add, what am I watching?

Matthew 15:18 says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” I’m sad to admit my temper often gets the best of me or my desire to crack a joke or make a comment in an attempt to make others laugh which may hurt someone else or include language I know God would not like.

These are humbling questions for us to ask, and no matter where we are on our walk with the Lord, we all have opportunities to grow and shape our heart to look more like His.

Here 5 are ways to help us grow and help change and shape our hearts.

  1. Pray

David prays in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” David is asking for God to examine him so he knows if he is going in the right way and then to redirect him towards God’s will if he’s going astray.

  1. Yield to God’s Spirit and Heart

Again, David gives a good example of how…ask God to help you do so!

  1. Yield to His teaching in the Word by reading our Bible.

A friend of mine who is what I would call a newer believer was commenting the other day that the more he reads the Bible, the more he is convinced other leadership and self-help books he previously read for years are just saying what the Bible has already told us in a different way and are teaching us to live and lead like Jesus did. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” We also discussed how crazy it is when we read our Bible and whatever we are reading that day speaks to us right in the way we need it to based on what is going on in our lives and minds. This verse in Hebrews reminds us this is not a coincidence. The Bible is the Living Word.

  1. Walk with God’s people

I love the quote, “Who you will be in 10 years is a result of the books you read and the people you surround yourself with.” Just like reading the Bible above, who you spend time with will influence you. I still have a lot of growing to do in my walk and to live more like Him (this is a gross understatement), but I can tell you I would not be where I am today not only because of the foundation of faith my parents laid, but also because of the professional mentors with my company I spent much time with who I looked up to and who loved the Lord and His Word. This lit a spark in me to want to get into His Word more. I thank God for putting me in that environment with those people. In more recent years, our small group has helped us walk with His people and grow.

  1. Serve His Church

Jesus gave us maybe the greatest example of serving His people and church when He washed the disciples’ feet the night before He was killed, even when He knew they would run, deny, and abandon Him.

So, let us ask ourselves, “Is He the King of my Heart?”

We can examine ourselves through these 3 questions above and no matter where we are in our walk with Him, improve the condition of our heart through these 5 ways. We will also learn tomorrow in John 3 how much He loves no matter where we are in our journey.

Check out this awesome song.

 

 

Confession and Repentance

Today’s reading is Luke 13.

How would you rank yourself on your spiritual discipline of confession? I think both individuals and churches often may be extreme in one way or another around the focus of confession and the fact we are all sinners (Romans 3:23). Often times we can have lots of confession and focus on all our wrong doings and forget that because of the cleansing blood of Christ we are no longer in darkness and can live life forgiven with peace and joy (1 John 1:7). I’ve said this before in prior posts, but Jesus was not just nailed to the cross just to forgive our sins..the story doesn’t end there. He was resurrected on Easter so that we might live life to the fullest knowing that we are no longer dead to our sin. Jesus says Himself in John 10:10 that He came to give us life! He’s not still nailed on the cross so let’s not live like it. However, just confessing our sins regularly and knowing we are forgiven does not give us permission to keep on sinning over and over either..more to come on this. Lastly, in my humble opinion, many individuals and churches talk about of the saving grace of Jesus, but have lost emphasis on the spiritual discipline of confession where we specifically name our known sins and ask for forgiveness of sins both known and unknown.

It is crazy how God works because this topic is something that has been on my mind for the past few months and wouldn’t you know it….my assigned verses and this week’s sermon in church were on this very topic. In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus emphasizes the importance of repentance because without it we will all die and are going to the same place because we are ALL sinners (Romans 6:23). He also makes it clear that when bad things happen to us, God does not make it happen as a punishment for our sins. This is another topic in and of itself..see John 9:2-3 and Romans 8:1. But back to repentance which is from the Greek word matonia. It doesn’t just mean confession. It means a change in one’s life…to go in the other opposite direction of sin and go towards God. Jesus is telling us it is not ok for us to just go on living life in a sinful way because we know we are forgiven. Changing how we live is critical part of being a Christ follower. 1 John 1:6 says that if have fellowship with Him while still walking in the darkness we are lying and don’t practice the truth. Does that mean we will not sin when we are a Christ-follower? No..we are human and will mess up again, but we should be able to proclaim that we are working on it. 1 John 3:6 tells us that no one who abides in Him keeps on sinning because they know they will be forgiven anyway.

So, can we call ourselves a Christ follower without the spiritual habit or discipline of confession? Can we go to Heaven without confessing our sins? 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Again in 1 John 1:10, “If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” In between these verses, John talks about the importance of confession for forgiveness in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I raise the prior questions not to get into a debate, but rather to emphasize that I believe God calls us in his Word to confess our sins. If we do not, we are likely being untruthful with ourselves about our sin problem and need for Jesus’ saving grace on the cross. It doesn’t seem to me that one can call himself or herself a Christ follower without confessing that one is a sinner themselves and the need for Him as their savior. My understanding of the Gospel is that coming to this realization, asking for forgiveness for all sins (even once), and believing in Him is the ticket to Heaven. At the same time, I believe the spiritual habit of confessing our sins and naming those we are aware of individually through calling them out in prayer is what will truly help us change the way we live and the direction of our lives as Jesus speaks of through the Greek word matonia. This is tough at times, but we know that God knows anyway, and I believe our sins continue to erode us and bother us when we don’t  name them. Naming our sins in prayer to Him will bring them to light, make us feel better, and also increase the likelihood of changing the way we live in the way He calls us.

Lastly, what about those who are not a Christ follower yet and have not prayed to Jesus asking for forgiveness and His grace? Well, it is interesting that immediately after Luke 13:1-5 where Jesus speaks on the importance of repentance, He then tells a parable in Luke 13:6-9 about a fig tree not yielding fruit. However, the vine dresser gave it multiple years and chances to yield fruit before finally cutting it down.  We all will eventually perish as Jesus speaks of in Luke 13:1-5, and He we won’t have forever, but He gives us time to turn to Him and His open loving and forgiving arms.

Let each us reflect on where we are on our walk with Him and whether confession, repentance, or both is something we need to work on. Let us know we are all a work in progress as we try to grow closer to Him. But above all, let us go with peace and joy today knowing that God did not send his One and Only Son to condemn the world, but so that the world may be saved through Him (John 3:17).

In Due Time..

Today’s reading is Luke 1.

Have you ever felt like you were doing everything the right way and following the Lord’s will but the one thing you want to happen does not? Maybe you keep getting passed up for that promotion at work or your business just won’t take off. Or even worse, you or a family member aren’t getting better from an illness. You are probably wondering why all is happening to do you when you are trying to do everything the way God wants. Why is He not “rewarding” you?

In Luke 1:6-24 we read of the birth of John the Baptist.  John’s parents Zechariah and Elizabeth face a struggle some reading this have probably faced..they want a child and can’t have one. In fact, we are told not only did they both come from a blessed lineage, but they both walked blamelessly and followed the Lord’s commandments and will (Luke 1:6) themselves. Yet, they could not have a child they yearned for and were getting very old likely past the age where anyone could have a child. Jesus tells us in this world we will face troubles and sorrow in John 16:33. Being a believer and follower of Jesus does not mean life will be easy and that we will get everything we want exactly when we want it. However, waiting does not mean God is not working and doesn’t have something bigger planned for you. In this case, Zechariah and Elizabeth give birth to John the Baptist who was filled with the spirit of Elijah and who would prepare the way and point people to Jesus (Luke 1:17). He even has the honor of baptizing Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17). Does God always give us what we want? No. Often times, in fact probably most of the time, He has a different plan than what we want. But, His plan is always better..even if we would have never chosen it ourself. God can do big things in time through life as He does here in the birth of John the Baptist and also through death as He did through Jesus. Have you ever looked at the bottom of a crocheted piece? It looks like a big mess! But flip it over to the other side, and it looks beautiful. The bottom side is how we see life..a big mess and not getting what we want..but what God sees is His bigger and better plan on the other side.

Let us pray..

Lord, please help ease my anxiety when I don’t get what I want. Help me remember that being a follower of You does not mean life will be easy and is not what You promised. You did everything right and did not sin, yet no one suffered more than you. Help me remember that the Father’s plan is bigger and better than my plan…perfect in time. Help bring me peace and trust in You no matter what I face. Thank you for you forgiveness, grace, and Resurrection. Amen.